As we approach the middle of June and the middle of winter (not that long until the the shortest day), it is time once again for what’s on my bookshelf, a monthly round up of books read – enjoyed or otherwise hosted by hosted by Sue, Donna, Jo and Deb.
It is a bit of a mixed bag this month, both in terms of what I enjoyed and in terms of the types of books I have read. First up, Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence, which I absolutely loved. The blurb on the back of the book says it is “a wickedly funny ghost story, a tale of passion, of a complex marriage and of a woman’s relentless errors” which doesn’t really do it justice. A beautifully written book with spiky characters, humour and a lot of social commentary woven in to the every day lives of its characters living through the pandemic in 2020 in Minneapolis, this may end up as a strong contender for favourite of the year. Tookie, the main character, works in a bookshop after being released from prison. One of the shop’s most annoying customers dies on All Souls’ Day 2019, and then haunts the store, during the year that saw the people dealing with the pandemic, isolation and the protests following the death of George Floyd. I also felt I learned a lot from this book, and can see me at some point re-reading it. Highly recommended.
Now to a book that everyone who has read seems to have loved. However, I was not bowled over by Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words. Putting aside that historical fiction is not normally my first choice (though having said that I loved The Crimson Petal and White by Michael Faber), I found this book, which sounded so promising, dull and full of far too many plot devices. The main character was unlovable, and it seemed like every possible relevant historical event or societal attitude got slotted in for no reason, leading to a jumbled book with just too much in it. I know my view is in the minority, but it just wasn’t a book for me.
Now to something very different, two collected works of Joyce Dennis: Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees It Through. The books are made up of comedy fictional letters first published in The Sketch during World War II. The first book takes us from 1939 through to December 1941, and the second the remaining years of the war, and follow the lives of a doctor’s wife and other residents in a small town in Devon. While the books cover issues of daily life at the time (rationing, evacuees and so on) they are really funny, with larger than life characters in everyday situations. Dennys was first and foremost an illustrator and cartoonist, and her drawings are an essential part of the books. They are the perfect things to pick up when you feel a little down, in need of a pick me up and want to smile. You can read more about the author here.
So to two quite different books with a focus on food. First up is Ella Risbridger’s Midnight Chicken, a combination of memoirs and recipes (including the chicken that opens the book). It is a book of food, of the author’s struggle with her mental health and the illness of her partner. It is the sort of book you can read in an afternoon, maybe cook from, but certainly enjoy the sentiments in the writing (see below a short extract). My main criticism is – yet again – poor editing.
The world is so hard, and life is so short you must make things lovely where you can. You have to make mundane things like packed lunches into something glorious and important and worth having. You have to make ordinary days worth having, is the thing – and investing a bit of time in what you eat and where you eat it (which is really investing a bit of time in looking after yourself) is one of the easiest ways to do it. (Risbridger 2020: 106)
Finally, Sophie Hansen’s lates book, this time written in collaboration with her mother, Around the Kitchen Table. Full of recipes and craft projects, this is a lovely book to dip into and plan what to cook or pick up other ideas. I had some left over stalks from some rainbow chard today, so made her quick pickle. I have yet to try it, but it sounds like a great idea to use up the colourful stalks.
As I mentioned last month, the book club I am part of uses a three ‘star’ system to rate books but instead of stars, we pick something associated with the book. So for this month:
- Louise Erdrich ‘The Sentence’ – 3 ghosts
- Pip Williams ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ – 1.5 words
- Joyce Denny ‘Henrietta’s War’ and ‘Henrietta Sees It Through’ – 3 ration books each
- Ella Risbridger ‘Midnight Chicken’ – 2.5 chickens
- Sophie Hansen & Annie Herron ‘Around the Kitchen Table’ – 3 cakes
So that is my reading for this month. Have you read anything good, or any of the books I have read? Join in the blog party challenge here.
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