Book review

Raising Steam (Discworld 40), by Sir Terry Pratchett, 2013

This is the final novel in my reread of the Discworld series – now is not the time to be to revisiting the bitter-sweet The Shepherd’s Crown .

Raising Steam | Terry Pratchett Books | Discworld Novels

Raising Steam is a Moist von Lipwig story. The previous Moist novels (Going Postal and Making Money) saw him take on Ankh-Morpork institutions desperately in need of modernisation, and use his street smarts and quasi-criminal abilities to achieve the impossible. Raising Steam takes a different track. The industrial revolution, already foreshadowed in the arrival of the printing press (The Truth) and the clacks (Going Postal) has now reached the age of steam. Dick Simnel, a self-taught engineer (whose father, Ned Simnel, appeared all the way back in Reaper Man), has perfected the design of a steam engine, one which doesn’t spontaneously explode leaving anyone in the vicinity a red mist. He finds the ideal business partner and investor in the King of the Golden River, Sir Harry King. from this point the railways erupt, with Moist at the heart of making sure they can go where they need to go, and that the Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway company has the resources it needs to succeed.

The Patrician appoints Moist von Lipwig, by now (ironically) one of his most reliable employees, to represent him in the management and expansion of the railway. A line is quickly laid to the coast at Quirm, where fresh sea-food now becomes available to the diners of Ankh-Morpork. Moist negotiates with landowners for permission to build across their land, and finds alternative routes when he is refused. The Patrician pushes Moist relentlessly to ensure that the next phase of expansion, the line to Uberwald over a thousand miles away, is completed at breakneck speed.

One of the many joys of Raising Steam is in its imaginative recreation of the early days of the railways. Train spotters write “1” carefully in their notebooks when the first engine appears. Track-side catering, third class carriages, overnight sleepers and flat-bed trucks for the larger customer (i.e. trolls) are all fitted seamlessly into the narrative. Moist is at the heart of spotting the commercial potential of the railways, even down to the marketing of small train sets for (ahem) children. The novel also has its own spin-off. At one point Moist meets a lady traveller, Mrs Bradshaw, who impresses him with her independent and inquiring mind. He commissions her to write an account of her travels on the railway in return for a free go-anywhere ticket. The product of that meeting is Mrs Bradshaw’s Handbook, which is great fun, full of additional detail about Discworld and lots of terrible puns. My favourite was the description of a rat-inna-bun as a “royale with fleas”*

In Thud, Pratchett describes the signing of the Koom Valley Accord, a historic peace agreement between dwarves and trolls. But that agreement is now under attack due to the relentless rise of dwarven fundamentalism. Extremists, led by the sinister grags, begin a terrorist campaign against the most visible signs of modernism, the clacks towers. Attacks on the railroad soon follow. This is all a prelude to a coup against the Low King of the Dwarfs. In the classic tradition of these things the coup is launched while the Low King is attending an international conference in Quirm. The reason for Vetinari’s insistence on the completion of the track to Uberwald now becomes clear – the Low King has to be rushed back to resist the coup. (OK, if Vetenari was so far sighted as to realise the express service to Uberwald was going to be needed, could he not have just organised the conference at a slightly more suitable, less remote location. Or had the Low King send a deputy? No, you are right, it doesn’t really matter.)

If the first half of the novel is an enjoyable spin through the exciting early days of steam, the second half revolves around the Low King’s break-neck journey back to Uberwald. Anticipating attempts to prevent him from returning to court, the Low King sets off in disguise, decoy carriages are sent to throw the grags off his scent, and half the Watch accompany the party to provide an extended bodyguard. Moist goes along for the ride, to make sure the train arrives on time. As expected the train comes under attack almost straight away, and they face a increasingly serious series of ambushes and attempts at sabotage along the way, requiring Moist to carry off one of his trademark feats of showmanship before finally arriving in Uberwald.

Raising Steam map | humanitysdarkerside

There’s a large supporting cast of characters in Raising Steam. Perhaps this was some kind of farewell? Most of the Watch appear, including of course Commander Vimes who plays an important part in defending the train from the grags and restoring the Low King to his throne. Vimes fans are treated to the wonderful image of him fighting dwarves on the top of the train as it speeds along:

“The commander went, as they say in Ankh-Morpork, totally Librarian on them.”

