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2018 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read a total of 40 books, though I’m considering it 39 as one was a re-read of a novelette, and I’m not sure I read all of it. 39/40 isn’t a good number for me really, but the year saw a few changes, not least the addition of two rabbits to my home and time. (I’m happy to report that rabbit time is now at a more normal level.)

I had a lot less trouble choosing my 5 ‘best of’ books this year. Granted, I read fewer books so there was less competition, but I also just found it easier – I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to get easier – the more one reads and all that.

As always, books that have been reviewed include a link in the text. From here until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you want to skip the objective list, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah – A Nigerian student leaves behind the love of her life to study in America, where she discovers that she is now ‘black’. This book is fairly complex, summing it up difficult, but it’s incredible, albeit that the heroine isn’t particularly great (the hero’s fine).
Claire Fuller: Swimming Lessons – Gil sees his long-lost wife outside the bookshop and injures himself trying to catch up with her; alongside the narrative of the family coming together to help him are the letters Ingrid wrote to Gil about the lie of their marriage, that she slips in between the pages of relevant novels. This is an utterly fantastic book – very well written, well plotted, and the literature aspect is incredibly compelling.
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad – Two slaves run away from the plantation and board an underground train to a less southerly state where life is likely better. Fantastic.
Weike Wang: Chemistry – The unnamed narrator has been proposed to by her boyfriend twice and can’t find it within herself to say yes; there’s a lot of confusion – she’s struggling with her PhD and is unconsciously still suffering from parental neglect. A search for identity where the reader is more privy than the character, this is an excellent book full of vignettes, humour, and it boasts an interesting writing style.
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing – As the slave trade continues in Ghana, one sister is ushered into marriage with a white man at the ‘castle’ whilst her unknown half-sister is taken into slavery to be shipped to America; we follow both women’s decedents as they tackle their pasts. A wonderfully written book that succeeds in writing short pieces about various characters without you ever feeling lost.

5

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4.5

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4

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3.5

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3

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2.5

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2

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  • Ben Okri: The Famished Road
My Personal Favourites

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I finished the books I’d carried over from the previous December – the Northup and Sullivan. The only real target I’d set was to add to my diversity stats, and this I achieved. Otherwise, I read a fair number of classics and newer popular books – I’m counting Outlander somewhere in between those times – and finally read books by Ben Okri, Hiromi Kawakami, Colm Tóibín, and Sylvia Plath.

I also read from a slighter wider variety of sources, incorporating the library in a more concrete fashion than the drips and drabs of previous years. Approximately eight books were from the library, which is over double what I’d thought before looking at my reading notes.

Quotation Report

In The Age Of Innocence a man of great means but lack of general awareness as according to his station in the novel, laments the absence of independent thought of his beloved and looks forward to the opportunity he will have to educate her… to a certain point… she shouldn’t be too knowledgeable after all. Whilst in the same book, a few chapters later, the author of it all produces this fun line:

She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

In Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller posits that ‘writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line. A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader’.

Hilarity and heartbreak in Chemistry:

At the gate, he goes through his repertoire of tricks – sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five, sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five. I ask him to please be dignified about this, but I have not yet taught him that command.

In The Female Quixote, Arabella’s cousin and suitor agrees to read her favourite books at his peril – it just so happens her favourites include the (still) longest fiction book published, all 13,000 pages of it.

A thought from The Nakano Thrift Shop worth mulling over:

When it comes to old things, whether buying or selling, why is it that people act so cautious?… With something brand new, they have no problem just ordering it from a catalogue, no matter how expensive.

This is another occasion wherein paraphrasing the quotation just won’t work. Here it is in full, from The Underground Railroad:

Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.

And lastly, as I mentioned on Wednesday, if you travel to 1740s Scotland, as one does, remember that disinfectant doesn’t yet exist. Failure to remember may result in a humorous exchange not unlike that experienced by one Claire Randall, an Outlander, whose requests for various disinfectants resulted in blank stares until she asked for alcohol and received a jovial response.

In the next few days I’ll be setting out my reading goals for the year. I’m looking forward to more historical fantasy – I might currently be eyeing up the George R R Martin box set that’s on the desk beside me.

What was on your best of list for 2018?

