Reading Down the House – June

I took up An Exacting Life’s challenge: to read the books languishing on my shelves.

The first book is one such book – it’s been in my shelf for a while, and thus was on my read it down list. This novel is at once compelling and stupid. A Victorian gothic, with modern twists (ie more sex), there’s fear of ghosts, a brooding castellated house, spiritualism, lies, family secrets, evil goings-on that all impact on the narrator, an innocent, powerless girl to whom things happen.

The compelling nature stems from the narrative drive of this novel. So many things happen, and the descriptions of places are so visual, that you want to keep reading to find out “what next?”. But stupid: I mean the confession in the dark to the narrator is so unbelievable! And why the incestuous sex?


For my book club I read The Cooked Seed by Anchee Min. In her memoir, Min, author of many best sellers set in China, tells the tale of her escape to the US, her constant struggle to earn income and a green card, her writing and raising her daughter. It’s a very interesting book, not least for the perspective it gives on aspects of Western culture that we take as our norms. In classic Western irony, I read her tales of long, hard work while I was lazing in bed one cold and windy Saturday, eating chocolate. A day well spent.


People Like Us by Waleed Ally, a Muslim born and raised in Australia, was very interesting, addressing the Muslim/Western divide and misunderstandings. I like a book that challenges me intellectually and challenges my beliefs. An insightful review is here. I mean how could I ever compete with Mungo MacCallum?

I started skimming bits – too much political history of which I have no prior knowledge so can’t place it in my schema, and frankly didn’t/don’t care enough about to put in my head. I found the chapter on perceptions of women wearing the veil most interesting, though I don’t necessarily agree with it.

Unfortunately, I borrowed this book as a digital copy from my library. Unfortunate, because I had one chapter to go but the dastardly electronic Big Brother deleted my version on the due date. No overdue fines OK, but no allowance to finish the book and be just one day late. You get four weeks when you borrow a real book, but only two when it is electronic. And my library won’t fine you if you are a couple of days late with a real book. Just more reasons why real books win.


My last book of the month was truly moving. So haunting, parts that are so sickening, dealing with the worst of human nature and acts – it took me days to process. And as soon as I finished the book, I skimmed it again looking for a specific quote (which I didn’t find). But the novel was also uplifting, promising hope and redemption.

And the writing!! So lyrical. (I want to wave this novel at the publishers of The Goldfinch and say this is what good writing and good editing does – gives us so many characters, so many back stories, and has so much that happens, and makes us question so many things – the death penalty, redemption, can people change, once evil are we always evil – and all in less than 250 pages.)

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, read it!!! I don’t say that often, bossy as I am. But even if you hate the elements of magic realism, or do not like the technique whereby characters are not named, or don’t like reading about what makes children/humans into monsters, this book will have you thinking and will move you.



8 thoughts on “Reading Down the House – June

  1. It would be interesting to find in a real life “a person to whom things happen.” I think a lot of people see their lives that way!

    The Cooked Seed sounds perfect for my book club too.

    I have the same problem with borrowed e-books. We can get a 3-week loan, though.

    The Enchanted sounds really exceptional. I will have to read it all in a day when I am feeling strong!

    • The Enchanted is an un-put-downable book. You will get through it in one day.

      Given the topics of your book club, I think The Cooked Seed will be perfect. And it is uplifting in a way, though that Tiger-Mother concept and the choice of mammon over family are strong themes. I teach International students and shake my head at sending my children away for “a better life”, though, of course, I am starting from a secure lifestyle. Then again, my mother’s family didn’t, and family togetherness was more important than individual education and wealth.

      I’m over half way through The Luminaries. Very captivating read. I recommend it for a rollicking tale.

  2. I still can’t believe you have all these books in your house you haven’t read. How does that happen? The only books in my house I haven’t read all the way through are Grey’s Anatomy (not quite sure why I even own that. Nasty pictures. However Rosy does want to be an osteopath or physio, so may come in handy), and The Norton Anthology of English Literature, two volumes, because, seriously, all that poetry. Oh, and I cannot, hand on heart, say I have read all of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
    How it works here is: book arrives in house, I bag it and read it, even if it belongs to someone else, it is their library book, it is their course work, they are reading it, they are really mad at me because they can’t find it and are supposed to be writing an essay on it, I have hidden it because I have only two chapters to go, and it is my preciousssss…
    This is why my favourite book this week is The Book Thief. Very, very good. Thanks to my oldest daughter:) And I am one. Sorry lovey.

    • Love, love, love The Book Thief. It is on my Top 5 list. Though it is too sad for me to ever read again or to see the movie. I cried too much the first time!!!

      See, how it works Jo is this: I can never borrow one book from the library, can never buy one book from the second hand book shop and I belong to a book club and we pick a book a month. So I have books I buy and borrow (including from friends and from work). This means more come in than I have time to read. Sometimes a newer book rises on my to read list (because I have to for book club or because it captivates me more) and the longer an older book sits on my shelf the less I feel driven to read it. And all the while, new books are coming in. And some books I start but just don’t finish, generally because of my current mood or frame of mind. So I have to shelve those books until I am ready for them.

      Of June’s reading, only one, the first one, was languishing on my shelf. The other three were newly acquired – borrowed from a friend, borrowed from the library and bought from he second hand book shop. And in June I also bought three new books and five books from the second hand book shop. But I’m currently reading a book that I bought at the end of last year – all 832 pages of it. Bugger work-work getting in the way of my reading – I’ve already cut back house-work so I can read.

  3. I watched The Book Thief on the plane coming over here and had to surreptitiously sniffle and cry behind my seat, trying not to launch into The Big Sobs in the middle of the plane!

    I want to add The Enchanted and The Cooked Seed to my list but I am so, so far behind already. If I can get them on Kindle they will go on the list!

    • Why do they show movies that make you cry on a plane where you have no privacy or even darkness of the cinema to hide your tears? When I read the book, the tears were rolling down. I can’t imagine the movie would be different. (On our trip home from NZ, I watched a movie that made me cry – Mr Pip.)

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