Adora Belle is suitably acerbic, although the reader is assured that her marriage to Moist is supremely happy. Lu-tze walks on and off-stage briefly. The Patrician is the Patrician, feeling slightly rattled by the increasing difficulty of his crossword, while his clerk, Drumnott, indulges his obsession with all things rail-related. Death returns to remind people what to do when they die. Even Rincewind makes the briefest of appearances in a couple of footnotes – Pratchett could never quite say goodbye to his first wizzard.

You can’t reduce forty-one novels to a single message, of course not, but inclusion has always been at its heart, and that idea remains central to the series even at the end. The message perhaps becomes even more insistent as the series comes to a close. Social change is speeding up in Discworld – we see goblins going from vermin and prey in Snuff to valuable members of society in a few short years. The Watch continues to recruit non-humans to its ranks and spread good policing practice across the hub. There is also time in the novel to find a non-didactic resolution (of a kind) to the long-running discussion of dwarven gender identity, as the Low King is revealed to be the Low Queen.

When I come back to the novels of Sir Terry it won’t be for the jokes or the plots. It will be for his characters and his kindness and understanding. He know that technology can change society profoundly and shows us how it can be exciting and transformative rather than harmful:

“Here is the new thing and here it is. And yesterday you never thought about it and after today you don’t know what you would do without it. That was what the technology was doing. It was your slave but, in a sense, it might be the other way round.”

This will be the final time I say this, having said it far too many times already, but please do read some Terry Pratchett. It is all quite wonderful.

*little nod to Pulp Fiction there if you hadn’t spotted it.

Book review

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens,1852-53

I am not sure which was more daunting – reading the near 1000 pages of Bleak House, or trying to summarise the experience in a few paragraphs for this post. Where to begin? This could be the complete English novel. Pride and Prejudice is a more perfect romance, Wuthering Heights a more dramatic melodrama, The Big Sleep a better detective story, and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist a more devastating social critique. But Bleak House is all of the above and so much more. It’s a dazzling display of literary technique, without ever being showy; it is a masterful exhibition of characterisation (of which more later) and the use of themes and motifs is extraordinary. So I ask again, where to begin?

Perhaps a brief plot summary, although to do justice to the byzantine complexity of this novel is quite a challenge in itself. As you may know, Bleak House revolves around the long-running Chancery suit of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, a dispute about a series of wills and the associated inheritances. Trapped in this case are two wards of court, who go to live with their uncle, John Jarndyce, in the novel’s title location, Bleak House. Also involved in the litigation is Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife Lady Dedlock. There is clearly an element of mystery about Lady Dedlock’s background – as early as the second chapter it is established that she has secrets. While consulting with the family solicitor, Mr Tulkinghorn, she recognises the handwriting on one of his documents.

“My Lady, changing her position, sees the paper on the table – looks at them nearer – looks at them nearer still – asks impulsively “Who copied that?”

Mr Tulkinghorn notices this reaction, and quickly finds out that the copywriter, “Nemo”, has recently died. The only person who can identify him is the crossing sweeper Jo, who lives in Tom-All-Alone’s, a slum in the poorest part of the City (Tom-All-Alone’s was very nearly the novel’s title).

The novel’s second narrator, Esther Summerson now takes over the tale. This alternating narrative structure, with one a named character, the other unnamed and omniscient, is unusual if not unique. It works well in varying the narrative voice. Esther is naive and reluctant to show her feelings about some close to home topics such as her feelings for Mr Woodcourt, whereas the omniscient narrator is more revealing. Esther starts her narrative by telling the reader about her childhood. She was raised by a Miss Barbary, who denied her affection and told her:

Your mother, Esther, is your disgrace, and you were hers“.

She is obviously illegitimate, but beyond that knows little about her parents or family. After Miss Barbary dies, Esther becomes the ward of Mr Jarndyce, one of the litigants in the long-running case. She eventually moves in with him along with two other wards in the Jarndyce case, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare.

These parallel storylines – the Jarndyce wards and the Dedlock mystery – intertwine. The mystery of Esther’s parentage is slowly revealed. Along the way Dickens takes any number of diversions, introducing a multitude of characters and sub-plots, all of whom contribute to the development of the novel.

