Thoughts: My book buying habits are different to my reading habits.

I rearranged my physical TBR shelf today. It felt more like an extended play of tetris than anything else to be fair because I own so so many unread books currently and I do want to keep the books I have read separated from the books I still need to read and I don’t want to give up more shelves than absolutely necessary for unread books. I have talked about my thoughts on owning books before but I still have some more thoughts today.

I have now arranged my unread books according to genres and I realized something: I own way too many unread fiction and literary fiction books when taking into account what I actually read. Looking back at what I read this year this becomes painfully obvious:

I read 71 books so far; of these books 29 books can be vaguely classified as speculative fiction or fantasy (and I am lumping together everything here that is not set in our current world or is set in the future), 19 books are nonfiction, nine were short stories, and only 10 were fiction, literary fiction, or thrillers. But around half of my unread books are fiction. And these are all books I really want to read! (Except for Days Without End; I am not seeing myself reading that one ever. I read a few pages and there is no way I will ever get through that book but so far I cannot get myself to do something about that book on my shelves. But that is another story.) But still, even though I want to read those books I somehow never reach for them.

Oh, also, all except for one of the fiction books I have read this year were NetGalley arcs. That means I have read not a single one of the books on my shelves in this genre this year. (The book I read that I bought myself is There There by Tommy Orange [which you should absolutely rush to read] and that one I pre-ordered and immediately read upon arrival.)

So, what does that mean going forward? I am currently trying to only buy a book once I have read one book of the same genre off my shelves. Let’s see how that goes. I am also not going to buy any fiction novels for the rest of the year. Because I have SUCH great books already.

Here’s a sneak peak of the brilliant books I own but haven’t read:

Have you read any of these books? I think these are all books I would love, so do tell me which I should prioritize.

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Review: There There by Tommy Orange

36356614Verdict: Stunning.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Vintage/ Harvill Secker, July 5th 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame in Oakland. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work the powwow and to honor his uncle’s memory. Edwin Black has come to find his true father. Thomas Frank has come to drum the Grand Entry. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather; Orvil has taught himself Indian dance through YouTube videos, and he has come to the Big Oakland Powwow to dance in public for the very first time. Tony Loneman is a young Native American boy whose future seems destined to be as bleak as his past, and he has come to the Powwow with darker intentions—intentions that will destroy the lives of everyone in his path.

Fierce, angry, funny, groundbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. There There is a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut.

This debut is absolutely 100% incredible. Marlon James called it a thunderclap and I have to agree. This might be my favourite read of the year so far. And as is often the case when I adore a book this much, writing a review does not come particularly easy because I want to do it justice without just reverting to hyperboles.

This book is told from 12 widely different perspectives that converge on the Big Oakland Powwow, and also includes some non-fiction parts in between. It is impeccably structured in a way that was both entertaining and heartbreaking and also very clever. I happen to really adore short stories that connect to a greater whole – and the first occurence of each person could stand on its own in a way that I found highly impressive.

The voices are distinct and different, in tone and narrative choice, in the way their language flows and in the metaphors they use – I found the way Tommy Orange juggles these different styles impressive without being just that. Sometimes, when a book is this accomplished it feels very dry and intellectual, but this one was also very raw and honest and also angry in a way that really worked for me. Tommy Orange shows a great tenderness for his characters in all their flaws (and there are plenty).

The book is funny and sad and poignant and just so so so well done. I do not have the words except to urge you to read it. I will be reading anything Tommy Orange decides to write next.

Review: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

356108231Verdict: Ambitious, sprawling, infuriating, slightly uneven.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Random House UK/ Vintage (Jonathan Cape), June 7th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.

Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner details with humour and precision. Daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike. Allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks, and stories shared through sewage pipes.

Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny and culminating in a climax of almost unbearable intensity. Through Romy – and through a cast of astonishing characters populating The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.

Rachel Kushner has written a book that is very obviously close to her heart and the result of a whole lot of research. I found her personal stance to be understandable and un-deniable but she did not sacrifice her writing or her plot to make her point.

The anchor of this sprawling story of women in prison is Romy Hall, sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the killing of her stalker. The book starts heart-wrenchingly with her being driven to the prison where she will be spending the rest of her life. This early scene hooked me completely and made me not only sympathetic to Romy’s story but also highly invested. Her story is told in unchronological flashbacks while we follow her first few years in prison. Additionally Kushner writes a series of vignettes of the other inmates’ stories as well as adding a few outside perspectives. These vignettes work well in humanizing the inmates (if that is at all necessary). In all these stories, Kushner emphasises the role a lack of agency resulting from less than ideal circumstances had in the way people’s lives turns out.

