Although studying pressures and deadlines have resulted in a very quiet year so far for Looky Booky, the reading continues unabated and full steam ahead! You’d think a girl would want to get away from the written word when she wasn’t studying, but it seems my social life has been neglected more than my bookshelf (sorry people friends!). Having hit the 50-odd mark recently in terms of books read, and because I finally get a breather from all the assignment deadlines, I thought it would be a good time to recap my thoughts on what I’ve read this year. To save you all from a completely random rambling through my often confusing book-brain, I’ve tried to organise my thoughts under various themes.
I always find I prefer to get the bad news out of the way first, so the most overrated book from 2019 so far has to be The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma. This was an audiobook listen for me, and while I often find that this kind of book lends itself well to the audio format, the narrator and the different voices he assumed for the characters really grated on me. There were a few nuggets of information, and the author occasionally came up with turns of phrase that stuck, such as not being defeated by weapons of mass distraction, but overall I felt like he had just collated thoughts and ideas from a bunch of other thinkers and repackaged them without any depth or new perspectives.
The second disappointment this year was Muriel Barbery’s Lives of Elves. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a favourite of mine, and I love the way Muriel Barbery writes. While this book displayed some of that same, wonderful prose, the story felt very fragmented and incoherent. It was a book that was under 300 pages, but it felt much, much longer by virtue of how slowly the story went…and there is apparently a part 2. Yikes.
Speaking of slow, I know that Marcel Proust is often cited as inspiration for a lot of authors, so I decided to try Swann’s Way, first in his seven (yes, SEVEN) part In Search of Lost Time series. The prose is definitely stunning, but I found this one incredibly difficult to get through. I’ll probably leave the rest for when my mind is not distracted by studying, and in need of a challenge. Definitely not reading for fun material.
New Books from Favourite Authors
When authors wow you with their first books, you often approach later releases with a mixture of excitement and trepidation – you just don’t want to be disappointed. Laini Taylor wove magic with her words and created a wonderful world filled with fantastical, and sometimes scary, creatures. Her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy completely ensnared me, and it was a world I was in no hurry to leave…until she trumped that trilogy with Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares.
Kristin Hannah first got me hooked into her emotional and compelling storytelling with Night Road, and then The Nightingale, which I also enjoyed but somehow loved less than Night Road. In The Great Alone, she creates another compelling story set in Alaska, a place I have always wanted to visit, and now even more so.
Circe by Madeline Miller has to be one of my favourite books from this year. As expected with Greek myths, violence, gore, rape, abuse, and sacrifice abound, but ultimately this is a story about finding and learning to love yourself, and Circe’s story resonated with me much more than Miller’s previous work The Song of Achilles.
For fans of dark humour, Calypso has to be one of my new favourites from David Sedaris. There are few authors out there who can weave magic from the mundane, and Sedaris is definitely one of them.
An aside…I’ve recently unearthed this appreciation for authors who write about the ordinary in such a way as to make it extraordinary. Willy Vlautin does the same thing with The Free, as does Colm Tóibín in Brooklyn.
My Favourites in Audiobooks
The Little Prince has to be one of my favourite tales, and a book I come back to at least once a year. I decided to give listening to it a try this time round, and it did not disappoint! Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability was another wonderful listen – her work is so powerful, and she has this amazing sense of humour that makes a difficult topic easier to understand and relate to. Finally, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day was brought to life by Dominic West, who has a voice made for audiobooks (5AM Club narrator take note please)! Speaking of voices made for audiobooks – Kenneth Branagh narrates Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad…this is another one of those books that I revisit every few years, so I decided to give the audiobook a try. With each re-reading, I always seem to uncover a new insight or a different emotion, and listening to it being narrated brought the story to life in an even deeper way.
I always feel like recommendations, especially when they come from friends, are like a double-edged sword. If you hate it, and you’re a fussy reader, and you’re also not tactful…well, that’s kind of like a recipe for disaster wouldn’t you say? Thankfully, they also sometimes result in you striking gold, and with Sally Rooney and James Baldwin, that is exactly what happened.
Sally Rooney’s Normal People seems to be one of those divisive novels that people love or hate, but thankfully I don’t usually pay attention to reviews before reading a book. Normal People may be described by some as a love story, but it is so much more than that. It is a book about being human, about how you never fully know or understand what’s going on in others’ heads, and about how individual perceptions and miscommunication affect relationships. The premise of the story itself was simple, but the writing and characterisation make this book one of my favourites from the year so far.
If I had to pick one book as my standout favourite from 2019, it would have to be If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. This book left me reeling, in every sense of the word. It was the book that I couldn’t put down, the one I was recommending to friends even before I finished…the one book I’ve reviewed this year! I’m not going to gush more here – that’s what this review is for.
Alan Turing and his work in cracking the Enigma code during the Second World War have always fascinated me. I read the biography a while ago, and am a big fan of The Imitation Game (and Benedict Cumberbatch) which was based on the biography. So when I heard that Murmur by Will Eaves, the winner of the 2019 Wellcome Prize, was a fictionalised account of what happened to Turing after his arrest and legally enforced chemical castration, it jumped straight to the top of my mile-high TBR pile. This novel was short, but it packed an emotional punch. The story, which could be considered a tribute to Turing’s life and his work and a meditation on consciousness, unfolds through a series of letters, short essays and journal entries. It was a difficult read, but one which left me feeling oddly empty once I’d finished it.
Finally, with all the heavy psychology reading, sometimes the mind just needs a break, and Helen Hoang definitely provided that with The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, both light, frothy, and fun reads. As much as I loved Michael and Stella’s story in Kiss Quotient, Khai is my new crush…I mean, the man takes books to family weddings so he won’t get bored – something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s difficult to fit a paperback into a teeny tiny handbag.