In earlier Dickens novels the villains are often somewhat one dimensional with little to say for them in mitigation. Great characters, but not very nuanced. Bleak House doesn’t really have anyone in this role – in fact it is the law itself which is the real villain of the piece. Many of the other characters while without question fallible have a complexity that allows us to like them even when we disagree with their actions. Lord Dedlock is originally established as the stuffy aristocrat permanently at war with his neighbours and over-bearing to family and servants, but he becomes an almost endearing character by the end of the novel, loving and faithful to the memory of his wife. Tulkinghorn may initially be cast as the scheming lawyer out to fleece his clients of everything he can get his hands on, but as the picture emerges he does seem to be genuinely trying to protect the best interests of his clients, and he doesn’t deserve the fate that befalls him. The aloof Lady Dedlock finds redemption in sacrifice. Inspector Bucket, cruel towards Jo and sinister when he appears as if a ghost in his early scenes, ends up heroically trying to rescue Lady Dedlock and being thoughtful and considerate towards Esther.

Keeping track of the cast of eccentrics in the novel is part of the challenge. I counted over 60 named characters, and there’s no doubt that it is easy to forget who is who unless you are reading the novel with particular care.  Inevitably some of the minor characters are a little one-dimensional, but Dickens creates a vivid cast of grotesques, such as the appalling Mr Skimpole, eternally sponging off his friends while maintaining a pretence of his own childishness. Speaking of himself he confesses to

two of the oldest infirmities in the world: one was, that he had no idea of time; the other, that he had no idea of money. In consequence of which he never kept an appointment, never could transact any business, and never knew the value of anything! . . . He was very fond of reading the papers, very fond of making fancy sketches with a pencil, very fond of nature, very fond of art. All he asked of society, was to let him live. That wasn’t much. His wants were few. Give him the papers, conversation, music, mutton, coffee, landscape, fruit in the season, a few sheets of Bristol-board, and a little claret, and he asked no more. He was a mere child in the world, but he didn’t cry for the moon

There is a complexity to Dickens’s writing that is easy to overlook. His ear for the way people speak is acute. To give just one example, the lawyer’s formal phrase “I beg your Lordship’s pardon” is rendered “begludship’s pardon” (chapter 1) which as well as capturing the clipped tones of the courtroom also speaks to the incomprehensibility of the proceedings. Later a relative of Lord Dedlock speaks in a similar almost incomprehensible manner:

‘The debilitated cousin holds that it’s sort of thing that’s sure tapn slongs votes—giv’n—Mob.”

(“It is the sort of thing that is sure to happen so long as votes are given to the mob” – in other words a casual condemnation of increasing the popular franchise.)

Modern readers will find the relationship between Esther and her guardian, John Jarndyce, inappropriate if not abusive. It creeped me out every time she refers to him as her loving Guardian after they were engaged. My concern is not so much the substantial age gap but the power imbalance – she is his ward, legally his responsibility and therefore completely off limits. Dickens thankfully swerves at the last minute and allows Esther a more traditional marriage to the eminently suitable Allan Woodcourt.

I know the novel’s famous opening has been analysed to death but I did want to acknowledge Dickens’s audacity as a novelist to open with the one-word sentence – “London” – throwing out all the rules we have ever been taught about sentence structure, and then following it with a series of incomplete sentences:

Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

It’s not until the fourth paragraph that a traditionally complete sentence appears, (“The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar” This sentence stands out and draws the reader’s attention precisely because it is complete). If one wanted, a whole essay could be constructed around Dickens’ use of this motif of mud, dirt and dust in the novel. Often the words are used euphemistically – for example where the author writes of the “stagnant channel of mud which is the main street of Tom-all-Alone’s,” That’s not mud really is it? The critic and academic John Sutherland has fun with “the laundered quality of Victorian literary language” in his article in the London Review of Books,

“Assuming, for instance, that the dust heaps in Our Mutual Friend are what Humphry House claimed, urban mountains of shit, is Dickens’s ‘dust’, the modesty of the novel, or the modesty of a man of Dickens’s class and time? One knows that Jo, in Bleak House, is a crossing-sweeper: but why are we never told what it is he is employed to sweep out of the way? (Horse dust, presumably.)

Dust also brings to mind ashes, (one of Miss Flite’s birds is named Ashes) and the inevitable association with fire and death.

