january | part february
Hey hey – more reading. This year I’m going to include books I’ve abandoned – and abandon I will! Gone are the days of ploughing through something dreadful just to say I’ve finished it.
This was the month-and-a-half of pretty terrible books. It’s enough to swear one off reading altogether!
Nicola Upson: The Death of Lucy Kyte (Josephine Tey)
I’ve had this since December 2014 sitting unread on the kindle. I wish it had stayed that way. I can’t understand the rationale behind taking a famous author (Josephone Tey) and using her as the protagonist in a detective/mystery series which apparently has no relationship with any events in her life. WHY?!?!? Also the plot was quite terrible. This book made me angry.
EF Benson: The Complete Lucia Victrix
I really wanted to like this – thought I’d adore the cattiness. Really didn’t at all.
ABANDONED after 14% completed.
I had a bunch of ebooks lurking in a folder on my hard drive which I had *cough* acquired many years ago. Through this folder I’ve discovered tons of great novels which have led me drop a couple of hundred $ on other books by the same authors, so I don’t feel terribly guilty about having it. Anyway …
Kalusna Rose: Nudist Resort Murder
Thought this would be a bit of lighthearted fun. I’m always up for a murder with a quirky theme.
This was incredibly, unspeakably badly written – as if by a 13 year old boy.
ABANDONED after 14% completed (and that was too long)
Guillermo Martinez: The Oxford Murders
I don’t think I’ve read a lot of (or any!) South American authors. Refreshing after the dreadful run I was having. Liked it, but can’t say I was really jazzed by the reveal.
Guillermo Martinez: The Book of Murder
Liked this last one enough to pick up this. Quite good, compelling even – and then ultimately quite infuriating, very poor ending.
Val McDermid: Killing in the Shadows
Quite liked this. My favourite murders are those with recurring characters (PD James; Ruth Rendell; Patricia Cornwell before-she-went-mad; Ngaio Marsh; Sue Grafton; Reginald Hill; &etc) – I adore long, slow character development over a bunch of books. This is a standalone, which is a shame – I found myself wanting to read more.
Val McDermid: A Place of Execution
This one, not so much. It was a bit harrowing. Okay, actually it was a lot harrowing. I don’t think I’ll be returning to Val in a hurry.
Nicola Barker: The Yips
Wow. Bad. Quite possibly it would have improved after the first chapter, but I was not sticking around to find out.
ABANDONED at 8% completed
Robert Harris: The Fear Index
Pretty stock-standard thriller. Wasn’t terrible. I love an evil, sentient computer.
Jonathan Coe: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim
This was appalling. No, really. It tries to be very, very funny and I’m sure there are people would find it so. I don’t know any of these people (thankfully).
ABANDONED at 15%
Kate Atkinson: Human Croquet
I adored the Jackson Brodie novels and I am glad I read them first, because I did not adore this. The reveal was, like, “wut?”. Not my bag at all. Way too, I don’t want to say whimsical, but that sort of whimsical thing.
Jonathan King: Shadow Men (Max Freeman)
I persisted through this from sheer desperation. It was third in a series (where I hadn’t read the first two books). PI, ex-Cop in Florida everglades. Can’t say I was a fan.
Roald Dahl: Switch Bitch
I first read Roald Dahl at school when I was about 13 or 14 (having never read any of his work for children) and I was blown away. Tales of the unexpected became one of my favourite books which I carried around for years. I delighted in Lamb to the Slaughter and that one where they stuff the sickly baby full of royal jelly and it turns into a bee. I came across this in my folder and thought I would love it equally – I didn’t, the stories (all around the theme of sex) were kind of lame and sad (not, sobbing sad but kind of meh). Perhaps Tales of the Unexpected wouldn’t hold up to adult reading either!
I’ve just started on J G Ballard: High-Rise in the hopes of finally getting something decent!
part february | part april
Yikes! This is going to be quite the epic update – possibly somewhat unreliable as I’ve consumed a lot of books in these two(ish) months – mostly because of the holiday. When I’m in a reading mood, I don’t mess about.
