Monday 1 December 2014

November: What I Read, What I'm Reading

How the hell is it December already?  Not that it feels like it, because despite the Channel 5 movie marathons and Christmas readalongs and Instagrammed decorations, there's still a whole lot of real life left between now and the 25th.  Give it another week, and POSSIBLY I'll be ready to watch or read something borderline seasonal, we'll see.

So, last month's reading.  Despite taking part in two separate readathons (the 24 in 48 readathon and Tika's minithon), I actually didn't read very much at all, especially over the last week or two.  Not that it was a bad thing, I've just been doing other things - like exploring going back into higher education, completing a couple of fairly heavy-duty job applications, helping my mum with a Forth Bridge-esque 5-coat paint job on our panelled hallway, blitzing my overloaded laptop, watching Criminal Minds (my new favourite thing) and stalking Amazon for Black Friday Week Christmas present deals.  Here's what I DID finish:
~ What I Read ~
by Toni Morrison
This was my first Toni Morrison, and it managed to be both everything I expected and nothing like I expected...  It's the story of Sethe, a runaway slave living in Ohio, who many years ago killed her small daughter to prevent her being taken away by a posse of men from her former plantation.  It's about how her actions have reverberated down the years, and about how slavery penetrated every part of society.  There is a pervasive feeling of fear and oppression that seeps under the skin of the reader and refuses to leave.  This is also, however, a ghost story, a feat of magical realism slightly akin to Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child - and that I WASN'T expecting.  I'm still not entirely sure what was going on with Beloved and Sethe, and I'm not entirely sure I liked it as a plot device (especially the stream-of-consciousness weirdness near the end)...  but there we go.  As a whole the book was beautifully written, brutal and evocative, and I think that even when the content, the storyline itself, has left my memory, the FEELING of reading it will linger.  An interesting reading experience - 3.5 stars.

The Dead-Tossed Waves (TFoHaT 2)
by Carrie Ryan
Another novel that wasn't quite what I expected!  (That seems to be becoming a running theme of late...)  I really didn't like the first book (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) when I read it back in August, but I took a gamble on this one because my main problem was with the unbearably selfish protagonist and I knew the viewpoint for this novel shifted to a new character.  From her name - Gabry - I thought it would be a kind of prequel from the perspective of the girl-turned-Breaker in the first book, but it's actually not.  Instead we've jumped forward a generation - and Gabry's story is SO MUCH more enjoyable to read than Mary's.  There's another love triangle (bleurgh), and the pervading bleakness remains, but the overall plot is more interesting and I actually found I preferred the way Ryan concentrates on looking forward instead of returning to answer questions from the first book.  After all, the characters can't get answers from the past because the past is literally dead - so why should we dwell on it too much as readers?  I think I'll see this series through now, find out what happens to these characters and their battle against the Mudo in the end!  3 stars.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
by Lucy Knisley
A super-fun graphic memoir that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment.  I'd heard of Lucy Knisley, but had never visited her website or anything like that.  I will probably drop by more often now, because this book was so cute.  It's pretty much a series of comics about different elements of growing up as a food-loving individual in a household devoted to it (her mother is/was a caterer and her father a keen appreciator of good cuisine).  There are vignettes on craving garlic mushrooms and discovering the world' most amazing croissants in Venice.  She talks about following in her mother's footsteps as a student, and about the comforting power of cookies.  It's all done in a simple, charming and amusing style, interspersed with recipes that sound amazing.  Loved it - I'll definitely be reading more of her books!  4 stars.

The Unknown Unknown
by Mark Forsyth
This tiny pamphlet is this year's Independent Booksellers Week essay.  I missed last year's by Ann Patchett, and had to go looking for this one on AbeBooks because there was nowhere else for me to get it locally, but it's so good!  It's all about the idea that bookshops can lead you to books you never even knew you wanted to read, and that such serendipitous discoveries are actually quite important - not to mention FUN.  I've never read Mark Forsyth before, but his style is clever and amusing, with plenty of pop culture references and some interesting thoughts on book buying culture.  It's under 25 pages, £1.99 in-store and only takes a few minutes to read - so if you see one still sitting around on a bookshop counter, do pick it up!  4.5 stars, it's such a lovely little thing for a reader to be able to return to every so often.

~ What I'm Reading ~

At this moment I'm ACTIVELY reading three different books: The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli (a history of the Harry Potter fandom) and Project X by Jim Shepard (a novella about a pair of would-be school shooters).  I've also got two collections that I'm still dipping in and out of: poetry in the form of Charles Bukowski's The Pleasures of Damned, and columns in the form of Charlie Brooker's Dawn of the Dumb.
Aaaaand that was my November!