To the victor, the spoils. I’m not sure what the spoils in this case might be, but I am certainly feeling victorious: for the first time ever, I have finished the 20 Books of Summer challenge laid down by Cathy at 746 books. This was no doubt helped tremendously by two weeks of annual leave spent doing a big decorating project, meaning that I have had lots of audiobook time – but I’m still proud of myself.

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I’ve had to make four substitutions to my original 20 books – one because I accidentally read the wrong book and had to pretend that was my plan all along, two because the books didn’t arrive, and one because it turned out I’d already reviewed it. Of course, four of my reviews were of cookbooks, which I didn’t necessarily read cover-to-cover, but it still counts in my view. I had some great reading experiences this summer, as well. It was wonderful to reread The Edge of Sadness, one of my favourite novels, and realise I still love it as much (maybe more) than I did before. Dressed for a Dance in the Snow and The Good Mothers were also outstanding reads – both very good, though very different, nonfiction about women finding ways to bear up in oppressive societies or cultures. I said at the time that Bookworm was one of my favourite books so far this year, but actually I’ve barely thought about it since then – funny how our experiences of a book change so quickly.

Towards the start of the challenge, I did have some unfortunate experiences with authors I’ve previously loved. Galloglass, First Among Sequels, and Destination Unknown were huge disappointments to me, and even Murder Must Advertise wasn’t as great at the best of the Wimsey novels. Apparently I have given it four stars on Goodreads! That seems a touch over-generous, now that I think about it, but I obviously liked it at the time. Thankfully, Agatha Christie redeemed herself with By the Pricking of my Thumbs, which had some of her best characterisation, though far from her best plot. I hope these other authors also do better next time I get to them! (Except Scarlett Thomas. Galloglass kind of put me off her books indefinitely).

The other books were all in the middle somewhere – ranging from very good (The History of Love; Stories of Your Life and Others; Wool) all the way down to fine but nothing remarkable (Murder Underground; Utz; God and Galileo). There’s a special category just for For Whom the Bell Tolls: very good; very misogynist. In this, Hemingway joins other eminent male authors of both then and now, so I won’t hold it too much against him. Though I also won’t rush to pick up another romance by him – I think FictionFan’s suggestion of The Old Man and the Sea, devoid of female characters, might be the best place for me to go next! Other books I’ve added to my TBR or picked up thanks to other people’s great reviews include Fisherman of Iceland, The Prince of West End Avenue, and Nocturnes.

Overall, it’s been a wonderful summer of reading, which goes a long way to making up for, you know, the General Situation. Normally, I don’t plan my reading too much, but I enjoyed this a lot and I’m starting to think about my books for the next few months. There was a definite nip in the air this morning during my walk – after a bafflingly hot summer, it seems like maybe we are going to get an unusually early autumn. Typically, I don’t bother to read seasonally, but I do have a couple of unread Daphne Du Mauriers sitting on my shelf, which seem like good things to read with a mug of hot chocolate during an October storm. I’m also planning to read Ten Thousand Doors of January with the Sword and Laser podcast (their last few picks have been super dark and I’m happy I can finally join in again); Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, which I just picked up in an actual physical bookshop a few days ago; and The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet, which was one of the books I bought during my obsessive book purchasing early in lockdown. Will I read all of these books by Christmas? Any of them? Only time will tell!