The Sunshine Blogger Award #6

I was nominated by the wonderful Callum for the Sunshine Blogger Award, which I’ve done quite a few times now, but his questions were great so I thought I’d go ahead and do it again.  Also, apologies that I don’t always do these awards posts when I’m tagged in them, but I am always incredibly appreciative!

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Callum’s questions:

Which author that you haven’t read yet are you most excited to try?

Ooh great question.  So many!  Sarah Moss, Laura Purcell, Sarah Perry, Colin Barrett, Colum McCann…

What’s the best book you read before you started blogging?

I suppose I have to go with my go-to answer for favorite book, which I read when I was 18 (I started blogging when I was 24, I think), Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

What book do you most want to see as a movie/TV show?

I think In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne would make a fantastic film.

Which genre do you want to explore more of?

Graphic novels.  I recently read Sabrina by Nick Drnaso which I ended up really enjoying, and I’d enjoyed Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in the past, so I’d love to check out more of this medium.

Is the Hogwarts House you’d want to be in the same as the one you think you’d actually be sorted into?

I think so!  I had a major crisis over this a few years ago – I’ve pretty much identified with Ravenclaw since first reading the series, but toward the end of college I was getting so burnt out with academia that I was starting to feel like my claims of loving learning and knowledge were fake.  But after graduating I’ve been realizing that I still do love to learn and analyze and discuss things, just not in that setting (at least, not at this point in my life).  Anyway, I’ve always wanted to be in Ravenclaw, I think I’d be a little heartbroken if the hat said anything else.

Do you have any pets?

I sure do!

These are Lily and Percy and they are my best friends.  (They’re indoor cats and only allowed outside when supervised.)

Are any of your ‘real life’ friends big readers?

It’s funny because at this point, my main group of ‘real life’ friends are actually people I met online a decade ago… we’re coming full circle.  Anyway, most of my friends do like to read on occasion.  The biggest non-blogger reader in my life though is my mom; she doesn’t read quite as much as I do but she still consistently reads around 60-80 books a year and we’re always sharing recommendations.

What read has been your biggest pleasant surprise so far this year?

That would probably have to be The Pisces by Melissa Broder.  Hannah posted a glowing review so I was tempted by it even though it didn’t seem like my kind of book at all, but I decided to request it from Netgalley on a whim and see what happened.  I got approved about 2 minutes later, read it, and fell in love with it.

What’s been your most disappointing read of the year so far?

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.  Everything about it seems like my kind of book (contemporary Irish writer, LGBT representation, literary historical fiction, Man Booker longlisted, depressing, blurbed by Kazuo Ishiguro… COME ON) but getting through it was like pulling teeth.  It’s one of only two books I’ve rated 1 star so far this year.

Who’s your favourite music artist?

I usually say my favorite band is Pearl Jam, but my music tastes are all over the place, and ‘artist’ implies a single person rather than a band, but that’s harder for me… David Bowie, Thom Yorke, Sia, Troye Sivan, and Ben Howard all come to mind.  Who knows.

If you could live in any country other than the one you live in now, which one would it be and why?

Honestly, anywhere on earth is better than the US.  I’ve lived in Italy and really loved that experience, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there again.  But then again, the familiarity would be nice… But, I also really love Belgium and Germany.  And the UK.  So, one of those places.  I am indecisive.

My questions:

  1. What’s the worst book you had to read for school?
  2. Within your own country, where would you most like to visit that you haven’t already been?
  3. What’s the best first line of a book you’ve ever read?
  4. Do you have any tattoos and do you want any?
  5. If you watch booktube, who’s your favorite booktuber?  If you don’t watch booktube, what’s your favorite thing to watch on youtube?
  6. Which classic do you think more people should read?
  7. What would you consider the most overhyped and the most underhyped book you’ve read in the last year?
  8. Would you like to work in the publishing industry, or do you prefer to keep books and reading strictly a hobby?
  9. If you’re a writer, which author’s style do you think is most similar to your own?  If you’re not a writer, which author’s style do you connect with the most as a reader?
  10. What’s your least favorite book cover?
  11. Who’s your favorite actor/celebrity?

