Today one of my Facebook friends posted on his wall that one of his friends told him that he never reads books, they’re just not a part of his world. My friend said he personally finds this incomprehensible because books have always been an essential part of his world. He then went on to ask what our relationship with books was, how it had changed over time and what we hoped to see in the future of books.
I replied that books have always been important to me and I’ve always loved reading. The main way in which my relationship with books has changed is that these days most of the books I read are not dead tree books, they’re electronic books. I still have an appreciation for dead tree books though and would hate to see them disappear. I don’t read as much as I could or want to because I’m a slow reader and I waste a lot of time on the internet that could be spent reading. Ironically a lot of the things I choose to read on the internet are about books.
For the past three years I’ve made it my goal to read 50 books but instead of improving with time I’ve been getting progressively worse. The first year I reached my goal. The second year I read 44 books. This year I’ve read 31 books.
As if that wasn’t enough to make me feel inadequate, I’ve discovered that while I have an exceptionally good memory for many things, my memory for books is pretty terrible. I took online quizzes on some of the books I read this year and I failed most of them. (In my defense the questions were about rather trivial details like the age of a character in chapter 3, the color of the sweater they were wearing in chapter 7 and the number of showers they took in chapter 12.)
Even though I don’t remember many of the details of the books I read this year, I do remember what I thought of them and how they made me feel. I follow a lot of book blogs on WordPress and many of them have been doing a round up of the books read this year so I figured I would do the same but before I do let me give a few words of warning.
- My reviews will not include any deep literary analysis nor will they be written New York Times style with those key words like riveting, harrowing, epic, dazzling, poignant and tour de force. I am capable of doing deep literary analysis and picking up on the symbolism that everyone else misses but I’m also capable of thinking literally instead of literarily and failing to pick up on things that are painfully obvious to everyone else.
- I’ve consulted GoodReads to refresh my memory of the books I read but I can’t guarantee that I won’t get some details wrong. Apparently I have the memory of a goldfish when it comes to books. I would gladly trade my ability to remember the name of the goldfish of the kid who sat behind me in 6th grade math class for the ability to remember the details of the books I read 6 months ago.
- There will be spoilers, lots of spoilers, and I mean serious spoilers as in I’ll tell you who dies at the end. I find it hard to talk about books without talking about what happens in them and I lack the patience to delicately dance around and allude to the details without actually giving them away. I actually used to read the last pages of books first because I had to know what happened in the end immediately. I don’t do that anymore but I still don’t care much if I find out what happens in the end and I tend to forget how much other people do care. I’ve made some people very angry by spoiling books, movies and shows for them.
So without further ado the books I read this year:
- The Price of Salt (Patricia Highsmith)-This is the book that the movie Carol was based on. They re-issued the book under the title Carol with a picture of Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett on the cover but I refused to buy that version of the book because I’m irrationally annoyed by movie tie in books. I also refuse to see a movie until I’ve read the book it’s based on so my mother had to patiently wait for me to finish the book before I’d see it with her on the big screen. I think a lot of people were drawn to the movie and maybe the book too because OMG hot lesbian sex!!! but there was so much more to it than that. It’s about loving someone in a time and place where such a love is disapproved of and forbidden. It was disgusting the way Carol’s husband hired a spy to stalk her and Therese, threatened and blackmailed them and then used evidence of Carol’s lesbianism in court to deny her custody of her daughter. I’m a pretty morbid person who tends to prefer sad endings over happy endings but I was happy with the semi-happy ending of this book.
2. Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)- A book about a young woman who immigrates to America from Ireland. I actually remember the details of this book pretty well but I can’t think of much to say about it so I guess it didn’t have much of an emotional impact on me. It was a pretty good book though and I’d say the same about the movie, although I missed the beginning of it because I got lost on the way to the theater. I also ended up having to sit in the front row, which made my neck hurt but Saoirse Ronan made it all worth it.
3. The Danish Girl (David Ebershoff)- I don’t think it was possible to find a copy of this book that didn’t have Eddie Redmayne on the cover but I have a crush on Eddie Redmayne (Alicia Vikander is awesome too.) It was a fictionalized account of the life of a real person so of course I found myself wondering what parts were true and which parts were made up. Considering the time period, I was pleasantly surprised and touched by how supportive the main character’s family and friends were of his decision to transition from a man named Einar to a woman named Lilli. It was interesting to me when the doctor discovered that Einar had a small pair of ovaries so I guess the desire to be a woman was at least partially biologically driven. It saddened me that Lilli died of an infection as the result of her sex change operation.
