Monday 31 December 2018

End of Year Wrap Up

Well, well, well. Hello there, beautiful internet people, and welcome to the last day of the year. It has been quite the year - a whole bunch of weddings (I can't tell if this is just my age group but did EVERYONE you know seem to get married this year? Cause, same), both of my parents turned 60 and there were just events and obligations GALORE.

I feel like so many things have happened, I have completely forgotten that I had surgery in the summer, that I have had 3 different jobs (!!! - in the same building though) this year, and just generally that there has been so much change happening that I feel kind of like I have whiplash from it all! I have not been feeling excellent mental health wise this past month which has not been extremely fun, but I have been using this time between Christmas and New Year to just try to rest and listen to my body and myself and all of those other good self care things that are good. It's a bit of a weird time of year for me feelings-wise anyway, so I'm just trying to feel them all and then get on with it, really. Life, innit.

ANYWAY. Let's just talk my year in reading, shall we? Actually, to talk about my year in blogging first, I was surprised to see that I blogged more this year than last year, but not at all surprised that I blogged more in the first half of this year than the last half. I feel like I started the year with quite good intentions and then it all went off the boil a bit over the summer because of weddings and all associated events, and then I never quite got back into the swing of it? I am of course not going to make any blogging promises for next year because who knowwwws, but I have been feeling a lot lately that I NEED a project (or, like, 5) to keep my mind occupied and whatnot so maybe regular blogging could be back on the table (she tells herself).

ACTUALLY BOOKS THO. I feel as though, especially looking back over it, my reading has not had a lot of shape this year, which I have found is actually quite a good thing. Looking at last year's wrap up post, I talked about ending various reading projects etc, and I didn't really pick any new ones up, which has meant that I have really been reading whatever the heck I wanted to and just going wherever my shelves took me *mysterious smile*. The latter part of the year has been taken up with trying to read all of the 30 before 30 books (well, at least the ones I haven't read) which has been going excellently, but that list also doesn't have a particular theme or anything which has meant that I've read widely and gone with whatever I wanted to read. I have also read more books (and pages!) this year than I have in recorded history (i.e. since I started keeping a spreadsheet per year) which is weirdly exciting to me, but also makes complete sense because I have been taking the bus to work all year which is where much of my reading takes place.

Shall we talk about some stats tho? Let's!

Number of Books Read: 92
Number of Pages Read: 30,189
Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: 64/28
New Reads vs. Re-Reads: 83/9
Men vs. Women: 33/59 (makes a difference when I'm not reading Stephen King all the time, eh!)
White vs. Non-White: 73/19 (I suck, I suck, I suck)
Translated vs. Not: 13/79
Digital vs. Physical: 6/86 (hahah why do I even buy kindle books?!)

Sooo yeah. That is what that is. I think I definitely use my spreadsheet to track rather than alter my reading habits, so for example I'm finding it so interesting that I practically have a 2:1 ratio of women to men (so high!) and I'm still preeeetty ashamed at my white:non-white ratio because come on me, but then also... I'm really trying to read from my shelves and they still have quite a lot of white people on them and yes I am totally making excuses for not reading more diversely but I know that when I add too many conditions to reading, it makes me want to do it way less so... *shrug emoji*, I guess. I'm STILL going to try and do better, but it's me and I'm pretty crappy so we'll see how that goes...

Speaking of reading for my shelves though - how did:
go this year?

You know what, it went ok. I have eased up on it a little based on the aforementioned 30 books before 30 challenge, where I've been borrowing a lot of books from the library, but out of 92 books read this year, 57 were books that I owned already. That means that 35 were books I didn't own last year, which makes me a bit frowny, but of these, 11 were library books (and so freeee!), another 10 were either borrowed or presents (again, free!) which leaves 14 that I bought and simply had to read straight away (one of the absolute pleasures of book buying!) either because they were charming and about food (Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh) or because the film about about to come out (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engel) or because they were the Neapolitan books by Elena Ferrante and I'd been to Naples earlier in the year.

Basically, I'm happy with my decision making but still want to do a little better next year (always). In overall reduction of books terms, at the end of last year I owned 256 books that I was still yet to read, and as of right now I have 240. THIS IS NOT GOOD, I realise, and mildly annoying because I was doing really well at various points of the year not-buying books and then would buy a load at once. Before Christmas, also, this number was at 232 (still high, but better!) so damn you generous family for being so damn generous! (I mean, thank you, I love you). I would really very much like to have this figure at 200 or below at the end of next year which really SHOULD be possible, so I'm going to set that as a goal now and see how I go... *steels self for challenge*

So that's me all wrapped up for 2019! I will post my usual monthly (plus annual faves!) wrap up of books read in December tomorrow, and from there it will be all new stuff. Life-wise, I have literally no idea what I'm doing in 2019 - other than, as I will be telling everyone all year until it happens, I'M GOING TO BE 30 AGHHHHHHH. I so far have plans for a getaway in January, one hen party and wedding, and one show, but I'm mainly hoping to fill it with laughter and friends and love and all good things, and maybe a touch of blogging along the way too, who knows! I wish you all a very happy new year, and may many many good things come your way in 2019.

Saturday 29 December 2018

30 Books Before 30: #9 The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Oh, you guys. It was all going so well and then I went and did that thing where I disappeared from blogging for weeks (for no good reason, other than finishing The Count of Monte Cristo, which took some ATTENTION!) and now I can't at all remember most of the things I still need want to review... Bear with me, because this could be a bit of a rough ride.

It's not just a laziness and a giant 19th century French novel that has kept me away from writing this review in particular, though, as I was primed to write it when I was all about the blogging a... while ago, and then I read a review of this book that was less that satisfactory. I won't link to it because I found it kind of mean spirited, but it talked a lot about Levy's privilege and the fact that her problems are things that a lot of people have to go through with less, you know, resources and stuff than her. Which is fine, but frankly I don't think said writer of the review would cope very well with giving birth to their non-viable (too premature) baby all alone in a far away country, and would probably write their own pain out about it too, ya know?

Ahem. Anyway. The Rules Do Not Apply is Levy's memoir, it is her story, and her struggles should not necessarily be minimised because they are not as serious as others' (IMHO). Levy is a writer for The New Yorker, which I realised basically straight away because of her writing style and also the fact that I think I've read the stillbirth part of her memoir before and it was indeed published in The New Yorker. She is, above all other things, A Very Good Writer, and if this is not clear after almost 8 years of blogging (oh my) this is something which I value above most other things when reading a book. Did her writing skill ALSO make me a little mad at the reviewer (who didn't really mention that?) Sure, a little.

So yes, Levy can turn a sentence, and she's also a little annoying. I found myself mildly grateful that I don't know her in life, because the aspects of her personality that she proudly talked about as having been there since childhood were also those I find kiiiind of annoying in an actual real life person. Not to give too much away, although I personally don't really think of spoilers as applicable to memoirs, but I also felt like her partner made allowances for her that she did not, in return, make for her partner. They were different allowances, sure, but still. Still.

But then, on the other hand, memoirs are a little hard to review in a narrative sense really, aren't they? These things happened, and this is now the writer's perception of them, and whether I agree or not with her choices or actions or whatever, it doesn't really matter, nor make a blind bit of difference to the outcome of them. It also comes to a point where you're kind of just judging someone's life, and that's not reallllly a cool thing to do, you know? Yeah. You do.

So, anyway. Excellent writing, if a slightly annoying writer, and I'm not sure if it's life affirming in any way, but does serve as a pretty good guide of what not to do as a person (in some parts, others are just kind of devastating). I think I liked it more than this review makes it seem immediately after reading it, but time and hindsight and one really mean review are excellent moderators of memory/feeling - but let me know how you felt about it, if you read it, below?

