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!