10 Books of Summer 2021

Summer, conceptually, is nearly upon us (just ask the weather), which means time to start thinking about summer reading. Whatever that means.

For me, it’s always been more about the concept of long periods of time for reading–in which anything, fun or uncomfortable, breezy or difficult, intellectual or mind-numbing might be read. Even now, well past the years of long days of summer freedom, I still think of summer as the time for more reading–if for no other reason than it’s often too hot to do anything else.

Which makes it great fun to think about summer reading and to join in Cathy’s 20 (or 15 or 10) Books of Summer Challenge.

Top to Bottom:

  • Three Exemplary Novels (Cervantes)
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare)
  • Mansfield Park (Austen)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain)
  • Wives and Daughters (Gaskell)
  • Britt-Marie Was Here (Backman)
  • The Farm (Bromfield)
  • Enter Jeeves (Wodehouse)
  • The Trumpet of the Swan (White)
  • Under a White Sky (Kolbert)

I wish I were one of those people who could confidently predict the twenty books they’d read over the coming summer months. That is, I wish I could confidently predict reading that many books over the swift summer. But I know myself too well–my interests are too varied (and time-consuming) and my books sometimes too thick–I am lucky to read 10 in a three month time frame, much less 20. As I’m currently in a realistic (I think ) mindset, I’m only setting my sights on 10. (Though…the challenge beckons…)

Nor can I guarantee that it will be these 10 books. For the first time in a while, I actually don’t have any specific inclination to a particular book or reading plan as ‘up next,’ so while all are books I would like to read sometime, I’m not sure if that ‘sometime’ is ‘now.’ As the whim carries me.

Though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is highly likely; a local theater group will be performing it outdoors (on the beautiful grounds of a landscaped 1920s era estate). I’ve wanted to see an outdoor performance of Midsummer since I last (first?) read it a few years back and I may have to reread for the occasion.

I may start with The Farm. The poor book–I’ve been ‘planning’ to read it for years–if books had sentience it would be developing a complex–but after reading a biography of the author back in January I’m more interested in ever.

But everything else is subject to change (yes, even the library book–I’m fickle). I haven’t read any mysteries for some months, so it may be time for another. And one never knows what readalongs or random library books one may stumble upon. But half the fun of a challenge is always in the planning, no?

Classics Club Spin 26

I was happy to see another Classics Club spin pop up this week–while I’ve been steadily reading all year, I haven’t been doing so well with my Classics Club list. Time for some accountability!

Books selected primarily (thought not exclusively) by what I already have on hand, and order randomized. Can’t wait to see what I’ll be reading!

  1. Cather, Willa: Death Comes for the Archbishop (U.S., 1927)
  2. Anonymous: Njal’s Saga (Iceland, 13th century)
  3. Baldwin, James: Go Tell It on the Mountain (U.S., 1953)
  4. Hemingway, Ernest: For Whom the Bell Tolls (U.S., 1940)
  5. Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World (England, 1932)
  6. Anonymous: Beowulf (Anglo-Saxon, between 8th-11th centuries)
  7. Faulkner, William: The Sound and the Fury (U.S., 1929)
  8. Bromfield, Louis: The Farm (U.S.-Ohio, 1933)
  9. Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de: Three Exemplary Novels (Spain, 1613)
  10. Virgil: The Aeneid [Aeneis] (Rome, 29-19 BCE)
  11. Brontë, Anne: Agnes Grey (England, 1847)
  12. Carson, Anne, translator: An Oresteia (Greece, 5th century BCE)
  13. Trollope, Anthony: Barchester Towers (England, 1857)
  14. Tomasi di Lampedusa, Giuseppe: The Leopard [Il Gattopardo] (Italy, 1958)
  15. Gaskell, Elizabeth: Wives and Daughters (England, 1865)
  16. Homer: The Iliad (Greece, c. 8th century BCE)
  17. Poe, Edgar Allan: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (U.S., 1830s-40s)
  18. Dickens, Charles: Bleak House (England, 1853)
  19. Radcliffe, Ann: The Italian (England, 1797)
  20. Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels (England, 1726)

A New Year

In some ways I can’t believe it’s a new year already. Then in other moments, I look back at what I read or did in 2020 and the beginning of the year feels so far away–was it really just a year (or less) ago that….?