Wednesday 5 December 2018

30 Books Before 30: #8 Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I have a horrifying confession. I used to own Bel Canto by Ann Patchett but, I think because of the uninspiring cover, I never had any inclination to read it and I think it finally left the Rowsell Collection last year when I moved house.

This, I now see, was a terrible mistake. Commonwealth was SO good, you guys. Like, disturbing levels of goodness that I'm obviously incoherent about and obviously won't even be able to express properly because I am me (why do I even have a book blog? Not sure) This book is like a masterclass in storytelling - I was reading this whilst also trying to do NaNoWriMo and not only did it make me feel like a terrible writer, reading it also became the only thing I wanted to be doing which sounded the death knell for my own novel (don't worry. It wasn't any good)

The storyyy though. Let's see. Commonwealth is told in a non-linear way which I LOVE and it follows one very complex family through about a fifty year period. I think that sounds like it could be a long and rambling mess, but in fact Patchett chooses key moments from each of the characters lives and weaves them together into this amazing story. There is one main narrative moment that the stories revolve around, and it's perfect as a framing device but in the end it's only as important as all the other stories around it and I love that. I think writing at the same time as reading this only made me understand and appreciate the perfection that lay behind the crafting of this story, and so I appreciated it that bit more.

That still didn't tell you anything about the actual story, huh? Ok so. The novel opens at a baby's christening party, where I can remember none of the characters names but where the (married) mother of this new baby catches the eye of a bright young lawyer, changing both of their lives and the course of their two families' lives too. When I said that this is told over a fifty year period, what I mean is, this is the first chapter and then in the second chapter, the aforementioned baby is about 50 years old and accompanying her just young and healthy dad to a chemo appointment. The story unfolds in much the same way, going backwards and forwards throughout the years and circling around the same crucial moment.

What I especially love about this book is the tricky combining-of-families aspect of it. I think it's because my family life growing up was so normal, but I really really love well told tales of family combinations, and this one combines the two girls of one family with the four children from the other, and that combination is irresistible. There aren't even that many parts of the story where they're all together, but there is the constant impact that their time spent together has on the rest of their lives. They become interwoven in interesting and unexpected ways and did I mention that it's all just so good?

My favourite part of the story, though, was not even especially a part of the story. The (sort of) main character (also the baby from the very first chapter!) meets a famous author (which actually is a big part of the novel) and he asks her if she wants to be a writer. Her response: "No, I wanted to be a reader". I mean, same. So much the same that I still find it gross that you can't make money just from reading books and having thoughts about them, because ugh that is unfair. This happens fairly early on in the book, so that made me feel a certain kinship with this character and this book and just everything and yes.

So, yeah. This list did once again not steer me wrong, and I'm so glad it led me to this book. I now really really need to find whatever charity shop I donated Bel Canto to and get it back, and I also need to read all of the other things because oh Ann Patchett, you are a most excellent Ann, just like Ann(e) Tyler and Ann M Martin. Ten thousand thumbs up.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Things I Read In November

Ah, November. I really was motivated at the start of the month to do NaNoWriMo, but that motivation veeeery slowly ebbed away as I remembered that I really can't write at all but also mainly that I was quite knackered by work this month and just... didn't want to write? I think what this has done, more than anything, is made me realise that actually if I do want to write, I don't really have to limit it to one month a year and write like a maniac in that time, ya know?

Apart from not-writing, this month has really been quite busy and tiring at work. I'm still new enough that there are lots of things I need to learn, but then I've also been alone and holding the fort for a few days which is also exhausting. However, I had already booked the last week of the month off for annual leave, and so this last week has been me and my honey hanging out and resting and cleaning the house ready for Christmas decorating today (!!!!!!) In book news, we hung out with Katie and Bex in Rochester (always an excellent time!) and went to Cambridge, mainly because I'd never been there before and also this doesn't really have anything to do with books except that I bought a couple there.

Anyway. Reading! Because of the lack of NaNoWriMo, I read more than I had anticipated this month, although still less than most months because I did also get about 15,000 words in before abandoning novel. I would definitely have finished more books but I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo and it is the longest thing ever (and also a lot of fun!) and it kind of gets in the way of all other reading. But still, here are November's books:

Let's dive right in:

Wise Children by Angela Carter
Angela Carter writes some really weird books, but there was so much I liked about this one. It's essentially the story of twins, who are the children of a twin and half sisters with two other sets of twins and this is only the start of the weirdness. These twins, Nora and Dora are old, now, but this book is the story of their lives in showbusiness as well as their struggle to connect with their father who refuses to publicly recognise them. There's so much to this book and it is crazy and touching and pretty damn good all at the same time. Also I'm pretty into stories told by old ladies because that is not an age group we are not allowed to hear about much and I am here for it.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Full review of this is upcoming, but I really really incredibly loved this family saga it is so good and I feel like I didn't understand until now how good Ann Patchett is, my eyes have been opened. Please send me all the Ann Patchett books, stat.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
I feel weird about his book after reading a review of it that talks about white privilege a lot, and I will explore this more in its upcoming review (I think, who knows what will actually come out of my brain when I sit down to write!) but this memoir was very well written, which I fully expected as Levy writes for The New Yorker. More to be revealed soon(ish).

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This novel is epic and well researched and fascinating and made me want to learn a lot lot more about the relationship between Korea and Japan. I have a few qualms about it (like, mostly anger at the characters, but there were also characters I wanted to hear more from, and others less) but mostly I found it absorbing and upsetting and just in general a really good read. More to be discussed in its full review (at...some point in life).

Runaway by Alice Munro
Ah, Alice Munro. She's really the queen of short stories, eh? I really really liked this collection, not least because there are three short stories that all connect which is, of course, my most favourite thing. The stories are all loosely tied together by women running away (as the title suggests!) from various situations, and they are just in general a delight to read. So good and true and excellent and there is even a mention of periods which basically never happens in fiction but yes this is an inevitable fact of life, thank you Alice. I didn't realise that this was my second collection of Munro short stories for this year, which makes me feel not-great about their ability to stick in my head, but I know for sure that I have an excellent time reading them, so what more can I ask for?

So yeah, that was November! I read books exclusively by women which of course I LOVE, as long as you ignore all the time spent plugging away at The Count of Monte Cristo (good Cristo that book is so very long). It's December now (yes this post took about three days to write, v sorry) so who knows how much chance I'll have to read, but you KNOW I'll report back at the end of the month with the always exciting (maybe only to me...) end of year stats! YAY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday 29 November 2018

30 Books Before 30: #7 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I have already read and reviewed this for the blog before (see! It's right here) so I don't really want to write a regular review of it because, see previous review and same. This reading was interesting in that it was the first time I'd read the book since watching the TV show, and so naturally my brain went into overdrive comparing and contrasting the two.

What I was most impressed about when considering this was just how right the TV show feels when held up next to the book. The book and TV show part ways narratively after season one, where Offred is, just like at the end of the book, taken away in a mysterious van. Season two decides, kind of depressingly, that this van does not take her to salvation but to more of Gileadean hell, but what amazes me when reading the book is just how correct this hell feels with relation to the book narrative. It's like the TV show takes the original story and runs with it, opening up the world that Atwood created and showing a much wider view of it than we're able to see from Offred's limited eyes in the novel.

