So without futher ado, here are my reads from January, February and March.
January: A collection of short stories
Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a beautiful gem of a collection, made up of five short stories under an overarching theme of music. In Crooner, a guitarist meets his idol in Venice. Come Rain or Come Shine tells of a friend stuck between a couple whose marriage is deteriorating. Malvern Hills is a story of making fast judgements and having them challenged. Nocturne features a musician recovering from surgery, rediscovering his own sense of self. Finally, Cellists tells of a musician getting to know a man who sits and watches them perform daily in the piazza.
Ishiguro's writing style is beautiful, and I started my morning five days in a row with a story a day. Each transported me to another time and place, and there were threads of repeated themes across the collection that I really enjoyed, too. It's a thoughtful, neat collection and even appealed to this self-confessed 'not a huge fan of short stories'.
February: A book by a writer from a minority group
Passing, Nella Larsen
I first heard of this book during my time at university, and picked up this copy online for about 50p. Since then, it's been sitting on my shelf. I'm so pleased this challenge finally gave me the push to pick it up, because I can now see exactly why it was described to us at university as being such an important novel. It feels particularly relevant as I write this only days after a Rachel Dolezel Newsnight interview, a woman 'passing' as black for many years.
In 1920s Harlem, Irene bumps into a childhood friend, Clare, who is 'passing for white', married to a racist husband. The secret threatens to deeply affect both woman. It's a very readable, short novel, covering race, gender, marriage, nostalgia and the complex friendships that exist between women. Building slowly to a shocking ending, it's a read that left me with food for thought.
March: A book by a female author
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Mansfield Park is one of the classics I've never got round to reading. I didn't cover it at school or university, and it's never jumped out to me as one I needed to get ticked off. Unfortunately, I wish I had stuck to that thought and chosen another option! Mansfield Park just was not my cup of tea. I love a lot of Austen, but this was my least favourite. It felt to me like it was full of all her lovely descriptions and observational brilliance, but with none of the excitement that carries some of her other novel forwards.
Fanny Price goes to live with her aunt and uncle, and this is the story of the household and those in and around it. It's a novel consumed by the ordinary and the everyday, and takes some patience. I loved and raced through the first 100 pages, enjoying Austen's familiar style, and it then picked up a little towards the end, but between those moments I wasn't convinced. It's a charming read, but was missing something, for me.
So far, so good. I read widely anyway, but I'm enjoying being forced to step a little out of my comfort zone, or being pushed to pick things up I've heard about before but have never made it to the top of me 'to read' pile.
A quarter of the way through the book challenge, I'm enjoying it and looking forward to what's coming next...