Reading Reflection & Favourites

As the final days approach of the year that needed to end, I feel the familiar tug to reflect on my reading adventures through the last twelve months.

Year in Reflection

The most surprising thing about my reading this year was that I read A LOT. I didn’t plan this and I’m honestly astonished by it because I have no idea how to replicate it in the coming years. My original plan was to actually cut back on reading, yet I will finish the year slightly over (if I finish a few things in the next day or two) 270 completed books. INSANITY.

Due to this result, I’ve needed more than ever some dedicated reflection on my reading habits. The main things I changed this year was that I made sure I was reading multiple books at a time and to have an audiobook handy. I didn’t always have 6 books on the go or an audiobook on loan, but I did these things more often than other years. Having choices when time appeared for reading melded well with my inconsistent moods, because if I was feeling too stressed to read a literary book, I could switch to a mystery or a chill memoir. This meant that instead of deciding not read at a given time because I wasn’t in the mood for the book I was reading, I could still read. My increased audiobook usage has also helped with reading when my health flares up and I have trouble holding a book or focusing on the page. Combining the impacts of these two trends in my reading has led to me reading more than ever before, and being able to still read when in the past I would’ve found my mood or health a hurdle to sitting down with a book.

Now I have read a lot of books, but not all of them were quality. According to my Goodreads stats, the majority of books I read this year were 4 stars or lower, which is not too bad. The drop in my award of 5 star ratings may be due to the quantity of books read, since the more I read, the more tools I have to decide whether a book is good or not. Or the drop in ratings may be as simple as a reflection on my shifting moods this year. Either way I still believe that the more I read, the more critical I am towards what I like to read, and this will ultimately result in less 5 star ratings.

Favourite Reads of 2017

There have been some standout books in the midst of all the books I read this year. I’ve decided to keep this list as small as possible to highlight the best of the best. There are definitely more books I would recommend from this year of reading, but they are so numerous that my fingers would fall off before I could finish the post.

Without further ado, here are my top seven books of the year, in no particular order.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
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I am aware I was slow to this bandwagon and I’m now just another on the Rebecca fan-train. This book was amazing. It is few and far between that a book is able to fully transport you into their world like Maurier does. The atmosphere that tempts to suffocate you is the winning feature of this book. Narrated by the unnamed new lady of the house, the household and the protagonist attempt to fill the shoes of the seemingly flawless predecessor, Rebecca. This novel is built on secrets and the sense of impending doom that seeps into every nook and cranny. It was thrilling and delectable. Reading Rebecca is a treat and I was so glad to have finally gotten to delve into this treasure of a novel. If you haven’t read this, pick it up sooner rather than later. You won’t regret it.

 

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

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My first Jeanette Winterson. I was utterly blown away by her prose and I knew immediately that this book would become an all-time favourite. The weaving of the themes of love and the body, even when it fails, was so masterful that I couldn’t have considered putting it down. This book presented me with a subjective story that felt universal in its understanding of the human condition. Whilst this book is short in page count, it packs a punch with its delicate prose that permeates an understanding of life that feels divine. This is definitely one I am glad I own so that I am able to return again and again to this nugget of brilliance.

 

Girls Will be Girls by Emer O’Toole

23699151This was another book that became an instant favourite. Never have I read such an approachable understanding on the performative nature of gender and how this understanding can be used to break free from practices we are conformed to perform from birth. It made me feel more comfortable in my comprehension of gender roles with its accessible style of writing. Reading this felt like having a deep conversation with a well-informed friend. I’m enamoured with the fact this book was able to be academic without alienating readers. I hope to own this book so that I can go back and find the passages that really spoke to me. The experience of reading this book was one of great delight and I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

 

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

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My love for this book was one of the biggest surprises of the year. I picked this up without expectations and I was blown out of the water. Not only was Springsteen’s prose insanely good, but he delivers his autobiography with an honest heart that is impossible not to fall for. I didn’t enter this tome with a love for Springsteen, but I left with it. His life story was relatable, not through experience, but by his attitude and insight into humanity. The sections where he delves into his struggles with mental health were some of the rawest and most beautiful passages of the whole book. I absolutely fell in love with this book and the love has stuck with me all year. I recommend this to fans and non-fans alike.

Compass by Mathias Enard

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I didn’t pick this book up because I’d heard of it and it’s nomination for the Man Booker International Prize. I picked it up on a whim because the cover is shiny and the first page had me hooked. Whilst the cover is impressive and probably my favourite this year, the contents far surpassed with pure genius. At times, this book was a labour of love. It was the type of book that deserves to be read slow and taken in with care. The intermingling of European and Oriental culture and the reflection of this by a supposedly dying man resulted in an magnificent commentary on the intersection of culture in the midst of the homogeneity of globalisation. This book to me is a cave of wonders. Every page gave me more to love. The best surprise to come out of my reading this year.

