Books!

You know, my day doesn’t seem compete if I haven’t read something. More precisely, haven’t read something from a book. A favourite type of weekend, when I worked full time, was to curl up in my comfy red chair and read for the two days. Sometimes I would finish a couple of books. I would often feel the pull of my art things, but it was so comforting to escape into a world that someone had conjured for me. I still read widely and prolifically.

I love lists and record keeping, so no surprise to know that I keep a list of books I read, alphabetically by author. In early January each year I count up the tally from the previous year, and consider what my favourites were.

So, for 2018…..I read 82 books. Not as many as 2017 (89) but more than 2016 (77).

My favourite for last year?

Adrian Walker: The last dog on Earth. It’s set in a dystopian future, which I often find very disturbing. However it was recommended by my good buddy, Janis, and she has great taste in books. I am so pleased I did. It has a humanity about it, which is often missing from novels like this. And it’s worth reading for the character of the dog, who narrates every second chapter. He is a foul mouthed wonder!

Other great reads (The links will take you to much more satisfying reviews than I am going to give you!):

Diane Ackerman: The Zookeeper’s Wife. A true story, a biography of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Christian zookeepers in Warsaw during WW2. Another period that I try hard not to read, but find myself drawn to. I love Ackerman’s writing, and again I am glad I read it, to discover the courage of the people of Warsaw, both Jews and Gentiles. The zoo was used as a refuge and a pipeline for escaping Jews. I was fascinated to read about how the Jews who lived outside the ghetto had to learn how to be Christian. Not knowing simple greetings or to cross yourself when you went past a church could lead to denouncement. There was a support network established, and the zoo was a key part in it.

Elizabeth Gilbert: The signature of all things. I was almost put off this too. Not because of the period, but because of the author. I enjoyed “Eat, Pray, Love” but thought that this one would be in a similar style. Instead it had things I love…an intelligent woman at its centre who found her own ways to live her life, botany, evolution, the role of women in science, and Alfred Russell Wallace!

Sophie Laguna: The Choke. Another not for the faint hearted, but beautifully written. This, from the review linked to above,  sums it up well

The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can’t be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

And a very different read……Peter Godfrey Smith “Other minds: The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life”. Yep, fascinating research into octopus intelligence. Godfrey Smith says this in his introduction:

Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lieu so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour. if we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings it is not because of shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.

His italics, my bolding. He makes a fascinating case for octopus and, to a lesser extent cuttlefish, being another line in the evolution of intelligence.

2019 is off to a flying start. I have already read books that have delighted me.

Mohsin Hamid: “Exit West”. Another distopian future, but this time Hamid gives us solutions that celebrate our humanity and connection.

Bill Hayes: “Insomniac city: New York, Oliver and me” A beautifully written tribute to his lover Oliver Sacks. But it is as much a love story to New York too, and the wonderful, quirky people Hayes meets in his wanderings. This may end up as my favourite for the year.

Olivia Laing: “The trip to Echo Spring”. Laing has made an art form of musing in print, and she does this beautifully as she muses on the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemmingway, John Cheever and John Berryman, looking at the impact that their alcoholism had on their lives and writing. The Guardian article in the link above rightly says the book is “part literary criticism, part biography, part travelogue, part memoir”. Another book to read for the insights and the beautiful writing.

Min Jin Lee: “Pachinko”. A family saga. Intriguingly the family is Korean, who migrate to Japan in the 1930s. It is a fascinating look into life for Koreans who live in Japan, because they are never allowed to assimilate into Japanese life. ‘Zainichi’, the term for Japanese Koreans, means ‘foreign resident staying in Japan’. Min Jin Lee refers to Japan as “a beloved stepmother who refuses to love you”. The women are strong and determined to support their families. Woven through are issues of shame and honour, fate and suffering. Which makes it sound very gloomy. It’s not, but it is an eyeopener.

So, I hope you can find something there that you might like to read. What suggestions would you make for me?

22 thoughts on “Books!

  1. I thought the first two sounded particularly interesting. I got really tired of the fashion for calling books “the-someone-or-other’s-wife” and would have passed over the “zoo keeper’s wife”, which actually sound interesting.

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  2. An interesting mixture of books, Anne! I started reading The Signature of All Things and got halfway through it and finally gave up. It just didn’t grab me. My favourite of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books is Big Magic. One of the more unusual books I’ve read recently, maybe ever, was The Trauma Cleaner. Wow. It was fascinating, disgusting, and heart wrenching all rolled into one. Thank you for sharing your list.

