20 books of summer — 2019 edition

I’m a week late in announcing my intention to join this year’s #20BooksOfSummer challenge, but I have a good excuse!

If you follow me on Instagram you will already know I’ve embarked on a more personal challenge — after 20 years of living and working in London, I’ve decided to seek a better work/life balance and a much more relaxed lifestyle by moving back to Australia. I’m setting up home in the state of Western Australia, a part of the country I have never lived in before, so it’s all very new and exciting and a little bit petrifying too! (Mr Reading Matters will follow later once I’ve found somewhere to live and a new job etc.)

In any case, with just 40kg of checked luggage allowed on my flight last Wednesday (and that was a 10kg upgrade because I’m a Qantas Bronze member), I had to choose which books to pack very carefully. It was a rather frought experience and in the end most of the books were hefted into my hand luggage (10kg limit) because I ran out of room in my two suitcases!

The books I hope to read this summer winter are a good mix of novels and a handful of non-fiction books (an essay collection, an autobiography and a book about the Stasi).

Most have been on my shelves for a year or more, with the exception of Joseph O’Connor’s Shadowplay, which I ordered from Ireland to read before I left London only I ran out of time and had to make room for it in my hand luggage, and Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe, which I bought in Australia on my last trip a few months ago. Oh, and the Patrick Hamilton trilogy has already gone on a voyage Down Under (and to Cambodia) when I bought it for my six-week trip at the start of the year but never quite got around to reading.

Here’s my pile, arranged in size order from smallest to biggest, which makes it slightly more steadier to photograph!

  • ‘The Railway Man’ by Eric Lomax (autobiography, British)
  • ‘The Good Soldier’ by Ford Madox Ford (novel, British)
  • ‘The Gorse Trilogy’ by Patrick Hamilton (three novels in one book, British)
  • ‘Nemesis’ by Philip Roth (novel, American)
  • ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns (novel, Irish)
  • ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart’ by Holly Ringland (novel, Australian)
  • ‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder (non-fiction, Australian)
  • ‘The Imposter’ by Damon Galgut (novel, South African)
  • ‘The Watch Tower’ by Elizabeth Harrower (novel, Australian)
  • ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy (novel, British)
  • ‘The Debt to Pleasure’ by John Lanchester (novel, British)
  • ‘Where You Once Belonged’ by Kent Haruf (novel, American)
  • ‘Notes to Self’ by Emilie Pine (essays, Irish)
  • ‘The Vegetarian’ by Han Kang (novel, Korean)
  • ‘The Night Book’ by Charlotte Grimshaw (novel, New Zealand)
  • ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ by Trent Dalton (novel, Australian)
  • ‘Shadowplay’ by Joseph O’Connor (novel, Irish)

This “challenge” is run by Cathy, who blogs at 746 Books. The idea is to read 20 books from your TBR between 3 June and 3 September. Last year I  managed to read 19, but this year I want to see if I can read the full 20.

Note that Cathy’s pretty flexible with her “rules”, so I reserve the right to swap books out and read others from my electronic TBR — I’ve got about 200 on my Kindle! — as and when the mood strikes me. Note, that if I read The Gorse Trilogy I am going to count that as three books! And I’m not going to technically start until today, so will aim to finish the challenge on 9 September.

I’m hoping this should dovetail nicely with my existing TBR40 challenge in which I’m attempting to read 40 books from my TBR over the course of the entire year. So far I’ve read 20, so I’m half way there already!

You can find out more about 20 Books of Summer at Cathy’s blog and see who else is participating on this linky page.

Have you read any of the books I’ve chosen? Any suggestions on which one to start with first? Anyone else participating in this challenge?

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57 thoughts on “20 books of summer — 2019 edition

  1. I can only comment on 3 out of the 20.

    Stasiland I’ve read, loved and must read again one day.

    The Railway Man I tried to read and failed.

    I need to read Boy Swallows Universe by next weeks book club. Will let you know what I think.

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    • I started Boy Swallows Universe a little while ago but had to put it aside because I just wasn’t getting into it. Too much other stuff for me to think about at the time. I then brought it on the plane with me, thinking that if I was going to be trapped on a Dreamliner for 16 hours I might as well make the most of the time with a book, but I couldn’t really concentrate so didn’t read more than about 20 pages. I’m going to give it a rest for a few weeks and then get back to it… hopefully I’ll love it as much as everyone else seems to love it.

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        • I finished Boy Swallows Universe today and it felt like a book I’d consumed rather than enjoyed and if I wasn’t reading it for Book Club I’d probably have given up. The only highlight was a reference to The Replacements and that a music geek moment, not a literary one.

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          • Oh, that doesn’t sound promising… 😦 But that’s kind of how I felt for the 100+ pages I read… I’ll go back to it eventually, but my expectations will be much lowered.

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  2. I’ve only read one of your choices- the Kent Haruf book which I loved (but not as much as Plainsong). I owe you huge thanks, because your review of Plainsong led me to Kent Haruf, who has become one of my favourite authors. Enjoy and good luck with your new adventure!