J G Ballard: High Rise
Loved until I didn’t. Started really well, but became pretty silly. Perhaps I’m to old and cynical to enjoy such things?
Iris Murdoch: The sea, the sea
Adored. Protagonist was utterly vain and completely bonkers. First Iris Murdoch I’ve read, should read more.
Paula Hawkins: Girl on the train
This was on the recommendations list on amazon which occasionally (rarely) comes through with a winner – expected to loathe this completely as I did with Gone Girl (to which it has been compared). Surprisingly didn’t loathe it completely, nor did I love it completely – wasn’t entirely unreadable.
Della Galton: Ice and a slice
Another one from the recommendations list. Sobriety-themed novel, $3.99. Wasn’t terrible, wasn’t great either – mostly was in the mood for the subject matter because I was struggling with the desire for a glass of wine. Kept me interested enough to move onto the next in the series. Honestly can’t really recommend it – maybe if you’re trying to give up drinking (but possibly not even then).
Della Galton: The morning after the life before
Second (and last) in the series. Another $3.99 book – again wasn’t great (I have yet to find a $4.00 book that is), but once I’d committed I felt the need to continue.
Rebecca Weller: A Happier Hour
Read this again because I needed the motivation to stay on the wagon – served its purpose and really helped through the rough patch.
Helen Russell – Leap Year: How to make big decisions, be more resilient and change your life for good
Purchased because I’d enjoyed the Year of Living Danishly. Enjoyed this too, but a bit too full of facts (studies show that x% of people who do y, are happier by z%) and conversations with experts. I like her voice and would have preferred 67% more personal story.
Then I read a whole bunch of sample chapters from books I didn’t pursue buying and which I’m not linking to – some I may come back to eventually. In particular Holly Throsby: Goodwood looked like it might be pretty good (reminded me a little of the style of the wonderful Tracy), also slightly tempted by Marian Keyes: The Woman Who Stole My Life, but suspect I won’t be huge on it – seems a little … frenetic?
Tim Ferriss: Tools of Titans
I don’t even know why I downloaded this sample chapter, maybe for the lulz because I expected it to be really, really bad. Read the sample in the airport lounge and to my extreme surprise I really quite liked it. Bought it before I jumped on the plane, read the whole thing while en route to Singapore and highlighted a bunch. If you’re into that whole personal development / productivity genre, you might like it too.
Garry Disher was recommended as holiday reading by the very excellent anyresemblance, who always has genius reading suggestions – particularly when it comes to Australian crime fiction. How she finds out about these is a mystery to me, but I’m glad she does!
Disher has a fabulous turn of phrase and I should have highlighted more, some favourites italicized below.
I quickly devoured the Peninsula Crimes series:
Garry Disher: Chain of Evidence
– pretty well summed up the Australian national character, which was not fine and egalitarian but grovelled at the feet of men who’d gone to a private school or could kick a football or had become billionaires by being allowed to evade tax
Garry Disher: Blood Moon
– hooking her fingers around the term
– like Jones, he’d settled into a faintly untidy middle age, as if waiting for retirement and unwilling to over-achieve, or even achieve
– he was the kind of lawyer who always looks clean and precise, as though groomed by valets before every appointment
Garry Disher: Signal Loss
– there was a complicated lump of chrome on his wrist. Pam guessed rolex and spent part of the visit trying to eye the watch face so she could confirm that.
And then moved onto the Wyatt series, which I did not enjoy quite so much as they quickly became pretty predictable. I stopped after the fourth – may resume again at some point.
Garry Disher: Crosskill
– Wyatt waited, letting the street draw poverty and meanness around itself again
Then moved on to another holiday reading recommendation – this time from the lovely connie (and also priorly by the fabulous katy). I’d been dithering about reading the Neapolitan novels for a while (and was considering the first as my audiobook), the recommendations pushed me over the edge.
I’m so glad I pulled the trigger – I alternately adored them, was frustrated by them, could so very much relate to many parts of them, was depressed by them.
And that’s it! I’m feeling quite melancholy and really need something very light as an antidote! Maybe yet more hygge?
part april | part june
This is again one of those times where I really wish I had recorded my impressions when I completed a book!
