Goodreads Challenge 2018

Oof! So it’s a long time since I posted here, and it’s not been a great reading year for me. I’m more than 10 books off my 2018 challenge target of reading a book per week, which is really unusual for me. I think it may be in part because of the few books I started which I didn’t really engage with and which then seemed to put me off reading full stop.

With the new year coming, I’m accepting that I’m not going to be up to the task and will instead close things off here with a list of the few books I’ve read (or at least started) and loved this year, in no particular order:

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. I’ve only just started this one properly but am already finding it captivating.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani. Incredibly disturbing but such a strong read. I’m glad I read it but have no desire to do so ever again.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry. Odd and dreamlike. Bittersweet and sad. Really difficult to explain why I liked it, but the quality was somewhat ethereal and for some reason suited to the insomia-ridden nights when I first started reading it.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes. Technically this falls somewhere between self-help and memoir and is a fabulous read. Shonda Rimes is such a good writer that she makes you feel that you could be her friend. A great book for creating an mindset for positive change.

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro. I’ve already written about how this book make a bit of an impact so don’t need to reiterate. It’s amazing and heartbreaking.

Honourable mentions go to:

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris; This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay; The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan.

Here’s hoping that 2019 will bring more exciting reading and a Goodreads goal met!

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Fire Sermon – Jamie Quatro

One absolute winner of a book which has come from the What Page Are You On? podcast is Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro. It’s a devastating story of love, infidelity, guilt and faith which is a quick and intense read. Maggie and James share their faith and their love of literature and writing but they are both married to other people whom they are reluctant or unwilling to leave. This love born out of a mutual respect, intellect and religious viewpoint is destined to burn brightly but cannot be allowed to fully flourish.

The story is told in a non-linear way, with extracts from journals, emails counselling sessions and letters all taking part of the narrative alongside more standard prose. We learn about Maggie’s whole life both before and after beginning her correspondence with James and it is easy to understand the source of her frustrated dissatisfaction with the life that she has, even if her passivity in accepting that there are things missing is potentially frustrating for the reader. Married young, after an intensely religious upbringing, to Thomas, who does not share her faith or her intellectual interests, there is already a question mark over their compatibility from the outset. There is a gulf between them from day one and it grows as their married life goes on.

The book is essentially Maggie’s story, although we do hear about and from James, it is Maggie who is seeking something outside of her marriage to compensate for the things she believes are missing within it. Affection, intellectual stimulation, attraction… and something ineffable. All these things have been hopefully pinned on people Maggie has encountered in the past, but she insists that this time, with this person it is different.

Ultimately I think Maggie is looking for something outside her circumstances which should probably have been satisfied by her faith.

It’s an intense book and devastatingly sad. The narrative of love and prospects denied is a difficult one to read. I was very invested in things working out differently. I had expected the discussions of faith to grate as it’s not an area I have a lot of interest in but actually it was done in such a way that it only added to the troubling messiness and sadness of the narrative. Anyway, read it.

 

 

Abandonment

I’ve posted before about having learnt to leave a book which isn’t doing it for me. There are too many books on my TBR list and there is too little time spare for reading so it makes no sense to keep pushing through books which are making me hate reading. Occasionally there will be a book which makes me so cross it will turn into a hate-read and I’ll then blog about how terrible it is, but otherwise I ain’t got the time to waste.

Subsequently, I’m getting quite good at throwing in the towel with books that aren’t my cup of Earl Grey (black, lemon if there’s any available, no sugar) but it still came as a bit of a surprise that I’ve chucked more books than I’ve read this last month or so.

