I didn’t quite reach my Goodreads reading challenge to get through 30 books last year. This was largely because I didn’t read at all during the month of my trip to Australia. This year I set it at 25 so I wouldn’t become idiotically feel under pressure in the run-up to 31st December. Guess what? I reached 25 books in August.
I felt pretty anxious all month and my reading choices reflect this: humorous, adventurous romps to take my mind off things, self-help books to try and find solutions, and a couple of novels that I hoped would calming my nerves.
Hope for the Best (Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 10) by Jodi Taylor
‘Let us all think carefully. Who here has the least value? Who has annoyed me the most?’ He turned to face me. ‘Who is in need of a much-deserved lesson?’
‘No idea,’ I said.
‘Oh, I think you do.’
‘Well, yes, I do, but I thought it would be rude to point out it’s you. Not in front of your men. Although it would be good to stop you talking before everyone dies of boredom.’
This, the 10th book in the series, came out in April but I’ve been saving it. So when I didn’t know what I wanted to read next and felt a bit low, it was there waiting for me. St. Mary’s is my literary happy place however much of this book is spent with the Time Police who are soon to have their own spin-off series. In any case, the action is still led by our indomitable hero Max and as per usual, misfortune abounds as she travels back to the Cretaceous period to try and finish her nemesis once and for all. But first she must fix an anomaly in the Time Map and make sure Mary Tudor fulfils her destiny in the 16th century. (I have already pre-ordered Book 11 which will be released in April next year.) 5/5
Happy: Why Just About Everything Is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown
“We do not have the control over events that we like to imagine would allow us to succeed through self-belief. In truth, we aim in one direction, events pull us in the other, and the line of our life is drawn along the middle.”
I’ve long been a fan of illusionist Derren Brown. I’ve watched the TV shows and seen his stage show a couple of times. It was always clear that he was an extremely clever guy but now he’s written a self-help book based on Stoic philosophy: a must-read for me then. People in the field of personal development are always talking about goal-setting but this has long been a source of anxiety for me. It was incredibly reassuring and a huge relief to have Derren acknowledge this in the first fifth of the book. Latter sections show you how you can apply Stoic philosophy to everyday life. I lost interest during a couple of chapters covering anger and fame but those covering death were as well thought-out as they were thought-provoking. 4/5
The Summer Book by Tove Jannsen
“Smell is important. It reminds a person of all the things he’s been through; it is a sheath of memories and security.”
Unfortunately, I read this book for adults by the author of the Moomntroll series at the wrong time. It needs patience and a calm mind so you can settle into its gentle pace. With my anxiety in full swing it was a bad fit. It’s not a novel where you can get lost in the narrative (which I needed) but a series of vignettes mainly set in the summer but not necessarily in the same year. They revolve around a grandmother and her granddaughter Sophia who spend their summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. The father is there too but he’s a shadowy figure in the background. I enjoyed some of the stories a lot but grew distracted with those where very little happens. Sophia is precocious and volatile and the fact that her mother has died coloured everything for me. Her interactions with her grandmother are often humorous and charming but sometimes felt a little surreal. I did have to laugh when she stuck a note under the door saying something like ‘I hate you, With warmest personal wishes, Sophia’. The passages about the island’s flora, landscape and weather were beautiful and I found the atmosphere unique. It’s clearly a special book, I just wasn’t in the right mindset to fully appreciate it. 3/5
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”
I struggled with this book a little at first because I found Bernadette hard to like. She is somtimes ignorant, always judgemental and usually ranting about everything from Seattle’s road system to Canadians and homeless people. That made it hard to care that she went missing but as the story evolves we find out more about Bernadette’s past and that made it easier to empathise. Her main redeeming features however, is her relationship with her bright and engaging teenage daughter, Bee. Events unfold via various letters, emails and documents as Bee tries to piece together what happened in the run up to her disappearance. This format was highly enjoyable and worked really well. It’s touted as a satire of Microsoft (where Bee’s hapless father works) and private school parents, and while it’s often very funny, it also has heart. It was pretty outlandish but a great distraction. 4/5 (Now a film starring Cate Blanchett)
Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon
It’s a terrible admission but in my weaker moments I envy people who have high anxiety and don’t have a clue about what they should be doing in order to manage it. Those people, like the many testimonials in the latest edition of Anxiety Rebalance, can read a book like this and totally transform their lives in 3 months as it suggests. They can implement the ’10 actions’ to create a healthy lifestyle with a supportive daily routine and experience a dramatic turnaround. It’s as if they have been reborn and their past life is like a bad dream. This book is perfect for those people. However, if you’ve long been aware you suffer from anxiety and gradually worked out how to function with it on a daily basis, reading this book isn’t going to make a difference. One day I’ll realise no one has all the answers. 2/5
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life.