A little (okay, a lot) less reading in this period. And one of those times where I haven’t been entirely satisfied with what is on offer. No internet, no reading, no instagram – I have no actual idea what I have been doing with my time!
Charlotte Abrahams: Hygge – A Celebration of Simple Pleasures
Not a huge fan of this. I found the author a little complain-y and slightly bitter. She was very sneery and dismissive of self-improvement, which is (as we know) one of my favourite things, so we were never really get on. I think I’m totally maxed out with this genre.
Nancy Mitford: Love in a Cold Climate
Shockingly, I’d never actually read any Mitford before. This was one of those spontaneous bargain buys from September 2011. Of course I liked it.
Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love
I daresay I should have read this before Love in a Cold Climate. Of course I liked this too.
Anthony Berkeley: The Poisoned Chocolates Case
Classic golden age. Featured 2x alternative endings by other (recent) authors – ridiculous and unnecessary.
John Safran: Murder in Mississippi
I’ve long been a bit conflicted by John Safran – he can tend toward the precocious and bratty, but he does some really very good things. This took a while to get through (couple of pages each night before bed), but I enjoyed it.
I’ve also read a bunch of samples, but nothing has really grabbed me. I have no idea what I am in the mood for reading, but I have yet to find it.
part june | august
I think I’m always going to regret not capturing my impressions when reading books, or at least shortly after I’ve completed them. Perhaps I can make this an Action for next year.
Most of my recent reading has been confined to 30 minutes before bed and has veered toward the self-improvement and manageressing. Suspect it is time for more fiction.
E.R. Punshon: Music tells all – a Bobby Owen mystery
Golden Age. I enjoyed the writing (that sort of light-hearted, witty, flippancy), but the plot was completely and utterly preposterous. No, really – not even preposterous in a good way.
There are 35 books in this series, I won’t be attempting another!
Laura Vanderkam: 168 Hours – You Have More Time Than You Think
I really can’t stay away from the self-help genre. Thesis of this one is what it says on the tin – there are 168 hours in the week and you’re probably using most of them for non-value add activities. Work out what you want and JFDI (Just Do It), outsource stuff you don’t enjoy – and you probably don’t exercise enough. Could veer a bit toward the preachy.
I’m sure there was more which I’ve subsequently forgotten and should have noted at the time.
I’ll likely return for a second read.
Brigid Delaney: Wellmania – Misadventures in the Search for Wellness
This didn’t really do it for me. Wasn’t terrible, but verged toward humble-bragging on occasion (behold the fab trips and perks I’ve been forced to take in the pursuit of journalism.). Slightly all over the place and would have benefited from much tighter editing. I’m still not entirely sure exactly what she was trying to say.
Peter Bregman: 18 Minutes – Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done
This was much more business focussed – classic management self-improvement really. You know the type – key take-outs in boxes, pithy anecdotes, fairly short, quick read. I didn’t hate it.
This bit really spoke to me:
I surveyed the top 400 leaders in a 120,000-person company and found that close to 95% of them – that’s 380 out of 400 – pointed to three things that wasted their time the most: unnecessary meetings, unimportant emails, and protracted PowerPoints.
Sing it! I sent this quote to my team and then we had Words. Particularly I’m using this to hammer my Highly Paid Underperformer – she is guilty of All The Things. The Juniors are too, but they have an excuse (being relatively inexperienced and not overpaid).
Peter Bregman: Four Seconds – All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones That Really Work
Very similar to 18 minutes (short, sharp read), so didn’t resonate so much, I adored this quote:
Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don’t go near it
Can you tell I’m invited to too many meetings? That I’m developing a complex about the misuse of power-point? The ToddlerConsultants recently delivered a 53 page deck as part of an engagement – with no executive summary. You don’t even want to know how much we paid for that.
I’ve largely forgotten the rest of the book.