I JUST REALLY LIKE THE TV SHOW OK?! (Not so sure about Atwood's sequel but I'm reserving judgement on it until I can actually read it for myself)

With the books on this 30 Before 30 list that I've already read, I'm aiming to look at why I think they were included on the list in the first place. The list itself is pretty opaque on its reasoning other than, like, 'this book is good' so I'm happy to make my own guesses on this. The Handmaid's Tale has, with women's rights under threat from every direction and a literal crazy (white man) sitting in the White House, become more and more relevant as the world gets scarier and more uncertain. I guess reading it as an under 30 makes it clearer just how much its events would affect the young - women would be eligible to be monthly, government mandated rape victims, men could be suppressed in their natural urges, or, more likely, dead - and just how quickly these things can take place.

I doubt this book was included in the list because we're under any real threat of its events unfolding, but more because, even a less extreme version of The Handmaid's Tale society is too much. As is the case with almost everything, this is the kind of book that needs to be read by people who won't do so, but if it alters the perceptions of even a few people then I think it's done a pretty good job. This time round of reading, I was terrified as ever, but with thanks also to the TV show, it really really hit home to me that in this society, I would not be allowed to read. And what would be the point of living, in a society like that? Exactly.

In short, I was glad to have the opportunity to read this book again (as if I need a reason) and, you know, I think it's a pretty important one for everyone to read before they're 30. I'm going to allow it to stay on the list (cause I have a say in that) and it hopefully goes without saying that I think you should read it too, young reader.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

30 Books Before 30: #6 When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

You guys. This book. I'm going to try to not be ridiculous and gushing about it and talk about it sensibly but the second I finished it, in one morning I might add, I deleted the facebook and instagram apps from my phone so believe me, it's had an impact on my life.* Let's see how I got there.

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, a father and a husband, and a really very good writer. He died aged 37 of lung cancer, and left behind this complete jewel of a memoir - written while he was sick and edited and completed after his death by his wife. It's incredibly moving, not only because you know that this is what he spent the last year or so of his life completing, but because his meditations on life and death are incredible and thoughtful and, through getting to know him through this book, you feel his loss so deeply at the end that you honestly feel as though you've lost a dear friend.

The first half of this book takes you through the majority of Kalanithi's life, before his cancer diagnosis, and my GOD the man was interesting. Far from being certain of being a doctor, Kalanithi took two degrees in English Literature, got a masters in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, and then chose to go to medical school and rather than getting a PhD in English Literature, his other path. Kalanithi, then, was a person with so many paths open to him, and could have been accomplished in so many areas, but chose medicine. I'm a little bit in awe of him, in case you couldn't tell.

The second part of the book, then, takes place after Kalanithi's diagnosis. It actually became pretty hard to read at this point, because dammit I liked the guy and, you know what, I didn't want him to die even though I knew both that this is a memoir, and that it was published post humorously. Kalanithi's approach to his illness left me as much in awe of him as his academic achievements - he kept going, as much as he could, he carried on being a neurosurgeon, he kept on living, even when he was dying. He lived as fully as he could for as long as he could, looking at amazing job opportunities that he didn't know if he'd be alive to take, but, as he puts it - no one knows if they will be. For him, the problem with knowing his time was limited was in not knowing exactly how limited it was - if he had 10 years, he'd go into neuroscience, one year, he'd write a book, but as he acknowledges - no one ever really knows how much time they have left.

Which brings us to me, really. His wife has an afterword in this book that I basically cried throughout, but her words of love and awe for her husband are really the perfect end to this book. Somewhere in there, she talks about how he lived each day to the full as much as he was able to, both before and after diagnosis, and that hit me really deeply because how much have I ever lived each day to the full? Basically never. This is not to say that I'm now going to become a neurosurgeon (I don't think that's my life path) or even that I'm necessarily going to become anything much at all, but it does mean that I decided that I want to live more purposefully, or even just be more present, which for me has meant taking my eyes away from my phone screen a lot more, even if it's just to be looking at a book instead - it's still something.

I don't really know if this review got across how much this book truly affected me, but I honestly can't think of another time that a book has made me DO SOMETHING in real life in such a way. I got this book from the library because of poverty, but I know that it's one I'm going to need to keep around me, for when I need the strength and dignity of a wonderful person to inspire and comfort me. It's not nearly enough of a consolation for him dying so ridiculously young, but I think it's still something, to keep affecting people in such a way, even after he's gone.

Just read this book, ok?

*That may not sound like a big deal, but honestly I had been spending a butt ton of time on them that could and should have been spent on just better things so yes. Impact.

Thursday 8 November 2018

30 Books Before 30: #5 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is probably the book that I have been told to read the most, and that shocks people the most when I tell them I haven't read it. The marvellous Bex bought it for me ages and ages ago now during some kind of bookswap event thing, and still I did not read it, I think because other things always jumped out at me more. And like, AS IF I even like sci-fi, you know?

I do like sci-fi, but even if I didn't, it wouldn't really matter because The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't really a sci-fi book. I mean, obviously it is, there are aliens and spaceships and all of that good stuff, but what it really is is a comedy book. I mean, everyone probably already knows this because everyone has read this book, but it is so funny - the observations about people and Earth and, well, everything, are just so spot on and funny, and I feel like a part of the pop culture sphere that was previously a mystery to me now makes complete sense.

Like towels! I know what towel day is, and how important towels are now! I know that the meaning of life is 42, whatever that means! I finally know what this book is about and it is kind of nonsense, but it is the best possible kind of nonsense, and completely and fully entertaining. I mean, nice work having good taste, everyone I know, because this book is pretty special and hilarious and just yes, very good.

Also, very British, have I mentioned that? Arthur Dent, the main, well, earthling, is incredibly, quintessentially British and baffled throughout, which just makes everything that much sweeter for me personally because Arthur I know you! You are basically everyone I know in this country! The humour, too, is very British in its nonsense, and silliness and just generally taking the piss, and I am genuinely interested in non-British readers and how they find this book - did you love it because you have an excellent sense of humour, or did you wonder what the f was happening? There are no wrong answers!

I realise I have written all this and not really said anything useful, but it's mainly because I feel as though everyone has read this already and ALSO because I read it ages ago now and AS IF I can remember any details about it. I also have another question: do we read the sequels? How do we all feel about them? Are they things we read or do we just nod about their existence and then move on with our lives? All I know is that the first book is very good, and thank goodness I've finally read it!

Tuesday 6 November 2018

RIP Reads that didn't really do it for me

I was going to review the following two books separately, because one is from my 30 before 30 list whereas the other I read purely for RIP XIII. However, they both fell down for me in similar ways, so to avoid being too repetitive, I've decided to whack them together in one post to try and examine exactly what it was that didn't work for me in each case. Let's go!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin (30 before 30: #4)
I pretty much solely read this book because it was on my 30 before 30 list and I'll be damned if I can resist a challenge. I don't know why I couldn't really get into this book, but I think it might have had something to do with the fact that you are quite literally just dropped onto another planet without proper context, and from there you're left to just run along after the narrative without any real help from the author. I'm not saying this book isn't clear, but it took me a very very long time to realise that there were two different narrators, not one, and I don't think it's because I wasn't paying enough attention.

It's a shame, too, because there are one or two soulful, interesting, life lessons-y moments that made me go 'oh! Oh right! THAT'S why this book made that list', like the below:
"Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer 'why?' Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer 'why not?' No disputing tastes. Terrans tend to feel they've got to get ahead, make progress. The people of Winter, who always live in the Year One, feel that progress is more important than presence."
And also, I mean, this one:
"'The unknown... the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God, there would be no religion... But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion... Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable - the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?'
'That we shall die.'
'Yes. There's really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer... The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.'"
Good, right? But, both of these little nuggets of goodness are contained within the first 70 pages and egh, I can't even tell you what the plot was, honestly. There were some very well written parts, of course, and some deep deep messages, but for the most part I was bewildered and confused and also huh? If the writing was good, the storytelling was, in my opinion, somewhat lacking.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (RIP XIII Book the Fourth)
Similarly to The Left Hand of Darkness, Something Wicked This Way Comes is very well written. Something Wicked also has the advantage of having a plot that one can follow, and that is a Very Good Thing indeed. The premise of the novel itself is incredibly creepy - a circus blows into a town and, rather than being a joyful place for children and adults to visit, is a horror show of epic proportions. There's a carousel that can fling you forwards and backwards in time, a hall of mirrors where you can get lost forever, and the circus folk quite literally stalk our two boy heroes across town.

