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:
- Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan: review
- Neuromancer, by William Gibson: review
- The Madonna of the Mountains, by Elise Valmorbida: review
- The Waters and the Wild, by DeSales Harrison: review
- The Stopping Places, by Damian Le Bas: review
- A Station On the Path to Somewhere Better, by Benjamin Wood: review
- Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, by Andrew Miller: review
- Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan: review
- Transcription, by Kate Atkinson: review
- Wilding, by Isabella Tree: review
- Chopin’s Piano, by Paul Kildea: review
- May, by Naomi Kruger: review
- A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence: review
- Goblin, by Ever Dundas: review
- Heirs To Forgotten Kingdoms, by Gerard Russell: review
- This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart: review
- Empire of Things, by Frank Trentmann: review
- Collected Stories, by John Cheever: review
- The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley: review
- 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?