The first to fall by the wayside was Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler . I’d picked it up hoping to read it in enough time to join in the online book chat on the What Page Are You On? social media feed. I don’t want to say I hated this book. I’m not really sure how I felt about it other than the fact that I was Definitely Not Engaged with it from very early on. I stuck with it until I was about a quarter of the way through because so many people had seemed to read and enjoy it. I was wondering whether I had missed something. I don’t want to say it was a bad book. All too often people conflate something they didn’t like with something that is actually bad (and vice versa) and I’m trying very hard indeed to not do that. I wasn’t invested in it though. I didn’t care about the protagonist, nor indeed any of the other characters, I found it difficult to follow who was whom and I couldn’t really detect a plot. I put it aside, slightly reluctantly as it felt like a personal failing to not be able to “get” this book that so many people were raving about.

Interestingly, there is a review online which is quite telling wherein the reviewer acknowledges that it might be a book which could be considered to be pretentious, even though they personally loved it. Someone else has pointed out that no-one on earth speaks like the characters in this book and this was one of those things which I had struggled to pinpoint but which made it feel clunky to me. It seems like it’s a bit like Marmite in the way it is polarising opinions. I wonder if I was just a bit too old and cynical, but I have no issue with other coming-of-age stories, so it can’t just be that.

The second book this year which just wasn’t for me was Zen and the Art of Knitting. Despite not being a particularly spiritual person myself (I’m an atheist, but I do sometimes practice things which could be considered spiritual [yoga, very occasional meditation…]). I was interested in the way that knitting could be linked to mindfulness as I’m a maker (including knitting) myself and I know there can be a certain sense of calm and quieting of the mind which can come during the process of crafting.

That said, I think this book is too much woo for me. I did persist until I’d got nearly halfway through but I had found that, instead of looking forward to reading, I was avoiding my Kindle and picking up other things instead. I started two other books, including one which I read on my phone, and finally decided that I would officially give up on this one. Again, there seems to be a vast number of people who appreciated and enjoyed this book so I won’t say that it is bad, it’s just not for me.

As a result though I don’t actually have a lot to say about the books I’ve finished recently as there haven’t been that many of them!

 

 

Goodreads Reading Challenge – February 2018

A really short post this time as there’s not a lot to report for February’s reading. I did quite a bit of it. I did actually almost get ahead of target for my Goodreads challenge, however I did it with cheesy genre fiction and therefore didn’t submit a single review.

So, in February I read all of Nalini Singh’s “Rock Romance” series and the spinoff. I’m not sorry. Singh writes her characters believably and with heart and sometimes I don’t want heavy reading that has meaning to unpack and which provokes analysis. Romance novels have a place in this world and I’m happy to say that sometimes they are the tonic I need when I’ve not wanted to read anything too deep or serious. Doesn’t mean that I don’t usually choose to read them on Kindle though! But that’s where most of my books are these days.

I’ve been listening to a couple of good book-related podcasts lately: What Page Are You On? and Smart Bitches Trashy Books.  Both come recommended. Both have Things To Say about the belitting of YA and genre fiction, particularly when it comes to women’s reading and writing.

Having been away at the end of February, I didn’t get the chance to finish Lullaby by Leila Slimani before WPAYO had their discussion of it, but I’ll follow up with my thoughts on it here in next month’s post.

Their next discussion book is Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler and I’m hoping to get involved with the Twitter chat on this one, although I’d better get reading if I’m going to make it in time!

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2018 – January

For the past few years I’ve participated in the Goodreads annual reading challenge. I usually pick a number of around one book per week or a little over that rate. This year I’m at one book per week as I really struggled last year with 60 books in the year. When I had no time or money I could get through over 100!

Anyway, I’m three books down, the first being one I technically started ages ago – The Moth story collection. Link to my review, and the text itself below:

The MothThe Moth by Catherine Burns

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of The Moth and storytelling podcasts in general and I kind of feel bad for not liking this book more than I do. There is no denying that there are some great stories in here, but I really wanted to read unusual stories about more “everyday” people, and this collection really focuses on people who are more well-known. That said, as a Brit, I was familiar with fewer of these people, but they were still often people of status.

Other reviews have said the same thing and I was surprised at how this ultimately coloured my opinion of the book even though I was determined to not let it do so. I understand that those people who choose to go to a story slam may already have some sort of career in spoken word or public speaking but this can’t be true of all the Moth participants.