In my very limited experience, I’ve found contemporary Japanese fiction can be very soothing. I was picking up and putting down book after book until I started this and read over a quarter in one sitting. There’s a spaciousness about the writing style that calms me. The plots may seem simplistic but there is usually an existential theme just beneath the surface. They also tend to include pleasing descriptions of Japanese food. Sweet Bean Paste is set in a confectionery shop in Tokyo that sells dorayaki (sweet pancakes). Sentaro wants to be a writer but is running the shop to pay off a debt her owes the owner. He has no passion for the job and buys in the sweet bean paste. Then he agrees to let an elderly woman, Tokue, work in the kitchen making her exceptional sweet bean paste, despite his reservations over her deformed fingers. A friendship slowly develops which is put to the test when Tokue’s secret is revealed. It’s a touching quietly gorgeous book. 5/5
How was your August, reading or otherwise?
20 responses to “Reading Diary – August 2019”
My August and my year, and last year too, have been incredibly awful! I can empathise with you on the all-encompassing anxiety that swallows one up. I wish I could find solace in books, but can’t settle to read any. However I do appreciate – and find a little calm – in reading my favourite blogs, such as yours. And one day I might even read some of the books that you have described so well!
Jillie, I’m so sorry you’ve had such a rotten time of it this year and last. That is a long time to be going through it. I do think taking comfort in the little things is one of the ways to get through it. I sincerely hope matters improve and you can relax enough to pick up a book again before too long.
I just read “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. I enjoyed it but it bought up a few issues which is good.
Ahh so many good books and good perfumes in life lol
Hoping you are well xxxx
Hey Anna Maria
Your (Insta?) post about that book spurred me on to finally read it and I really enjoyed it. Not so heavy that it made me stressed but it dealt with a difficult situation all the same.
Honestly, I can’t even hear the word „goal“ anymore – except it’s about a ball sport ! And I‘m so with you about contemporary Japanese literature – Sweet Bean Paste is on my list.
When my thoughts circle on 200mi/h and I‘m desperate to slow them down I reach for guided meditation (I need a stranger’s voice to bring my own to peace, meditation on my own wouldn‘t be possible) – try that sometimes.
I‘m still on my „feminist“ trip with books :
Is There Still Sex In the City by Candace Bushnell – good to know that big, rich celebrity women have the same problems as us, small ones (it’s no comfort though…)
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – heavy, difficult, disconcerting, but good
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – good story, well written, what not to like ?!
I was doing lots of Yoga this year, I needed it for my sanity. I‘m trying to go deeper than the physical surface of it, so I was reading Iyengar and right now Inner Engineering : The Yogi‘s Guide to Joy by Sadhguru.
Wishing you a peaceful, satisfying autumn, T. No goals necessary – you are an artist, not a football player 🐾💕
Just hearing from you is a tonic. So validating to hear you agree about the goals issue. It’s not for me and I’m fed up of feeling guilty about it.
I’m dying to read City of Girls. Just waiting for it to come down in price a bit. Maybe I’ll treat myself. I’ll check out that yoga book too. It’s honestly got me through the last year.
Keep going on that feminist trip!
Thank you for sharing your strength and hope, and BOOKS! I find solace in books, too. I just reserved Just One Damned Thing After Another at the library. Thanks for the recommendation. Hugs.
I really hope you love Just One Damned Thing After Another and carry on with the series. Those books never fail me.