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    1. That made me smile, because I started ‘Big Magic’ and couldn’t finish it! We read ‘The Trauma Cleaner’ for Book Club, and it generated a great discussion. What an amazing life she lead.

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      1. I didn’t make it through Big Magic either. I’m also one of the few people that tired of Eat, Pray, Love. I made it through about a third of the book and then lost interest. I *loved* The Zookeeper’s Wife, the found it a painful read as well. Like you, I’m saddened by dark, dystopian novels. Our book club finally put a moratorium on reading WWII books, but not before reading The Book Thief, one of my favorites. I admire your impressive reading “schedule” Anne.

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  3. I have a few authors I discovered when I bought myself a Kobo – one of the downsides of creating such a generously sized studio was the resulting lack of space for keeping books – now I get most electronically and buy hard copies only if I know I’m going to re-read, or get them signed by the author. So, I have some suggestions for you. Literary (but properly readable!) fiction, from a wonderful storyteller – Jane Davis. My all time favourite novel is one of her’s – Unknown Woman. Her most recent (smash all the windows) is currently nominated or a prize and as a result she’s got it on special. All her books bring out the emotions, and are incredibly convincing.
    DVBerkom writes two series – the Leine Basso are about an ex-assassin who is just the kind of woman I would like to be / spend time with; writing wrongs but doing so in a fully rounded way. Often edge of your seat reading.
    JJMarsh’s Beatrice Stubbs series is international sleuthing with a twist. Beatrice is a complex, believeable character (as are all the others in the series) . Someone described these as a modern day Miss Marple, which is a bit of a lazy analogy, but I get why.
    ACFlory has written a few fantasy / scifi /dystopian novellas , short stories and a saga (the first of which Miira is free) that introduced me to a whole new genre that I’d previously found to be impenetrable . The Innerscape series (Miira starts this) really reminded me of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
    Do give one off them a go, and let me know what you think. x

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    1. Thank you thank you! All your suggestions sound right up my alley. I am so pleased you put Meeks’ books there (ACFlory). I have read bits and pieces of her work, and love what I have read. Unfortunately I am the opposite of you ~ I rarely read anything electronically. I borrow most of what I read from my local library. That makes me quite lazy when it comes to friend’s ebooks, and I have a few of them through the blog. I need to change that and support them.

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      1. I can borrow lots of ebooks thru the library too. I didn’t think I’d take to an ereader at all, but it has lots of bonuses over traditional, but it doesn’t beat proper books really (as you’d expect me to say, given I trained as a bookbinder /conservator!!)

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  4. What variety in your reading! And I think it’s great that you keep track. My husband does, too, but I haven’t gotten in the habit . . . If you like mysteries, I really liked the debut novel by Jordan Harper, She Rides Shotgun.

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  5. Once upon a time I would inhale books… now there seems so many other things to do, so many distractions. But I’m doing what I can. I read The Zookeeeper’s Wife and loved it. I read The Signature of All Things… it wasn’t my thing. I use Goodreads to keep a list of Want to Read – I’ve added The Last Dog on Earth, and to record what I’ve read with brief reviews. In the city I belonged to a book club hosted by my work place…some books we read that your book club might enjoy were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn, Vera: My Story by Vera Wasawski. Probably the book that has made the most impact on me recently was one I found in a caravan park laundry while we were travelling… The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

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  6. Maybe now you have a life that totally satisfies you, and you don’t need the escapism of books…maybe? Oh yes to ‘Henrietta Lacks’! What an indictment on our society! It was another Book Club book that I probably wouldn’t have read. Did you find ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ to be an eye opener too? It disabused me of my stereotype of anti-semitic Poles. Thanks for your suggestions. I will add them to my list.

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  7. I quite fancy your first suggestion – ‘The Last Dog on Earth’ – can’t think why?
    Funnily enough, as your last book is about a Korean family who migrated to Japan, I am reading one about repatriating Koreans back to Japan in the 1960s under the pretext of offering them a better life. It didn’t! The book is called ‘A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea’. It’s certainly not written in any sort of ‘literary’ style but if you can overlook that it’s certainly an eye opener and might be an interesting counterpoint to ‘Pachinko’.

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    1. Thanks for that recommendation. it sounds interesting, although rather harrowing I would think. The dog in ‘The last dog on Earth’ is a wonderful character, but I am sure your dogs are much better behaved, although equally loyal!

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  8. Nice selection! I’d add, “The Saffron Kitchen” by Yasmin Crowther. A unique and lyrical prose approach to novelizing the life of a female Iranian exile/immigrant; what was left behind and then uncovered after decades of living in assimilation in the sanctuary city of London.
    Enjoy your mounds of books to conquer before winter’s end!

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