Another example of Dickens’s ability to imbue minor incidents or characters with significance to the whole novel is the involvement of the brick-builders. These are impoverished labourers and their families, who we first meet when Esther is dragged off to dispense charity to them by Mrs Pardiggle. While they are there one of the babies, malnourished and sick, dies abruptly. Esther deals with the situation as best she can, and wraps the baby in one of her handkerchiefs. In a nod to Othello this handkerchief is later recognised by Lady Dedlock and is an important clue in her realisation that her long-lost daughter is really alive. The baby’s death is not just a plot-device – the handkerchief could have been left behind for any number of reasons – but also a reminder of the proximity of sudden death for the labouring classes in nineteenth century England. Later the brick-builders appear in London at Tom’s-All-Alone, and then at the novel’s climax in the chase to find Lady Dedlock. As well as playing an important role in the novel’s plot, the brick-builders represent the people who are transforming the country through their labour but sharing no part in the benefits of industrialisation. The working classes are in no way romantised though – the men are alcoholics and beat their wives, who stoically bear it all and join the men in drinking.

I’ve only really scratched the surface in looking at some of Dickens’ techniques in constructing Bleak House. It is a novel that can be read and reread time and again, and analysed from many different perspectives. Apart from its length it is not a difficult read. Sharing the monthly instalments when it was first published in the 1850’s must have been an amazing collective experience, very different from the ‘all in one go’ way of reading the novel one uses today. This was my one-a-year reread of Dickens, and although there is admittedly a sense of having ticked off another reading target for 2021 I am really glad I chose to revisit this epic of Victorian literature.

Book review

Snuff (Discworld 39) by Sir Terry Pratchett, 2011

When published in 2011, Snuff was the third-fastest-ever selling novel in the UK. Of course at the time we didn’t know it was going to be the ante-penultimate Discworld novel, but enough was known about Sir Terry’s condition to make people aware that this well of wonderfulness was one day going to run dry, and perhaps that knowledge played its part in the novel’s popularity – that and of course that by this point the series had earned a huge and entirely justified reputation and an international fanbase.

Image result for snuff terry pratchett

Set around three years after the events of Thud, which left their mark on Commander Vimes and which are referenced several times here, this is the final novel in the Watch series. Sam is persuaded against his better judgment to take a family holiday out at the Ramkin country estate. Young Sam is now six, and has graduated from Where’s My Cow and is now, like many six-year olds, obsessed with every possible variety of poo. Much amusement is also derived from the fish-out-of-water experience for Ankh-Morpork born-and-bred copper Sam getting used to the many bizarre country traditions and practices.

Inevitably and in accordance with strict convention Sam encounters suspicious behaviour by the locals almost from the moment he arrives, and stumbles into an investigation, at least in part to stave off the boredom of the countryside. Family time, particularly showing Young Sam around the countryside and its strange practices, has to be fitted into those moments when he is not following up on clues or fighting surly locals. His butler Willikins, a formidable assassin and street-fighter in his own right, comes in very handy as a side-kick in the absence of the usual Watch supporting cast.

In the course of what are obviously unwelcome investigations Vimes is arrested by the local constable, Feeney Upshot, on suspicion of murder. This allows Vimes to mentor Feeney in some of the tricks of the policing trade. Together they visit the local goblin cave, where they find evidence of an even more serious crime – a crime against humanity, after a fashion. Back in Ankh-Morpork some important clues relevant to this investigation are found, and it is not long before the dots are joined up and the chase is afoot.

Snuff is mis-titled – the tobacco product is barely mentioned, and the other meanings of the word don’t really play any part – and is a frustrating combination of absolutely wonderful touches of Pratchett (and Sam Vimes) magic, combined with the occasional off-note. Not least of these is the central goblin-storyline. Previous Discworld novels have followed the integration of other races into Ankh-Morpork society, (most recently the orcs in Unseen Academicals) which is often symbolised by the appointment of a representative of the race into the City Watch. Trolls, zombies, vampires and werewolves all go from being a feared ‘other’ to being recognised as valuable members of society. Goblins are the last known species to be outside that family of sentient species – in the countryside especially they are considered vermin, and the severed head of a goblin is displayed alongside other ‘animals’ on the wall of a local pub. To be fair the goblins don’t help change perceptions, not least by their practice (in desperation) of cannibalistic infanticide (as I have said many times, Pratchett will go to the dark places other authors would back away from) and their unusual religion of unggue, in which everything that is expelled from their bodies – snot, saliva, etc – is treated with reverence and stored in pots for final disposal with their bodies.