In all, it’s a nice book to pick up and read at bedtime and easy to dip into, but I’d have preferred more stories about “normal” people – I wanted it ultimately to be more relateable than it was.
Next book up was The Adversary: A True Story of a Monstrous Deception by Emmanuel Carrere. This is in essence a true crime story, but it’s told by an author who was clearly really drawn in by the story. Jean-Claude Romand was, or rather is, a man who pretended for years to be a highly successful doctor, despite never finishing medical school after failing his first set of exams. Somehow he managed to convince family, longstanding friends and his whole community that he was a person of note. Claiming to be working on cutting edge research he was instead defrauding friends and family in order to finance his lifestyle. When it looked like he might be exposed his killed his parents, his wife and his children before setting his house on fire. The fire was apparently intended to kill him as well, but he survived and eventually stood trial.

It’s a compelling, disturbing story without much resolution. I still haven’t really decided how I feel about it!

Finally for the month was Neighborly by Ellie Monago

Neighborly: A NovelNeighborly: A Novel by Ellie Monago
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Got this as a Kindle First as the synopsis sounded interesting as a creepy thriller.

Kat and Doug have used literally all their money to buy a house in the “perfect” neighbourhood and basically, right from the outset, things are not as perfect as they seem. There’s something odd about the street and the inhabitants but this idea initially comes from Kat who isn’t the most reliable of sources.

The issue is that none of the characters are properly developed, and that could even be said of the main protagonists. We know nothing really about any of the neighbours beyond a snapshot, we learn next to nothing about Doug and Kat comes over as more neurotic than sympathetic a lot of the time, so as a reader I wasn’t much invested in the outcome by the time it was all over.

The resolution was also very neat and tidy: it took a couple of pages to tie everything up in a nice neat package. Bad guy gets caught, small twist at who is the real bad guy, bad guy gets dealt with. Kat and Doug are working on their marriage and everyone is in therapy. The End.

The reviews I had read before picking this book up were tentative but ultimately I have to side with more with the lower end of the review scale. I think this could have been a good book but it’s not really fully formed.

And that’s it for January, so I’m technically behind schedule on my reading challenge, I’ve not finished one of the books I started a few weeks back, and I’ve acquired further ebooks due to Kindle First promos and general recommendations. *ahem*

Not quite a Q4 reading log

I did start keeping a reading log for Q4 2017 but I ended up being kicked from the swap at the final hurdle after being on holiday and not logging in to swap-bot for two weeks. To be honest, I think that might have been a good thing, as I read a whole load of rubbish in quarter four just to make it to my 60 book reading goal for the year.

Rather than having my started-but-unread books hanging over me this January I’ve ditched all bar The Moth  short stories book, which I’m not feeling under any particular pressure to finish. It’s nice to dip into in the evening before I go to sleep but as I only started it recently I’m not feeling the negative pressure of some of the others which I’d started months, if not years ago.

So, other than The Moth, I am reading A Year in the Maine Woods which I started last night in a bout of pre-back-to-work insomnia. A nice clean slate, and once again the opportunity to start the year “reading from home”. Again.

I’ve decided to really focus on my finances in a way I’ve perhaps not done so before and this year and book-buying will be a part of this. I’ve started the last several years trying very hard to read what I own rather than buying new, but the advent of e-books has made this more difficult, as I don’t have to explain away the appearance of another paper copy on an already full shelf.

This time around, I’m trying to be more aware of the financial implications of reduced e-book buying. I don’t struggle for money anymore, which is good. I save through work, I contribute to a pension and I have an ISA, but for the most part I only do the bare minimum on these and I think I could probably do more and reducing unnecessary spending is part of that.

So, in 2018 the Reading From Home challenge begins once again. Wish me luck, I’m going in!