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    • Thanks Antoinette… I do love Haruf and once I’ve read this it means I will have read his entire output. It’s sad to think there will never be another new Haruf book in the world…

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  3. Stainland is fascinating but, unsurprisingly given the subject matter, wrenching. I’m sure I’ve banged on about my love of Haruf’s writing to you more than enough already!

    The very best of luck with your new life, Kim.

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    • Thanks Susan. I’m looking forward to Stasiland… have only ever heard good things about it and my copy has been with me for about a decade! As for Haruf, perhaps we should set up a mutual appreciation society for him 😉

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  4. Oh Kim – somehow I’d missed that you’re relocating – but I know we’ll stay in touch here! Very best wishes for the move. How exciting!

    On your pile of books, I have the Gorse trilogy on my shelves too. I enjoyed Stasiland, and loved The Good Soldier – I’ve not read any of the others, but I too have a different Haruf in my 20 books pile.

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    • Thanks Annabel… you didn’t miss anything… I only told a handful of people before I left and this post is really my “announcement”. I’ll be back in London at some point to pack up a flat (and lots of books!) once my OH gets his visa… (or if things don’t work out here).

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  5. Sorry to have missed meeting you, Kim before you went home. All the very best in your new home. Would be good to stay in touch.

    Good list, I haven’t read any of them! I am just about to post my list later today and join in too.

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    • Thanks, Paul. You will always find me here (or on Instagram), so we can keep in touch that way. Looking forward to seeing what makes your list!

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    • All good so far… staying in a lovely Airbnb and having fun discovering old haunts (I have been to this town numerous times on holiday over the years). Come the new week I’ll crack on with flathunting/job hunting etc. & getting back into Australian bureaucracy by registering with Medicare, Tax etc. The books will be a nice bit of escapism, I think! Thanks for thoughts on Milkman and The Vegetarian, two books I’m really looking forward to reading.

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  6. I hope it’s not too long before you’re all settled. Will miss you next time I’m in London. And kudos for carrying that “little” lot in hand-luggage.

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    • Thanks, Marcia. Well, I think I got 5 books in my suitcase, the rest was hand luggage…amazing what you can fit in a little backpack designed for carrying a laptop!

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    • Cheers! I suspect this is all a bit of a delayed mid-life crisis, but with all the Brexit shenanigans and falling out of love with our West London flat, I figured now was a good time to go given I was between jobs anyway.

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  7. Welcome back to Australia! I’ve read ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ which I think all of Australia has read by now and LOVED!. ‘The Watchtower’, I’ve read twice and really don’t know why I haven’t read more of Elizabeth Harrower – one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read

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    • Thanks Judy. I love Elizabeth Harrower and have been reading her books in the order in which she wrote them… so think I’ve only got two to go, this one included.

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  8. Golly, this is certainly a big change. I can only imagine how stressful living in London can be – it’s a great city to visit but I’m always glad to be on way home after battling the tube etc. Life Down Under will certainly be less of a strain.

    As for the books, Milkman and The Vegetarian are both extremely powerful and memorable books. Strongly recommend them….

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    • Thanks, Karen. I love London (and the UK) but was beginning to feel a bit jaded by everything. This new adventure is a trial to see if I could manage to spend the rest of my life here… so watch this space! As for the books, you’re the second person to nominate Milkman and The Vegetarian as powerful and memorable reads… will have to bump them up the list.

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  9. Hi Kim – welcome back! Huge change from London to WA – I hope you’ll be very happy. Good luck with everything. I’m in Sydney so not even close to WA but Tim Winton lives there so must be pretty good!!
    I’ve read and loved Boy Swallows Universe (I think all Australians have 😀), loved everything by Kent Haruf, disliked The Vegetarian, and have always meant to thank you for introducing me to many Irish writers that I would never have come across, including Joseph O’Connor – I love him! Happy reading, Kate

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    • Thanks Kate. I love WA. Been here on holiday three times in four years so knew it was where I wanted to live… Glad to hear you love Joseph O… I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

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  10. Welcome home, even if it’s on The Far Side!
    (*pout* I don’t follow anyone on Instagram so I missed the announcement there).
    I have some lovely bookish friends, only one of whom I’ve actually met, and I think they all live in Perth, so I’m thinking I should ignore the state of my credit card after NZ and fly over for a bookish meetup, what do you think?

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    • I bought Far from the Madding Crowd after seeing the adaption in 2017 (I think?). I’m not much of a classics reader, but I do have a soft spot for Thomas Hardy.

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  11. Brilliant stash! I enjoyed The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart. Also, the surprise hit Boy Swallows Universe. It’s written in and around my local area so I relate to the story although there are semi-fantasy parallels. Happy reading 🙂

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    • Thanks! I lived in Brisbane for a couple of years (in mid-1990s) so have recognised some of the place names in Boy Swallows Universe, which is nice. Nice to hear you enjoyed The Lost Flowers Of Alice Hart — I admit I bought this book for the cover art alone 😉

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  12. What a fabulous pile of books. I am a big Hardy fan so excited to see Far from the Madding Crowd on the pile it’s one of my favourites. I absolutely loved Milkman. Hope you enjoy your *Winter* reading.

