This Year In Books (So Far…)

Back before I had a bit of a tiny tantrum and deleted all my older posts from the blog, I wrote occasionally about my progress with a self-imposed reading challenge via Goodreads. During last year, I set myself a bit of an ambitious goal of 50 books, and didn’t really get anywhere near achieving it unfortunately.
Fast forward to 2016. Circumstances mean that I end up doing a lot of train travelling. Both a blessing and a curse as I’m sure you can imagine.It did help a lot with my reading though, and I found I was reading so much more than I ever did before.
January of this year, I set a target of reading 30 books, and at time of writing (21st of August), I’ve actually made it up to 23! So I wanted to post so far about some of the books I’ve read this year, some of them have been good, some have been bad, and others have been slap bang in the middle.

Favourite Book of 2016
Wolf In White Van – John Darnielle
I had been looking forward to reading this for a ridiculously long time, and this absolutely did not disappoint. Readers, you either love the Mountain Goats, or you just haven’t listened to them yet. John Darnielle’s lyrics have always had a really nice story-telling feel to them, so a move into fiction writing feels completely logical. The story itself is something entirely different – a boy facially disfigured after an accident invents a mail order role-playing game, with dire consequences. To read something so daring and special was just the best experience, and the story itself has a intertwined feeling of hopefulness and hopelessness. Darnielle’s second fiction book, Universal Harvester, is out next year, and this guy writing this right here may have already pre-ordered it. I would strongly recommend you do the same.

A Disappointment
Girl In A Band – Kim Gordon
Oh Kim, I wanted to love this, I really did. Sonic Youth are a band I’ve been quietly obsessed with for the last 10 years, and Kim has been a constant inspiration to me during those years, so needless to say, I was pretty psyched about reading this. I know that whatever she wrote would have been 100% on her own terms, but I very much got the sense that she was holding back a lot from the reader. I did love the fact that actually, a lot of the book wasn’t about Sonic Youth at all, but about her progression as an artist and a musician, especially filtered through the sexist lens of the art world. But as a long-time fan, I did still feel a tiny bit disappointed that I didn’t quite get as much ass-kicking Kim as I would have wanted. And the less said about Thurston Moore, the better…

Non-Fiction
Pretty Honest – Sali Hughes
This book has genuinely changed my life. As a proud feminist, I’ve always been so conflicted when it comes to wearing make-up and pretty dresses, and I know this is a battle so many women have every single day. Sali touches on this straight away from the first few sentences of the book, and that’s the point where I fell in love. I’ve never been someone who’s been technically “good” at doing my own make-up, and didn’t really have the first clue about skincare or anything like that. Sali’s writing is so great because it in no way comes across as patronising, and is friendly and accessible. I also LOVED the fact it wasn’t written with any particular age demographic in mind: you have chapters on aging, on teenage make-up, and a beautiful chapter on dealing with your physical appearance during illness. My skin has also improved ridiculously since following the advice in this, so if nothing else makes you buy it, hopefully that will.

A Book I Read Because Everybody Else Was
Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin
The rise of the thriller as the popular mainstream genre of the moment is just fascinating. It’s a genre that I definitely wouldn’t have gotten into myself but after reading Gone Girl, Girl On The Train, etc, I’ve got to say that it fascinates me a bit more. Unfortunately, when a genre goes mainstream, it inevitably gives way to copycat authors and substandard novels. Despite that, it’s important to remember, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s bad. Black-Eyed Susans is the latest in a line of popular “grip-lit” novels, and I borrowed it on a whim, not really sure if I was going to enjoy it. The story’s definitely involving, but I did find the ending slightly convoluted. For want of a better phrase, this was definitely a “gripping yarn” that kept me entertained over the course of a few train journeys, which was basically exactly what I wanted from it.

A Surprise
The Loney – Andrew Michael Hurley
I’m listing this one as a bit of a surprise, because I went into it thinking I was going to loathe it. I’ve spent this year trying to get into things I previously wouldn’t have given the time of day, and under that has come horror and suspense. Ask any of my friends, but I am not into horror at all. But in the pursuit of trying new things, I picked up this book, thinking that the back of it made it sound a bit cliché (religious group go to scary haunted house – bad things happen), but thought it would probably be a bit of a laugh at the very least. I LOVED IT. This was definitely a book that suffered a bit through the description on the back, which is something that still happens so much in the literary world. How often have you picked up a book, and been put off completely by it, or thought it sounded great, read it, then realised the description was completely different? I digress. This book was written incredibly well, had a convincing set of characters, the plot moved just fast enough to keep it interesting, and the author was super good at writing from the POV of a child without being incredibly irritating.

A Book I Really Didn’t Like But Really Wanted To
I Love Dick – Chris Kraus
Words cannot describe how much I wanted to like this book. So many super cool women I know were raving about it, so after that, I think I’d just assumed I was going to love it too. I HATED IT. I’m sorry to use all caps here, but I really did hate it. I spent a lot of the time whilst reading it feeling a little stupid because I didn’t get it, and feeling left out, which isn’t the way you want to feel when reading a book to be honest. It reminded me of the experiences I had reading “classic” novels during my English degree and just feeling like I missed something. I did really like the format of the book, and for the first 20 to 30 pages or so, I was definitely into it. However, I am completely willing to accept that maybe I’m not enough into art or performance art to completely click with it, and maybe I didn’t work hard enough at it?

I’m documenting my literary adventures mainly over on my Goodreads account, and the link is here if you want to be my virtual pal on there. I’m hoping to do a monthly update of what I’ve been reading, so look out for one at the end of September!

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