2016 Reading Roundup

I know, I know…it’s March.  I’m very late with this post.  In my defence…well, nothing really.  I was in a bit of a blogging funk at the start of the year, so never got round to sharing the books I read last year.  But here they all are:

 

  1. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
  2. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
  3. Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh
  4. Heft by Liz Moore
  5. How Eskimos keep their babies warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood
  6. The Crimson petal and the white by Michel Faber
  7. Complete Write a Novel Course by Will Buckingham
  8. Public Library by Ali Smith
  9. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  11. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  12. The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
  13. The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
  14. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  15. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
  16. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  17. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
  18. Every Day by David Levithan
  19. Ash by Malinda Lo
  20. The Good Children by Roopa Farooki
  21. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
  22. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
  23. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
  24. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
  25. The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
  26. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater
  27. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater
  28. The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater
  29. Hood by Stephen R Lawhead
  30. Cunning Folk- Popular Magic in English History by Owen Davies
  31. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  32. Half Bad by Sally Green
  33. Half Wild by Sally Green
  34. Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas
  35. Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hotchner
  36. Now is the time by Melvyn Bragg
  37. Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown
  38. Half Lost by Sally Green
  39. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

 

That’s actually considerably less than the 47 books I read in 2015, but this year I read a lot more *new* books, that I hadn’t previously read- only two of those listed above were re-reads.  For those who like their stats, out of the 39-

4 I didn’t actually finish (but a couple of those I will likely get back to at some point)

7 were non-fiction (that’s a lot more non-fic than I normally read, the sudden increase was thanks to NOVEL RESEARCH)

25 were library books (working in libraries has some major perks 😉 )

1 I read on Kindle (a massive decrease from 2015, but then again, I did start working in a library in 2016, so I guess that was to be expected?)

Some new favourites include Frenchman’s Creek- oh my god, I still cannot believe I hadn’t read this one of Daphne Du Maurier’s books before now.  Rebecca has (obviously) long since been a favourite of mine, but wow, Frenchman’s Creek has very nearly, almost- possibly overtaken it.  I literally swooned, and then once revived proceeded to fill my ‘bookish quotes’ notebook with basically every single passage.  I LOVED it.  In fact, just thinking about it now is making me want to read it again.

frenchmanscreek

I also fell in love with Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater.  In terms of non-fiction, both Gypsy Boy (a fantastic, unflinching memoir by Mikey Walsh) and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty were incredible.

Honestly, out of the 39 books there really weren’t many (aside from the ones I didn’t manage to finish), that I *didn’t* enjoy this year.  For me, The Half Bad trilogy fell short of my expectations, but only because the ending was SO CRUEL, and I was pissed off about it for days, literally.  The Paying Guests was a bit depressing, but generally everything else I read I liked, and there are quite a few that I’m tempted to revisit again this year.

At the end of 2015, after completing my ‘great re-read of 2015‘ I hinted at a new challenge for 2016, but then that never actually got off the ground.  The challenge was going to be classics.  There are so many books that would be considered classics that I haven’t read, so I was planning to ask people I know IRL, and of course, you lovely lot- if you had any suggestions on where I should start.  But then life happened, and I never got round to it.

I honestly feel like it’s a bit late to be setting myself a reading challenge for 2017, given as we’re almost a quarter of the way through it already, but if there is a classic book that you think I should add to my list then please do leave a comment and I’ll let you know if I’ve already read it or not (chances are higher that I won’t have, I may be a prolific reader, but I lost a lot of years to Point Horror and Sweet Valley High, and honestly I have no regrets about that.)

As for 2017- well so far I’ve read eleven brilliant books, and I have a massive stack of unread books on my shelves to work through, not to mention about twenty unread books downloaded to my kindle, and of course all the books I have access to across the library service…so yeah, I have a feeling it’s going to be a good reading year!

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Generation X (Book Jar Post 2)

So you may remember that I finally got underway with Project Book Jar and that the first book to be picked out was this:

gen x

Something I started last year, got a few pages into and then left on a shelf, got sick, moved house and completely forgot I’d ever even picked it up.