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

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The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, has been my favourite book since I first read it back in 2010. I’ve since read it three more times and it fills me with love every time. I was a little hesitant picking this up since it is the concluding book in my favourite trilogy, but not only was that hesitation unjustified, this book was the best in the trilogy (however The Passage wins on nostaglia). It is by far the best concluding book to a series I’ve ever read. It ties everything together and tells a story that is transcendent of time. I loved the backstory set in present time as much as I loved returning to beloved characters. This book was so inventive and thrilling in ways I didn’t expect. I love this book immensely and it has cemented this series as one of the loves of my life.

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

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I was not prepared for how this book would blow me away. The recurrent theme of this book is what it means to be a person and how this shapes our lives and the lives of those around us. Set in a world that is weird and terrifying, Borne is a creature that defies definition. He subtly invades and revolutionises the life of Rachel. Delivered with masterful prose and presented in an environment that is inconsistent with normalcy, this book was a new take on the investigation on the meaning of life and why that even matters. Borne is both child and monster who is the vessel of meaning and consistent inconsistency that makes this book insanely unique and a fresh addition to the genre.

 


And there we have it. This year has been tumultuous but being surrounded by books has remained a necessary constant that has provided joy and escape. I am so grateful to have these books in my life. I hope that the new year brings more bookish greatness.

Happy New Year everyone.

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Tolstoy vs. YouTube | Book Review

29414576Tolstoy stole my heart at seventeen. Anna Karenina revived my soul and ignited a love for Russian culture that has steadily kindled for years. The premise of a modernisation of Anna Karenina as an amateur web series was too promising to resist. Unfortunately, the premise was the only consistent and worthwhile feature in this book.

I imagined I would overcome my boredom and distance from the main character, Tash, but I never did. I never felt like I knew her or any of the characters. They felt like cardboard cut-outs placed onto a set that failed to be properly developed. In addition to the overall lack of development, some of the dialogue felt clunky to the point of unrealism, which heightened my feeling of isolation to the characters.

The writing wasn’t bad per se, more unpractised or unrefined. I felt like the scenes didn’t flow together and that the plotting was nearly non-existent. The things that did happen seemed to be over the top and inconsistent with the supposed focus of the book – the web series. I thought it would focus more on that and how being an amateur and learning about your passion is scaring and exciting, but it brushed over the intricacies of filming a web series and made it out to be that Tash was already a pro filmmaker and the actors all magnificent at seventeen.

It felt overboard to introduce so many threads to such a short novel. There wasn’t enough space to explore anything fully because there was too much stuffing. The asexuality perspective was probably the fullest focus of the novel, which was surprising since it popped out of nowhere about halfway through the novel. The threads that felt undeveloped included the pressure of internet fame, ambitions and pitfalls of filmmaking as a passion, big sister graduating and moving to college, Tash’s relationship with the Harlow family, the Harlow’s dad’s battle with cancer, the Golden Tuba awards, the unexpected pregnancy, the budding flirtation, and the anxieties preceding the final year of high school.

This is starting to sound overly negative, despite the fact that I didn’t actually hate this. I just would’ve appreciated more depth on some of the threads of the story rather than a culmination of face-value plot points. What is left after the shallowness of this novel is a light-hearted contemporary that gives a unique perspective regarding internet fame and filmmaking. I adored the references to Anna Karenina and Leo Tolstoy, and Tash’s love for Tolstoy felt like genuine adolescent dorkiness. This book felt geared towards the Tumblr and YouTube generation (of which I was a part) so it wasn’t difficult for me to fall into the internet environment.

Whilst this book resembles nothing of the Russian master, the crumbs of Tolstoy make this blithe contemporary enjoyable and a unique addition to the contemporary genre with its focus on asexuality and internet fame.

My Problem with “Fitting In”

I’ve spent this last year relatively distance from blogging, where it has normally been a day-to-day priority. This may be due to a shifting in my online persona. I only started using this blog and username across social media about a year ago, and I’ve found it hard to find my passion this year. Book blogging has been a solace and a personal inspiration for about six years and this year has been a sudden break from that. I’m not condemning my choices since I’ve probably needed this break to find myself and in all honesty, start over. Start over with renewed passion and focus. Start over knowing why doing this fulfils me and acts to enrich myself, rather than being a passive staple of who I am.

I’ve attempted to reflect on why I needed to start over. I started book blogging on Tumblr because the knew the platform well, having been on the site for about three years before actively focusing on books. Initially, there was nothing wrong with my motivations; I started book blogging because its naturally what I spend my time thinking and talking about and I wanted to share that online. It helped hone my love for books. Knowing how much I love books and reading has solidified a large part of my personality and has led to me knowing myself better. I thank book blogging, especially the booklr community for this.