HOWEVER. Bear with me, because the thing I am about to say is kind of stupid, but it's also the exact truth. For me, the fact that this novel is so well written turned into a weakness because it somehow managed to make it less creepy. The beautiful writing (and the writing is beautiful) creates a distance between the horror of the events and the reader, so as I was reading, I was distracted by the beautiful sentences and so was less scared than I could have been. This sounds like a really stupid complaint, but it's relevant - the writing style needs to match the tone trying to be created, otherwise dammit I'm going to be distracted because the excellent language is keeping me at a distance from the story.

So, yes. These books were not my favourite, but they weren't exactly terrible either. I'm sure they have their audiences and are much beloved by others, but not so much by me.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Things I Read In October

October felt kind of long. Remember when January this year was about a thousand years long, mainly because January always is but also because it started on a Monday? I think that was part of the problem with October. At the same time, though, October feels as though it's flown by, and this combination is always the weirrrrdest. I mean, I've applied, been interviewed for, and gotten the permanent version of the job that I was already doing, but it also feels like I've only just returned to work after my week off at the end of September. WEIRD.

October has been a bit of a poorly month in my household - we've had to cancel two attempts to visit Kew Gardens because firstly I had a gross cold, and then because my boyfriend had a (different, we think!) gross cold. This is ok, we'll make it there one day, and we've been doing a lot of relaxing and laying down and also drinking lots of fluids cause, you know, health. I've also been trying to not feel too Christmassy yet and mostly failing - I've started buying Christmas presents already because of spreading those costs out, and this coming weekend we're going to start a movie countdown to Christmas by starting the Harry Potter movies (one a week takes us right up to the weekend before Christmas!) So, yeah. Trying to keep cool about Christmas but mostly failing, but also trying.

What have I been reading though? I think I heard a whisper in the back asking that, so let's have a look:
OOOOH, books. Let's discuss.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin
I... Did not love this book. I've written a miniature review (forthcoming!) explaining why, but mostly I found it confusing and just didn't love either the way it was written or the story itself. Pretty conclusive there, I guess, but yeah, not for me.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
THIS book, however, is a pretty fab little nugget of humour and excellence! I have also written a review of this (you're going to see that a lot in this post, and HOW WEIRD IS THAT?! This is a book that I've been meaning to read for, honestly, about half my life, so I'm so glad it's one finally ticked off the list, not least because I enjoyed it quite a lot. Don't delay reading books so much, kids!

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
JOE HILL IS AWESOME. Once again, I have reviewed this already, but the short version is that this is a collection of 4 novellas and they are all fabulous and terrifying and I am very into Joe Hill at this length of story.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
I have reviewed this too, try not to be scared! I was moderately underwhelmed by this one, because (and I discuss this further in my review) I felt like the language and the story didn't meld very well, so that I felt as though I should be very scared, but I was not, in fact, very scared. Maybe it's just me, but it's how I felt.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I am going to review this one so I don't want to say too much but this book was incredible and moving and even, for me, very slightly life changing (on a really small scale) and I have no idea how to approach a review of it so yes. We'll see how that goes but please read the heck out of this book.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
I'm ALSO going to (re) review this book (please don't have a heart attack) but come on. It's The Handmaid's Tale. Read it, watch it, be scared, don't let it become non-fiction.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
I don't have an actual plan to review this book (I know, what a relief) but considering I'm in the process of reading another Angela Carter at the moment, I might do a little joint review post for both of them. This book was so good and weird and kind of upsetting - a 15 year old girl has to go and live above a toyshop with a tyrannical uncle and mute aunt and you know what, there's no way I can describe this book and how unsettling it is in words. You're going to have to read it, I'm afraid, and let me know how unsettled you are.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
OMG you guys. This book is 649 pages long, and I read it feverishly over two evenings after work, plus the bus ride to work in between. I barely moved, during all of the time I spent reading it, and I somehow spent the day at work in between actually getting work completed as opposed to just going home to finish reading this book. This is of course a detective novel so I can't tell you anything about the plot at all, but you know what? JK can spin a yarn. I'm not even sure how I feel about the plot or the ending or anything, but I know that this was fucking readable and just so exciting and well paced and GOOD SO GOOD. I love a good Galbraith.

Books books books are so good. I feel like I'm in an extremely good reading place at the moment, not least because I've been dedicating more time to it with my lack of social media usage, and I feel like I'm more able to focus and whatnot. Also, you know, it's cold and dark outside a lot and I don't even have to feel a tiny bit bad about staying inside and reading (not, you know, that I would anyway). November is going to bring NaNoWriMo back into my life, so who knows how much reading I'll get done, but you know I'll give it my best shot.

Tuesday 30 October 2018

RIP XIII Book The Third: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

It's disturbing to me that one family can create two such excellent writers of scary shit. I think I've said in every Joe Hill review so far, 'I don't want to compare Joe Hill to his dad but hey did you know that his dad is Stephen King?' and now we've got that out of the way, let's talk about this book.

I believe this is Joe Hill's first collection of novellas, and my GOD it is a length that he excels at. This book is fairly large, but I read most of it in a day because I literally couldn't stop. At the end of each novella, I felt like I should stop reading and do something productive or something, but I also didn't want to, so I didn't. These stories are so engaging and excellent and I literally couldn't get enough of them, and had they all been novel length that would have been wonderful. 

Let's discuss each novella individually:

As the title suggests, this story is about a creepy ass camera which I can't really talk about because it's a spoiler, but just believe me when I tell you that it does bad things. Our hero is a young boy who watches the bad things happen and eventually takes on the villain with the camera, and the story is especially good for the fact that he's recounting this as an adult. This novella was particularly scary in a human way, because the subtext of it is dementia and the way that as people forget themselves, they themselves are also forgotten. This made it surprisingly moving, as well as chilling as heck.

This story started with gun crime and then became bonkers awful and terrifying. It's kind of the classic story of a man committing one crime and then having to continue committing more crimes to cover his tracks, but it's probably a lot more horrible than you're thinking. There are some not veiled at all messages about gun control in this story (love you, Joe Hill) and the fact that it's all real world with nothing supernatural makes it a lot more upsetting than it might otherwise be. It's horrid and scary and makes you feel like the world is fucked because this is real life (you know, kinda)

This story was weeeeird. It was probably my least favourite of the collection (because it was weeeeird! But not in a good way) but because this collection is so good, it was obviously still pretty decent. It starts pretty innocuously, with a group of people in a plane, getting ready to skydive out in memory of their friend/sister who has just died of cancer. Our hero, who is only there to impress the girl he loves, is in the process of chickening out when he is forced to jump, and he lands on a solid cloud. His time on the cloud serves as a learning and growing experience and for me the most interesting parts were his memories of his time on earth as opposed to his (seriously weird) experiences on the cloud. Interesting, but strange, but interesting... But still not my favourite.

THIS WAS THE BEST ONE. Ahem. But seriously. This novella is an apocalyptic dystopia, aka the best kind, aka my absolute favourite jam. Our story starts tragically, with a load of the population dying in a rainstorm of needles because rain has turned to rock (essentially) in the clouds. This is made especially sad because the first rainstorm happens on the day that our heroine's girlfriend is meant to be moving in with her, and so she watches her and her mother die in the storm. From then onwards, everything gets grimmer and grimmer, more and more people die and our heroine goes on a pilgrimage to tell her father in law (ish) that his wife and daughter are dead. GRIM right? It's also, delightfully, a detective story of sorts - who has done this to the clouds, and who has the power to stop it? It's a fabulous end to a fabulous collection of stories.