4. The Revenant (Michael Punke)- I read this book because of the movie by the same title that was coming out (are you noticing a pattern to my reading habits?) It was a manly man historical adventure book, which is really not my kind of book so I didn’t enjoy it too much. It was too violent for me. The violence towards the animals bothered me more than the violence towards the humans did. Some of the humans were jerks who I couldn’t feel too bad for but the animals were innocent. The movie wasn’t really my kind of movie either but I’m glad Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar. He spent most of the movie just grunting in pain and rage but he did it well. I agree with those who think the book’s subtitle “A novel of Revenge” wasn’t really accurate.
5. The 5th Wave (Rick Yancey)- Yet another book I read because of a movie that was coming out and the fact that it was my 5th book of the year made it seem like an even more appropriate choice. It was part of a YA trilogy about an alien invasion so I wasn’t expecting much from it but it was even stupider than I imagined it would be. It wasn’t even stupid in a particularly endearing or entertaining way. There was some love triangle and some scene that involved the sexy guy clutching a teddy bear over the injured heroine as she smelled his sexy chocolate breath. Ew. I’m grossed out by descriptions of anyone’s breath. I didn’t end up seeing the movie because apparently it’s even worse than the book. It scored some ridiculously low rating like 19% on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. The Infinite Sea (Rick Yancey)- This was the sequel to The 5th Wave. Why did I read the sequel when I didn’t like the first book you ask? I just feel compelled to read sequels if I’ve read the first book. This one was no better than the first book but it was more confusing. The final book in the trilogy came out some time in May but so far I haven’t felt compelled to read it. I’m not even interested in finding out how the whole thing ends because I just don’t care.
7. The Invention of Wings-(Sue Monk Kidd)- Finally a book that didn’t have a movie based on it coming out this year! I read another book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees but since I read it years ago of course I remember nothing about it other than that I liked it. I liked this one too. It had some strong female characters that weren’t afraid to stand up for what they believed in as well as some strong female bonds. It depicted the horrors and cruelty of slavery in an emotionally affecting way. It was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and in general I think Oprah has good taste in literature but at times this book felt a little too geared towards Oprah’s Book Club if you know what I mean. It had a chick lit feel to it but it was high brow chick lit.
8. Library of Souls (Ransom Riggs)- This was the third book in The Miss Peregrine’s series. I was drawn to the first book mainly because of the title and the interesting pictures. I enjoyed the pictures all in the books and all three books had their charms but a lot of it just seemed silly and stupid and none of the books did much for me. The ymbrynes, hollowghasts and peculiars were cool at first but by the end of book three they were losing their appeal for me. I’m glad this book appears to be a trilogy because I wouldn’t have made it to book 7. I saw the movie of the first book and I was tempted to walk out on it so I definitely won’t be seeing any of the other movies.
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)-This is a classic of African American literature and it always shows up on those lists of classic novels everyone must read so I’d been meaning to read it for a while and I finally got around to it. I wasn’t really disappointed by it but I wasn’t really blown away by it either. It was written in dialect/vernacular. In general I have a hard time with books that are written that way. I find myself voicing the dialogue in proper English in my head. I understand that it’s written that way for authenticity though and as the book progressed I got used to it and even appreciated it. My bad memory for books is showing here but I remember some scene involving the dialogue/ thought processes of animals at some animal funeral ( mules? crows?) that I enjoyed. I also have a thing for natural disasters so I enjoyed the hurricane scene. This is another book with strong female characters who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and it’s another books that shows the horrors of slavery as well as racism, misogyny and poverty.
10. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)- This was a book that I expected to be really good and objectively it wasn’t bad but it just didn’t grab me or affect me like I thought it would. A lot of involved war/history descriptions and those do tend to lose me. Some of the characters were rather tragic and did pull at my heartstrings though. I felt sad when they died-that is once I realized they had died. The thing about books (and sometimes movies too) is that they often do not explicitly say that the character died. They use euphemistic language or context clues and with the way I think and perceive things I fail to pick up on them. After watching the movie of The English Patient I asked online if the English patient dies at the end and someone said “Yep, that’s why the nurse was crying as she gave him his medicine.”