The reason I felt I had to take a break from the tumblr book community (which meant all blogging for me), was that I felt there was no place for me. This is just my opinion but book tumblr popularises the generic. I mean this in the sense that my most commented posts where about popular series (i.e Harry Potter, Divergent, Hunger Games) and that if you were reading or posting about books that everyone was reading then you may as well not exist.

This was obviously not the environment for me but it made me feel like maybe I don’t belong anywhere in the book community. I thought maybe my tastes in books are too varied. I don’t fit into a box easily. I read a mix of new releases (both YA and adult) but it doesn’t even compare to the amount of books I read that are “backlisted”.

I don’t exactly want to condemn the book community for creating an environment that focuses on the same series/authors and that rarely leaves the Young Adult section of the bookstore. But this is a reality for the online book community and it leads to a feeling of isolation to those who wish to be be included in a space that is dominated by this type of media.

I’ve felt like it doesn’t matter if I spent time writing a review for an exquisite piece of translated fiction because it only has a Goodreads rating of 3.3. I’ve also perpetuated this feeling of exclusion to prevent creative choices such as creating reviews or pursing booktube videos that focus on my specific opinions.

I’m aware that this is internalised isolation. It obviously matters to me if I do or don’t create content online, so I shouldn’t be focusing on how it will be received to prevent the initial creation. It has been a major part of my life for such a while and I don’t believe I’m ready to let it slip away. I want to focus on defying this definition  I’ve placed on the entirety of the online book community. If I am more than that definition (e.g. reading backlisted books, non-YA books), then I definitely am not the only one. A community is not defined by any one individual or even by a sample. A community is the culmination of difference, and stepping outside the conformity that I’ve conceived to be inherent in the book community is intrinsic to fortifying and experiencing 21st century book culture.

My voice still matters (even if its just to me) in this community. I want to focus on my content; the real reason behind my desire to feel included in the first place. I will be included in this community by virtue of contributing my voice, and that is the focus I want to bring into the new year. I don’t want to forsake being me and creating content I’m proud of for a perception of exclusion. I want to be unequivocally me.

 

Love Shouldn’t be Creepy | A Book Review

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Title: I’m Still Here

Author: Clélie Avit

Pages: 240

Catchwords: Coma, French, Non-consensual romance


I’m going to admit right off the bat, I borrowed this purely because of its pretty cover. I guess after reading the blurb, I was intrigued to see if this story could be pulled off in a non-creepy way. Yeah, I don’t think that was ever gonna happen.

At first I thought it might be due to the translation. Then I realised it’s just overall poor writing. I get that it’s drawn it’s inspiration from Sleeping Beauty, but it was nigh impossible to get over the creep factor. Since the plot is predictable, the focus was largely on the characters, yet they both felt inconsistent and very underdeveloped. It was filled with irritating cliches with little to no explanation of how it fit in with their identity.

Essentially Thibault is on the fifth floor with his Mum who is visiting his brother who he doesn’t want to see. He wanders around and accidentally goes into Elsa’s room where she is in a coma. He then proceeds to talk to her and falls asleep in the chair next to her bed. She hears him despite her coma and isn’t creeped out by this stranger who thinks he is entitled to be her friend and even KISS her. He is confronted with her ACTUAL friends, and isn’t even slightly embarrassed by his total lack of etiquette. And neither are the friends! They indulge his budding infatuation even though it is very creepy to be “drawn” to this unconscious girl.

He continues to visit her and fall in love, despite having nothing to go off about her except that she’s in a COMA. Apparently she is also inspired by him and sees him as her rainbow willpower to finally wakeup. People have been visiting her pretty consistently during the past 5 months and yet the novel sort of focuses on how he is an unwitting hero, which is kind of ridiculous. His automatic infatuation with this unconscious girl that he doesn’t even know is due to his longing for the perfect family. There is a reoccurring metaphor where he visualises his life as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book called ‘The Book in Which I am The Hero.’ Blurgh. The complete lack of consent and the total creepiness of his “love” is super unnerving. It’s also inconsistent at times which would make sense because she is really only an object to which he can project his ideals of a perfect family. There is literally one part in the book where he forgets about her for a whole week even though he is totally in love with her right?!

This book was absolutely cringe worthy with a major creep factor. Had to skim read to the end cause it was just that bad. There were other problems, such as the poor writing (it was quite bad, and this may or may not be the fault of the translation) and the unbelievable relationships between Thibault and everyone in his life. It almost felt like the author only understood communication through the lens of daily television soaps. Thibault’s habitual pineapple juice and Elsa’s glacial mountaineering characteristics felt so overtly forced into the story that they just felt like paper dolls of characters instead of people that I actually could believe in.

Suffice it to say, I did not like this book.