When not being slaughtered, goblins are enslaved and made to work on tobacco plantations (hence the tenuous link with the novel’s title), and while not illegal Vimes deems this practice unacceptable, and goes about arresting those involved. He also shows how society’s views on such issues can be transformed; by the end of the novel the way people think of goblins is beginning to change. It’s so easy to forget how profoundly political a writer Pratchett was – here goblins can be symbols for ethnic or racial minorities, other oppressed groups, or possibly even our behaviour towards the animal kingdom.

Wonderful though it is, Snuff has its faults. The river chase scene feels like it was lifted from the Ankh-Morpork archives and dropped wholesale into the novel. The idea of the river being of a scale sufficient to support a luxury paddleboat cruiser and at the same time fast-flowing and dangerous enough for a boat to have to swerve around corners just didn’t feel plausible. I recognise this – implausibility – is a strange criticism of a novel about goblins, but the consistency of Pratchett’s world-building is usually one of the strongest features of the series. Vimes’s plot armour is now ten-foot thick, so something else was needed to inject some sense of peril into the novel, but it’s missing. There’s never any question that the bad guys are going to be caught and justice served to the living and the dead. Lots of familiar characters have brief walk-on parts, although as is often the case with this series is the new characters, local copper Feeney Upshot and children’s author Miss Felicity Beedle, world’s greatest authority on poo, who are the most interesting. The dad jokes are an acquired taste, and of course some work better than others –

“Vimes thought for a moment and said, ‘Well, dear, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a lot of wood must be in want of a wife who can handle a great big–”

or this obviously quite personal quip:

“How hard can writing be? After all, most of the words are going to be ‘and,’ ‘the,’ and ‘I,’ and ‘it,’ and so on, and there’s a huge number to choose from, so a lot of the work has been done for you.”

Pratchett wrote some quite exceptional police procedural/detective novels, but this isn’t one – the mystery is very straightforward and doesn’t detain us long, and all Vimes really has to do is follow his nose. He almost literally trips over the clues. But this is Vimes’ swan-song. where the murder-mystery elements are largely incidental beside the bigger picture in which Vimes, happily and contentedly married, a father, indispensable to the Patrician and with an international reputation in policing, gets his happily ever after. Not a bad way for him to bow out.

I savoured every line of Snuff, knowing how close we were coming to the end. It is full of wisdom, humour, kindness, and love. It is a wonderful addition to the series, and the flaws I have mentioned are like the lines on the face of an old friend, which don’t detract in the slightest from the novel overall. I loved it.

Book review

Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov, 1957

Goodreads tells us that Pnin is one Nabokov’s “best-loved novels” and that it “features his funniest and most heart-rending character”, comments that I have to say gave me pause for thought. Published just after Lolita, Pnin is apparently the novel which established Nabokov in the public mind, or at least that much of it that exists in America. It follows the titular Professor Timofey Pnin, a comically disorganised Russian émigré lecturer working at an American college in the 1950’s. Pnin is an everyman character struggling with the challenges of everyday life – driving a car, taking a bus, hosting a drinks party, and not least the complexities of the English language. As you would expect with Nabokov the novel features a slightly sinister narrator who is far more than just unreliable but who towards the end of the novel seems to be actively malevolent towards Pnin. By this stage the reader feels protective towards Pnin, but the peril dissolves without coming to a head.

Image result for pnin

Pnin was first serialized in The New Yorker and then published in book form in 1957.  It is everything Lolita is not – gently comic, uncontroversial in its subject matter, and comparatively straightforward. There are some autobiographical elements to the novel – Nabokov was a refugee from Nazi-occupied France, arriving in the USA in 1940, and taught Russian at an American university. I am a massive fan of Nabokov’s transgressive, challenging novel, so there’s no point in trying to disguise the fact that I was a little disappointed in Pnin. I am sure the problem was that I was expecting or hoping for something in the same vein as Lolita (or Pale Fire, another wonderful novel), and the gentle comedy of Pnin just took me unawares. On its on terms its a perfectly successful novel, it’s just not the Nabokov I expected.