Caroline Webb: How to Have A Good Day – A Revolutionary Handbook for Work and Life
I liked this quite a bit. But then I very much like reading about self-improvement, behavioural science, cognitive biases and such. It’s quite a lengthy read and there are several things I’ll take away from it. The most currently relevant and useful of which was to not go into meetings with the preconceived idea that certain Annoying people will be Annoying, else you’ll just sit there and wait for them to be (inevitably) Annoying and will jump on every little thing as proof – as a consequence you’re less likely to be your best self and sit there quietly seething or get fighty. What? Just me?
I’ll probably read this again and am inclined to take notes when I do.
I’m also still dipping into The Best Australian Essays: A Ten-Year Collection – it’s lengthy and dipping is the best approach. I should read more essays, I’m enjoying most of these.
And off-on-again with Patrick White: The Twyborn Affair – which is excellent, but requires concentration.
And I can’t in any good conscience call this reading, but lately in audiobooks …
Virigina Woolf: To the Lighthouse
Just couldn’t. I don’t know if Woolf doesn’t lend herself to being read aloud, or whether our Nicole isn’t engaging. Returned for refund. Will try the actual book – when I say actual I mean the e-book of course. I can’t be doing with paper.
Ian Rankin: The Complaints
Really enjoyed this. Was considering the next one in the series, but is narrated by someone else and I read ahead and am not entirely convinced I’d be so much full of love.
In the midst of:
Patrick White: Happy Valley
HOLY GOODNESS! This is wonderful, I’m adoring it! The writing is glorious.
Despite best intentions to read fiction in September, I fell down yet another self-improvement rabbit hole. Despite other best intentions, I failed to record my thoughts while reading or immediately afterward, so unless something was super-memorable, I’ll pretty much have hazy memories weeks afterward. This is definitely something I want to improve!
Carol Dweck: Mindset
I’d seen references to this book in a bunch of other things I’d read. I really enjoyed this and had many “oh wow”, “zomg” and cringe moments. The book can sometimes get a little folksy and some of the examples are a bit laboured, but that doesn’t get in the way of the message.
Dweck argues people have one of 2 mindsets: fixed or growth. The fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are predetermined and immutable. Growth, the opposite – everything is up for grabs, you can become more intelligent or more skilled if you put in the effort. Fixed mindset spends life trying to prove how intelligent or skilled they are, that any sign of effort is a sign of weakness, that if you’re not immediately good at something you should abandon further pursuit of it. Growth, the reverse.
I thought I’d highlighted a bunch of quotes because there was a lot of good in here, but had not (argh!) – so skimmed back to grab a couple.
+ In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world effort is what *makes* you smart or talented.
+ In the fixed mindset, it’s not enough just to succeed. It’s not enough just to look smart and talented. You pretty much have to be flawless. And you have to be flawless right away.
+ People with the fixed mindset expect ability to show up on its own, before any learning takes place. After all if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t.
+ The scariest thought, which I rarely entertained, was the possibility of being ordinary. This kind of thinking led me to need constant validation. Every comment, every look was meaningful – it registered on my scorecard, my attractiveness scorecard, my likability scorecard.
+ Some of my colleagues were working late. They must not be as smart as I am, I thought to myself. It never occurred to me that they might be just as smart and more hardworking.
+ The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging: “this means I’m a loser”. “This means I’m a better person than they are”.
The fixed mindset is totally how I lived my early life – hence the many, many (many!) cringe-at-myself moments. I like to think I’ve mostly recovered now!
Definitely worth a read.
Cal Newport: So good they can’t ignore you
I liked this quite a bit. Basic thesis is that “follow your passion” is pretty stupid advice, that there is no magical job or career that is made for you. You need a solid foundation of runs on the board (career capital) to be successful – so don’t go and chuck it all in to be a yoga teacher on the basis of taking two yoga classes, for example. Deliberate practice and hard slog, not magic beans is the key to most “overnight success” or having a long-term satisfying career.
Cal Newport: Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
I’m finding this one a little depressing and am stuck at 49%. Absolutely my issue and not the fault of the book, but reading this leaves me feeling very uneducated and quite the failure – so possibly will abandon this. Clearly I’m not entirely recovered from that fixed mindset!