So, seriously. This book is great and you should definitely read it and everything in the world will be good but also, so horrible. It's confusing, yes.

Sunday 28 October 2018

Sunday Sundries

Well hello there, good folk of this little blog, and happy Sunday greetings to you!

I say happy, when actually what I mean is WAH the clocks have gone back and it has been dark since 5pm and I know I got one hour extra of sleep but what kind of price is that to pay, really?! I guess, however, it means I have time for the oft-neglected, never-requested Sunday Sundries post, so we're all winners really, right?

I am mainly writing this to procrastinate from writing the posts that I optimistically lined up the last time I had a burst of blog energy, but I also want to write at least some of those tonight because I am DETERMINED to tackle NaNoWriMo this year and WIN and write my second novel before I'm 30 (please don't ask to see my first novel, which I wrote during 2012 NaNoWriMo and which I'm too embarrassed to read back through). As you can see, I'm a pro at writing giant sentences, and isn't that what novels are really all about anyway? (No.)

Let's see, what else. I've recently removed the facebook and instagram apps from my phone (weirdly not twitter, which I can only explain through pointing out that I'd already reduced my usage of that quite a lot in recent years) for reasons which will be explained in a future blog post. The plan, if there was a plan, for this was to try and make me more productive, less reliant on my phone for entertainment and more focused on the world around me, and if it's been successful for the latter than it has not so much for the former. However, I would say that I use the HOURS (honestly, hours) of life I've clawed back from them for extra reading (yay), TV watching (less yay, but it's focused watching, and of things I actually want to see, so yay again) and more sleeping, so I guess that's healthy? The extra sleep part has definitely made me feel more prepared to face the day, and I think all of this will be good practice for buckling down during NaNoWriMo so it is all good stuff, I guess!

I had many plans this weekend that involved a lot of time spent outdoors, but since both my boyfriend and best friend are ill (unrelated... OR IS IT [yes]) these did not happen and... I'm pretty ok with the amount of time I've spent indoors being cosy, I'm not going to lie. I've baked flapjacks and read books and watched a load of videos about Pokemon Go on youtube because that's just the nerdy thing I'm doing these days. I actually did get a fair amount of outdoors time because of Pokemon Go too, so I guess at least my chronic nerd disorder is making me exercise in the fresh air, you know? DO YOU PLAY POKEMON GO if yes please add me cause I need friends and gifts and all that good stuff.

This coming week, then - I actually have a disturbing number of plans after work (three!) and I am avoiding halloween by hanging out with my parents. Thursday marks the start of NaNoWriMo so I guess I will start writing things, although two out of my three plans are on Thursday and Friday so I might not really get started until Saturday - which is fine!

But enough about me- what have YOU been up to this week, and how are you avoiding halloween? Enquiring minds want to know.

Thursday 18 October 2018

RIP XIII Book the Second - Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Ah, Patricia Highsmith. Having finally read The Talented Mr Ripley last year, Patricia (may I call her Patty?) has started to become a staple of the glorious RIP reading season. I say this, of course, having read Strangers on a Train because OMG have you read this book? It's like a masterclass in suspense, and I honestly felt slightly uncomfortable and stressed out the whole time I was reading this book, even when I wasn't actually reading it.

10/10 great holiday read, am I right?

No. But it is the perfect RIP read, and let's explore why. I think, if pop culture has any kind of effect on your life, you probably know the very basic plot of Strangers on a Train. My introduction to the basic plot was via Diagnosis Murder (it's amazing, come fight me), where a madman murders the woman who is making the fine, upstanding Dr Mark Sloan's life a misery, and then expects him to do a murder for him in return. Dr Mark Sloan, of course, being the fine upstanding man that he is, doesn't, which as I understood it is not what happens in this book.

I was right, but I was also kinda wrong, as well. I thought that Strangers on a Train involved the meeting of two men who genuinely want difficult people out of their lives and they agree together to make that a reality. Actually, the beginning of this book is a lot more like Diagnosis Murder (I know, I'll stop soon) than I had expected - Guy is an upstanding young man whose ex-wife is causing him problems, but once his mildly psychopathic seatmate Bruno suggests that he murders her in return for Guy murdering his father, he is half horrified, half in disbelief. It doesn't even occur to him that Bruno is being serious, and he doesn't consent at all to the plan. AT ALL.* Are you listening, Bruno?

Anyway, things happen, people do murders, it's all bad. What's so great about this book is that you're kind of getting two experiences in one. When the book is following Bruno, it's all frenetic, wild, a man constantly plotting and trying to bend the world to his will and, really throughout the whole book, a man falling apart at the seams. He is broken from the beginning, and he only degenerates from there. Guy, on the other hand, is an upstanding, well, guy. He is progressing in his career, he has Anne, who loves him, he has friends and family and a whole life that is more or less perfect, or at least getting there. What we get when we follow Guy, then, is a person trying to hold all of this together, and hold himself together, when there is quite literally a madman pursuing him at every turn. I don't mean to say that Guy is blameless, and I don't think the novel wants you to feel that either, but he is still a victim of Bruno as much as the other characters, and it's just more interesting to see his degeneration than to watch Bruno's depravity.

This book, then, might not be exactly what you're expecting, but you for sure won't regret reading it. Suspense and nervousness and all of that good stuff await you, gentle reader - just watch who you sit next to the next time you're on a train...

*I have only read the book and I'm super aware that this could be played different in the movie and I want to see that! But this is how I read the book.

Monday 15 October 2018

RIP XIII Book the First - It by Stephen King

I do believe that this is the first time ever on this blog that I have granted a second review to a book, and it seems fitting that It is the recipient. It (whilst incredibly frustrating to write about because of the number of times you end up saying It) is my absolute favourite Stephen King novel, and also the one that scares me the most. Having looked back at my last review (or, should that be 'review'), I can see that I had already read it so many times that I can't talk about this book in terms of the narrative anymore, so much as a collection of moments that I have thought about so much that the characters are almost real to me, and as a story that I know so well, and yet read in a different way every time.

This book is also full of memories of reading this book. I can remember my first read at 15, and reading it in my mum's car at some garden centre, refusing to leave until I'd finished the chapter. I can remember reading it one endless summer in my nan and grandad's back garden, bittersweet because I can't do that anymore. I can remember reading it too late, then getting up the stairs at my mum and dad's house as quickly as I could, and brushing my teeth as far away from the sink as I could because, well, there's this thing with the drains...

Reading it this time, nearly 30, I found, for the first time, that I am finally starting to relate more to the adults than the children. I KNOW. There are a lot of themes in this book that deal with losing ones childhood, and I think that's a feeling that overwhelms all of us at one point or another. I am (finally, some might say!) starting to feel like a grown up to a certain extent, and whilst that's scary in a big life decision way, it's also scary in that, I don't want to lose my childlike glee with the world in the process.

Or something. Where were we?

It. Right. Books. I mean, It is fucking scary. It's become sort of incomprehensible in my brain that anyone hasn't read It because it is my everything and has, I guess, been a part of my life for pretty much half of my life, but that is a stupid thought and of course everyone hasn't read it. You should read it, of course, as long as you can cope with a newfound fear of clowns and feeling very uneasy around drains, but also probably even if you can't. It's definitely on the long side, even for King, but unlike something like, say, The Stand, in my opinion every single part of it is necessary and important and I wouldn't be without any of it. It is fucking disgusting as well, of course, but it's just such a good book, you guys.