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    • Thanks so much, Ali, great to hear your vote of confidence for both Far from the Madding Crowd and Milkman, which probably couldn’t be more different if they tried!

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  13. I can’t say anything about the books you’ve chosen, but I can offer you coffee, wine or lunch next week. Welcome to my (adopted) home town. If you’re lucky you won’t run into Tim Winton. Or Ben Elton. But maybe Kim Scott, that would be much more interesting. And then there’s Elizabeth Tan, Claire Coleman …

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    • I’d like that Bill… this week is focussed on finding a rental property (looked at one this morning I liked in east end, viewing another later today), so be great to catch up next week when hopefully the stress of finding a place is over (then the new stress will be buying furniture/white goods!). I’ll drop you an email later today.

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  14. Ah so THAT’s why you’re back in Australia. I thought I missed something but I don’t think I did. Can’t fault you for the reasoning! Sounds exciting! And I’m kind of jealous that it’s winter where you are now – we’re staring 30+ degree days in the face for the next week and I am not excited.
    You managed 19 last summer!? I was just thinking today I’m going to be hard pressed to get my 15 done this year! Looking forward to seeing your reviews – I’ve read none of your stack so maybe some will wind up on my list for next year.

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  15. I am so impressed that you have moved continents but are still managing to take part in this challenge. You STAR.
    Can’t wait to hear what you think of Shadowplay – I have an ARC that I haven’t got round to yet.
    Hope you get settled soon. Good luck with everything x

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    • Thanks, Cathy… beginning to think I’m being a little optimistic on the book front because I’ve been too busy flat hunting / finding my bearings to do much reading… and the jet lag doesn’t help! Once I find somewhere more permanent to live hopefully my reading mojo will return.

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  16. Oh wow, a big change, but how exciting too Kim, good luck with finding your new place and job, winter is a good time to move I believe, so that you have summer to look forward to as you get settled in.

    I’m impressed that you even have time to blog and join in the challenge, I’ll be watching from the sidelines and reading women in translation in August, the only challenge I seem to manage! I imagine you’ll need to have some reads that suit the mood while you acclimate to the new life, bonne chance!

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    • Thanks, Claire.

      It doesn’t particularly feel like winter here… it’s not dissimilar to a British summer 😉

      Not making any headway whatsoever with this challenge… a week into it and I’ve read about 120 pages of one book… kind of preoccupied with other things right now. The good news is I’ve found a flat to rent and will move in on 24th, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

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        • Yes, I think the summer will be HOT. I have been here on holiday in March a couple of years ago and I was here for 10 days in February this year, so I know it can be 35C+ but this city is famous for it’s daily sea breezes (known as “the Fremantle Doctor”) so I’m hoping that’ll provide a bit of relief. I was talking to a local the other day and I said, “so is January the hottest month”? And he replied: “Yes, January is the hottest month” and then after a slight pause he added: “And so is February, March, April”! 😉

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  17. Best of luck with the move, Kim! I relocated to Colorado in search of better work/life balance last October and am so glad I made the jump. It’s been wonderful focusing my life on hiking and biking instead of crowding onto the subway and staying late to finish yet another project. I hope you (and Mr. Reading Matters) have similar success with WA, which looks like a wonderful area from the pictures you’ve been posting on Instagram.

    As for 20 books, Far from the Madding Crowd is the only one in your stack that I have read. Hardy is a favorite of mine, and I’d put this second only to Tess of the d’Urbervilles. My book club back in Boston raved about Milkman, but it is still sitting in my TBR pile.

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    • Oh, thank you for the vote of confidence, Christina. I’m so glad your move has worked out well for you and great to hear the lifestyle is suiting you — it sounds fab! Like you, I was sick of commuting and working long hours and then being too exhausted on the weekend to want to do anything. I’m hoping that living here means I can lead a healthier lifestyle and enjoy the outdoors a bit more cos the weather here is infinitely better than the UK!

      Good to hear that you like Far from the Madding Crowd…I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile now. Am yet to be disappointed by anything Hardy wrote.

      I’ve head mixed things about Milkman, but everyone who knows my reading tastes has told me I will love it.

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  18. Welcome home!
    I hope your settling in plans are going well. Big life changes are stressful & exciting in not quite equal measure! I had spotted your insta pics, but thought you were just having an extended holiday.

    Glad to have another 20 books of winter participant-we’re a small but dedicated group – keen to highlight winter in Aust versus summer in Ireland 😀

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    • Thanks Brona. I’ve been living on nervous tension for the past three weeks, trying to find somewhere to live, then buying stuff to furnish it with, in between sorting out a bank account, a mobile phone etc. But hugely exciting to be here and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet… I keep hearing Aussie accents and then I remember where I am 🤣

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