You’ll be pleased to hear that my 2nd attempt at reading it was more successful, in that I actually finished it this time (hurray!)  BUT, it took me 3 weeks.  THREE WEEKS!  Have you seen the size of the thing?!  It’s like 200 pages or something.  I just read it a chapter at a time pretty much.  Which I guess is how normal folk may read, but it is not my usual style at all.  I usually pick up a book and when I set it down the sun has risen and set again and I have forgotten my own name.  That’s how it is with good books anyway.

Was this a good book?  Ehhhh.  It was ok.  Some bits of it were really on the nose, so much so that I had a hard time believing it was written almost twenty years ago and not last month.  There were a lot of really funny bits, astute observations about friendship and life in general….but…and there is a but…I didn’t LOVE it.  Maybe it’s just me, maybe I read it at the wrong time.  It’s a dangerous thing to pick up a book like Generation X when you’re already feeling disenchanted and disillusioned with modern society.  I sort of nodded along with 75% of the content, the other 25% went over my head and when I finished I was left utterly depressed.

I then decided to forgo the Book Jar and read When Dan Lived in the Woods by Ben Wakeling- a book I’d picked up for free on my kindle a couple of weeks ago.  I finished it in one afternoon while I was at the hospital having my IVIg infusion, although to be fair it is a short easy read, 3 hours is quick even for me 😉  It was a stark contrast to Generation X, in the sense that it wasn’t critically acclaimed, nor did it have massively convoluted long and rambling monologues…but in other ways it was similar, in that it was about opting out of society and all it’s bullshit and like with Generation X, I found myself massively sympathising with the main character.  I think the trouble with reading something like Generation X such a long time after it’s publication is that it comes with so much baggage.  People want to tell you how much they love (or hate) it, and you’re almost expecting to be profoundly moved by it in some way and then disappointed if/when you’re not.  If I’d read it ten years ago it might have blown my tiny mind, but I was late to the party (again).  These days I’m enjoying picking up things with no hype and no pretence, like When Dan Lived in the Woods and then being pleasantly surprised when I find myself engrossed and engaged with the story.

I’m now reading The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen on my kindle, so something totally different but I’m really enjoying it so far (just a few pages in!)

I will go back to the Book Jar for my next pick though, I promise.  I’m just in a funny place with books at the minute and didn’t trust it to spit out the right suggestion.

The Bookshelf Inspection

I just read this piece by Peter Damien over at Book Riot and was inspired to do the same with my bookcase (ok, ok, three bookcases and fireplace)

So, without further ado, here are the results of my investigation:

READ

I was going to make this the last book I read, but actually the last book I read (The Color Purple) was a library book so is technically a bookshelf squatter rather than a resident.

The last book I read that actually belongs to me is The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.  It’s one of those books I have been ‘meaning to read’ for absolutely ages and then I finally read it two weeks ago and it’s amaaaazing.  I read it across three days, and on the final day I was in hospital having my monthly IVIg treatment and I’m sure the nurses thought I was really rude as I just let them do their thing and pretty much ignored everyone with my nose in this book (occasionally brushing away a stray tear, which would set my IV alarm off due to my arm bending!)  I loved it, and I’m so glad I bought it second hand rather than borrowing it as I know it’s one I’ll want to revisit.

 

INTENDING TO READ

Cormack Mc Carthy’s The Road.  Chris has been telling me I should read it for the last hundred (ok, two) years.  I do want to.  I just want to be in the right place mentally before I do, but it’s creeping up the pile in my head.

 

HALF READ

Generation X by Douglas Coupland

I started it about a year (ish) ago and for some reason didn’t get very far (just a few pages) before putting it down andI’ve yet to go back to it.  It’s only a tiny thing, so I’m sure that when I eventually do get round to it, it won’t take me very long to finish.

 

PRETENDING I’VE READ

Aesop’s Fables.  This is on the kids’ bookcase, along with all the other “not picture books, but not adult books” like Matilda, and The Borrowers Omnibus.  I got it as a swap on Read It Swap It but I’ve never read it.  I know what it ‘is’ though, so feel like that almost counts?!

 

SAVING FOR WHEN I HAVE MORE TIME

Homer’s Odyssey.

We also have The Iliad.

homer

Yeah…I’m gonna need more time…A LOT more time 😉

 

WILL NEVER READ

My boyfriend’s David Eddings collection.  I don’t really ‘do’ fantasy so when I scan the bookcase they don’t even really register in my mind to be honest.