While I often found that these multiple perspectives worked really well, I found Doc’s character superfluous and quite grating to be spending time with. While I can absolutely see the point to the other perspectives, with his I could not get on board. I thought it did not add anything substantial to the overall work and it did distract from other, more interesting characters. My gut reaction upon finishing this book had been that I wished Kushner had concentrated on the female perspectives, on reflection I can actually see the way these male perspectives mirrored the female experiences and went a long way in deepening my understanding of just how stacked against those women the system is. Even the people mostly sympathetic to the women’s causes (such as Gordon) never really saw the women as people in their own rights, with worth not related to how much the men liked them.

This is a super ambitious book that overall impressed me immensely even if I wasn’t always quite in love with it – there were a couple of decisions made towards the end that did not quite work for me. But I guess I do prefer a book to aim to high and fail a little to one that doesn’t challenge me at all. I found it ultimately heart-breaking and infuriating – the way these women are treated made me angry to no end and Rachel Kushner’s impressive attention to detail worked in making this book feel lived in. It absolutely deserves its place on the Man Booker longlist but I would not be dissappointed if it didn’t make the shortlist.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House UK/ Vintage (Jonathan Cape) in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

40206019Verdict: Uneven.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays, Memoir(ish)

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 9th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In Can You Tolerate This? – the title comes from the question chiropractors ask to test a patient’s pain threshold – Ashleigh Young ushers us into her early years in the faraway yet familiar landscape of New Zealand: fantasising about Paul McCartney, cheering on her older brother’s fledgling music career, and yearning for a larger and more creative life.

As Young’s perspective expands, a series of historical portraits – a boy with a rare skeletal disease, a French postman who built a stone fortress by hand, a generation of Japanese shut-ins – strike unexpected personal harmonies, as an unselfconscious childhood gives way to painful shyness in adolescence. As we watch Young fall in and out of love, undertake intense physical exercise that masks something deeper, and gradually find herself through her writing, a highly particular psyche comes into view: curious, tender and exacting in her observations of herself and the world around her.

How to bear each moment of experience: the inconsequential as much as the shattering?

In this spirited and singular collection of essays, Ashleigh Young attempts to find some measure of clarity amidst the uncertainty, exploring the uneasy tensions – between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation – that define our lives.

This was… highly uneven. I thought the second half worked a lot better than the first (there were some really amazing essays there) but if I hadn’t had a review copy of this, I don’t think I would have even gotten that far. The first third of the book was particularly difficult to get into.

Ashleigh Young wrote essays on a variety of topics, often semi auto-biographical in nature but always considering other perspectives as well and in theory I should have adored this. There is a fairly long essay early on in this collection (Big Red) dealing with her relationship with her brothers that seems custom-made for me (I do love sibling relationships) but made me nearly give up the book. I found it unfocused and to be honest, pretty badly written in a vague way.

I did, however, really enjoy her essay on working in Katherine Mansfield’s birth house which signaled a shift in quality for me. After that her essays become both more experimental and more assured in tone. Her essay on her eating disorder was the high point for me. I adored how she structured it and the vulnerability and strength she showed.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

This Is My Genre Tag

I was tagged by Rachel for this wonderful tag and even though her favourite genre is one I struggle with (historical fiction), her reviews are always my favourite, so you should all go and check her blog out.

What is your favourite genre?

This is not quite as easy for me to answer as it used to be but it’s definitely fantasy in all its subgenres. I used to read A LOT more fantasy than I do now but it is the one genre I could not live without.

Runner-ups were memoirs and short stories (which, you know, is not really a genre), and I also read a lot of general fiction and literary fiction.

Who is your favourite author from that genre?

This is such a difficult question… But I think I am going with N. K. Jemisin because her writing excites me to no end. I have not quite read all her backlist (I have not yet read her Dreamblood duology) but that is only because I am pacing myself. N. K. Jemisin is on top of her game and for me the most exciting writer today (not just in fantasy but in general actually). I cannot wait for her collection of shorter works coming out later this year and then for everything else she might ever decide to write.

What is it about the genre that keeps pulling you back?

Fantasy, when done right, can be escapist fun while also being so much more. It is super varied, so depending on my mood I can read something slow and whimsical or something fast-paced and heart pounding.

Fantasy can be hard-hitting in a way that is still fun to read – sometimes I need a little escapism in my reading while still being mentally stimulated and fantasy does that for me.

What is the book that started your love for that genre?

I don’t actually remember as I have been reading fantasy since I was a child. And yes, I loved Harry Potter when I was younger but those books occupy a different space than other fantasy books in my mind. I think the first “proper” fantasy book I read and remember was Märchenmond by Wolfgang & Heike Hohlbein (Magic Moon in English apparently). I also needed to read Lord of the Rings after watching the first movie because I could not wait a whole year before knowing what’ll happen next. So, those two probably.