I’m going to try to nominate people who Callum didn’t tag so I don’t overload you guys.  And, as always, no pressure at all to do this!

Nominating: Patrick, Hannah And Her Books, Sarah, Emily, Hadeer, Ally, Aurora, Jessie.

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top 10 tuesday: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish which is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week’s topic:

September 25: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

17412573The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara.  I think I’ve waxed eloquent about A Little Life on here enough (side note: check out my friend Patrick’s brilliant review), but I am very much a #fakefan of Yanagihara’s, having never read her debut novel, The People In The Trees.  I’m a little apprehensive; my mom who’s just as huge a fan of A Little Life as I am had a kind of lukewarm reaction to The People in the Trees, so it’s put me off even though I’ve heard from other people that it’s brilliant.  It’s definitely one I want to get to in 2019.

17333223The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  The Secret History has been one of my all-time favorite books for years, but it’s still the only novel I’ve read by Donna Tartt.  I own her other two, The Goldfinch and The Little Friend, but I think I’ve been putting them off because I’m not convinced they could begin to compare to The Secret History.  But, The Goldfinch in particular I really do want to read soon, especially after Steph recently read and loved it.

 

15995144The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.  This is probably the book I’ve carried with me to the most places without ever having read it.  I think it came to Houston with me both times.  This seems to have been at the top of my TBR for about two years now, but it never seems like the most pressing thing I need to read.  But, I absolutely adored Ryan’s All We Shall Know and From a Low and Quiet Sea, so I really do need to get to The Spinning Heart soon.

 

7616033Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I’ve read every single one of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels, meaning his short story collection Nocturnes is the only thing I have left to read by him.  And I’ve actually read half of it.  I started it I think back in 2015, and never ended up finishing it for some reason, and now I’m torn between starting over and picking up where I left off… I actually have a bizarrely good memory so I feel like I’d be fine to just start in the middle, but I’m worried I’ll have forgotten some finer details.  And I did really like the first few stories I’d read.

39999The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  I feel like the last person on earth who hasn’t read this.  I remember one of my roommates telling me about this book senior year of college because I’d actually never heard of it or the author; fast forward four years and John Boyne is now one of my favorite authors and I’ve read four of his novels, but not this one.  I’m a little apprehensive because I don’t read middle grade, at all, but I feel like I need to just devote an hour of my life to reading this at some point and see how it goes.

35842338The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill.  I feel like the only person in the world who failed to get excited at the prospect of a YA Little Mermaid retelling, but, nothing about YA Little Mermaid retelling exactly screams my name.  But even so, I really adore Louise O’Neill, and having read and loved Asking For It and Almost Love earlier this year, I really want to read everything she’s written at some point.

 

40605629Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel.  I’ve read Station Eleven twice which is huge for me as I’m not a big re-reader, but it got selected as a book club pick after I’d already read it, and I loved it so much that I felt no hesitation in picking it up again.  But I actually haven’t read anything else by Emily St. John Mandel.  I own a couple of them, including Last Night in Montreal, which sounds simply brilliant.

 

33784272The Good People by Hannah Kent.  Kent’s debut Burial Rites is one of the most devastating and beautiful and atmospheric things I’ve ever read, so it only stands to reason that her sophomore novel set in Ireland would be even more up my alley.  I have heard from some people whose opinions I trust that The Good People isn’t quite as excellent as Burial Rites, but I’m still really hoping it will work for me.

 

7928877Ariel by Sylvia Plath.  Despite the fact that The Bell Jar is one of my absolute favorite novels, I don’t think I’ve read any of Sylvia Plath’s poetry.  I mean, aside from Lady Lazarus and Daddy and all the individual poems that everyone knows.  But I really do want to read her collection Ariel at some point in the hopefully not too distant future.  It’s actually one I keep an eye out for when I’m in bookstores, but I can never seem to find a copy out in the wild.