Ummm... Also, spooky spooky, tremble tremble. Here endeth my RIP book the first. Or something, IDK just read It because how can you not? Exactly.

Monday 1 October 2018

Things I Read in September

October! It's here! I'm not completely sure what my exclamation points are doing there, since tomorrow sunrise will be after I leave the house to get the bus to work (WAIL), but, you know, autumn is pretty plus it's too cold to be outside much so I'll simply have to stay inside and read a lot! Such a trial.

September was somewhat of a mixed bag, to say the least! I started a new role at work because apparently that's just what I'm doing this year, so I felt somewhat out of my comfort zone for basically the whole month (which, especially for me, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it feels sorta bad). What also didn't help is that I actually haven't worked a full week in my new department yet, due to my boyfriend's dentistry work, working an event for my old department, and (nearly) a week's leave so October is the time to consolidate myself in my new role, I guess!

My (nearly) week off though! I returned to the Cat Cafe with my mama and fella, went on a super impromptu trip to IKEA, went away for a couple of days to the seaside and went to a teeny zoo in a gorgeous park - yes it was great and yes it was exhausting somehow! It was a trial to go back to work today, but it was actually an ok first day back so yay for that.

Anyway! Enough about me, let's talk about books books books! I feel like I didn't read as much as I could have last month, but I did (re)read an enormous Stephen King so what can you do? Read more, that's what!
Firstly, I know my photos are never exactly top notch, but this one is especially Not Good and I am sorry. Books tho! Let's discuss.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
I love Shakespeare, I love Anne Tyler, I do not love The Taming of the Shrew, which this book re-tells. I liked this book a lot more than The Taming of the Shrew, but that's not really saying much, and it's my least favourite of Tyler's books that I've read so far. I guess that I found it a little far fetched, which I think you sometimes have to do when modernising Shakespeare, but I didn't really buy the family set up, or the meals, or the fact that a woman would marry a man just because her dad wants her to so he can stay in the country and work for him! Still, it wasn't a terrible way to spend an afternoon, I just don't need to read it again or anything.

The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson
I should really review this properly as a RIP read, but it's sooooo teeny I'm going to do it here. This was, of course, fabulous - three short stories by Shirley Jackson quite literally can't be bad, and these certainly were not. The one that sticks in my brain most is the last one - a really quite disturbing (of course) story about a woman who is just going about her daily business but gets caught up in a weird game that she never agreed to be a part of. It's really unsettling, and just so incredibly good.

The World is Full of Foolish Men by Jean De La Fontaine
I picked this up at the end of the minithon when I was too tired to cope anymore, and it. Was. Weird. As far as I can tell, it's pretty much Aesop's Fables in poem form (which they may well have been in originally, I... have not read Aesop's Fables) and translated from the French to English, and that is not what I was expecting it to be at all. It wasn't bad, it's Aesop's Fables, but it was confusing and I was tired. Helpful, huh?

Bitch Planet Vols 1 & 2 by Kelly Sue De Connick et al
I bought Volume 2 of Bitch Planet ages ago, and I finally finally managed to read it this month. I had to re-read Volume 1 again first because I had completely forgotten all of it, but once I'd done that, I was off and running. I literally can't tell you anything about either of them now, but they're fabulous, I can tell you that - really smart and clever and infuriating and funny and ugh so good. It's SO good, in fact, that I immediately looked to see when the next volume will be out and was horrified to realise I've now read all of the Bitch Planet there is. Does anyone know if there's more coming, and more importantly, can you please buy this so that we can ensure there is?!

Made in America by Bill Bryson
I feel like I was reading this book forever because I had to read it very slowly on the bus to make sure I didn't read any important info. Important info, incidentally, is what this book is full of - as the name implies, it's a history of America, combined with a history of the English language in America - what it started with, what it borrowed, and where a whole multitude of words came from. It's packed full of interesting facts, and what it's missing in Bryson sass (I think this is one of his older books, where he was maybe a little bit too shy to bring out the attitude) it makes up for in pure pure knowledge. It's good stuff.

It by Stephen King
This was fully a re-read even since I started blogging (a rarity, believe me) and even so I want to talk about it in a separate review because, well, RIP needs my attention and I have been negligent. But, I mean, it's It. It's my favourite Stephen King book, and Stephen King is my favourite so how could anything be bad?

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
Another RIP book so a review is up and coming! You know, at some point. Let's just say that I was very stressed at all times whilst reading this, and the TENSION is all there and Highsmith is a fucking master of everything. Very good stuff.

September! I read books! Apparently only 3 novels, but books nonetheless! Now let us see what gifts October has to bring...

Wednesday 26 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #3 Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Oh my, this book. I have only read one other Lauren Groff book before (Arcadia) which, apparently, I really liked at the time but now have only the most fleeting memories of. Fates and Furies, I feel, is going to stick with me for quite a while, and I loved it so much that I have even kept it which, believe me, doesn't happen so much anymore with books I have just read.

Whyyyy is this book so awesome though, I hear you cry? So many reasons, I respond. It is structurally so perfect that I can't even with it - it opens up on a couple, nameless, newly married and newly in love, and then follows them throughout the rest of their lives. It follows him, initially and interestingly, and just when you think Groff has forgotten about her, BOOM, the narrative opens up and we get the other side of their marriage, literally the other half if you will, and see that things are not exactly as they had seemed, but also at the same time, they are both exactly as he saw them, and exactly as she saw them, because both realities exist at the same time.

Ahem, sorry. Got a little philosophical right there.

I know that I am not exactly the best at writing descriptive book reviews, or, lately, at writing book reviews at all, but this book really makes me want to say nothing at all descriptive about the story because it all unfolds so beautifully that sharing my knowledge of both parts of the book makes me worried that I will reveal something that you really shouldn't know until the end. It is a story of mysteries, even though you didn't realise that was the case, and it is the story of a marriage as told from both sides - one of them slightly wide-eyed and in love with the world, one of them more careful and pragmatic, who has already seen the world for what it can be sometimes, darker and scarier and much less friendly than their partner thinks.

I wasn't expecting as much from this book as I got, and even during the first half of the book, I wasn't expecting what I got from it. This isn't to say that the first half is worst than the second (it's ALL AMAZING, in case that wasn't clear) but that the second half resolves and explains things from the first that I didn't realise I needed resolving and explaining, until I did. I read a lot of this book on trains (I went a lot of places in August!) and it made the journeys fly by - in fact, I didn't really want them to end, so I could stay on the train and read my damn book. If that's not the mark of a good book, then I've completely misunderstood the point of reading, I think.

And that, without giving anything about plot away at all, is that. It's got to be one of my favourite books of the year so far, if not my ultimate overall favourite - please read it, and if you have already, please tell me what you thought about it in the comments!

Wednesday 19 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #2 Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I have honestly owned this book for the longest time. Eons and eons of time have passed since I bought it from who knows where, for who knows how much, and for who knows what reason. I thought it might have something to do with Alley from What Red Read because Sedaris seems like her sort of guy, but having just gone to her review of this (from FIVE years ago, nice remembering brain) I have left a comment saying that I already own this so that is super mysterious. I also said that I should probably read it... 5 years ago... Yeah. Best not to dwell.

I have read it now! It's very very funny. VERY funny. I read most of it on a couple of train journeys and I think I may have giggled out loud a few times (in public) because it is very very funny. This is probably a good thing, because it's a collection of comedic essays, and they're pretty much separated into two sections- the first is general essays about funny things that have happened in Sedaris's life, his madcap family etc etc, and the second is about his life in France as a non-language speaker and some of the hilarious things that have happened with that. I was actually super charmed by the title essay, which outlines his experiences in french class (not great) (but funny) and me talk pretty one day is essentially the level of grammar he and his classmates could achieve in the language, but trying to comfort each other about it all the same.