 

PURELY FOR SHOW

This is a tricky one so I’ve sort of cheated and picked my boyfriend’s “The Girl Who…” hard-back boxed set collection.  Because they’re the nicest looking books on the bookcase and I have no intention of ever reading them…in that format.  He’s read them on kindle and I’ll do the same, that way I get to find out how great they are (as everyone keeps telling me) without damaging the beautiful shiny hard-back-ness of the actual books themselves 😉

 

Not only was it quite fun, but this exercise also served as a reminder of just how many unread books we have in the house and how I really REALLY need to get on with my Book Jar project! I promise I will…really soon!…

Read what you Love

So as everyone who has ever interacted with me for longer than 10 minutes can probably gather- I read. A lot.

I have always been a complete bookworm, and in fact seem to recall winning an award with that exact title at the age of 8, around about the same time I ran out of books to read at school, literally.
My relationship with reading has gone through peaks- clearly my time at primary school being an example, and troughs- like following the birth of my first child, when to be honest I’d probably be exaggerating if I said I could count on one hand the number of books I finished in his first year.
Finished being the operative word there. I probably actually started, at least twice as many, but for the first time in years, hell, the first time in a lifetime, I found that I could not read. Sure I could recognise the patterns of letters that made up words and still understood the basic concept of grammar, but when you stuck it all together on a page, I found it just didn’t add up. I would start reading a book and get stuck, sometimes on the first page. I’d end up reading the same sentence over and over, still no clearer as to what message it was trying to convey to me seventh time round as I had been the first.
It was a very strange phenomenon and a very frustrating time.
Attempting to read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, a book I’d started in my 35th week of pregnancy and then gone back to when my son was about three months old, was, as it turns out, a really bad idea. I’m always hesitant to criticise when it comes to books. I would never say a book is shit, unless, you know, it’s really shit, but even then- who am I to say? It may not be my cup of tea, but far be it from me to deny it has technical merit or satisfies a void in literature previously unfulfilled.
So, The Historian, for those who haven’t read it, is fairly lengthly (for someone who hasn’t picked up a book in months and is struggling to concentrate anyway) and dry and full of historical references to Eastern Europe. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I was so thirsty after a four month book drought that I drank (read) it anyway, persevering word by word long after my enthusiasm  had diminished. I thought the problem was with me, and that it could be fixed by just finishing one book, and that it should be this book, the book I’d committed to prior to giving birth.
I did eventually finish (although I was pregnant with my second child by that point- no joke!).  No sooner had I finished however, than I wished I hadn’t bothered. The problem may have been me, but forcing myself to read books that didn’t spark my interest was not going to be the solution.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that is one surefire way to bury your love of reading in the ground.
What I really needed to do, to reignite my passion for books was to go back to basics.  Like with any skill left to languish I’d become rusty.
At that time, four months in to my parenting journey, I had only just begun to regain any semblance of “free time”. This usually consisted of the hours between 7pm and 10.30pm, when I could almost guarantee that Toby would sleep soundly in his co-sleeper crib upstairs, leaving me free to do whatever I liked. You know, just so long as it didn’t involve leaving the house, or making any noise, imbibing more than a couple of units of alcohol or entering the bedroom where he slept.  So, like I was saying- I was freeeeee! Sort of.
