Reading Round-Up: September 2020

Oh, how hopeful I was at the end of August! “Yeah, Ted’s going back to nursery so I’ll be able to read books upon books upon books! Oh, yippee!”

Er, well. About that. My tiny ratbag has indeed swanned back off to nursery for the first time in months, settling back in with his characteristic swagger. That’s three days a week – three! Plus an extra one if he spends Saturday at my mum’s! – where I can chill out, recline on my sofa like the queen of everything, and read to my heart’s content. But… has it gone like that?

No. No it has not.

BUT. (Big but.) (Bigger than my butt, unbelievably, considering the stone I’m unable to shift since lockdown).

I’ve been writing instead.

And caffeinating. Obviously.

This started last month, though I couldn’t get fully into my stride while we were moving house and I didn’t have a great deal of time to myself. I was writing in snatched moments during the day, when Ted was fully immersed in CBeebies (and I was probably supposed to be packing). I find it really difficult to write in the evening, when he’s in bed – I’m usually that befuddled and semi brain-dead, I tend to just slump in front of the TV with a cup of tea, and fall into bed by ten. Oh, who am I kidding? By nine.

Now, with the small boy at nursery and the big boy (husband) quietly working from home at the very top of the house, I have found myself with what feels like aeons of time, just stretching out beautifully in front of me. And the words have been pouring out of me in a veritable stream (that sounds dodgy, bad metaphor). I’ve written more in the last month than I have in at least the last two years combined – even if you include my epic self-imposed Edinburgh writing retreat last year (aka quite possibly the catalyst to my writerly burn-out).

This is my beautiful little workspace, sandwiched between two wardrobes in our new bedroom. I would sit and write at this desk all day long if I could, I love it.

It’s really taken away from my reading time and my totals are way down this month.

But, do you know what? I’m not beating myself up about it – especially as, even for me, writing does beat reading in the productivity stakes. Also, though, some of the books I did read this month were pretty epically long, and took some puzzling out. There were a fair few rereads, too – I feel that I deserve some old favourites, after reaching 100 new reads last month.

Oh, I mentioned last month too that I was going to do a full Twilight Saga reread, and blog my ‘grown-up’ impressions of it (under the influence of much alcohol, one would hope). Sadly, this is yet to materialise – I’ve started Twilight, but honestly, holy balls, is this book hard to get through. I started off making notes in it but I’ve given up, because if I carried on all the notes would just disintegrate into one big ‘AAAARGH’. So hopefully I’ll be able to push on with it in October, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

Anyway! Here are my monthly stats: only six new books this month, with four rereads. A dismal reading month, when it comes to numbers, but it does bring my total up to 106 new books read this year, which I still think is pretty impressive. And, to be honest, back in the day I would have considered six new books consumed in a single month as a massive achievement.

Content-wise, it certainly was not a dismal month. And once again, it’s bloody difficult to pick a favourite. But I have made my choice and I’m going to stick with it!

September Favourite

More Than A Woman – Caitlin Moran

I only found out this was being written a couple of months ago, and immediately I realised I’ve been desperately needing it. I’ve mentioned Caitlin Moran’s fabulously feminist ‘How To Be a Woman‘ many, many times before, because it’s amazing and hilarious and you should all go and read it (male, female, whatever, go forth). It’s the book that I always credit with getting me firmly into feminism.

That first book, however, only dealt with womanhood up to the mid-thirties. As someone rapidly approaching that threshold, I was intrigued to see that More Than A Woman covers the following decade or so, and our gradual descent into middle age. Well, I always like to be prepared. And as I’ve approached the advent of my thirties with a bit more of a creak than a bang, it has spoken to me.

This book is just glorious. From Botox to the care of elderly parents; the mental load to gruesome middle-aged hangovers; from The List to toxic masculinity – it’s all there. Moran covers it all in her typically ranty, witty, chatty style, and once again I found myself repeatedly laughing out loud.

