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

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

Trio of Reviews | Necrotech, Where Am I Now?, Gone with the Wind

Maybe one day I will be able to keep up with reviews on my blog, but I have not yet reached that time in my life. I’ve decided to lump together three recent reads for me that have taken up most of the second half of December. I’ve enjoyed all of these books, which makes them wonderful to end the year on.

Necrotech by K.C. Alexander31128541

Action packed and super fast paced. Set in a post-apocalyptic city that is run by mega corporations that keep track of everyone through SIN (Security Identification Number). Though some get off the grid by becoming saints who are SINless.

Riko is one unsaintlike saint who wakes up with without her memories and a lot of people to hurt to find why. She is a kickass mercenary with metaphorical balls of steel.

In this world, there is incorporated tech – tech which is incorporated into flesh. At birth, when SIN is incorporated, so is nanotech and they help with healing. If they get overloaded by either exertion or too much incorporated tech, then the tech will take over and control the body. This is called necrotech because essentially the body is dead but the tech fuels the body to kill. Therefore we get electronic powered zombies. This concept is so flipping cool and was so much fun.

This book does diversity right. Main character is bisexual and disabled (missing arm), plus the side characters are Indian, and these characters are incorporated without their traits being plot points. Really enjoyed that.

Overall, this book was epic. Cyberpunk adventure time with zombies and intrigue. I’m hooked.

4 out of 5 stars

Where Am I Now? – Mara Wilson29429875

Mara Wilson is an interesting person who has been off my radar since Matilda and Mrs Doubtfire. This memoirs describes the times in-between and I have to say that she has become a truly inspiring person. Some parts of her book really resonated with me. In particular the part about her realising she has OCD as well as the part about high school choir. I loved the chapter about the Matilda-Whore Complex where she discusses trying to become her own person outside of her “cute” reputation as Matilda and how this point of her life was a turning point for her own individuality. I think that I could connect with this transition in her life despite the child acting career. I think we all go through transitory periods where we go through who we think we should be in the eyes of others, and Mara discussing working up the courage to embrace herself was really beautiful. I listened to this as an audiobook and hearing her tell her stories was a wonderful experience.

4 out of 5 stars

Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell237241

After years of being nagged by my mum to read this hefty tome so that she watch the movie with me, I finally picked it up, and surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down. I was utterly captivated by Scarlett. I can’t remember the last time I admired a character so much. She was so interesting and masterfully crafted. She was so stubbornly and unfailingly herself that it was wonderful to witness time and time again through the plot. She was such a strong character and I adored her.

Not only was Scarlett amazing, but every character was fully fleshed out and made real for me. Melanie felt like a close friend, Ashley an abandoned teddy that you wanted to hug and never let go. And Rhett. He was a treasured character. The right amount of perfect for this spanning tale of love, loss and war.

I hadn’t realised going in that it was going to have such a heavy focus on the war and the politics of the time, and really it was ridiculously interesting since I know nothing of the American Civil War. It was thrilling to read. After Scarlett and Melanie’s retreat back to Tara, the book almost had a post-apocalyptic feel to it, because their entire lives had been irreversibly changed. I love seeing well-developed characters react and adapt to completely new lifestyles. It was such a fun ride to watch them all grow.

4 out of 5 stars

This Savage Song | Review

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Catchwords – Created Monsters, Mob-Controlled Dystopian, No Forced Romance, Powerful Music, Unlikely Friends, On the Run


A Romeo and Juliet plotline WITHOUT romance?!?!

I have to say that it was actually quite pleasant that the two main characters weren’t forced together in that way. It made the story way more cohesive and fit the character development.

Both Kate and August were well formed characters that had clear motivations and goals. I really enjoyed Kate, who is struggling to raise a torch to her father’s monstrous image but is plagued by anxiety. She feels compelled to be this type of stone-faced leader and has problems processing that maybe that’s not who she truly is.

August, on the other hand, just wants to enjoy his fleeting existence, as a human of course. He too struggles with who he is supposed to be and who he wants to be. He must take souls to survive but he only can retain sustenance from the souls of sinners, so in this way he is not a monster but the hand of justice. Despite this requirement, he still feels controlled by this monstrous nature and wishes for an existence outside the one that has been thrust upon him.

See in this world, monsters are not born. They are created by violent sins. I thought this foundation of the world was super interesting and well thought out. The monsters (human or not) in this world were so real and it’s rare that a book can make make-believe jump off the page.

The only problem I had with this book was that it was too short. As in I would have appreciated more background and character development (especially interaction between Kate and August) before everything got super intense. I guess because this is a first book in a series I will get more but still.

Rating – 4/5 stars