April Summary and Plans for May

I haven’t read much in the last month as I’m going through a non-fiction phase and these books don’t have the narrative drive required to persuade me to read for long periods of time. Instead I’ve just been dipping into them for the odd chapter here or there, learning lots but not reading for the entire evening. I’m going to try to read a more varied selection of books next month, so hopefully I’ll be back to my usual reading levels.

My stand-out read in April was The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara. If you like to delve into the minds of the more unsavoury members of our society then this is for you – it is guaranteed to make you feel slightly uncomfortable!

Book of the Month

The People in the Trees

Books Reviewed in April:

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara 

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel 

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder 

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh 

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng 

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell 

Plans for May

I’m lucky enough to have been invited to the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Award Ceremony, so I plan to read as many of the shortlist as possible before the winner is announced on 27th May.

The shortlist is:

I also hope to read/review most of these (many of which I’ve already started/nearly finished):

Out in the Open by Jesús Carrasco

Demons by Wayne Macauley

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

School Blues by Daiel Pennac

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Euphoria by Lily King

I hope that you have a fantastic May!

10 replies on “April Summary and Plans for May”

I recently got hold of a copy of Hanya Yanagihara’s latest novel ‘A Little Life’ (the one with the dust jacket you’d probably want to remove if reading on the bus!) so I hope to get to that soon, especially in light of your praise of her first book. And I see you plan to read ‘Shantaram’ – is that before the sequel comes out? If so, I’d had the same thought: it’s been sitting on my shelves for years but the length and the subject matter keep putting me off.

No real stand-outs for me in April, but plenty of good and very good books. I kicked off the month with EM Forster’s ‘A Room with a View’, having only read ‘A Passage to India’ by him and that many years ago. I was surprised by how funny he could be and thought it a lovely book even if the Italian and English halves did seem tonally very different and I never believed in the romance between Lucy and George.

April being the centenary of the Gallipoli landing I thought it an apt time to read Roger McDonald’s ‘1915’ (having loved his ‘The Ballad of Desmond Kale’ in March) but whilst the writing was very good, especially on life in the trenches, I found it all a little cold and distant and struggled to connect with any of the characters.

‘Black River’ by S.M. Hulse, about a former prison guard who returns to the Montana town of his birth after the death of his wife and has to face a number of personal demons, has been compared to Kent Haruf which piqued my interest. I’m not sure Hulse is quite in Haruf’s league yet, but it is a cracking debut and I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up by a UK publisher yet.

‘The Strays’ by Emily Bitto recently won Australia’s Stella Prize – it’s a lovely book about a bohemian group of artists in 1930s Melbourne (based on the Heide Circle) as seen through a teenage girl who is taken into the extended family (the strays of the title) and the effects the artists’ lifestyle has on the children who are largely left to fend for themselves. Echoes of Alex Miller’s ‘Autumn Laing’ (which was based on the same group of artists) and of AS Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’, but also of ‘I Capture the Castle’ and ‘The Constant Nymph’.

My final novel of the month was the late Bernardine Bishop’s “Hidden Knowledge” – its an easy, enjoyable read, but feels like a grab-bag of topical issues, where every arresting insight (and it contains a few: about loneliness, about the biological clock) seems to be balanced by a cliché, and often her characters didn’t seem to react to situations with enough feeling so it was hard as a reader to feel much for them either. Also, despite its references to emails and mobile phones, there was something curiously dated about the writing, as though it had been written in the sixties or seventies.

On the short story front I read John Barth’s ‘The Development’, a linked collection about the residents of a gated community on America’s east coast – I’d not read Barth before but he sort of puts me in mind of Ali Smith in terms of the obvious fun he has with words. I’ll definitely be reading more by him.

‘Foreign Soil’ by Maxine Beneba Clarke was on the Stella Prize shortlist along with Emily Bitto – her stories are a masterclass when it comes to voice (her stories range from old women in New Orleans to young men in Brixton, from the Caribbean to Australia) but narratively I didn’t think she was quite as strong, though a couple of stories are superb and suggest she is a writer to watch.

‘Mothers & Other Monsters’ by Maureen F. McHugh was a collection I approached with some trepidation as I haven’t had much luck with speculative fiction lately but it was really good. Nice to read a writer from that genre whose writing is “literary” and full of humanity, rather than writers from a more mainstream literary background (Michel Faber, Jane Rogers) dabbling in SF and treating it as something they don’t need to put a great deal of effort into.

My last collection of the month was Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘I Am No One You Know’ – lots of Oates’ usual tropes but with Oates it seldom becomes repetitive; they’re more like problems that she keeps worrying away at, coming at from different angles to try and get at something essential about them. Not all the stories in the collection are brilliant (she writes too many to be wholly consistent in terms of quality) but there are some belters in here: two kids who both (possibly) witness their mother’s murder but remember it very differently; a forensics expert who reconstructs faces from damaged skull fragments and becomes deeply attached to his ‘creations’; two students who protect Marilyn Monroe when she visits a used book store incognito…

Anyway, hope you have a great month of reading, Jackie, and have fun at the award ceremony.

David, Yes, I keep hearing amazing things about ‘A Little Life’. It doesn’t come out until August, but I’m very excited about trying it. I look forward to hearing what you make of it.

I started reading Shantaram about a year ago and LOVED it. It was so good that I started rationing my reading of it. Now that the sequel is coming out I thought it was probably best to stop rationing it and just read it all. I can’t wait to find out how it ends! Don’t be put off by the size – it is such an engaging book and so well written. I’m sure you’ll love it too!

It sounds as though you’ve read some good books from the Stella Prize. That isn’t an award I normally look at, but I should probably pay more attention to that award in the future.

I haven’t read any Forster, but feel I should. ‘Room with a View’ is one of those books that is mentioned frequently and I feel I’m missing out on something by not having read it. It’s good to know it’s funny. I’ll try to get around to it one day soon.

I hope you have a wonderful May!

You’ve got a great list of things to read in May. I loved Golden Boy and Euphoria. Shantaram is good, but I felt things got a little off track in the middle. That being said, I will be reading his follow up as soon as it comes out. His own personal story is so compelling.
And I’m glad you liked The People in the Trees. I really want to read it, even more than The Little Life. Seems to me like it might be a good companion to Euphoria.

Tanya, I’m so pleased you enjoyed Golden Boy and Euphoria. I’ve just finished Golden Boy and LOVED it! I’m about half way through Euphoria and am hoping it will turn out to be a great read too. 🙂

Lucybird, I’ve not heard much about the Murakami – which is making me a bit worried. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it, despite the lack of glowing reviews in the blogosphere.

How wonderful that you will get to go for the IFFP award ceremony! Cannot wait to hear about your experience at the event. I should make it a point to read People in the Trees – everyone seems to love it.

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