To Be Read in Twenty Twenty

Sometimes I feel I don’t plan my writing career seriously enough. Although Novel 3 has gone to the agent, Novel 4 doesn’t exist yet, even as an idea, a germ of an idea or anything less tangible than that. An email from a list I should have unsubscribed from popped up today with details of a free short story competition and I thought I’d try a quick story based on an amusing episode over Christmas. There’s a 2000 word limit but who says you have to make it that long? I wrote the amusing episode down and filled it out a bit. I was only on 200 words and the amusing episode had been milked for all it was worth, plus I was having qualms about making hay from people who’d shown me nothing but goodwill. Short stories are hard to get right and one reason is wrongly viewing them as something you can dash off in answer to random competitions in an inbox. So sod the short stories (again). I was given several books for Christmas and my just-before-it birthday and if I read enough of other people’s writing craft perhaps I’ll be guided towards the place where Novel 4 lies in wait.

TBR 2020 2

Of these nine books, I’d asked for five. I’ve already finished one, although I read it as slowly and with as much care as I could. Elizabeth Strout is one of my favourite authors. There’s a slow cooking and slow eating movement, and there are mindfulness and internet-free days and reading Elizabeth Strout comes into a similar category, ideal for the limbo time between Christmas and New Year, probably less suited to commuting. She observes ordinary people in an ordinary place doing pretty ordinary things and she makes them extraordinary and universal. Olive, Again is an older Olive Kitteridge, which I’m now rereading to remind myself of her back story and those of other residents of Crosby, Maine. Olive is now on and beyond a second 43820277._sy475_marriage. She has mellowed but her go-to judgement is still “phooey to you”. She’s kept her marbles (which she dreads losing) and she’s keeping her temper better than she was. The endearing, human thing about Olive and those around her is that they’re all still learning how to live and they know it. They’re by no means perfect and neither are their partners and at times they’re deeply intolerant of each other. Olive’s son, Christopher, is horrid to her and this may or may not be because she was a bad mother. Fortunately moments of humour and love redeem all this and Olive has a wonderful capacity for compassion and understanding when you’d least expect it. But even the meanest Strout character has the capacity to recognise their mistakes and try co-existing more helpfully. “It came to him then that it should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people, that the choices they made to keep themselves from that gaping darkness were choices that required respect.”

I also asked for A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier. If this is half as good as Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Lady and the Unicorn I’m in for a treat. I shall save it for after my next eye operation in mid February because in the lovely hardback edition the font is a generous size. I’m not sure whether to read Joanna Cannon‘s Breaking and Mending account of life as an NHS junior doctor before or after that – the care I’ve had from the overworked but always patient, expert, and caring staff at Moorfields Hospital has been excellent and although I asked for Cannon’s book it may not give me the sweetest of dreams as I trust myself to their care again. Another request was Edna O’Brien’s Girl, a fictionalised account of the experiences of the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. I found her last book, The Little Red Chairs, almost impossible to read because what it described was so awful. But I can’t fail to respect an author who at nearly 90 years of age is still confronting injustice and violence against women with such uncompromising bravery, and who still crafts every word with such angry care. On a lighter note, I wanted The Binding by Bridget Collins because I’m a sucker for that sort of cover – I call them Paisley covers and there have been a spate of them recently. (It doesn’t look as though the contents are very light-hearted though, and reader opinion appears divided.) My partner coupled it with Jessie Burton’s newest novel The Confession, which I’m hoping will be as good as her first and better than her second. Another lovely cover anyway!

My ex husband and I still give each other books every Christmas and birthday. He’s a Harper Lee fan, and rightly guessed I wouldn’t yet have got around to Go Set a Watchman. (When my first novel came out it briefly whizzed past this in the Australian bestseller lists, a moment of author glory you must forgive me for harpering on about as there haven’t been many more.) He also gave me The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer, which has a plug on the back from Rose Tremain. Well, if it’s good enough for her…

And finally who wouldn’t want a David Nicholls Sweet Sorrow to look forward to? Bittersweet, poignant, coming of age… it sounds as though it will be much like the others but they’re all so well written and delivered. It will, I hope, be a comfort akin to watching afternoon TV when I was kept home from school as a child with a cold.

Finally, I’ve been an increasingly laid back gardener since reading Richard Mabey’s Weeds last spring. Knowing this, my partner found Wonderful Weeds by Madeline Harley. Next year we’ll (mabey) eat nettle soup and make nettle linctus for the compost, nurture the last remaining bees on dandelion nectar and feast on foraged forest fruits.

TBR 2020 weeds

So what with operations and all the reading and stewing nettles, Novel 4 may not be along for a while. Phooey to that, as Olive Kitteridge would say.

©Jessica Norrie 2020


31 thoughts on “To Be Read in Twenty Twenty

  1. Love your reads and recommends Jessica. You had my interest with Olive Again. Although I’d love to read The Red Chairs, like you, I can’t tolerate reading about graphic horrors. Happy reading. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Olive, Again” is really wonderful, reflecting so much truth about life. I’m now on to to the Edna O’Brien and although it IS horrific, Im finding it easier than “The Little Red chairs”, perhaps because I knew in advance what the subject was and was more prepared. Unhappy reading really – but good!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For me I can’t read WW1 fiction, or WW2 if it’s the Holocaust. Read too much when young, know where I stand, don’t see reading any more as necessary! But people do seem to keep writing it and there seems to be a market.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the above, Jessica.Quite a list! Delighted to learn that Edna O’Brien is still with us – I loved reading her work many years ago. Must check her “Girl” tome. I’m enjoying my time with Hemingway in Paris and elsewhere at present. “The Paris Wife” written by Paula MacLain is very atmospheric..A.Happy New Year and reading. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful selection of books. I’ve done hardly any reading over the holidays. I really thought I’d have time to make a wee dent in the tbr pile but somehow there always seemed to be people around and things to do so it didn’t happen – and the pile grew! I want to read Girl – you may get to it first, in which case I’ll be interested in what you think. There’s been some controversy about the ‘right’ of authors to speak in the voice of others. Not only aimed at O’Brien.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hear you on the controversy! Not sure where it leaves me with Magic Carpet. Must tackle this in a blog post at some point when I’m feeling brave. Broadly though I do think any fictional character is “other” and unless you write straight autobiography all the time, you’re speaking for the other. If that other is politically, economically, physically less privileged than you (the writer) you must take huge care to research, empathise and avoid assumptions. But to avoid others completely would be dishonest and reductive. Oh look, I’ve started my blog post…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same for me with No More Mulberries, as some of the chapters are from an Afghan man’s pov. There’s an interesting article about it in Mslexia magazine. I look forward to reading your post on the subject 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m certainly having thoughts as I read the Edna O’Brien. Seems to me there’s material for more than one post – Zadie Smith had a good article too back in October that I must look out.


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