 
December 2018 Reading Round Up

Christmas flew by so quickly that it’s all a bit confusing here at the moment. It was a lovely time in general, but there was a lot of coming and going. There were several families to consider, which I expect many of you can relate to!

The Book

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Diana Gabaldon: Outlander – A woman from 1940s London visits Scotland and is whisked two hundred years in the past, a time when the Highlands was a dangerous place to be, especially if you had an English accent. A historical fantasy romance, leaning heavily on the side of the third genre.

One book is a 100% improvement on November, and I’m considering it a fair feat in other ways: 1) Outlander is 851 pages, and thus equal to a couple of regular novels in length; 2) although I didn’t love it, it was the right choice for the time. Once finished I immediately started the TV adaptation, which I’m enjoying a lot more. I’ve not yet decided whether to continue reading the books or to just keep watching the adaptation – finding out about the way the second book begins has given me pause in terms of the text. (It’s a huge spoiler so I won’t include it here – it’s on the Wikipedia page for Dragonfly In Amber.

Quotation Report

If you travel to 1740s Scotland, as one does, remember that disinfectant doesn’t yet exist. Failure to remember may result in a humorous exchange not unlike that experienced by one Claire Randall, an Outlander, whose requests for various disinfectants resulted in blank stares until she asked for alcohol and received a jovial response.

At the time of writing this I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be reading next, but the Gabaldon has made me want to return to Du Maurier’s The House On The Strand. I may well proceed along the lines of the Long-Awaited Reads Month concept of a few years ago; the Du Maurier would meet the conditions.

I missed Christmas, but I wish you a very happy New Year! Let me know what you’re reading!

Off topic, for those asking about What’s In A Name: I’m unable to host the challenge this year and haven’t yet found someone to take it over. If you are interested please get in touch with me via email (on the Contact page). Hosting the challenge requires an initial block of time to set up one post, a second block of time to set up eight more, and all but one post require a linking system (Mr Linky is recommended and costs US $5 per year). You’ll then want a bit of time each week/fortnight to comment on posts and you may, every now and then, need to add people’s reviews to the lists yourself. The challenge sees up to 150 people signing up, so do bear that in mind if you pay for website hosting – you’ll want to either disable hotlinking or upload your challenge logo to a separate image site.

 
November 2018 Reading Round Up (Sort Of)

A photograph of an autumn tree at The Vyne

The reason my blogging has been so patchy: I got myself two furry friends of the rabbit persuasion. And rabbits, especially during the lengthy teenage months when they are chewing, thumping, and making other moves for which the politest translation is ‘voulez-vous coucher avec moi’, take up a lot of time. We’re now out the other side, and it is wonderful to be able to pick up a book again for more than a short period.

In November I didn’t finish any books but I did read a couple more chapters of Brick Lane. And I started Outlander, which I’m 200 pages into and enjoying. I may have lost the edge of Brick Lane‘s jacket to the discovery stage of A Practical Study into the Composition and Taste of Paper, a project thankfully since abandoned.

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My plan for December includes finishing Outlander and watching the first TV season so long as only the first book is covered, reading at least one more Christmas book to accompany my nonseasonal (October) reading of the Jenny Colgan I’ll be reviewing in a few days, and making an hour or two to re-read a childhood favourite – Babysitter’s Club #21, which I discussed in 2016 as a book I’d like to re-read if I could find the box I’d packed it into. The box has since migrated to a spot in front of my shelves.

If there is time after the above I have an as yet unwrapped set of A Song Of Ice And Fire.

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In related news, I attended the Young Writer of the Year Award ceremony yesterday evening. The prize was given to Adam Weymouth for Kings Of The Yukon. This is the first year since the relaunch that I’ve not read any of the shortlisted books, however I took home with me a copy of Fiona Mozley’s Elmet which I hope to read by February.

I’m going to use these next weeks before Christmas to get back into the swing of things. Expect a few reviews and, hopefully, a discussion post or two.

What are you planning to read during the rest of this month, and have you ever lost part (or all) of a book to a pet?

