I’ve managed to read 43 books this year. I’ll probably manage at least one more before the year’s out. I didn’t finish my reading challenge, but I would still call it a good year for books. Here are my personal highlights. Think of this like my personal awards ceremony for books.
Books that I read for my degree
Nobody has any excuse not to read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. It’s a short and relatively easy read, but is beautifully written, and fascinating in the way it unfolds. If your excuse for not reading it is ‘I’ve never read Mrs Dalloway’, that really doesn’t matter either. The plot (or lack thereof) is interesting without necessarily needing to be bolstered by the Woolf references.
I was not expecting to enjoy South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It was a set text on a 1930s literature module that I did not want to be enrolled on in the first place. I took a copy out from the library and it was huge, and it was falling apart, and it smelt boring and dusty. I opened it to read it and half of the pages fell out. I stuck them back in and then returned it to the library because I didn’t want to destroy this ancient artefact, and put it all to the back of my mind. When I saw the BBC adaptation being advertised, I knew I was going to have to read the book before I watched it, so I went and bought a brand new copy that smelt like Waterstones and stayed in one piece. Much to my surprise, I loved it! As much of a cliché as this sounds, I actually laughed and cried through most of this book. Books barely ever make me laugh out loud – I might smirk, or think ‘oh that’s quite funny’ – but something about Holtby’s writing had me cackling to myself in my bedroom. The novel deals with extreme hardship and tragedy in a way that is thought-provoking but never disheartening or depressing.
The Accidental by Ali Smith is one of those rare books that was immeasurably improved in my estimations by studying it, analysing it, and then writing a 2500 word essay about it. When I first read it, I thought it was quite enjoyable, but my main thought was that it would be good to write an essay on. So I did, and found that the more I delved into it, the more I loved it. The way that Ali Smith manipulates and shapes the language is just fantastic. While writing the essay it was sometimes all I could do to prevent myself from just copying out a line from the book and writing ‘JUST LOOK AT THIS! JUST LOOK!’ My favourite example of Smith, and her characters, playing with language is when Astrid is forbidden from talking about Amber, and starts reciting the colours of the traffic lights in order to say it, and then when she is busted for doing this, starts saying ‘amb’ instead of ‘am’. I find this so funny and unusual and fun and silly and sad and interesting!
Books that I couldn’t put down
I’m sure everyone knows all about One Day, and how much everyone loved it, and how much I loved it. I read it at a really crucial time, shortly after graduating and moving home, when the reality of the post-student life was just settling in. At first it made me want to lie down on the floor and cry and give up and not bother, but as I kept reading, it made me realise that things can be shit, and they can also be good, and things can get better, and they can also get worse. It scared the living daylights out of me, but in a good way.
Books that I read on holiday
The four books I read on holiday were Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, and The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway. I discussed them in this post.
Books that were a disappointment
There was nothing wrong with When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman, and in fact I really enjoyed it, but there was just something missing. It did not live up to its own hype and left me thinking ‘what was the point of that?’ Too many things were left unexplained, and it seemed to me as though the author was piling tragedy upon tragedy just to create some feeling of drama and excitement.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is very well written. That may be as far as I can go with good things to say about it. The narrator is a very unlikeable character, and as much as I appreciate the skill that went into creating this character, this did not make me like the book.
I felt quite personally let down by Smashed by Koren Zailckas. I thought it was going to offer me a new perspective on young women and their drinking/partying habits. I thought it was going to rewrite the cultural narrative of girls only getting drunk to prove something, to cope with something, and never because they are human beings with a mind of their own who may sometimes choose to drink because they enjoy it. It went some way to discussing these ideas, but always fell short. Although I in no way want to belittle her experiences and how she is affected by them, it seemed to me that Zailckas takes herself too seriously, is very preachy, and believes that what goes on inside her mind is the same thing that goes on in the mind of every other woman who likes a drink. I did like some of the things she had to say about how girls having fun are viewed by society and by the male gaze, however.
What has your year in books been like?
Are you going to set yourself any reading challenges in 2012? I’m considering making myself read one book from my never-ending pile of charity shop books every time I buy a new one. Kind of like a one in, one out policy!