Archive of ‘Book Shelf’ category

Reading the Year – May

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The year is starting to get busy – you know how I can tell? My reading is slowing down. I feel as though I have less and less time to delve into a book. Less time to devote to a heavy novel. Less time to take my time and read what I really want to. I hate that!

Reading is my one true love outside of my family and friends. When people ask the inevitable question “what do you like to do?” my first response, without hesitation, is always “to read”. Reading is my escape, but also my grounding. Without it I just don’t feel like me.

So I am making a commitment to myself to come back to my reading over the next couple of months – to take the time to do the one thing I love above all else. To put down the phone, to stop channel surfing and to pick up my book. Let’s see how it goes…

Even though I have been slowing down I have still read some great books this month:

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson – This is Atkinson’s newly released companion novel to her best seller Life after Life which I wrote about here. After loving Life after Life so much I was wondering if A God in Ruins would live up to my expectations – but it did. In some ways I think it is even a better book, more developed and intricate somehow. The book focuses on the brother of the main character in the first novel and so while some of the same events are covered they are told from a completely different perspective. Atkinson has a wonderful way of developing her characters for a reader – they are fully formed people who you are invested in from the very beginning. I loved this book – the only problem I had with it was that it ended and I just wanted more!

Persuasion – Jane Austen – This is my favourite Austen book, and one of my all time favourite novels, so re-reading it for possibly the 20th time was far from a chore! This was a selection for a book club I belong to with a group of colleagues and it created quite a bit of debate. I feel it is Austen’s most “mature” book, the character of Anne is more reserved, although no less bright and engaging than a Lizzy Bennett or a Marianne Dashwood. I love the theme of second chances that is woven throughout and it has possibly one of the most enchanting and romantic lines in literature from Captain Wentworth; “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope”. He had me at hello!

The Beginners Goodbye – Anne Tyler – After falling in love with Tyler’s writing in A Spool of Blue Thread which I wrote about here I was keen to read another one of her books. The Beginners Goodbye is the story of Aaron and his response to the sudden death of his wife, Dorothy. I have to say the story in this one didn’t capture my heart as much as Blue Thread but I still absolutely adore Tyler’s writing – she can turn the every day into magic so I will definitely be reading more of her work.

The First Stone – Helen Garner – And for a complete change of pace I have re-read a book from my favourite Australian writer. Garner controversially tackles the subject of sexual harassment in this book which was first published just as I was in the midst of completing my social work degree. I do think Garner misses (or is oblivious to??) some aspects of power and gender but I still love her writing style and her ability to question herself in the midst of her writing. I always feel engaged with her work even if I am not agreeing with her point of view.

How about you – what have you been reading lately? Do you feel like you have enough time in your life to read?

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Reading The Year – March & April

 

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So I have fallen a little behind in my reading posts – but my reading has been going great guns, fuelled by my participation in this reading challenge. You can see my earlier reading wrap ups here and here but for now read on and see what has been floating my reading boat these past two months…

Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood – Atwood is one my favourite authors, she’s definitely in my top 5 and maybe even top 3… So it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will be reading one of her new books as soon as it comes out (MaddAddam is an exception to this rule…). I’ve also quite recently discovered the joy of short stories (although Atwood refers to the stories as “tales” in this collection) and find I can get just as connected to the characters and stories in the shorter form of fiction. Stone Mattress has some hits and misses for me – some stories, sorry “tales”, bordered on the too surreal for me but the first three in the collection, the title story and the final one were all pure Atwood brilliance.

The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee – I love novels set in India, A Suitable Boy and A Fine Balance are two of my favourite novels of all time. The Lives of Others is another wonderful, painful and complex family drama set in India during the 1960’s. It is a powerful book – that has one of the most shocking and impactful openings I think I have ever read. This novel was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize and it’s easy to see why – this one stays with you long after you have finished it.

The Golden Age – Joan London – I’m ashamed to say that I don’t actually read a lot of Australian fiction – something that I am trying to remedy. London’s book is set in Perth, Western Australia during the 1950’s and centres around a rehabilitation home for children with polio. The book’s main character, Frank, and his family have come to Australia as refugees from Hungary following WW2 and the echo of the trauma they experienced is still being felt in their lives in Australia. This book is so simple in some ways but the language and the characterisation are sharp and beautiful. I loved the book despite the sadness that hung to it.

The Bees – Laline Paull – This is one of the most original and imaginative books I have ever read. The book is set in a hive of bees and it’s narrator is one of the bees, Flora 717, a lowly sanitation bee who rises among the ranks due to her tenacity, skill and strength. It sounds like an “out there” concept I know but it really works. Paull has created the hive in minute detail – you really do feel as though you are living through the eyes of the bees. It is incredibly detailed and yet exciting reading at the same time. Just amazing!

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – I had been eagerly waiting to read this one. It has been touted as the next “Gone Girl” (which I loved) and has been getting rave reviews so I thought it was a pretty safe bet for me. I was wrong. I found this book contrived, boring, predictable and poorly written. I know I am going against the majority with my thoughts on this one but it just didn’t work for me I’m afraid.

Outline – Rachel Cusk – I LOVE Rachel Cusk’s non-fiction writing, especially in regards to motherhood/parenting, but her fiction often leaves me a little confused. This one was no exception unfortunately. The premise of the book is that a woman travels to Athens to teach a writing class and the book is about the people she meets during this trip . The book is full of their stories (and none of them are all that interesting if you ask me!) and you learn little to nothing about the “main” character herself. I get this was a technique that Cusk was meaning to employ but it just left me cold and wanting much, much more.

A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley – This was my first Smiley read but it will not be my last – wow! The fact that this book won the Pulitzer Prize should have tipped me off to it being brilliant maybe but I often find I’m not such a fan of books that win major prizes (I’ll admit a lot of them go over my head!). Smiley captures the microsystem of a family so perfectly it’s scary. You feel so in tune with all of these characters because she has formed and written them so brilliantly. A totally engaging and absorbing book.

H if for Hawk – Helen Macdonald – Before I tell you what I thought about this book I have to say that I do not like birds. At all. They scare me. You can’t cuddle them and they have beaks. So, the idea of reading a book which is all about the story of a woman living with and training a hawk is not my usual “go to’ read. But I had read so many amazing reviews of this one that I thought I had to at least give it a go. I could not put it down. I told my family to leave me alone so that I could finish it while at the same time I wanted to store it away somewhere I couldn’t find it so I would never finish it. It was that good. The book is a memoir of the time following the sudden death of the author’s father. Her grief is played out in the training of the hawk – a bird she has held a passion for since she was a young child. This book is simply amazing – the most awe inspiring writing you will read anywhere. I have a new respect for birds.

Life after Life – Kate Atkinson – One of my reading passions is anything set in England during or after the World Wars. Life after Life fits this description perfectly – with a little twist. I love one of the descriptions for the book:

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

The book follows the main character Ursula as she lives her life, and lives it again, and again… It sounds like a difficult concept to pull off but Atkinson writes it perfectly – you never feel thrown around or manipulated.

So there you have it – my reads for the past two months. How about you? Have you read anything great you can recommend??

 

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