Funny as I think Sedaris is, though, it's his sister Amy who was the real star of this book for me. I always forget that I know who Amy Sedaris is (she had a small role in Sex and the City and Elf and you've probably seen her in lots of other things but those are the two for me), I guess mainly because she has such tiny roles, but she sounds ridiculously funny. Sedaris describes her exploits and I just want to be her, because it sounds like she doesn't have those useless feelings of self-consciousness and, I don't know, shame, which is what I try to embody in life (I don't have a filter, like at all) but even I'm not shameless enough to imply my brother is a rapist on public transport and then hop off and leave him to it. Although maybe if I had a brother...

New (and probably terrible) role model aside, this book is fab. If you too, for some mysterious reason, have left this sitting on your bookshelves for years and years and years, you won't regret picking it up and reading it - and if you do then just stop reading it, nobody's going to force you! Life is good and also funny, and don't you forget it!

Wednesday 12 September 2018

30 Books Before 30: #1 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (The Neopolitan Novels)

Ah, the Neopolitan Novels. They only really came onto my radar this year when my friend sent me a link to an article Elena Ferrante had written in The Guardian (which I can't find but was very good and feminist), and since I was planning on going to Naples at the time, I was all about finding and reading them. Not long after that, I found the first two novels in a charity shop, which felt weirdly fortuitous, and made the mistake of reading the first two before I owned the last two, which meant that I had to (HAD to) buy the others full price, something which I've hardly done all year! They are just that good.

Since reading them, I've tried to work out exactly why they are so good. On the surface, there is nothing too remarkable about them - they are essentially just a woman's story of her life since childhood, growing up poor in Naples and trying to figure out how to live and who to love and all of those other good things that make up a life. The writing is excellent, which doesn't hurt, but I think its crowning glory might be the fact that it isn't the story of just one woman (Elena, our narrator) but that of her best friend Lila, too, and their childhood and adult lives and their different paths and did you hear the part about their friendship? Because, that.

Because how often do we see that? A friendship, described from beginning to end, with none of the uncomfortable emotions sometimes associated with it left out? Friendships in fiction, especially fiction about women, are so often relegated to the sidelines as the main character finds and then marries some guy, when sometimes in life, friendships can be as important, and sometimes more complex than romantic relationships. I have a best friend who I've known for nearly 11 years (AGH) and I've known my boyfriend for less than 2, and whilst our friendship would make a really boring book (we're not so dramatic) she hasn't lost her importance in my life because I now have a romantic interest - and I think that's true for so many other women too.*

And so, back to these books. Elena and Lila take completely different paths in life- both very intelligent children, Elena is nurtured and given opportunities that Lila is not, but a crucial part of the books is that this doesn't really matter - their relative statuses switch throughout the novels as one becomes richer and the other poorer, but they are always there for each other, seeing each other through crises and each providing what she can when she is able. I don't mean to sugarcoat their friendship because they are both complex and wildly interesting characters, which means that they are not always the best of friends at all, but even their disagreements and fallings out come alive on the page. You care about them both, even when you don't really want to.

You may or may not know that Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym and no one knows exactly who she is. I'm not by any means desperate to unmask her, but I so want the characters in the Neopolitan Novels to be real that I have pretty much made her the fictional Elena, given her Lila as her best friend, and given her this truly captivating life that, well shit, I want to believe someone has lived. Childish of me, perhaps, but that's the level to which I loved these books, which I think might always hold a special place in my heart.

*And, I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but if your friends automatically lose importance when you get a boyfriend, guuuurl what are you doing?

Sunday 9 September 2018

Sunday Sundries: MINITHON Recap!

Oh hai, and happy Sunday! I'm a little sleepy this morning because I stayed up late reading (is there a better reason?) for yesterday we had a minithon. I'm in a slightly incompatible timezone for 8 shared hours of reading (4pm-midnight), mainly just because I'm old now and can't stay up late reading like I used to in the olden days/that one time in 2011 (WHEN I WAS 22 WEEPS OVER THE CRUEL PASSAGE OF TIME).

Ahem. Anyway. Yes. I decided not to blog the minithon because it's a super chill 'thon and also my computer was dead and because it's old too (seriously) it took too long to start back up and anyway, what are you doing if you're not following me on instagram and twitter? Exactly, nothing. The minithon happened to fall on a weekend between jobs (I'm being seconded into a new team in the place I currently work, starting Monday) which felt like a nice time to do a load of reading and eat a shitload of snacks.

And so, to recap, I had a tiny diet coke and read some Stephen King,

 I ate a disturbing amount of beige food,

I switched to some teeny weeny books when it got dark and late and I got too scared to read Stephen King anymore,

and, of course, I ate some (mini!) cakes. Also YES that is a moomin puzzle and it was the bane of my life for at least 2 weeks - are puzzles meant to be relaxing or something? It now lives on our dining table because we can't bear to break up our greatest achievement.
It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon and evening, and I can thoroughly recommend it - minithon or no, read some books, eat some cake, lay back and enjoy life. It's pretty good.

Sunday 2 September 2018

RIP XIII - Oooooh, Extra Spooky

Here it is - the reading event we've all* been waiting for - and this year, since it's the 13th one, it's spoooooookier than ever.

I've been feeling ready for RIP ever since the temperature dropped, and even more so since I started waking up in the dark this week. Now that it's September, predictably, it feels like summer's back again, but nonetheless it's time for some spooky spooky reading. 

If you've never heard of RIP before, firstly where have you been every September and October (because it is clearly not here) and secondly, you're welcome. RIP stands for Readers Imbibing Peril, and it's basically a two month event where book bloggers, and more generally people, dedicate their autumns to reading scary or perilous or crime (you get the idea) books. I have been in love with this event ever since I found out about it during my first blogging autumn (...7 years ago? Oh my) and my joy only increases with each passing year. 

Now. Tradition demands that I choose a peril, and, as ever, I am choosing Peril the First - Read 4 books that fit the (very broad) definitions of RIP literature. This is, I have just realised, my first RIP without also doing my Stephen King challenge, but looking back on it, I've also realised that I used to read Stephen King books PLUS RIP books, and still managed to hit 4, so... ok then! But still, *heart laments for Stephen King*

Do you want to see a big pile of books, though? Course you do.
What was that thing I said about Stephen King again? Oh yeah, nothing...

Let's just highlight a few books on my stack then...
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I have owned for the longest time and really really really do want to have read it but LOOK HOW LARGE IT IS. Please tell me things about it that will make me want to read it. Please.
  • I promised myself I could re-read It again this year, and so it shall be done. See also: The Handmaid's Tale.
  • I really enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley last year, so Strangers on a Train has made it onto my pile this year.
  • It amuses me to have father and son on the same pile, so hiiiii Strange Weather. I also genuinely love Joe Hill so expect me to definitely read this book at the very least!
Basically, yaaaaay spooky books. The weather will, hopefully be poor, the sofa duvet will come out of hiding and I am ready for an autumn of creepy reading, as ever.

What will you be reading?


Saturday 1 September 2018

Things I Read In August

Aaaaaand it's September now. I'm not sure how that happened, but here we are and it's basically autumn and just this last week I've been waking up before sunrise, and frankly, I am just not ready for this yet! August was pretty good- it started (more or less) with my sister's wedding, and ended (more or less) with my auntie's hen do because, you know, that's how my life is going this year. In between, I had a couple of Fridays off, one to go and visit my friends in Bristol (the best!) and one to make the most of the bank holiday and to actually see my boyfriend during it because of the aforementioned hen do, and whilst August felt like it was dragging in parts, I think mostly it was just long and full.