If you’d asked me what I intended to do with that time when he was a few days old and attached to one of my nipples for twenty hours a day I would have said SLEEP! And, to be perfectly frank, that still should have been my number one choice. But far more than sleep, what I had come to miss was just time. Time to myself. Time with Chris. Time to cherish, time to fritter, having conversations not punctuated by wails or a need to expose my breasts, watching films with gun fire and swear words and nudity without fearing a visit from the nspcc. Eating hot food, using both my hands, and… of course, reading.  I felt not quite whole without a book on the go, but then having The Historian on the go for several months didn’t actually help either. My time felt so precious, I was loathe to spend it on anything that didn’t seem 100% fulfilling. That didn’t necessarily mean it had to meet other people’s criteria for “Meaningful Ways to Spend your Time” but it had to feel good and struggling through yet another chapter of a book I wasn’t in love with, didn’t.
When I finally finished that book I made my first new reading rule: To give up. I’d never ever given up on a book before, so it took some getting used to, but when I tried it, boy was it liberating! To begin reading something and then two or three chapters in decide it wasn’t for me, and move on to something else was a revelation. You might think this new found ruthlessness would have gone to my head and I’d be abandoning books left right and centre but truthfully, I used it quite rarely. Like a “Get out of Jail Free” card, I just cashed it in when I really needed to and it worked.
Another thing that really worked was picking up books that I perhaps wouldn’t have usually. Trying something new. A lot of the time it made me realise why I wouldn’t usually go for that genre, or that author, but other times I was pleasantly surprised and my literary universe widened as a result.
If there’s one thing I hate (there isn’t- there are loads of things I hate), then it’s snobbishness. About anything actually, but especially when it comes to books.
I hate it when people insist they’d never read this or that, or that they simply can’t believe that someone has not read y or z.
I read anything and everything. I read newspapers, magazines, takeaway menus, the back of cereal boxes, children’s picture books, blogs, poetry, erotica, crime fiction, memoirs, books that everyone is talking about, books that no one else seems to have heard of, library books, bargain basket books, prize-winning books, kindle books and yes, books made of actual real paper too, if you can believe it. I am the opposite of a literary snob, I am in fact, a literary slut. I am wide open to suggestions and will try anything once.
Imposing any kind of restriction on myself as I was re-learning how to love reading, would have been a catastrophe. My time for reading was scant and my attention span even more so. My moods fluctuated wildly day to day, so I might have been “in the mood” to read something one day and be more inclined to have my toenails pulled off with pliers the next. Deciding to only read books on certain lists or by a certain calibre of writer would have simply meant I didn’t read at all. And without meaning to sound melodramatic, I think starting to read for pleasure again was pivotal in me moving forward and finding my place in the world as a new mother.
Particularly after the birth of our second child Rudy, when I really struggled to adapt to life as a Mum of two boys under two, and in fact, undoubtedly had PND although I was never officially diagnosed. Two and a half months after his birth, when I was at what was probably one of my lowest points, Chris bought me a Kindle. And although the effects were not instantaneous by any means, it did make reading suddenly a possibility whilst breast feeding (of which I was doing plenty). Previously, needing two free hands to hold a book/turn pages had meant it was impossible, not to mention the rustling of pages distracting/waking the baby (the last thing you want in the middle of a juicy chapter) and of course the perpetual risk of paper cuts to both your hands and the baby’s scalp.
No, now I was free to read whatever I liked whenever I liked and although there were some teething issues, within a week I had gone from skeptical to complete convert.  It’s no exaggeration to say that having a Kindle (although any e-reader would have done the job I’m sure) transformed my reading habits at that time. Or rather, allowed me to return to my old reading habits- of always having a book on the go, of finishing one book and being hungry for the next, of thinking about books, and talking about books with other people.

