After hauling myself through Voss in March (with my efforts rewarded), my self-set challenge for April was to read only books written by women.
As half the books on the bookclub list are Bailey’s Prize Nominees this should not be a particularly difficult challenge, but when I totted up the books I’d read last year a little over half were written by women, and that included periods of deliberately reading books by women, so something must have been going astray.
In the end I read seven books written by women in April:
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
- Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
- Wise Children by Angela Carter
- Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
- Transit by Rachel Cusk
- The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild
- Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
I enjoyed them all to varying degrees, and at times having read one informed and enhanced the enjoyment of others. However, the large flaw in my reading is that it can become a ticklist process, a race to quantity rather than quality, to read as many as possible in as short a space of time. I mean the quality of my reading, not the quality of the author’s writing.
Hot Milk was this months book-club book, and with about a dozen people around the table the discussion was varied, but always interesting. People inevitably recall parts that others have forgotten, and give greater weight to some sections, they see connections that others don’t, or go off on tangents about other books, and as with other books I walked away with renewed insight.
And that is what happens almost all the time, I walk away, put the book on the shelf and think that at some point in the future I will re-read it.
Therefore, my goal for May is to re-read books some of the books by women that I’ve read over the past two years.
Three of them were read in April, and I’m hoping that as I re-read them still fresh in my memory new layers will be added to them.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang was one of my favourite books of 2016 and Ali Smith’s How To Be Both was third on my list of 2015 books, and although they are not so easily recollected it will be interesting to see what comes back to me and what doesn’t.
In the past 10 years I have read very few books more than once, but I re-read Rachel Cusk’s Outlines twice last year to assure myself that it was the best book I’d read all year.
The other three books I’ve read more than once in the past few years are biggies, Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Proust’s “The Way By Swann’s” and “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”. All of which I’d re-read if it didn’t mean sacrificing other great books.
I have deliberately talked about these books as books written by women, and not “women’s books” for obvious reasons.
I’m also very conscious that four of these books are by white women. There are 31 days in May, and if I get through these I may go back to Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I found hard going last year, but I recognise that I would benefit from re-reading.