What I Read in August

Before we dive into my August reading, I’ve just realised that I haven’t done the draw for that free copy of Paul Flower’s excellent THE GREAT AMERICAN CHEESE WAR. So I’d better do that first. We had a total of nine entries, mostly via Twitter RTs rather than here, which probably says something, although I don’t know what. One of the RTs was me and another was the publishers (who presumably have enough copies already), so that leaves seven. Here we go…

*drum roll*

*keeps on drumming*

*come on, come on*

And the winner is…

*more drum roll*

*even more drum roll, possibly with added cowbell*

*manic drum cadenza, followed by abrupt fade*

Joanna Rollings AKA @SpotSnoopy on Twitter!

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I have a spare copy of another splendid book to give away next month, incidentally, so keep your eyes peeled for the “What I Read in September” post some time at the beginning of October, and we’ll do this all again.

One more thing before we do the August books. Given that this blog is supposed to be about my writing, I’d better fill you in on how the Fractal Monks are coming along. After a somewhat trying start to the year, I’m making good progress on Book Three, and it’s still on course for publication in April 2020. I’ve got to the point where I’m really enjoying writing it and I can’t wait to see what happens. Such is the joy of being a pantser rather than a plotter, even if my spell checker keeps insisting on me being a panther, which is possibly even more exciting. One day I may plot a book from the start, just to see what it’s like, but for now I’m going to carry on winging it, on the basis that if I don’t know what’s going to happen, sure as hell my readers won’t.

So this is what I read in August:

Let’s crack on, shall we?

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. I’m usually a bit wary of coming-of-age stories, because, frankly, they tend to follow a fairly predictable path, and once you’ve read a few of them, the template gets a bit boring. But this was something else altogether. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the weird dynamics of childhood relationships observed quite so well as this, amplified by a gloriously subtle twist right at the end. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series.

Bold as Brass by Isabel Rogers. The long-awaited (well, a few months awaited, actually – they’re bloody slave-drivers at Farrago, I tell you) sequel to the excellent Life, Death and Cellos, this is – if anything – even better. Rogers really knows her characters, and I don’t think I’ve read anything else that captures the particular oddness of amateur musicians quite so well.

Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor. Been meaning to acquire this one for ages, mainly because it has THE BEST TITLE EVAH. I finally got around to it this month after being nudged by the publicity surrounding the film based on it, Blinded by the Light. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as I’d hoped and I think this is because I’ve been spoilt by Imran Ahmad’s lesser-known memoir Unimagined (or The Perfect Gentleman, if you’re in the US), which somehow contrives to be both wittier and more profound. Or maybe it’s just because I only possess one Springsteen album – even if it is Nebraska, which is probably the only one you need.

Palestine +100, edited by Basma Ghalayini. Comma Press have a brilliant track record in producing unusual anthologies from unexpected sources, and this is no exception – a collection of science fiction stories by Palestinian authors, no less. I’ll admit that I ordered it for the sheer novelty value, but I did enjoy reading it as well. I particularly liked Saleem Haddad’s Song of the Birds, which reminded me of something Christopher Priest might have written.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling. I used to enjoy watching the late author’s Gapminder videos, and I was looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of his posthumous book. This is one of those books that I think every single person on the planet should read, if only to remind ourselves that – despite all appearances – the world is actually getting to be a better place, and that it will continue to improve, but only if we pay attention to facts rather than our feelings. Absolutely magnificent and unbelievably timely book. Get yourself a copy now.

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. Ah. Now there’s been a lot of love for this one on social media, and I really wanted to join in myself. I know why it’s so appealing – it’s because it’s reassuring to come across a novel that celebrates quietness as a virtue in these difficult times. But. But but but. It didn’t work for me. If I were to try to unpick why, maybe it’s because I found that the plot meandered too much or that much of the dialogue seemed unrealistic for my liking or perhaps that one of the characters seemed a bit too close to a manic pixie dream girl for comfort. (Actually, maybe that last one is just a personal thing, because I have a character myself who keeps wanting to become a MPDG and I never quite know whether or not I’ve managed to restrain her.) Alternatively it may simply be that I couldn’t get Nicola Murray’s “Quiet bat people” from The Thick of It out of my head when I was reading it. However, your mileage may very well vary. I know I’m in the minority here.

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