1 out of 5 stars

Inconsistent Blogging Doesn’t Nullify the Title

I have always been this way. It’s hard to change and I’m constantly trying not to judge myself too harshly.

I am a inconsistent blogger.

I know, the SHAME. I’ve been blogging for years and years, yet I can never stick to a schedule or even post somewhat consistently. Even with this blog that I created at the end of 2016, I haven’t posted since New Year. As more time when on, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t kept up with blogging like I had wanted to.

But then I realised something. I arrived at an epiphany. It doesn’t matter. I can blog whenever I feel like it, even if the mood for it happens in between months. This is my blog and my life, and I’m entitled to be inconsistent.

I read a lot, and whilst this is great for my Goodreads goal, it impacts on how I prioritise my time, and blogging, as the consistently neglected, always falls to the wayside. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy blogging, or that I’m not a blogger, just that, for me, my blogging happens in waves.

So is this me stating another unrealistic goal? Am I saying that I’m jumping back on the bandwagon that I keep missing? Not really. I would like to make writing and blogging a higher priority. But there will be no unreasonable promises coming from me. I will not make 2 posts weekly ad infinitum. I will not resign myself to an unsuccessful schedule that will just enforce shame around an activity I enjoy.

Though I am a blogger, just on my own terms. Those being – whenever I feel like it.

Looking Onwards in the New Year

Last year was a difficult one, but like many others we have made it through to see the beginning of a new year. It would defeatist of me to surrender to the horrible things that dominated the news last year, and coming out of 2016 I have made it my mission to not let life defeat me. I struggled deeply with mental health issues and there were some pretty difficult and scary points of the year for me. I don’t mean to linger on them but it is helpful to reflect that I’ve made it through. I decided mid-year to keep trying even harder to help myself, and that meant putting myself out there. I started socialising more, studying harder, and facing my fears and seeing doctors again. This led to making friends, meeting Ross, achieving amazing results at university and finding both a pill that works for me as well as a psychologist. I can safely say that whilst this year has been difficult, I have preserved to my benefit and it makes me immensely proud.

Since a lot of the positive changes in my life were made in the second half of last year, my resolutions are more a continuation and commitment to the choices I was already making in my life. Whilst I’ve achieved some great things, I can always keep improving myself and now I know how far I can go, so I don’t want to stop.

Health

I want to keep improving my health, both physical and mental. I would like to avoid binge eating and to exercise is whatever way I can a few times a week. Exercise can be difficult for me when my chronic fatigue is acting up but I feel confident that I can actively work around it this year and hopefully that will help in the management of it.

Life

I want to maintain my good grades, as well as embrace more opportunities for involvement at university and professional activities. I also would like to keep up with journaling as I have found this almost therapeutic and deeply helpful in staying in connection with myself.

Reading

My Goodreads goal will stay manageable at around 100 books because I don’t want to focus solely on quantity or numbers. I want to read some sequels in series I’ve already started. I also want to keep reading more non-fiction because this was an amazing goal from last year that I really enjoyed. I’ve started a new way of picking books to read that is awesome for me and I would like to stick to that.

Overall, I just want to keep working on the things I was working on last year. Life doesn’t end and begin again with each new year. We keep growing and changing all throughout life and this new year is just a divider between one stage and the next.

Here’s to focusing and drawing power from the amazing things in our lives, and to the happiness that lies in this new year.

The Catcher in the Rye | Review

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My highschool required reading was minimal compared to the classics that seem to be universally read throughout other schools. I’ve never picked up nineteen eighty-four, never glanced at Catch-22, or even considered The Catcher in the Rye. I’d picked up some things about the book before going into, such as Holden being a bit of a whiny character who dislikes phonies. My expectations were founded by I didn’t find Holden to be as annoying as so many people seem to think he is.

Holden is a unique character, who is desperately and destructively trying to linger in the innocence of his youth. Whilst he is interested in learning at school, he can’t bring himself to invest his mind because that would be pushing himself further into the adult world that is full of people that are true to themselves like children are. He finds these people that are grown up and enshrined in dull rituals of etiquette repulsive because they are the catalyst of lost innocence.

The plot is largely non-existent as it focuses on Holden experiencing New York at this transitory time in his life. He isn’t quite a child or an adult, so his place in this city is undefined and shaky. There is a strong contrast between scenes where he is violent unfit for the adult scenery (such as the scene where he has a conflict with a prostitute) and scenes where is acknowledged as belonging. He may be a compulsive liar but he is not a bad person. I see this clear as day when he was talking with the nuns who are a model of virtue and charity. He can’t help but proffer himself to them and provide charity and company because this is a form of company that is more aligned with his being.

This book is interesting because of how Holden is this physical representation of philosophical difficulties of adolescence. Definitely a fascinating character study and I can see its merit in a classroom.

4 out of 5 stars