PS: I got the Folio Society edition of Lord of the Rings for Christmas last year and that is THE most beautiful thing I own.

If you had to recommend at least one book from your favourite genre to a non-reader/someone looking to start reading that genre, what book would you choose and why?

I am stealing Rachel’s idea and recommending books based on other genres. Because I could not narrow it down to one book.

25452717If you like mystery novels, you should read Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Divine Cities trilogy. The first book in particular is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world and it was just a wonder to read and more people should pick it up.

If you like fairy tales or historical fiction I would wholeheartedly 33797941recommend Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Set in the north of Russia with its seemingly never-ending winter, this book is evocative and creative, the spins she puts on familiar fairy tales while adding something original is just something I really adore in fantasy. The fantasy elements are also not too much in your face, which might help people who are not the biggest fans of super technical worldbuilding.

If you are into classics, then Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke might 14201be right up your alley – the book is written in a snarky Austen style, complete with footnotes and non-sequitors, and I found it so very brilliant and clever.

27313170If you like more experimental fiction you should pick up All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders which combines the best of Sci-Fi and Fantasy to something wholly original.

If you are looking for something political and sociological you really should pick up N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy – to be fair, I do think you should pick those up anyways, because Jemisin is a genius and her work is the best there is (for me at least).

Why do you read?

Because I don’t know how not to.

I am tagging KaleenaNadine and Ashleigh and everybody else who wants to do this! (Please let me know if you decide to do this tag because I want to read everyone’s answers!).

 

Review: Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

33540347Verdict: Simply stunning.

My rating: 5 put of 5 stars

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Published by Image Comics, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko.

In this second volume of Monstress, collecting issues 7-12, Maika’s quest takes her to the pirate-controlled city of Thyria and across the sea to the mysterious Isle of Bones. It is a journey that will force Maika to reevaluate her past, present, and future, and contemplate whether there’s anyone, or anything, she can truly trust–including her own body.

This is, simply put, absolutely stunning story-telling, on all possible levels. There is a reason why Marjorie Liu won the Eisner Award this year (as the first woman, I might add incredulously in the year 2018).

Picking up after the events of the last volume and not losing even the slightest bit of steam, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda build on their already impressive worldbuilding, adding new cultures and more depth to this world that already feels much bigger than what we have seen so far. And also kickass female pirates.

The storytelling is layered and complicated – the world here is ravaged by ages of war and prejudice and hate against each other, with no race being wholly innocent in the matter. The authors do not shy away from gruesome pictures and elements of war in a way that never feels gratuitous. This complicated tapestry of people is exemplified in our main characters, Maika is difficult to like but easy to root for, her companions equally complicated with motivations that not always point in the same direction.

But nothing of the above points would work as well as it does without Sana Takeda’s absolutely brilliant art. It is intricate and sweeping and oh so very beautiful. I don’t know if I have ever read a graphic novel that was quite as visually stunning (maybe Sandman, maybe not even that). If you have any interest in feminist, complicated, dark, beautiful comics – you really should be picking this one up. I will be reading this until the very end.

Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

33606119Verdict: Important, timely, for a different reader.

My rating: 3,5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction (Essays)

Published by Bloomsbury, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

In 2014, award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote about her frustration with the way that discussions of race and racism in Britain were being led by those who weren’t affected by it. She posted a piece on her blog, entitled: ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ that led to this book.

Exploring issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race, Reni Eddo-Lodge offers a timely and essential new framework for how to see, acknowledge and counter racism. It is a searing, illuminating, absolutely necessary exploration of what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today.

My thoughts on this are slightly complicated. This book is incredibly important, impeccably researched, stringently argued – but possibly not quite for me. I spend an awful lot of time reading feminist texts, both academically and in my private life. I have been following the discourse closely for a few years (ever since I realized how white my formal academic background is I felt the need to remedy that) and I think the most important work in recent feminism has been done by intersectional feminists (and here especially black woman). This book gives a comprehensive overview – and it cannot be overstated how brilliantly argued and researched it is – but for me there was very little new. Then again, that seems like an unfair baseline for any work, so take my rating with a grain of salt. Because I do think everybody should read this.

For me, the chapter that was most important was the one on feminism itself – here I found a lot to mull over. Reni Eddo-Lodge shows the structures of privilege and the way these spaces that should be inclusive can end up being the opposite.

The chapters that read more like text-book entries (for example on White Privilege) are equally stringently argued but for me those did not quite work – as I said, I do think I am fairly well-read in this area. I can still see why it is important to include the bases of one’s theories in a book like this, that is not written with me in mind. It gives women of colour the tools to talk about everyday occurences and gives white people a perspective they might not have considered. And Reni Eddo-Lodge’s measured and thoughtful approach is definitely a needed one.

On a final note: I just cannot get over how brilliant the cover is. Clever, stunning, evocative.