Adam Alter: Irresistible – Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching
This really made me think about how I’m living my life and how I live with technology – so many “oh god”, face-palm and cringe moments.
This comes on the back of weening myself of self-tracking, obsessive exercise and instagram (I should probably post about that) – and pretty much reinforced that those decisions were the right ones! Also made me wonder about the blogging-every-day thing – something which I think needs further examination.
On with the (oh-god-that-is-totally-me) quotes:
+ There’s good reason to believe we’re living through an unprecedented age of goal culture – a period underscored by addictive perfectionism, self-assessment, more time at work, less time at play.
+ When you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist in a state of near-continuous failure. Almost all of the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.
+ Goals function as placeholders that propel you forward when the daily systems that run your life are no longer fulfilling.
+ Streaks uncover the major flaw with goal pursuit: you spend far more time pursuing the goal than you do enjoying the fruits of your success.
Would have benefited from tighter editing, but definitely worth checking out.
Now I really think I need fiction.
And in audiobooks:
Finished up Patrick White: Happy Valley. I really can’t convey how wonderful I found this. Sure, the outcomes were fairly obvious (all the tropes! but perhaps they weren’t tropes in 1939?), but the language was just brilliant. I’m generally pretty cynical about the whole “we need Australian stories” mantra**, but I really connected to this in a way I don’t think I would have for a book without such a clearly Australian voice and setting.
** Primarily because it is used as an argument by the local publishing industry to sell vastly (vastly!) over-priced local editions of foreign books – “we need to charge you exhorbitant prices for these books, because we’re totally supporting the works of Australian authors (with our fat profits)”.
Ooops – the peril of not keeping a log of what I’m reading / listening to is that one is invariably missed!
Joe/Frank and I had an early appointment this morning and being out of my routine, I inadvertently left my phone at home. Having no phone made me remember that I’d also listened to the Manoush Zomorodi: Bored and Brilliant audiobook during the month.
If you’re not familiar with this project, you should go watch Manoush’s TED talk.
If you’ve already listened to the note to self bored and brilliant episodes, there’s a fair bit of repetition in the book. This meant I probably didn’t get as much out of this as I might have done if it was new material, but I still found it really worthwhile.
Definitely worth a listen / read.
I’m now consciously making an effort to put the phone down and let myself be bored (especially useful on the train this afternoon with no phone to occupy me!).
Not much reading happening this month – I picked up a few samples, but not many compelling enough for me to actually go to the effort of buying.
One positive outcome of this is that it’s definitely easier to remember what I’ve read because it was barely anything!
Gabriella Coslovich: Whiteley on Trial
This is actually very good, am reading in fits and starts. Who doesn’t love an art fraud case?
Annie Raser-Rowland, Adam Grubb: The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More
Love the idea behind this book, it’s Australian too – which is pretty excellent – most of this genre is written overseas and can tend toward the less relatible. Found the voice occasionally a-little-too-trying-too-hard-to-be-funny. Many, many good things in here and though I’m unlikely to resort to freeganism, or start a huge garden, I liked the reminder that it’s completely not mandatory to upgrade / renovate your house (sometimes this is something I forget, with all those design blogs I follow and renovation programmes I watch!). Also loved the prod that I don’t always need the latest *thing*, but that it’s definitely still okay to spend money on *stuff* – particularly on quality and experiential *stuff*.
Some excellent Excerpts:
+ You’ve likely heard the following advice before, but given that so many of us forget to do it, here goes: when you’re food shopping, check what you already have before you go. This isn’t just about avoiding ending up with three jars of mayonnaise in the fridge, it’s about buying stuff to complement the food you’ve already got.
+ (on lifestyle journalists) They are not you. In fact They are mostly not even Them, but just writers attempting on satisfy an expected tone, spitting out blurbs about an Ethiopian fusion restaurant with award winning decor, or a great new line of handbags in the shape of marine mammals. Meanwhile, they muddle on with their imperfect lives, eat pasta and go to the shops carrying an old tote with a frayed strap, just like we all do.
