Books I’ve Been Reading Lately #4

 

It’s been too long since I wrote one of these posts. The software on my computer even tells me that the last time I worked on this post was back in November. November! What with my new job, Christmas and a small promotion after New Year, it already feels like a life time ago.

So why I haven’t I finished it before now? It’s not because I have fallen out of love with books, it’s more the opposite. Ever since I swapped my job at the castle for the one in the bookshop, I have had so much more time to read. And read I have. So much and so frequently that my boyfriend exclaimed the other day “Are you nearly done with that one too? I can’t keep up with you anymore, every time I turn around you are reading a new one!”

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why this post with books that I read last autumn is only being published now. But it is here now and that’s all that matters. Good books don’t suddenly go out of fashion anyway.

 


Brave New World
– Aldous Huxley

“Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…

Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.”

After I read The Handmaid’s Tale last summer I felt a bit lost about what to read next. I was looking through the unread books on my shelf, not really feeling any of them, when I found my boyfriend’s copy of Brave New World with an introduction by Atwood herself and saw it as a sign to continue reading in the dystopian genre. I have read a lot of Dystopian and Speculative fiction classics and because it’s a genre I like a lot, especially when they critique capitalist societies, I was expecting to love the book.

I don’t know if it was the timing but something just felt off to me. Maybe it felt flat after the amazing voice of the narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe it was because I didn’t warm to any of the characters, as none of them developed or changed with their (incredibly selfish) actions. I know it’s been described as shocking but to me it felt a bit outdated or maybe even too realistic. It made me feel depressed about the way the characters end up leading their lives. Its best quality was that the old copy I was reading smelled amazing, of library books and yellowed pages but even for a booklover that feels quite a sad thing to say about a book.

 


Bleaker Island
– Nell Stevens

“When Nell Stevens was given the opportunity to spend three months in a location of her choice in order to write her novel, she was determined to rid herself of all distractions. So Nell decided to travel to Bleaker Island (official population: two) in the Falklands where she would write 2,500 words a day.

But Bleaker House is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a young woman realizing that the way to writing fiction doesn’t necessarily lie in total solitude and a clear plan. Nor does it lie in a daily ration of 1085 calories, no means of contacting the outside world and a slow descent towards something that feels worryingly like madness . . .

Hilariously funny, painfully honest, and beautifully observed, Bleaker House is part memoir, part travelogue, part story collection. It is an exploration of the narrow spaces between real life and fiction and, in the end, a book about failing to write a novel, but finally becoming a writer.”

I had my holiday reading all planned out back in August before my trip home to Denmark, when I went to my local bookshop a week before and found this sitting on their new non-fiction shelf. I was initially caught by the unusual cover and the promise of the subtitle but knew as soon as I had read the blurb that I needed to make it mine, as the idea of reading about another writer’s project, particularly one that had failed, seemed both intriguing and potentially inspiring.

The book mixes travel writing with memoir, short fiction pieces and diary outtakes and while I wasn’t sure how this would work at first, I liked seeing Steven’s different ways of writing because it tied so well with her personal story and discovery as a writer. While I know from the book that she initially set out to be a fiction writer, my favourite parts of the book were her nonfiction pieces, especially where she writes about her travels to Bleaker and her thoughts on being a writer, which I could relate to.

I thought her writing style was eloquent but easy and light to read and there was a stillness in the book that I absolutely loved. I ended up reading it on slow, happy days at home in Denmark and in our secluded cabin in Sweden and both locations were perfect to match the stillness of the book, which stayed with me even after the calmness of my own holiday was over.

 


My Not So Perfect Life
– Sophie Kinsella

“Katie Brenner has the perfect life: a flat in London, a glamorous job, and a super-cool Instagram feed. OK, so the truth is that she rents a tiny room with no space for a wardrobe, has a hideous commute to a lowly admin job, and the life she shares on Instagram isn’t really hers. But one day her dreams are bound to come true, aren’t they?”

I got this book as a surprise gift when I was having a really bad day. I was incredibly ill and was at home frustrated and sad that I couldn’t get to work, when the boyfriend came home with a big bag from Waterstones and three books inside. The words “What is this… WATERSTONES bag doing here” have never sounded so amazing. This is not the kind of book I would normally buy or read but it turns out that sometimes the book you need is a book that is relatable, funny, unrealistic, uncomplicated and doesn’t require too much concentration.

I thought it was such a thoughtful gift and I have since lent out my copy to a friend and bought another for someone else as a present. Maybe it’s not to be taken that seriously but sometimes that’s exactly the kind of story that can cheer you up a little when you’re having a rough time.

 


Lost for Words
– Stephanie Butland

“Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never show you.

Into her refuge – the York book emporium where she works – come a poet, a lover, a friend, and three mysterious deliveries, each of which stirs unsettling memories.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past and she can’t hide any longer. She must decide who around her she can trust. Can she find the courage to right a heartbreaking wrong? And will she ever find the words to tell her own story?”

Do not be mistaken. This might look like one of those fairly cheesy books about bookshops or just another chick lit type story but it has so much more to say. It was another one of the books Daniel gave me when I was ill and it has a special place in my heart now because while I was reading it, it made me say out loud “I’d love to work in a bookshop one day, I think it’d be really good for me”, not knowing at the time that a few months later my wish would come true!

This story is sad and hopeful, it is uplifting and strangely, makes you feel good despite concerning some very serious and even feminist issues about men and women. It had a mystery-solving element to it that I really liked and I thought it had a perfect balance between being light and serious. It is a book for book- and bookshop lovers. For people who like poetry or maybe don’t think they like poetry, and most of all it’s for people who like fictional characters that feel real. For everyone who has said #metoo. Because this story… It’s sadly not so far removed from fiction.

 


The Versions of Us
– Laura Barnett

“Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

The Versions of Us is an outstanding debut novel about the choices we make and the different paths that our lives might follow. What if one small decision could change the rest of your life?”

For many years now I have been interested in books and films that deal with domino or butterfly effect theories. So much that I actually helped make a (terribly bad) Sliding Doors type-film in my Media class during A levels many years ago. So I really liked the premise of this book! My only problem with it was that I found it a little hard to keep up with the different story line strands and to remember what had happened in previous chapters and which events belonged to which story line, as it switched back and forwards between the three different stories. I struggled a little bit with Jim’s character, too sometimes but not because he was written badly, simply just because in all three stories he turned out to not be quite as I had expected him to be.

Yet in the end, I thought all of the story lines came together and I was genuinely moved when I reached the ending of the final chapter and felt like a whole life, Eva and Jim’s life, had come to a close.

 

As you can see, it’s a strange mix of books but I’m feeling myself becoming a lot less judgemental as I get older and I’m enjoying different books at different times. My favourite genre is still literary fiction but I’m finding myself seeking out a lot more nonfiction now that I’m not at university anymore, as well as lighter books that I can read when I’m having a bad day or when I come home tired after work and can’t concentrate as much.
Do you find yourself doing the same thing and what have you been reading yourself lately?

 

 

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