Half a year of reading – highlights

Hello! Sorry for the long break in posting; things have been pretty crazy in real life recently, and I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write. That’s also why I haven’t put any pictures here (far too lazy)…sorry, bad blogging etiquette, I know.

Anyway, apart from the Yarn Along, I haven’t been sharing much about what I’ve been reading this year. I’m putting this down to lack of energy – all this year, my energy seems to have been put into thinking rather than doing for some reason. Perhaps it’s because it’s been such an overwhelmingly negative year, not necessarily for my personal life, but in the world overall? Hm, there’s a thought! Anyway, I have been reading even if I haven’t been blogging about it. It’s about time to share a few, though, so here are my favourite books so far. I’d recommend all of them, so if the summaries/reviews below make the book sound like your kind of thing, I’d encourage you to borrow a copy from your local library.

Plague of Doves Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s been publishing since the 80s, but somehow I failed to read her until this year. Plague of Doves is set in a small town (and the nearby reservation) in North Dakota, and revolves around the lasting effects of a murder that happened decades before the novel is set. It has three narrators, and this is what I particularly loved about the book. Balancing 3 perspectives is hard, and Erdrich totally mastered it. The connections are clear, but still leave you wanting to know more. The narrators are all quite different, too, so some of the relationships are unexpected. I also felt I learned about Ojibwe culture. I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so interested in seeing how the story would unfold. I will definitely be reading more Erdrich in the future.

The House that Groaned , Karrie Fransman

I do love a good graphic novel. I veer towards autobiographical titles. Though I love a good superhero movie, I am not one for traditional comics as I am apparently too flaky to stick with series. The House that Groaned contains the stories of each of the current tenants in a Victorian house. It’s all about the things that affect us as children, how they reveal themselves through our interests/personalities/habits as adults, and how they manifest themselves in our relationships. Complete with thoughts about weight, gender, and disability, it’s a thought-provoking graphic novel, even if, for me, it didn’t address them all at a level I agreed with.

The Crane Wife , Patrick Ness

The Crane Wife by The Decemberists is one of my favourite albums, and people have been recommending Patrick Ness to me for years, so I was very pleased when I spotted this book in the library. Of course there’s no real connection between the album & the novel though both are inspired by the same folk tale & Ness does acknowledge The Decemberists in an afterword. The story is about George Duncan, an average man whose life changes when a woman mysteriously shows up in his copy shop. Ness’s storytelling is simple and elegant, and the characters are whimsical and heartbreaking. I would read this again, and will be picking up more Ness as well.

Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England , Ian Mortimer

I enjoy reading non-fiction, too, and the Elizabethan era is one of my favorite time periods. The Time Traveller’s Guide is engaging as well as clear and accurate (according to my limited previous knowledge of the era). Eventually I hope to get around to reading Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England as well.

Embassytown . China Mieville

Embassytown is an ode to the power of language. If you’ve ever felt the urge to explain to someone that, yes, the words and inflections and syntax you use are significant, you may want to recommend they read Embassytown. It is a proper science fiction book, set in a distant future where humans have set up a city (Embassytown) on a distant planet. The native inhabitants are the Arikei, who cannot communicate with most humans as their language is so different; they cannot lie & therefore cannot even make metaphors/similes. Therefore, ambassadors have an honored role, and occasionally people are called upon to act out metaphors so the Arikei can understand. While I did find the plot convincing & interesting (a citizen of Embassytown has returned after living away for a long time; things go a little crazy when she returns), for me it was very much secondary. Mieville isn’t for everyone, but I love his attention to detail and ability to create totally distinct worlds. Well worth reading if you like sci fi like me.

Americanah , Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I loved this book, and it’s one I definitely hope to reread. There’s a lot to take in, with the themes of (lost) love, race, immigration, and what it means to be successful. It’s a very good take on coming to terms with living in a different country, and what that means for your identity, as well as how race is perceived differently in different places. I know I’m being vague, but that’s because I am one of those weird people who likes to start reading books without knowing much about plot details. Do check out the synopsis & reviews on Goodreads if you want to know more. But I can confidently say I recommend it without hesitation to anyone who has the least interest in learning about how cultures are perceived by immigrants. While it’s obviously specifically about America, it also alludes to the experience of immigrating to England. I think the one surprise for me about this book was its ending – for me, it wasn’t a feminist ending (though I think there is an argument that some people would interpret it that way).

Brooklyn , Colm Toibin

Set in 1950s Ireland and New York, Brooklyn is the story of young Eilis, who moves to New York to help support her family in Ireland. I think I’ve mentioned before that I love coming of age stories, and this is a really good one. Several of my favorite novels are set in early 1950s Brooklyn, so it’s no surprise I like the setting as well. Toibin is an excellent writer, and the characters are well-rounded and believable. It’s not a 5-star book, but it is overall a very convincing narrative of a young woman trying to balance her new identity with a real sense of family obligation.

Temeraire , Naomi Novik

Most of the books I’ve mentioned so far have been pretty serious, so it’s nice that I can recommend a properly fun one. Temeraire is set in an alternative 19th century where Britain is still fighting Napoleon – using dragons! The book tells the story of a Navy captain who is suddenly put in charge of an exceptional dragon and their ensuing battles & adventures. Definitely recommended if you like dragons & good writing. I have since read others in the series, and to be honest they’re not quite as good as the first one, but still enjoyable reading.

Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015

I don’t read many books of short stories, but I loved this one. There is a huge range here, from funny to creepy to just bizarre. They really are the best of the best. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars, though, purely because there were two introductions and neither of them were very good. Skip them & go right for the body of work.

If you’re interested in seeing what else I’ve read/am reading more regularly, do come find me on Goodreads.

 

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2 thoughts on “Half a year of reading – highlights

  1. Americana has been on my to-read list for ages, I need to find a copy! The graphic novel sounds interesting, too. I too prefer graphic memoir-type stuff to comic book action. I just finished Lucy Knisley’s new graphic memoir about her marriage and loved it.

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    • I saw that book in The Graphic Novel Shop & nearly bought it myself. I’ll have to find a copy. And you should definitely bump Americanah up on your reading list; I think you’ll love it.

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