Very few people actually do much of the stuff that the media implies people do, and those who do work hard to keep it up. But lifestyle journalism makes it easy to feel there is a world out there effortlessly dressing, holidaying, exercising, eating and thinking in certain appropriate ways, and it is human nature to not want to be terribly out of line with what everyone else is up to. Steer clear of this homogenising influence is you authors’ suggestion. Spend your Sunday morning breakfasts perusing odd facts about breeding piranhas in captivity instead.
+ Beware Fake Frugal … if it is cheap to buy, but at the expense of someone or something else, it’s Fake Frugal, and it’s just not fair. Factory-farmed eggs, end-less brand new clothes made by tired women in far away countries, “value packs” of disposable razors that end up as bobbing carpets in the North Atlantic. You get the gist. Buying cheap disposable, or crummy quality things that quickly need replacing, is not only Fake Frugal because it leads to you spending more money later on, but because it leads to us all living in a very non-hedonism-compatible rubbish dump.
Will definitely read again.
Would recommend if you’re into this sort of thing.
Nicholas Carr: The Shallows – How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember
What it says on the tin. This was published in 2010, so I we’re 7 years further down the path of shallowness!
I’m at 29% – it’s a very good read, but I’m finding it a little depressing we’re doomed and this-is-exactly-what-has-happened-to-me kind of way. Occasionally picking up, putting down, thinking, digesting, picking up &etc – which is probably the way to read it
Fiction, where art thou?
And in audiobooks – finished Wallander #1 – kind of gentle, easy-listening murder, good for slow Sundays. Went to start #2, only to find it not available on the Australian audible. Geo-restrictions make me stabby (just take my frigging money, already!) – so I was forced to acquire it by less conventional means. Also, non-challenging and easy listening (though with a different – very american – narrator, which was a little disconcerting at first).
Now I’m on #3, which audible also did not want to sell to me. Fortunately it appears I can actually pay for #4 if I want to keep going.
november to december
Not a lot in reading and nothing I was particularly jazzed by – I’m very much in need of something cheerful and engaging.
Marcia Muller: Edward of the Iron Shoes (Sharon McCone)
I’d not heard of Sharon McCone until the excellent anyresemblance mentioned the series in a comment of the also excellent ganching’s blog. Published in 1977 and don’t think it has dated particularly well. Possibly should have picked one of the later novels!
Joan Didiion: The Year of Magical Thinking
I’d never read any Joan Didion before. I’m a little conflicted about this one. Quite harrowing story, but I don’t know that I necessarily connect very well with her writing. I liked it enough to start reading the white album, but abandoned it. Likely heresy, but we don’t really gel.
Clive Cussler: Typhoon Fury
Read on my birthday glamping adventure. I think I’m done with Clive. I adored his books because of their sheer and utter ridiculousness, but the latter books have really lost their unintentionally hilarious spark.
I adore David Lebovitz’s blog and newsletter. This was an account of the purchase and renovation of his apartment. While reading this I wanted to shake him and shout “What are you doing? Listen to Romain!!”
Exactly what it says on the tin. Some good stuff in here, some baffling stuff in here, some underwhelming stuff in here, some awful stuff in here. I didn’t get a huge amount from it, but worthwhile reading.
There’s a question in the book along the lines of “what is the book you most gift to people?” Is this a thing? This is so far outside my experience that I’m dazzled by the idea that “This is Jack, who gives everyone he meets a copy of Who Moved My Cheese”, “This is Fabrice, well known for gifting the Da Vinci code”. I can understand recommending a book you’d enjoyed, but wouldn’t you just buy a book to suit someone’s actual interests if you were giving a gift? Clearly this is why I’m not a mover and shaker.
It drives me quite bonkers when there are continuity issues in book series – and there are a few scattered throughout this one (no you have met her husband before – in the last book | you’ve been 49 for the last 6 years, etc). Hasn’t stopped me continuing to listen though!
Just completed #8. Likely will stop here as the last book is apparently quite bleak and I’m not in the right mental state for that!
Have WAY too many audible credits – need to use them up by downloading a bunch of books before I put the membership on hold!