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!