 
October 2018 Reading Round Up

I didn’t do badly in October. Looking at this list has made me realise how long the month was, and in a good way; whilst the last week of October was very cold – in relative terms – the majority was sunny and warm and I think the number of summery days, with the change following, afforded the effect of more time. This month was also about library usage – I’ve reviewed books I’ve borrowed from the library in recent times but this time it made up almost half of my reading, and I gave the books back with the idea in mind to purchase at least one of them at some point. (It’s likely the Whitehead will be on my ‘best of’ list, and I think not having my own copy when there’s a big chance I’ll want to re-read it or think on it further would be difficult.)

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Colm Tóibín: Brooklyn – A young Irish girl is sent by her family to a growing America in the hope she’ll find a better life there. Lacks a real plot and characterisation.

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Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad – Two slaves run away from the plantation and board an underground train to a less southerly state where life is likely better. Fantastic.

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Eloisa James: A Duke Of Her Own – Villiers needs a mother for his six illegitimate children and thinks to choose between enticing Eleanor and ‘mad’ Lisette; if Eleanor has anything to do with it it’ll be she he chooses. The best of the entire series – awesome characterisation and often very funny.

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Eloisa James: This Duchess Of Mine – Jemma knows it’s high time she and Elijah had an heir to the dukedom, and both husband and wife secretly hope love will blossom. Not as good as the rest of the series.

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Jenny Colgan: Christmas At Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop – Despite decreasing sales at her shop, Rosie is looking forward to Christmas in a snowy village and spending it with her reluctant-to-be-a-Lord boyfriend, but her family want to come over from Australia and there’s a problem ahead for the community to deal with. Pretty fun and festive.

No contest, the Whitehead won it this month. A Duke Of Her Own was a very close second, and certainly if I hadn’t read The Underground Railroad at the 11th hour, it would have won, but Whitehead’s commentary and ending was just something else. The Colgan was a lot of fun to read.

Quotation Report

This is another occasion wherein paraphrasing the quotation just won’t work. Here it is in full, from The Underground Railroad:

Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.

Finally the end of my busy period is in sight, even if it’ll soon be replaced by Christmas planning. I’m looking forward to reading (I believe the vernacular is ‘well, duh!’), evenings on the sofa listening to Eva Cassidy, and looking for gifts.

How was your October, and how is the weather where you are?

 
September 2018 Reading Round Up

September was fairly good for reading. The weather has changed but the hours around noon, when there is sun, are hot enough to read outside. Otherwise planning is afoot, for both Christmas and autumn in general. In terms of reading, in keeping with my plans I’ve got a couple of Christmas books from the library; I found Dilly Court’s The Christmas Card and so loaned it out, and they had Jenny Colgan’s Christmas At Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop so I got that too. I’ve no idea what the Colgan is about or whether I need to read any previous books first, but the title sounds suitably warm and fuzzy. I like the idea of reading them now – well, I kind of have to, having loaned them! – and thus having reviews ready for early December. Interestingly, according to the issue slip, the copy of the Court has been issued out in the spring and summer months but never any later.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah – A Nigerian student leaves behind the love of her life to study in America, where she discovers that she is now ‘black’. This book is fairly complex, summing it up difficult, but it’s incredible, albeit that the heroine isn’t particularly great (the hero’s fine).

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Özgür Mumcu: The Peace Machine – A Turkish writer of erotic fiction comes to know about a theoretical ‘peace machine’ that would eliminate hate in the world, and joins the highly political faction that is spending time with those working to assassinate the Serbian monarchs whilst working on their machine. Yep – it’s confusing all right.

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Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar – A high-achiever moves to New York but starts to fall into a deep depression over various social ideals; she had had periods of mental illness before. Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, it’s one to read and a good literary text.

I’m just over halfway through Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn which is quite enjoyable and features department store work in 50s America which I’m loving – I enjoyed reading about and watching the following TV series on Mr Selfridge, as well as the glimpses of historical department stores in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Tóibín has included the social change wherein black Americans were finally invited in to shop, too, which is both fascinating and awful – lots of staring, and only 70 years ago! After this, I’ll be picking up those Christmas books.

I’m hesitant about the next few months as I’ll miss the weather. I also can’t get my head around the fact that it’ll soon enough be time to decorate for Christmas. We’ve got a new family member this year so more planning to do.

What did you read in September?

 

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