There has been a lot of sharing of this quote as of late, along with some debate about the message behind it. I propose the word “DO” ought to be replaced by “READ” and then it would be perfect.
When I hear people say they “don’t read” I find it bizarre, and wonder what other life skills they have that are also going to waste. When I hear people say they “don’t enjoy reading” I feel sad for them, because I’ve been there, but I know it can be remedied, if only people would just Read what they love and love what they read then that would be half the battle.

The Challenge Review

So, probably no one remembers…i barely remember myself, but way back at the beginning of the year i set myself three challenges, in a similar vein to new years resolutions but more fun. Or so the theory went.

Challenge One was to try one new recipe each week. This was an epic fail almost from the start. I am not a master chef, or indeed, any kind of chef. I am very interested in eating delicious food, and in theory, making nutritious  food for my family, but i’m just not that great at it, and i find anything i’m not great at extremely frustrating to do. It’s a problem i have.  So i tried, but it didn’t go so well.

Across the entire year, these are the new recipes i tried:

Chocolate and beetroot brownies (Delicious)
Apple cake (Disaster)
Banana and Bran Flake Muffins (Delicious)
Apple and Potato Rostis (There were some texture issues, but otherwise ok)
Innocent Vegetarian Cottage Pie (Rudy loves it, Toby hates it)
Apple and Mustard Sausages with Sweet Potato Mash (Sausages- Delicious, Mash- Disaster)
Chocolate Bran Flake Cakes (Total Disaster)

For those who struggle to count, that’s 7. Seven. Across the entire year, in which i aimed to try 52 new recipes, i tried 7.  I should probably have been more realistic to begin with and aimed for one a month. That way i’d still have failed but less spectacularly.

Moving quickly on to movies. This was remarkably easy, between Love Film, Netflix, downloads, DVDs and Blu-Rays i smashed my target of twelve and watched 26 new films.

Taken
Rum Diary
Anonymous
True Grit
Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
Colombiana
50/50
The Social Network
Bolt
Tyrannosaur
500 Days of Summer
Shrek Forever After
My Sister’s Keeper
Rio
Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows
Cars 2
Tangled
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (The new one)
The Black Swan
Bridesmaids
New Years Eve
Red
Spiderman (the new one)
The Pirates in an adventure with scientists
Sex and the City Movie 2

I can’t be sure i didn’t watch that last one at the end of last year, as it was a birthday present from Chris so there’s a chance it was technically watched in 2011 but i added it on there anyway as i’m pretty sure it was January by the time i got round to watching it.

Finally, books. Historically i am something of  a bookworm, so from that point of view, one new book a  month is barely a challenge at all, however since becoming a parent, in fact since, becoming pregnant with Toby, my rate of reading slowed substantially.  For some reason, that i’m still not clear about, i found it really difficult to choose a book to read, and even harder still to get ‘into’ it when i eventually did. I would find myself having to re-read sentences, and whole pages sometimes because my concentration would falter. I’d put books down part way through and have no inclination to go back to them.  Then once the babies actually arrived, not only did i have that to contend with but actually finding the time to even sit down and read- an activity that requires two empty hands, was almost impossible.  I think i read one book in the entire first year of Toby’s life.

Then, last christmas, Chris offered to buy me a Kindle.  He’d been trying to ‘sell’ them to me for some time but i was opposed to them in theory and remained stubborn.

He asked me- “But which do you love more? Books? Or reading?” “Books!” i insisted, but actually, he had a point.

Reading was one of my most favourite things to do and yet there i was, hardly ever actually doing it, and here was something that could potentially help me to do it more often…i’d be silly not to give it a try, so i did.

I was seriously resistant at first, and even flirted with the idea of sending it back but then Chris put a handful of books on there and within a week i’d read three.  Three books in a week! That was more than i’d read in the previous 6 months. I felt like myself again. I was sold.

Because you can operate the Kindle one-handed, i could suddenly read while breastfeeding, which opened up great swathes of possible reading time, since that’s pretty much all that newborn babies do.  I also found it easier to pick up and put down the kindle in a way that psychologically seems trickier with an actual book. Also i was able to be more liberal about giving new books and new authors a go as most of the kindle books i bought were between 99p and £1.99 and in fact some were free.

So, armed with my kindle, and shelves of unread books in the house, reading one new one a month this year was never going to be a massive challenge.  It was more a prompt to myself to try new ones rather than revisiting old favourites over and over.

Here’s what i read:

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens

A Classical Education: The Stuff You Wish You’d Been Taught at School by Caroline Taggart

Introducing Child Psychology: A Practical Guide by Kairen Cullen

Murderous Manchester by John J Eddleston

Night Waking by Sarah Moss

Parenting Under 5’s (Infinite Ideas)

Rupture by Simon Lelic

Trades of the Flesh by Faye L Booth

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James

Fifty Shades Darker by E L James

Fifty Shades Freed by E L James

Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in The Throat by Jen of The PIWTPITT Blog

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee by Sarah Silverman

What Mothers Do by Naomi Stadlen

Nighttime Parenting by William Sears

Passing for Normal by Amy Wilensky

The Night of The Gun by David Carr

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plus two books on potty training (!) a handful of parenting magazines and several new children’s books.

All in all i think i’ve done quite well. The recipe thing was never really going to work so although i do feel bad about my poor effort, i also don’t (if that makes sense?!)

Next year i’m going more traditional with my “Resolutions” but that’s a whole separate post in itself, so more about that later 😉