20 Books of Summer, 2018: the final score


Technically, it ain’t over til Monday (the 3rd), and I’m still reading my 20th book. But I’m only a few dozen pages in, and I’m out all day Sunday, so we might as well call it now: I read (and reviewed!) 19 of my 20 Books of Summer this year. Actually, that’s better than it looks, because I only properly chose 19; my 20th was always going to be a wild card, decided upon once all the others were finished. (It’s The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.)

I also read 35 other books that weren’t for 20BoS, so, you know, I’d say this has been a pretty good reading summer by any count.

Here’s my full list:

  1. Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan: review
  2. Neuromancer, by William Gibson: review
  3. The Madonna of the Mountains, by Elise Valmorbida: review
  4. The Waters and the Wild, by DeSales Harrison: review
  5. The Stopping Places, by Damian Le Bas: review
  6. A Station On the Path to Somewhere Better, by Benjamin Wood: review
  7. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, by Andrew Miller: review
  8. Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan: review
  9. Transcription, by Kate Atkinson: review
  10. Wilding, by Isabella Tree: review
  11. Chopin’s Piano, by Paul Kildea: review
  12. May, by Naomi Kruger: review
  13. A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence: review
  14. Goblin, by Ever Dundas: review
  15. Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms, by Gerard Russell: review
  16. This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart: review
  17. Empire of Things, by Frank Trentmann: review
  18. Collected Stories, by John Cheever: review
  19. The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley: review
  20. Wild card! EDIT: The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

Time for prizes, as Kimbofo calls them:

The worst of these 20, or at least the less enjoyable, were The Waters and the Wild, A Station On the Path To Somewhere Better, and Chopin’s Piano. I might also throw Empire of Things to the wolves simply for its deadening length; if a non-fiction writer doesn’t construct a compelling through-line, either narratively or argumentatively, it’s a lot harder to justify 880 pages.

The best of these 20 were, without a doubt, Elise Valmorbida’s The Madonna of the Mountains, Andrew Miller’s Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, Ever Dundas’s Goblin, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and Natasha Pulley’s The Bedlam Stacks. I refuse to choose between them.

Closely following the top tier of excellence: Mary Stewart’s novel This Rough Magic and John Cheever’s Collected Stories. They’re both fantastic works, and I would say top-tier material themselves; they just had a fraction less emotional resonance.

Then we come to an interesting category that I like to think of as the Not-For-Me: they’re not dreadful books, but they struck me somewhat obliquely, not full-on as they seemed to be intending. In some cases, that was down to weaknesses in structure, tone or editing (or all three): in others, I suspect they were simply Not My Cup Of Tea. In this category I’d include Neuromancer, The Stopping Places, A Station On the Path To Somewhere Better, May, and A Jest of God.

And the rest are simply good, solid books. They achieve what they set out to do, and I will be/have been selling and promoting them most assiduously: Washington Black, Transcription, Wilding, and Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms.

Have you been attempting, or following along with, 20 Books of Summer? How far did you get? Have you read anything from my list?

24 thoughts on “20 Books of Summer, 2018: the final score

  1. I thought I’d read This Rough Magic, but I’ve just looked back at your review and realised that I have to be thinking of something entirely different. It is clearly not a retelling of the Merlin story! And for goodness sake, why would someone who has taught Shakespeare for decades think that a book with that title was anything other than a retelling of the Tempest. The recent hot weather has clearly addled my brain.

    1. I know she DID write some Merlin books, although apparently they’re less well known. This Rough Magic is especially great because of how subtle the parallels with The Tempest are. Very skillful, very delightful.

      1. The weekend I was reading This Rough Magic, I had a singing gig on the Sunday, and sometimes the women in that choir ask me what I’m reading – the second I said Mary Stewart, fully half of them went “Oh, I loved The Crystal Cave!” So obviously I have to try that.

    1. I’m SO mystified by the Miller’s absence, too – thought it was fantastic. I am enjoying The Interestings, though I started it on a particularly busy weekend which has made it a slow start!

  2. I’d say you surpassed your goal! I’m going to get Miller’s and Tree’s books from the library, and I still have the Valmorbida staring me down. I’ll read that before year’s end.

    Have you read any Wolitzer before? I’ve only read her newest one, The Female Persuasion. I’m keen to know what else of hers is worth reading.

    1. I think I did pretty bloody well! You’d really enjoy Wilding, too.

      I’ve never read any Wolitzer, and The Interestings is the one that’s been most appealing for years. It’s quite delightful and immersive, though weekend busy-ness means it’s taking me a while to get into the meat of it.

  3. Well done! I only managed 15/20, although I did read other books that weren’t on my list. I have a copy of Now We Shall Be Entirely Free which I’m hoping to read soon. 🙂

  4. Really good going. I did my 20 again this year, with a bit of substitution, and read 10 others during the time period (review books and Iris Murdochs). Mine were pretty well all good, although George Eliot’s “Scenes from Clerical LIfe” wasn’t as good as I’d expected it to be.

    1. I’ve never read that particular Eliot, and I’ve never been totally sure about whether it’s a novel, or linked vignettes the way Cranford is, or something else. How did it read to you?

  5. That’s so awesome that you read so many books! I only managed to read one this summer, You by Caroline Kepnes in anticipation of the Lifetime series. Reading the sequel now.

    I didn’t read any of the books you read, but I really want to read The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Years ago, Amazon made a TV pilot adaptation of the book, but the show never got picked up. Bit of a TV Nerd, LoL. I also want to read Altered Carbon at some point.

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