There is an episodic character to the novel, without doubt deriving from its original publication format. Pnin is sensitive to noise and moves from house to house, hoping to find a noise free environment, but finding each noisier than the last. He tries painfully to be a welcoming host at his little dinner party, but ends the evening with the devastating news that he is being fired. He fails, then passes, his driving test:

“…If he failed the first time he took his driver’s licence test, it was mainly because he started an argument with the examiner in an ill-timed effort to prove that nothing could be more humiliating to a rational creature than being required to encourage the development of a base conditional reflex by stopping at a red light when there was not an earthly soul around, heeled or wheeled. He was more circumspect the next time, and passed…”

It would take a harder heart than mine not to be touched when he throws away the football bought with some difficulty for his ex-wife’s son after finding out he is not interested in sport. Slowly the character of a kind, well-meaning man at odds with the modern world emerges. On its own terms it is engaging and entertaining – I can see how it would have worked in serial magazine form, where there wasn’t time for the understatement to become underwhelming.

I am not sure whether it is best to read Pnin as a companion piece to Lolita, a palette cleanser after the monstrosities of Humbert Humbert, or to try and isolate the two works and read Pnin entirely on its own merits. In practice I suppose the latter is impossible, so the former it is. It is clearly from the same hand as Lolita, showing a command of the subtlest nuances of English which from a non-native speaker is breath-taking. Here’s Pnin recovering from having all his teeth taken out for example:

A warm flow of pain was gradually replacing the ice and wood of the anaesthetic in his thawing, still half-dead, abominably martyred mouth. After that, during a few days he was in mourning for an intimate part of himself. It surprised him to realize how fond he had been of his teeth. His tongue, a fat sleek seal, used to flop and slide so happily among the familiar rocks, checking the contours of a battered but still secure kingdom, plunging from cave to cove, climbing this jag, nuzzling that notch, finding a shred of sweet seaweed in the same old cleft; but now not a landmark remained, and all there existed was a great dark wound, a terra incognita of gums which dread and disgust forbade one to investigate. And when the plates were thrust in, it was like a poor fossil skull being fitted with the grinning jaws of a perfect stranger.”

What an extraordinary collection of imagery packed into that brief paragraph! I can’t quite forgive Pnin for not being another Lolita, but I know it deserves more than that. At just over 160 pages it is the briefest of reads, so perhaps I should return to it when feeling less locked-down and in need for something escapist?

Book review


Have you ever had the experience when you are reading a book and you notice that your attention keeps wandering to the page number, and without thinking about it your mind starts to calculate the number of pages left to be read? And perhaps the distance read thus far as a percentage of the total book? That can just be me! I always think of it as a clear warning sign, that I have caught myself reading the book just to get to the end, not for pleasure.

Sometimes that’s just how it has to be. You need to grit your teeth and get to the end of the book. Perhaps you are reading a set text on a course, are in a particularly strict book club, or consider not finishing a novel a personal failure. But if you are free from those pressures and still catch yourself counting the pages remaining, that’s surely time to pause and re-evaluate your reading choices. Why are you reading this novel if you can’t wait for it to end?

I see a lot of bloggers online writing about their ‘TBR’ list – books they have bought or chosen as ones they want to read, or have agreed to review. Rather than seeing that list as a menu of things to look forward to, books to enjoy and savour, the list becomes oppressive. People write about thinning down their TBR inventory as if it is a to-do list of burdensome chores. For example someone I follow wrote the following about novels on their December 2019 TBR

“In any event, if these books aren’t completed by December 31st, I’m done with them. I’m not ‘taking’ them into 2020 with me.”

Well do you want to read them or don’t you? Rather than using some arbitrary date to tidy up your list of chores.

I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou about this – I am as guilty as the next person of slipping into this way of thinking – “I’ve read X number of pages today” or “Only another 100 pages and I will have finished Novel Y” rather than “What a great writer novelist Z is”. But I realise it’s not healthy, and over time can erode one’s passion for reading. So my advice? Perhaps this sounds trite, but I can only summarise it thus – don’t read for pleasure books that you don’t find pleasurable. If you aren’t enjoying a novel (and you have given it a fair chance to grab your interest) stop reading it, – perhaps put it aside and go back to it later when your appetite for the genre has returned. No-one will judge you for it, honest. And if your TBR list is getting you down, strip off everything apart from those novels that you genuinely want to read – make it a WTR list.