Tuesday, 30 January 2018

What I'm Reading Now - January

I thought I'd add something new to the blog, a book share. 

I stopped reading for a long time after having kids, the same as I stopped writing fiction. I was too tired from the broken nights and hectic days of having tiny kids. I literally couldn't read more than a few lines without falling asleep. And if I did manage to read something my mind was so foggy I couldn't retain it, so I found myself getting a few chapters into a book before I realised I had already read it, but still couldn't remember how it ended.

I sleep trained my youngest over the past few years, really slowly and we eventually worked the gradual withdrawal to sitting outside her room for a half hour to an hour while she fell asleep. Rather than stare at my phone, I tried reading again. It took a bit of training to stay awake; short, pithy crime novels seemed to help, but I was soon able read a decent amount in that time and remember it. Now that my little monster goes to sleep without me watching over her, I read in bed as a way of winding down before sleep. I don't manage to go through a book as quickly in that way, but I'm still getting some reading time in without feeling guilty that I'm not writing or cleaning or doing something else Mom-ish.

Living abroad where the first language is not English, it's difficult to have access to a wide source of new books unless you want to spend a fortune. We go to libraries almost weekly, so we tend to work our way through the English language sections pretty quickly. I also swap books with friends. As a result I'm not picky about what I read, but I like recommendations. 

A friend brought me a copy of Bernard MacLaverty's new novel Midwinter Break as a late Christmas gift and highly recommended it. Though it wasn't what I was expecting, it is a lovely touching book. My enjoyment was helped by the fact that I went to Amsterdam for the first time last year and this is where the story of the retired couple takes place and part of the story is set around a out of the way spot that I bumbled into myself.

The pace of the novel is slow and its language softly poetic, similar to his novel Grace Notes which I also enjoyed. He focuses on the couple's in-jokes, their little moments. He draws us into their routine and inner thoughts with simple, precise detail, such as their daily Ailment Hour when they discuss any illness or injury plaguing them. 

It does have an undercurrent of religious faith which is not usually a subject I'm interested in, but MacLaverty managed to cushion it within the characters' history and relationship in a way that it was not overwhelming.

Midwinter Break is short but sweet, a gentle read for a snowy winter's day.  

Last night I started Girl Reading by Katie Ward. I bought this title and I'm afraid to say, so far I'm underwhelmed. It's a collection of seven vignettes based on real portraits of a woman reading. It ranges from the 1300s in Siena, Italy to modern day. I've read the first 'chapter' and while the author has evoked the time and place well and I'm drawn into the characters, I struggled to follow the shifts in point of view and some of the scenes just didn't make sense to me. 

The section started quite slow and we were just getting to know the 3 most interesting characters when their dilemmas were just dropped, the reader left to fill in the blanks. The author finished the section with 'Many details go unrecorded' and while I don't need a happy ending, I do like a sense of finish to a piece.

I know I will enjoy going in search of the portraits after I finish each section, the first being Simone Martini's Annunciation but I hope the author gives me more time with the next characters and doesn't leave me hanging for the next 6 chapters.

Note: once I reached the last few sections of the novel, the disjointed style of the early chapters began to make sense to the overall plot of the novel. I understood what the author was doing and it was clever and well done, but to be honest, I didn't enjoy it as a read.

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