I also cried. Well, as I’ve said before, I have all the depth of a muddy puddle, so it’s probably more accurate to say I was a little choked up. But the raw despair of Moran writing about helping a family member through an eating disorder struck a real chord with me; the writing was powerful and heartbreaking.

I don’t agree with every single element of Caitlin Moran’s feminism, but that didn’t stop this from being a truly fantastic book – especially for those of us who can no longer stand up without saying “oof”. It’s going to be ‘How To Be a Woman’ all over again, and you’re going to have me recommending it until I’m blue in the face.

Honourable mentions to…

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith

This is the fifth book in JK Rowling’s Strike series of books, published under her pseudonym. I’m going to go ahead and say now that I’m not getting into the current controversy over Rowling, because this is supposed to be a blog about books and not one that will inevitably devolve into a nineteen page rant. Maybe another time.

All I’ll say it: no matter what else is going on, I didn’t spot any transphobia in this book and the furore over a killer (one potential suspect and not the focus of the book) dressing in a wig and a woman’s coat the confuse a victim has been blown far, far out of proportion.

I love the Strike books, and have actually reread three of the others this month as well as taking on the 900+ page behemoth that is Troubled Blood. It’s not my favourite – I think Career of Evil takes that title – but it’s still an excellent, twisty mystery with stellar, vibrant characters. Strike and Robin are actually infuriating in this book – utterly infuriating at times – especially in their sheer unwillingness to talk about their feelings, but it’s the kind of infuriating that makes you smile and gleefully anticipate the next book in the series.

This is also the most explicitly feminist Strike book yet, unveiling misogyny all over the place – even in the series’ titular character. It’s certainly a lesson in not judging by appearances; not to spoil anything, but the revelation of the actual perpetrator of the crime (a cold case of a woman who disappeared without a trace) really does hammer this home. Above all, it’s a book about a woman. A doctor, a mother, a wife, a feminist, an academic, a social campaigner. A sympathetic, flawed, complex character – her absence drives the story and reveals more than just the twisted mind of a killer.

Majesty – Katharine McGee

This is the second book in the American Royals series – I read the first one earlier this year and loved it so much, I believe it was my book of the month back in January or February. Oh, these books are delicious. Essentially: what if the USA had a monarchy instead of a presidency? And what might their young heirs get up to?

The series could quite easily have been trashy and unreadable, in the wrong hands, but Katharine McGee is such a good writer, the story is compelling as America gets used to its first ever queen. Honestly, the way Beatrice deals with a bunch of middle-aged men trying to push her out and control her, had me clapping my hands and, once again, wishing that the US election of 2016 had gone a different way. The characters are a wonderful mix of both believable and unbelievable at the same time – I must admit to a soft spot for the ever-scheming Daphne. Is this great literature? No. Is it thoroughly entertaining? Yes.

I’m a bit sad now, though, because I’ve just read that this might actually turn out to be a duology and not a trilogy, which would be disappointing and might even knock my star rating down a tiny bit – this does read like the second book in a trilogy, and leaves too many loose ends for it to be a conclusion.

And the rest…

Chloe – Freya North

The Happiest Days – Cressida Connolly

Earth Prime – Janet Edwards

And the rereads…

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty

What’s next for my reading? I’m not going to think too hard about it. On September 1st, I took a lovely TBR photo, and fully ignored half of it. I’m loathe to put the same books back on the TBR for a third (third!) time, photogenic as they are. It’ll just have to be a lovely surprise if I read them or not. I’m on a bit of a string of rereads at the moment, still, so there will probably be a few more of those in the pipeline – I’ve got one more Strike book to reread, for a start, and I’m really craving some Becky Chambers.

I’m also feeling like October might be a good month for another Bookstagram challenge. I had so much fun with it in July, and now we’re fully settled into the new house and our new routine, it feels like an excellent idea.

And, of course, the writing is still ongoing. In fact, I’m off to do some more… right now.

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