I also read some things, because of course I did. Observe:
Firstly, I just want to pat myself on the back for the spine colour complementing this month - it was completely unintentional but also looks really good, so go me. BUT ANYWAY, let's talk books!

French Milk by Lucy Knisley - I seem to be going through a little Knisley revival stage at the moment, or just, you know, I've been re-reading her comics a lot while I'm waiting for her next one (early next year!) This is her earliest (published) book and while I love it a lot, I miss the colour that's in her later stuff. This is still good good book though.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante - I finally finished the Neopolitan novels and things did not go at all the way I expected, which I guess is kind of the way of life. THESE BOOKS ARE SO GOOD and I still don't know why and I still mean to write whole post about them, you know, some day or something *mumbles non-specifically*

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro - I have had this book on my shelves for the longest time, without any real inclination to read it for whatever reason (I think I didn't like the cover?) I've been having a bit of an Ishiguro revival over the last year or so, and in fact I now don't own any unread Ishiguros. This was good, too - a kind of a mystery, along with a dollop of self delusion, and the now to be expected thing where so much is unsaid that you have to fill in the gaps yourself. I think I've said before that this doesn't always work for me within his writing, but in this book, it really really did. Nice one, Kazuo.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - OMG this book was so good. I do want to review this one because I've got it into my mad head that I'll review all of the 30 before 30 books I read (we'll see), but I will just say that I read Arcadia and liked it plenty, but THIS I loved and was engrossed by and transported and all those other good things you want from a book. 

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - Another 30 before 30 book so 'I'll review it later' but this is a very very funny series of essays, even though I did at times sort of wish I was reading Amy Sedaris's essays instead because my GOD she sounds like a character. Very very funny stuff though, and I am here for it.

Paper Girls Vol 3 & 4 by Brian K Vaughan et al - I found these in the library which was very exciting because I remembered really enjoying the first two volumes when I read them last year. Unfortunately I didn't remember much about them, so jumping into volume 3 I was like 'o...kay?' but that didn't really detract from my enjoyment - it's just so nice to read comics where a group of girls are the main focus and even the people they encounter on their accidental time travelling adventures are, usually, women. Also, they're just fun and exciting and perilous and totally reminded me that I need to read the next instalment of Bitch Planet that's just been sitting around my house for ages (no one knows why, really). GOOD STUFF SMASH THAT PATRIARCHY (all male writers and artists...)

And that was August! I supplemented my reading with some yoga (at the start of the month at least, whoops) and the entire new season of Orange is the New Black, plus some Studio Ghibli films. I've also just started watching Sharp Objects and I am TENSE af, so that's obviously super fun!

What have you been reading/watching/enjoying this month?

Wednesday 15 August 2018

30 Books You Should (Apparently) Read Before You Turn 30

As mentioned in my Sunday post, I have an aim and a goal and a purpose for life (ok maybe not that last bit) which is to read all of the books on the abovementioned list before I'm 30, which, I hate to admit, is less than 8 months away ahahaha how did I get so old please someone stop me.

I don't know exactly how I feel about such lists because AS IF there are even 30 books that all people need to read before they reach a certain age, but I'm always up for trying to complete a list of books even though I never knowingly have. This particular list, also, seems a little less high-minded than some of the '30 before 30' lists I've seen (am I actually ever going to read Siddharta or Ulysses? I am probably not) and so more achievable, you know, maybe.

Also I've already read nearly half and some of the other books I already own, so totally achievable! Yes!

Let's look at the list, shall we? You can find it here, in its original form, and also below with my commentary...

1. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I own this! I haven't read it to my complete SHAME. I agree with the list, it is time. (read 5th October 2018)

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - IT IS AMAZING and I am completely not against reading it again before I'm 30, if my friend ever gives me my copy back... (re-read 18th October 2018)

3. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin - I haven't read any Ursula K Le Guin but this sounds GREAT so I'm here for it (read 2nd October 2018)

4. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai - I am 100% here for Malala's book (read 6th December 2018)

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - I also would read this again any time. Obviously.

6. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - Done and done.

7. The Mothers by Brit Bennett - Another one I haven't heard of but I am also here for. There's a reason I want to complete this list, and it's because everything sounds GREAT. (read 13th January 2019)

8. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris - I am ashamed to say that I haven't read any David Sedaris, but pleased to say that I do own this so yeah, I'm gonna read this for sure (and at last!) (read 28th August 2018)

9. Wild by Cheryl Strayed - I mean, duh. I love it, you should also read it before you're 30, or after. (re-read 11th Jan 2019)

10. Bossypants by Tina Fey - Yup. (Re-read 17th March 2019)

11. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi - This sounds so tragic that I almost can't even, but I do want to so yeah. (read 14th October 2018)

12. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Very pleased that this made the list because it's excellent. I do have a couple of other books by her, so perhaps I shall read one of those instead of this one.

13. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir - I own this already so I know how dense and challenging this is, so maybe this will turn into 29 before 30, but I want to give it another try!

14. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - I have been meaning to re-read this for a long time since I read it when I was about 15 and didn't really understand things and stuff, so yeah.

15. The Rules do not Apply by Ariel Levy - I feel like I've heard about this and don't know much about it, but ONCE AGAIN, the description sounds great so I am also here for it. (Read 10th November 2018)

16. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - I own this! Hooray! I feel like I read something good about it and in a fit of passion (ooer) put it on my amazon wishlist where I believe Bex bought it for me, so thing I read that I can't remember, you'd better be right! *stern face* (Read 25th August 2018)

17. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - I also own this! What could go wrong?! (read 22nd December 2018)

18. The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien -  Eh, this is fine but I'm not sure it really deserves a place on this list. Just put all of Lord of the Rings on it, dammit (or, you know, not...)

19. Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - I have, once again, not heard of this because I am an ill-educated swine, and once again it sounds pretty great. (Read 19th February 2019)

20. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden -  This is, without question, one of my favourite ever books and a quick search just told me that I haven't even read it since I started blogging. THIS MUST CHANGE. (Re-read 15th February 2019)

21. Slaugherhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut - I'm not overly enamoured with Vonnegut, but I have read this. It's fine.

22. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison - I haven't read any Toni Morrison, to my eternal shame, so this'll be a good way to kick me off and actually read the two books of hers I own as well. (Read 2nd March 2019)

23. One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul - Word. (Read 7th March 2019)

24. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - ALL THE PRAISE HANDS (Read 24th June 2018)

25. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - OK FINE I'll read an award winning book I guess, are you happy now? (Read 5th January 2019)

26. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel - This is soooo very good - I can't remember if I ever reviewed it because I think I read it when I was doing my MA (oh wait, yes I did and no I didn't) but dystopia + Shakespeare = Dreamy.

27. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - I have extra never heard of this, and just as much am convinced that it sounds great. (read 18 November 2018)

28. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - It's another one that I read ages ago but that is fabulous. AGH this is making me want to read AND re-read... (Re-read 10th February 2019)

29. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - Heartbreaking, beautiful, incredible writing - do I need to go on?

30. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett - Finishing off the list with another one... I've never heard of. Ann is pretty solid though, as I understand it, so what's the worst that can happen? (Read 8th November 2018)

ISN'T IT A GOOD LIST?! I've got 8 months and 16 books to go - as long as I remember to read these exact books, what can go wrong? I think I"m going to come back to this page and update it when I've read books from it, and if you'd like you can come back and check my progress - 8th April 2019 is my cut off point, so I'll let y'all know if I've been successful after then!

Are you currently undertaking any book challenges?