January is the start of a new year. A time for resolutions and the setting of challenges. As always, I became a participant of the Goodreads Reading Challenge and as always, I set my goal to the achievable number of 50 book in 2017. The main aim is of course to tackle my tbr pile that has not grown much – but also not lessened – in 2016. But while I was looking through my Goodreads shelves I also realized that I had a huge number of books on my wishlist. This list contains books that I do not own but want to read at some point. Which is why I started to alternate between months in which I read books from my own tbr pile and books from my wishlist or that I just picked up in the library on a whim. January was a tbr pile month. So let’s see which books I picked and how I liked them.
Kate Grenville – The Idea of Perfection
Set in Yuribee, a little town in rural Australia, Grenville’s novel centers onDouglas Cheeseman and Harley Savage. Two outsiders who came to this town for a bridge. He has to tear it down, she wants to use it to build a heritage museum. Both did not have much luck in their love life so far and make themselves responsible for it. But during the hot afternoons in Yuribee, they might overcome things from their past that hold them back. I enjoyed their story and the writing style was perfect in making Yuribee and its smothering hotness come to live. But the third storyline seemed a bit out of place: A former model now housewife tries to escape her life by obsessing over her looks and having an affair with the Chinese butcher.
Mary Beard – SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
A non-fiction history of Ancient Rome from the myths of its founding to the last of its great emperors. Mary Beard gives us a detailed history of the empire that shaped Europe forever without being dry and boring. She dissects the myths and the historical accounts, points out the many gaps that still exist and the differences and subjectively influenced recountings. The winner writes the story after all. Despite all these difficulties, Mary Beard manages to give a nuanced view of Ancient Rome; its culture, people and politics.
Alan Cumming – Not My Father’s Son
I am a huge fan of Alan Cumming in The Good Wife and after reading this biography he’s even more interesting as a person. He combines the story of two men in his life: his own father and his mother’s father. The first has tormented him, his brother and his mother throughout his childhood and teenage life. Although much less flamboyant than during his later acting career, Alan Cumming never seemed to be able to make his father proud – or even content. His mother’s father was a looming figure throughout his life as well, though more mysterious than threatening. He left his family to go to Asia after WW2 and never returned, dying in mysterious circumstances a few years later. Alan Cumming’s interest in his own family history made him the perfect contestant for the popular british TV Show „Who do you think you are?“ and together with a group of camera men and historians he went to Asia to uncover this part of his life. Heartwrenching as his story is, Alan Cumming managed to talk about the destructive relationship with his father in a calm way and even with a little bit of humour and made Not My Father’s Son one of the few actor biographies I would actually recommend.
Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
In a post-nuclear catastrophe future, women are worth nothing. Their only position is that of wife – or surrogate mother. The main character Offred is one of the latter: A handmaid whose only function to become pregnant by her commander or to be exiled into the wastelands. Fear is a constant part of life and no-one can be trusted. But even the oppressive system of Gilead can’t distinguish all desire and soon Offred is torn between two men that could lead her freedom or death. For me, Offred is an unusual character for a dystopian novel as she seems not in the least interested in politics or the future of society, only with herself. But The Handmaid’s Tale is a scary read as our society seems to get on a similar path with the growth of racism and anti-feminism. Margaret Atwoods writing style is as good as people suggest and I immediately picked up another novel by her.
M. L. Stedman – The Light Between Oceans
Tom and Isabelle are the sole inhabitants of an island just off the west coast of Australia in the middle of the 20th century where he is responsible for the lighthouse. After two miscarriages, Isabelle falls into depression. When a boat washes up on shore containing a healthy baby and a dead man she sees it as a miracle and decides to keep the child as her own. But on a holiday in Perth they meet the mother and Tom begins to have doubts about the rightfulness of their actions. A badly written romance with a story so overly dramatic it could have been a South American telenovela.
John Wyndham – The Chrysalids
In a post-nuclear catastrophe world people fall back into religious fanatism and destroy everything that deviates from God’s image. When a group of children realizes they have telepathic powers their only choice is to keep it a secret. But as they grow older it becomes more difficult and they have to plan an escape. John Wyndham uses a basic dystopian storyline but by using children as his main characters it is much easier to question the religious fanatism as they are not as rascist as adults. But the ending seemed rash and too easy and more like the starting point for a whole series. I liked the writing style but it was too much like a typical YA novel. Nonetheless, I will definitely pick up one of his other novels.
Bill Bryson – The Road to Little Dribbling
Over 20 Years after Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson goes on another journey around the UK. Many things have changed and most importanly Bill Bryson has grown old. Yes, that’s the main thing I have taken from the book. As always, I enjoyed his rambling writing style and the enormous amount of unnecessary information he gives on all things British. But next to the humour and the puns there was this big pile of old-man-anger that kind of took away the joy that I normally feel when reading Bill Bryson’s books. And I was also very disappointed that he just skipped his Scotland trip. I would have rather waited a bit longer for the book than read stories that were clearly drawn out to fill pages that were reserved for his trip through the Highlands.