Every year Cathy at 746 books hosts a 20 Books of Summer Challenge. I have seen it year on year and I don’t think I’ve ever signed up for it before. Considering it took me about 5 months to read 20 books this year, no one is more surprised than I to find myself committed to giving it a go. Can I read in 3 months what it has taken me most of the year to achieve? Probably not, but I’m going to try anyway. I think it’ll be fun.
Fortunately Cathy is very permissive about the rules. You can read 20 books, or 15, or 10. You can pick a list or not pick a list. If you pick a list, you can substitute. Want to reduce (or increase) the number of books? That’s fine too. Basically you just try to read 20 books. I think I can have a stab at that.
Still, it’s a daunting prospect and considering it took me two weeks to read the meagre 130ish pages of The Unquiet Grave (okay, there were good reasons for that) I feel I need to weight the challenge in some way in my favour. This means not picking something by John Cowper Powys (who I love, but whose books are dense and circuitous and slow to read) or Lonesome Dove or something it’ll take me a month on its own to read. That being said, I don’t want to go too easy on myself either. After all, summer is a great time to read something which takes a little more mental capacity. I have fond memories of sitting beside my tent in a field overlooking a lake in Wales, reading The Magus and loving it. So a balance needs to be struck.
I found myself staring at my shelves, rather hopelessly. Then I noticed, it is hard not to notice, that I seem to have a bunch of series which I somehow never get around to reading. I did a little accounting and these are all the series that I own and haven’t read yet:
The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning (3)
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (3)
The Belgariad by David Eddings (5)
The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien (3)
The World of Psmith by Wodehouse (3)
The Wonderland Series by Joyce Carol Oates (4)
Septology by Jon Fosse (3)
The Kills by Richard House (4)
The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (technically 7, I think. Also I’m not sure this is really a series)
I also have a bunch of books from series that I’ve started I haven’t finished yet, and I could sweep up some of those if I wanted. These are:
Winter, Spring and Summer from The Seasons Cycle by Ali Smith
Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk
Occupied City and Tokyo Redux by David Peace
Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Dreams by Agustin Fernandez Mallo
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran
I think that gives me a lot to work with. I’d also like to leave a little space to read something spontaneous, maybe some non-fiction and I’d like to read at least something which is non-English over the summer. When I look at all the piles, it’s kind of daunting! I think The Books of Jacob might be a bit too much, and I’d like to re-read both August by Ali Smith and Nocilla Lab by Mallo (both of which were excellent) before starting the rest of those series so I think they’re all off the list this time around. There’s no way I can read them all, of course, so after some consideration I’ve narrowed it down to the following:
Books 1 to 3: The Country Girls Trilogy. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now and they are quite short books so these might be good ones to ease me in(famous last words!).
Books 4 to 6: The Balkan Trilogy, because it feels fitting for a summer read. A bit more of a challenge. Maybe I’ll read that in July.
Books 7 to 9: The World of Psmith. I bought this having been heavily influenced by Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai (which is the best book ever written) and never got around to reading these ones. A bit of fun, and something a bit different for me. I’m not a big reader of comedic books.
Then either I will pick Gormenghast (if it’s going well) or the Belgariad (if I need something easy and quick to read). I’ve never read Gormenghast, though I absolutely adored fantasy as a teenage. It should be right up my street. The Belgariad was one of my favourite fantasy series as a teenager (alongside The Dark is Rising sequence and the Katherine Kerr ‘Spell’ series) but I haven’t re-read it for a long time. I am not sure if/how it will stand up to adult me, but nostalgia dictates I must revisit it soon.
So that leaves me with books (13 or 15) to 20 as free choice, which will allow me to flex a bit for mood, pick something non-English, maybe a little non-fiction, as I want to.
Yikes! That’s a lot of reading. I’m looking forward to it. I think!
It looks like a great list, and good luck with your challenge. I have such admiration for anyone picking up and continuing with The Books of Jacob, because I did not progress in it at all and had to abandon it. I still feel guilty about it.
Maybe it just wasn’t the right time? I doubt I’ll get to The Books of Jacob over summer, it feels more like something to approach when there are lord of dark nights and cold and nothing to do but cosy up with a big book.
Good to see some light relief alongside The Books of Jacob. Good luck!
Haha! Yes some easy stuff there. Not sure I will pick The Books of Jacob but I definitely want to get to it eventually
Great set of picks. Gormenghast has been on my list for a long time now. Some day… what fun to have Psmith on the list. I wonder if it has the one where he gets to Blandings.
Yes I have wanted to read Gormenghast for a long time too. Somehow I never got to it. Have you read Psmith? I gather they are a riot!
Oooh nice – happy reading!!! Hope you get to the Peakes!!
Thanks 😊 it’s looking very likely I’ll choose Gormenghast. I am tempted by the Eddings because of their ease but I feel like Gormenghast will be a more rewarding read.
This is a brilliant list of books, Bii and I’ll be really interested to see how you get on. Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy is amazing, so immersive and richly rewarding. I’m hoping to read the Levant one last this year. And The Country Girls is another marvellous choice. You’ve picked well there, I think!
I am hoping so, thanks Jacqui. I’ve been meaning to read both the Balkan trilogy and Country Girls for ages.
Great list! Nice to see Edna O’Brien on there, I’ve never seen those covers before. Good luck and happy reading.
Thanks I’m actually looking forward to it.
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I love your idea of finishing series you have started – I, too, have read the first book in the Balkan Trilogy! (I also think I have a copy of The Kills somewhere). I’ve finished some of the other series – Nocilla, Ali Smith, David Peace – and would definitely recommend that you read them.
That is good to know, thanks. I enjoyed Nocilla Lab, it was very evocative. Wasn’t sure about the first book in the Tokyo trilogy though, I found the heavy repetition quite irritating. Is that the style all the way through? I might have to steel myself for the rest of so 😁
What a good idea and not a theme I think I’ve seen before! Enjoy!