Decluttering and being an Owner of Books

 

I adore books. I adore being an Owner of Books. I love going into bookshops, touching books, looking at cover art and cover blurbs. I love the smell of books. Not sure I would wear it as a perfume though, but still. There is a quality I love about being surrounded by books. I am lucky enough to live in a house which has spare rooms. One of those spare rooms is known as The Book Room as this is where my bookcases live. The bookcases do house a few other things: some DVDs, some prints/art/knickknacks, M’s books; but primarily they are Home to MY Library.

I do also own a Kindle. It makes life easy for travelling. It also makes it easy to read stuff that might otherwise be embarrassing. It can be propped up easily to read while knitting/crocheting. I use my Kindle a lot.

The Kindle definitely has some disadvantages. It doesn’t have all the books in the world available on it. It doesn’t function well as insulation either. It isn’t particularly pretty and nor does it smell like books. It doesn’t have much of a soul.

The Kindle definitely won’t replace my books.

What Kindle-ownership should have done though was to make me a bit more discriminatory about the books I did keep on my shelves. I thought this would be what it would do. I certainly started out with that intention. What Kindle-ownership seems to have meant so far is that I buy crappy e-books on it, as well as books I Must Read Now and then impulse-buy ‘actual, real books’ on the infrequent times I go into bookshops. I really don’t go into bookshops that often, but when I do I end up buying three or four books at a time. It’s always quicker to buy than it is to read.

A friend recently posted that she was having a Massive Clearout (TM) and that this has included getting rid of a large quantity of books, including many kept for sentimental value or for reasons of trying to preserve and present a version of her identity. Having a lot of books for her was intrinsically linked to the way she felt about herself and the way she felt she appeared to others. Having a ‘library’ made her feel (or feel that she appeared) intelligent and clever, as well as well-read. It didn’t matter that her friends knew that she was intelligent, clever and well-read without those physical signifiers, it was the ownership of the books which mattered.

I related to this so much.

Part of the reason I have the number of books I do is because I have kept books from university, books which I liked the sound of but never got into when reading, books where I liked the subject matter but which felt unwieldy or difficult to read. There is a biography of Charlie Chaplin which I’ve started to read once, approximately 20 years ago when I borrowed it from the library. I like old-film biographies and autobiographies a lot but this one is a pretty hefty tome. I always believed that, having started it (and progressed a fair way through it), I would finish it one day. That day has yet to come.

I realised, when mulling over the content of my friend’s post, that I’m not even sure I *want* to read that book any more. I wonder how many more books there are on my shelves which I feel that way about?

Every year I seem to try to resurrect my “Reading from Home” project, and for a short period of time it works. I discover books in my collection which I’ve not read for ages. I find others which I’ve read and forgotten. I find unread gems which become firm favourites. And then I get distracted by the new and shiny things which are suggested to me by Amazon or GoodReads and the whole cycle starts again. I have, for example, just added another book to my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads…

The plan of action then is to not-quite Marie Kondo my library but instead try to be more honest with myself. Why am I keeping this? Am I still interested in the content? Am I interested enough to read it now? If not now, then when?

If the answer isn’t “in the next year”, then I really need to consider whether I actually intend to read it at all, or whether it’s being kept to make me feel intelligent/scholarly. Or for some other reason. Reading has been part of my identity for so long, that isn’t going to change by having a few fewer books. There will always be the ones I keep and keep returning to.

In other news…

Although still on the subject of reading, I have been looking at my GoodReads reading challenge numbers for this year. I’m not there yet and I’m not sure I will make it to my planned 60 books (48 so far) although I can get a couple of quick wins with some graphic novels if I get cracking.

I was surprised however to see that I have logged 589 books as “read” on GoodReads. I can’t find my stats on when I joined GoodReads but I know I’ve definitely not logged everything I’ve read on there, because I’ve not logged everything I’ve read full stop. Nearly 600 books feels like quite a lot though, given that I’m probably only looking at the last 10 to fifteen years.

I do now feel like I’ve got to tick off the last eleven to get to 600 soon. That will take me to 59 for the year too. Does this sound like a plan?