Thanks for reading!
Like Jillie, the last year and a half has been extremely difficult and my anxiety has been intense. I’ve only been able to get through 3 books this year as I can’t relax enough to concentrate, all I can manage is FB and blogs most days. I had lofty goals but have completely given up on them. My biggest goal each day is trying to get enough sleep to continue functioning. Happy sounds like something I’d enjoy, will have a look for it, as well as the bean paste one, as I also enjoy Japanese writing styles in general. I’ve been doing lots of yoga this year and will have a look for the books Lady Jane Grey mentions as I too am interested in the spiritual side after becoming well-acquainted with the physical side. Just taking things one day at a time. I don’t know how much if any of my issues is attributable to menopause, but I am fervently hoping things will improve within the next couple of years, as I can’t see living like this for the next 30 years.
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Hi Tara C
It seems I’m fortunate then that I can still concentrate on books. For me they are a blessed form of escape. It’s TV I can’t settle with at the moment.
I’m also suffering from serious sleep issues and I’m convinced that that and the anxiety are connected to the menopause but I’m waiting for a blood test to confirm. Then I will have to figure out what to do next…
The sense of wellbeing yoga can give you is amazing. It releases so much pent-up stress, it’s like magic.
Oh, I so empathise with you … you should see all the “pillow” sprays in my bedroom that are meant to ease insomnia! It’s not just menopause but anxiety in general that robs us of our sleep. One day at a time is wise advice.
I hope that you and Tara will find peace and calm soon …….. I understand that yoga is very effective but probably takes a while to kick in thoroughly.
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I am full of admiration for your reaching your 25 book total, ahead of schedule too! Like most people commenting, there seem to be so many triggers for anxiety at the moment, of which scarcity of work, health issues, ageing, endless home repairs and the bonkers political climate are just five I could mention. Bookwise I finally finished The Gracekeepers, which was touching and quirky and highly original, but ultimately not for me, being more wedded to realism and gritty police procedurals, hehe. I realise I may like this genre because self-evidently the dead characters are in an even worse situation than me.
The Derren Brown sounds like a good read, and I do fancy that Candace Bushnell too that LJG mentioned. Am currently (slowly) enjoying The Next Step In The Dance by Tim Gautreaux, of whom The Evening Standard says: “He writes like Raymond Chandler on a Deep South safari.”
Back to grinding my teeth…!
Anxiety does seem to be at epidemic proportions, particularly among our age group. I love fantasy because it is the ultimate in escapism. Police procedurals would be the antithesis of that for me and I fear would drive up my stress levels. It’s a shame because so many people love a good thriller. It’s great that you are open to books like The Gracekeepers but I do wonder if magical realism is harder to go along with than high fantasy because there are still elements of the real world that can jar.
My August flew by. I think I read one book during my summer vacation week and it was a cheesy love novel. 🙂 So of course I read it in one go almost. 😀
Sometimes I think I should feel less guilty about what I read and indulge in stuff like your cheesy romance. I plan to make January the month where I read for pleasure alone. I may make it reading diary-free 🙂
I sympathise totally with the anxiety when I have it bad I prefer gentle easy reads like diary of a provincial lady which is one I’ve enjoyed a lot in August.
I too just read where did you go to Bernadette and enjoyed it and the letter written style.
I’m on the last book of Elena Ferante neopolitan novels but I couldn’t have read these if in the grip of anxiety so I don’t recommend them right now.
I’m sorry if I end up with 2 comments my first one seems to have disappeared.
Best wishes to you
Sorry your comment disappeared Hayley. WP seems to be giving people grief lately. Thanks for persevering.
Appreciate your advice about the Elena Ferante Neopolitan novels, I keep circling them.
Have a lovely weekend.
My reading really stopped when work started again in August. Maybe I’ll try some contemporary Japanese novel again soon, it’s rather new to me. All I know is that some Japanese authors have become very popular in Norway, so books are easy to get hold of.
It’s new to me too but I’m enjoying it a lot. Good to hear you can access them in Norway. Fingers crossed you get more time to read soon.