I suppose a lot of us are feeling that way this year. 2020 was a strange year, with much sadness or anxiety or anger. It seems odd to me that the pandemic turned it into a year in which such a large portion of the planet felt that the next year couldn’t come soon enough. And yet, I was thinking about it–there are probably people for whom 2020 was a good year, or at least had some really good moments–new family, new jobs, new experiences. And for other people, their situations were probably already so bad, that 2020 was nothing different, other than in the specifics.

One thing that was not really changed for me by 2020 was my reading. Although I did have slump towards the beginning of the pandemic when everything was much more uncertain, and a family friend was very, very ill, as spring turned to summer I found my way back, and ended the year with an average of over 5.6 hours of reading per week, better than my goal from the start of the year to read an average of 5 hours each week. This 5.6 hours translated into a total of 35 books plus the Sherlock Holmes short story “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” which is the best I’ve done since I started keeping track eleven years ago.

It was good reading, too. I started the year with Agatha Christie (of course!) and Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. This second book really set the tone for the year–not only was it an excellent read, but I set out to read it in a specific time frame, and when I actually met my weekly goals, it was the spark that really allowed me to aim high with long or difficult books this year: just keep reading. It’s hard to pick highlights this year; I enjoyed so many of them and I don’t think there was a book I disliked this year. However, ranked from favorite to most favorite (ha):

10. Rereads (The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) – it almost doesn’t seem fair to include these, as if your rereading something, it’s a safe assumption that you probably liked it. But all are loved, and sometimes you just need something “comfortable.”

9. Agatha Christie (The Secret Adversary through The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) – So much fun. The perfect light reading in between heavier or more serious novels. I also generally thought Roger Ackroyd (post forthcoming) very good.

8. Piranesi (Susanna Clarke) – the newest book I read in 2020 (published in September), but I was completely immersed in the fantasy world.

7. The Decameron (Giovanni Boccaccio) – inspired by a postponed readalong, I finally read the entire collection, and while I sometimes found it a bit redundant (and some stories are just problematic by 21st century standards, but that’s a different issue), it felt a real accomplishment to finish. And it was fun!

6. Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) – although Hardy is not known for “happy” stories, this is not as dark as some, and I loved following the changing seasons over the course of the novel. And the sheep.

5. Readalongs. The books I read this year for readalongs (The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara) weren’t my favorite in and of themselves, but the camaraderie of reading with others, and the benefit of reading others takes/points of view, means readalongs are always a highlight.

4. Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell) – Gaskell is one of my favorite authors, and while the episodic format and small-town charm of Cranford is quite unlike the others of hers I’ve read, it is an absolute delight.

3. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) – Another episodic novel, and one that also has a strong connection to the seasons. It’s a book I’d consider a seasonal read for any season and full of charm and adventure and nature.

2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain) – I can’t believe I’d never read this before, but it was an absolute delight.

1. Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges) – so glad I finally read this! A collection of short stories that are not quite fantasy, but definitely fantastic. On the reread list, as well as further Borges and the Argentine epic Martin Fierro.

As far as general statistics, it looks like I read books or stories by 24 different authors (lots of repeat authors this year!), of which 11 were/are women and 17 men, with one unknown but likely male (the author of The Nibelungenlied). Most of these were, as usual for me, originally written in English, but five were translated from Spanish, Italian, French, and German. Seven different countries are represented. (I think–some of these may depend on how you count, as borders do like to change…) Seven were rereads and eight were non-fiction. The age of the books ranged from really old (c. 1200) to new (2020), with most of the books published prior to 1970, but 14 since 2000. So an interesting mix.

As I’m looking forward to my 2021 reading, I’m hoping for more of the same, generally. Maybe some more translations, likely some more contemporary commercial fiction (I have some books that I just need to read already…). More Agatha Christie, more from my Classics Club list (I did poorly here in 2020–I read lots of classics, just not from my actual list). Generally…more. After the success of last year, I’m aiming a bit higher: can I make 40 books? I’d like to average 6 hours of reading a week, ideally more consistently than last year. It should be doable, I just have to act on it. Always pushing myself to do a little better, read a little deeper, think a little more clearly. It’s had to know for sure–as 2020 showed us only too clearly–what a new year will hold in store, but I always look forward to the open possibilities.

