Blurred focus

March has been a bit of an unfocused month as far as the mainstay of this blog is concerned: books and reviews. A few excuses come to mind, but to be honest they’re not worth repeating. So, what have I achieved?

I reposted a review of Diana Wynne Jones’ The Islands of Chaldea — her last novel, completed by her sister — to kick off this year’s March Magics theme, though strictly speaking I hadn’t even reread it. To end this month celebrating the work of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett I shall be offering my review of Pratchett’s Reaper Man. But first I have to finish writing it.

First-time reviews included Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, a novel inspired by Lewis Carroll’s original — my description of it as ‘scattergun’ seemed to meet with approval. Gerald Morgan’s handbook on Castles in Wales provoked a number of reminiscences, while Rainbow Rowell’s YA novella for 2016’s World Book Day, Kindred Spirits which used Episode VII of the Star Wars as a backdrop, also brought up memories of the original franchise for some. Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes history of autism research garnered a lot of discussion and even a response from the author. Most recently, Timothy Husband’s picture essay “Creating the Cloisters” about New York’s Metropolitan Museum branch dedicated to the art, architecture, and gardens of medieval Europe, resulted in thoughts about heritage and privilege. Some of these books I finished in February but only got round to writing about this month, after due consideration.

Now I’ve listed the reviews it seems to belie what I said earlier: five critiques spread over a month is surely not bad going? Curiously, the fact that three are non-fiction and only two fiction (one of them half a day’s read at most) suggests to my convoluted mind that somehow I’m not making the progress I’d imagined doing. NeuroTribes took up the bulk of my reading time while the Cloisters booklet I’d dipped in and out of over several months, and the Welsh Castles guide is more a reference book than a read-straight-through study. Is it just me, or do other bloggers consider non-fiction reading to be of a different order to fiction consumption?

You may remember the Mount To-Be-Read Challenge which I’d set myself, and you may be wondering how I’m progressing with that. (I’m imagining you’re only mildly interested, but I shall continue anyway.) January saw a promising start: five books previously languishing on shelves were completed, and I could see a undemanding climb to the summit. Then, in February, I hit a crevasse, and had to return to Base Camp. And now, three months in, to this tally I’ve added just two books … I think. To qualify, books had to be owned by New Year’s Day this year, meaning library books and books acquired since then didn’t count — and nor did rereads. The Cloisters booklet thus qualifies, and I believe the autism history was passed on me before year’s end. Everything else that I’ve reviewed (I blush to reveal this) has been bought since. This you’ll note from someone who’d recently resolved to reduce his library, tsch tsch …

But the month hasn’t passed without some other bookish posts. For example, I quoted some thoughts by fantasy writer Joan Aiken on Alternate Worlds which proved relatively popular with this blog’s readers, dealing as it did with the relevance of fantasy to reality. Meanwhile Joan’s alternate history novel The Stolen Lake received a final round-up post discussing its possible relationship to reports on disappeared children in  Chile and Argentina in the late 20th century. Another and rather better known fantasy writer is Tolkien, and my follow-up post on whether there is evidence for him visiting a corner of Wales came inconsequentially to the conclusion that any proof is lacking.

What’s to come? July 2017 will mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen‘s relatively early and untimely death at the age of forty-one and so I shall be posting a review of Emma, the last of her novels to be published in her lifetime. I’ve completed Volume I and have high hopes of publishing my assessment before July comes and goes. I’m also strolling through Sinclair Lewis’ classic dystopian vision It Can’t Happen Here which many see as prefiguring Donald Trump’s assumption of the US presidency. I’ve yet to see if President Buzz Windrip suffers as many setbacks as the present incumbent has had in the first few months of office, but so many of the parallels are unsettling, and the fiction promises a turbulent period of persecution, disruption and broken promises. Finally, I have a number of novels written by Arab writers which I’m eyeing up, all kindly passed on by Dale who blogs as Earth Balm Music.

And now, as spring seems finally to have sprung and the clocks have moved forward, it’s a bit shocking to note that virtually 25% of 2017 has gone by. It’ll be interesting to know if other bloggers feel they’re making the progress they anticipated as the new year dawned or whether they’ve the same sense of marking time that I sometimes sense. Let me know!

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11 thoughts on “Blurred focus

  1. earthbalm

    Thanks for the blog check. I seem to be struggling to come to terms with retiring from teaching at the mo. “Be careful what you wish for – it might come true.”

    1. Sometimes we just need to stop doing something we no longer enjoy, even if nothing else suggests itself, but it is unsettling — to say the least.

      My solution was to stop fulltime teaching and move to West Wales, where I managed to fill in as a supply teacher — no commitments, little stress — until the time came to take my pension. Mind you, with the move we’d managed to be mortgage free, which was a significant financial weight removed. I also did some piano teaching (but now I was my own boss) and secured a few gigs as a piano accompanist, so ‘semi-retirement’ proved a much more pleasant experience.

      I don’t know if this is any help for you in your present circumstances but I offer it freely as a suggestion!

  2. Christine

    Well, I just got had a week off from work, so I used it to devour books (one of which was Eight Days of Luke, so I managed to squeeze in March Magics this year) and get a little ahead in my reading list. I’m at the 16/50 books watermark for 2017 now, and the idea is to only read books I already own (except for the Wolves series, I made an exception for that). It’s a little difficult keeping to my shelves, especially with the kindle store so easily accessible. It doesn’t leave much room for non-fiction though (unless I want to lug my history hardcovers to work with me–I don’t).

    Honestly, I didn’t notice that your reading was scattered, maybe because I was so grateful that you had stopped reviewing Joan Aiken books. It’s made for a nice change, mostly because the Aiken reviews have spoilers and I missed reading your posts. That reminds me, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Lewis’s dystopian fiction and Emma!

    1. It’s great to have a long spell of time to devote to reading, especially welcome when you’re working full time! Sixteen books is not bad going for less than three months, and brilliant they’re pretty much books that you own. (My downfall was getting a generous book token for Christmas… )

    2. Sorry to have devoted so much space to Wolves books — it’s a long term project, I suppose, to cover the series in detail: much easier to focus on when there’s been relatively little geeky interest compared to the Discworld, Harry Potter, Star Wars or the Cthulhu mythos, or any of those other created worlds rich in detail.

      Having said which, I’m not sure I’ll have much original to say about Emma Woodhouse or Buzz Windrip!

      1. Christine

        A book token would really ruin me, anyone would cave in to one, I’m sure. And please don’t mind my comment on the Aiken reviews, the historical ones were fascinating (as I’m sure the rest are, too), and I’m glad to see someone reviewing Aiken’s alternate universe with so much care and detail! In fact, your reviews even motivated me to obtain the first book. They’re doing everyone a service by spreading the joy of Aiken!

  3. For selfish reasons, Chris, I’ve been hoping for you to move more quickly through the Wolves Chronicles, but then that would mean your reviews would be less jam-packed with fascinating items. I’ll have to be patient, even though I’ve already reached Cold Shoulder Road. I’m eager to read your views on Emma Woodhouse (contrast her first-line description with Buck Mulligan’s: “stately, plump”) Such a complex world created on her “little bit of ivory”! Enjoy!

    1. I hope to get through at least two more Chronicles this year, which would take me up to The Cuckoo Tree, but I can’t guarantee that, Lizzie! Anyway, I’ll do my best; but I’m pleased you find the posts fascinating.

      I’m enjoying Emma but not rushing it, wishing to savour every last bit of it. But I will be posting a review of a Who’s Who of Austen and Bronte characters, which may plug the gap a little. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Mount TBR Checkpoint 1 – Calmgrove

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