Day 31 – The Sheltering Sky

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Transported to the hot and dusty North African towns, where spices hang heavy in the air and the sand molests your champagne, Book 97 on my list certainly got under my skin. As I was reading this, the foreboding atmosphere was oppressive and I felt I could hear discordant chords being played along as a soundtrack to the events that were to overtake Port, Kit and Tanner. Bowles paints such a vivid picture that I was carried along in a state of unease. I was in equal parts consumed by the story and frustrated by it, which in turn made me give the book 3.5 stars. That said, it is so evocative I would highly recommend it. Also, be prepared it should come with a warning – wanderlust to explore Morocco will overtake you!

Favourite quote: ‘I use to think that life was a thing that kept gaining impetus. It would get richer and deeper each year. You kept learning more, getting wiser, having more insight, going further into the truth… And now you know it’s not like that. Right? It’s more like smoking a cigarette. The first few puffs it tastes wonderful and you don’t even think of it’s ever being used up. Then you begin taking it for granted. Suddenly you realise it’s nearly burned down to the end. And then’ when you’re conscious of the bitter taste.’

I also broke away from my countdown to spend a little time with Virginia Woolf. As part of a #woolfalong I read To The Lighthouse. As it is in fact number 15 on The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, I’ll leave my thoughts on the book until later in the year. Suffice to say, I am enraptured by it. You can never have too much Woolf in your life.

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Day 19 – The Postman Always Rings Twice

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What a joy, book 98 on the list proved to be. Unlike Donleavy’s offering, I was engrossed within the first few pages. Frank and Cora’s relationship is anything but slow but James M Cain kept me with them for the whole of the book. I read this in one sitting, turning wrinkly in the bath in the process. Highly recommended – favourite so far.

Favourite quote: ‘ We’re just two punks Frank. God kissed us on the brow that night. He gave us all that two people can ever have. And we just weren’t the kind that could have it. We had all that love and we just cracked up under it. It’s a big airplane engine, that takes you through the sky, right up to the top of the mountain. But when you put it in a Ford, it just shakes it to pieces. That’s what we are Frank, a couple of Fords.’

 

 

Day 14 – The Ginger Man

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The lusty goings on, if nothing else would account for this book having been banned on publication. Mr Dangerfield certainly has booze and breasts on the brain. For the first 100 pages I kept wanting to chuck the towel in. Life is too short for a bad book. I couldn’t understand it’s inclusion in the top 100. Dangerfield is unlikeable, O’Keefe repugnant and yet slowly the plight of these men softened me. I’m unsure if it is just myself that couldn’t understand some of the nonsensical things said or whether his drunkenness and hunger made his words intentionally unfathomable. But in amongst these were painfully insightful statements and hilarious escapades. Donleavy eventually had me immersed in poverty stricken Dublin and for me it’s 3 star worthy.

Favourite quote: ‘Dear Mr Skully, I have caught my neck in a mangle and will be indisposed for eternity. Yours in death, SD.’

Day 6 – The Ginger Man

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Oh Mr Donleavy, you are not making it easy for me to sympathise with our hero. I’m afraid I’m finding this book rather hard going. A wife-beating, child smothering man is not necessarily one I’m going to warm to easily. When describing a room that smells of stale sperm, it’s not a place I want to visit. I imagine there’s a whole selection of people that truly love this book {I mean it’s not in this list for nothing!} but at the moment I’m finding it all a bit of a chore. Does everyone get that with reading? Do you get in a slump with a book and find all you want to do is cheat on it with a bit of Tolstoy or Woolf? I do. I’m finding that after 3 days I have still only read 47 pages of this book yet a book that dropped through my letterbox this morning already has had more pages than this devoured.

The book in question is a proof copy from Chatto & Windus called The Strawberry Girl. It’s the debut novel by Lisa Strømme, a Yorkshire lass who now lives in Norway. It is a story of a young woman witnessing a love affair that inspires Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. A wonderful setting for a story if ever there was one. As I have so far only read 1 book in my 100 book challenge, I really need to be more focused!

Well, I think I have a few minutes before I sleep to read a few more pages. The decision is though – which book!

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Day 4 – The Ginger Man

‘Today a rare sun of Spring.’ This opener for book 99 on my list certainly doesn’t match the weather in damp Devonshire! I have to say Donleavy is such a different voice to Booth Tarkington it’s taking me a moment to get into. What I’ve got so far is that there’s a lot about bosoms, or pears, or watermelons..! I’ll let you know how I get on with Sebastian Dangerfield.

Day 3 – The Magnificent Ambersons

 

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With a homemade ginger cookie and a chamomile tea my liaisons with the Ambersons came to an end. This is a beautifully written novel, following a family thorough the changing landscape of America. Tarkington really drew me into this family, creating in Georgie a wonderful anti-hero. I would give this a strong 3.5 out of 5 {I deducted for the sloppy account with the psychic!} but if this is number 100 on the list I’ve got some wonderful books in store! Tomorrow, The Ginger Man.

Favourite quote: ‘Nobody has a good name in a bad mouth.’

Day 2 – The Magnificent Ambersons

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‘Major Amberson had “made a fortune” in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.’ So the book begins. I love first sentences, they hold such a power. They can capture your imagination in an instant. Du Maurier and Woolf used them in an exceptional way, and Booth Tarkington’s offering is none too shabby. It introduces us to the protagonist’s family and the subsequent paragraphs introduce us to an author with a satirical eye.

Since I had not heard of this Pulitzer Prize winning author until a few weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect, but he obviously did not receive the accolade for nothing. As goodreads informs me, I’ve only read 18% of the book yet I’m already invested in the lives of George, Isabel, Lucy and Eugene. So far, this is looking like a book I’m going to love.

Reading my way through 2016.

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I want to read. I want to read more. I want to read more writers. I want to read my way through the Modern Library’s 100 best novels.

For the last couple of months a plan has been formulating in my mind, to take me out of my comfort zone of Austen and Plath and to round off my reading education. I know the Modern Library’s list is in no way comprehensive or indeed correct in the novels it has chosen as the top 100, but seeing as I have only ever ventured to read 7 on this list in my lifetime, how can I judge? How can I know if these are truly wonderful novels?

I am no professor, I don’t have a PhD, I am just a person that loves the written word. What I know is, if a book gently beats along to the rhythm of my own heartbeat, if I mourn the ending of it like a friend or if it changes my perception on life, then it’s worthwhile {at least to me}.

This is a journal to jot down my thoughts, progress and whatever else life may throw in the Modern Library’s way in 2016.

So let’s begin.