Back to the Classics 2021

Button: Back to the Classics Challenge 2021

Although I have some semi-ambitious goals for how much I will read in 2021, I don’t feel compelled to attach myself to any particular challenges–except for Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge! This one is always fun, and after finally reading all 12 categories last year, I want to see if I can do it again. I’m also hoping to improve on 2020 in one way: reading more books that are actually on my Classics Club list. Of course, the way these things go, some shiny classic will probably pop onto my radar and distract me from my good intentions, but as long as I’m reading, it’s good!

This year’s categories:

  1. A 19th century classic.
  2. A 20th century classic. and posthumously published.
  3. A classic by a woman author.
  4. A classic in translation.
  5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author.
  6. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read.
  7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author — a new book by an author whose works you have already read.
  8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title.
  9. A children’s classic.
  10. A humorous or satirical classic.
  11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction).
  12. A classic play.

I don’t have any specific plans at this point – there’s so many possibilities!

If I’m to stick to my Classics Club list, the play would likely be from Anne Carson’s translation An Oresteia, which I was supposed to read for a Classics Club spin in September, but didn’t get to. I don’t think I have anything humorous or satirical on my list, but I do have several P.G. Wodehouse on my shelves, so that’s a good possibility. Several people have listed The Leopard as their likely classic about an animal or with an animal in the title, and it’s on my Club list, so possible.

The category that’s a new-to-you classic by a favorite author is interesting. I still have several unread Elizabeth Gaskell I could read, or, there’s The Sound and the Fury, which I think I’ve pledged to read the last two years. Maybe this will be the year?

More likely than not, the 2021 challenge reading will be like 2020: I’ll end up reading books that strike my interest and slotting them in where they fit. And hopefully that only means one or two books to deliberately seek out at the end of the year.

Looking forward to a new year of classic reading!

Farewell Summer, Welcome Autumn

It’s hard to believe we’re already through the first week of September. I know that time has passed slowly for some, with all the various upheavals of 2020, but it seems to have flown by for me just as much as ever—and in spite of the extra 1.75 hours or so in my working days, thanks to work-from-home. I guess I’m just good at always finding ways to fill it.

Reading was one of those ways, and while I didn’t quite make my goal of 10 books for the 20 Books of Summer challenge, I’m mostly happy with the outcome: 9 1/2 books completed in the three month time-span, of which one was the very dense The Mysteries of Udolpho and two nonfiction books that, while informative, were slow.

My Completed Books:

  1. 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence – Howard Means
  2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  3. So Good They Can’t Ignore You  – Cal Newport
  4. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Color of Law – Richard Rothstein
  6. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  7. The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
  8. The Secret of Chimneys – Agatha Christie
  9. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

Started but not yet finished:

  1. Wheeshet – Kate Davies
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Shop Class as Soul Craft -Matthew B. Crawford

I’m a bit disappointed not to have made it further in The Lord of the Rings, but it has the disadvantage of being a set of owned books that aren’t subject to the whims of library renewals (and other’s hold patterns). Needless to say, I hope to finish it and the other incomplete books soon.

However, now as the weather starts to turn cooler, the birds start their migrations south, and the colors begin to turn autumnal, I start to think of more seasonal reading. I’d love to participate in the fifteenth edition of R.I.P., and I do have a mystery on hold at the library (fingers crossed it arrives in time), but now I’m wishing I’d had the foresight to wait until September to read The Secret of Chimneys! If I have time, I have a Poe collection I’d love to finally read, or maybe some other Christie or one of the many Victorian thrillers I have on my to-be-read. Maybe…

Because first, in addition to some non-renewable library books (currently reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, though of course that reads quickly), there’s the current Classics Club spin, for which I’m supposed to read An Oresteia (Agamemnon by Aiskhylos; Elektra by Sophokles; Orestes by Euripides ) by the end of the month. And which I haven’t started yet. (Ahem.)

I’ve also signed up for the Appointment in Samarra readalong hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza and Tom at Wuthering Expectations are hosting a An Appointment in Samara readalong. I’m actually nearly a 1/3 of the way through and it’s going well, so that’s the book I’m most optimistic on finishing ‘on time.’

And finally, Cleo at Classical Corousel is hosting an informal Decameron readalong from now until the end of the year. That will have to wait on the other books, though! (I’ve read selections in the past and if memory serves me well, they read quickly, so fingers crossed.)

What are your autumnal reading plans?