31326Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham.  I don’t think I’ve read a single Somerset Maugham novel since I started book blogging, which is a shame as he’s one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve read Of Human Bondage, The Razor’s Edge, The Moon and Sixpence, and The Painted Veil, but I’d like to read all of his novels at some point.  I own this one as well as Cakes and Ale, but Theatre calls to me a bit more so I’ll probably be starting here.

 

Have you guys read any of these?  And what are some books by your favorite authors you still haven’t read?  Comment and let me know!

OMG That Song Book Tag

Let’s take a break from the Booker!  I saw this tag on Callum’s blog and it looked like fun.  Also, go follow Callum who has an excellent taste in music as well as books.

MY JAM: A song you have to listen to no matter how many times you’ve heard it and a book that you’ll never get sick of

SONG: Conversation 16 by The National.  I love everything about this song.

BOOK: The Iliad by Homer.  I want to read as many different translations as possible.

THROWBACK: A song that reminds you of the cringiest time in your life and a book you read that you wouldn’t like now

SONG: Jenny Was a Friend of Mine by The Killers.  This song is actually objectively very good so it’s not the song that’s cringy, it’s me being 14 that was cringy.

BOOK: Anything by Sarah Dessen.  I’m not sure I even liked her books back then, but I kept reading them because my friends were reading them and I hadn’t been introduced to books that are actually good when I was in middle school.

REPLAY: A recent song that you have on repeat and a recent favourite book

SONG: Nina Cried Power by Hozier.  I’m actually not the biggest Hozier fan in the world (I think he’s fine but the hype around his last album was blown a little out of proportion), but I admittedly adore this song.

BOOK: In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne was simply brilliant.

GETS ME: A song that is literally me and a book that is me in book form

SONG: To Belong by Daughter.  I really connect with Daughter’s music in general, but this song always stands out to me.

BOOK: The Idiot by Elif Batuman.  The narrator of that book is me.

WUT: A weird song that you liked anyways and a unique book that stuck out to you for some reason

SONG: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by Joan Baez (cover – originally by The Band).  It’s not so much that it’s a weird song, just that it’s noticeably different from most of the other stuff I listen to.  But, I listen to it a lot.

BOOK: The Vegetarian by Han Kang.  So weird, so haunting, so good.

LET’S GO: Pick your best pump up song and a book that inspires you

SONG: God is a woman by Ariana Grande.  I mean, enough said.  This song is everywhere and for good reason.

BOOK: Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault.  Mainly for the line: “He stood between death and life as between night and morning, and thought with a soaring rapture, ‘I am not afraid’.”

CHILL: Your best chill or relaxing song and a book you’d curl up with on a rainy day

SONG: Black by Pearl Jam.  I mean, this song is incredibly sad, but there’s something relaxing about listening to a song you’ve heard approximately five million times because Pearl Jam is your favorite band and this is just one of the greatest songs ever written.

BOOK: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is one of the most atmospheric things I’ve ever read, and definitely a good fall/winter read.

ADDICTING: A guilty pleasure song and a light, trashy read you can’t help but love

SONG: Literally anything by ABBA, but I’ll go with Waterloo.  People tend to be surprised when they find out how much I love ABBA, so, let’s just get this straight.  I love ABBA.

BOOK: I would describe this book as neither light nor trashy, but The Pisces by Melissa Broder is probably the closest thing to a ‘guilty pleasure’ book for me, since it’s essentially literary erotica.  But, that book is incredibly good.

NOSTALGIA: A throwback song you look back on fondly and a book you read and loved when you were young

SONG: Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis.  If I had to choose a favorite song of all time, this would probably be it.  I am also aware that liking Oasis is deeply unhip.  I do not care.

BOOK: Harry Potter!

Tagging whoever wants to do this!

What kind of music do you guys like?  Clearly my tastes are all over the place.

book review: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

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SABRINA by Nick Drnaso
★★★★☆
Drawn and Quarterly, 2018

 

Sabrina is only the second graphic novel I’ve read in my life (actually I’m realizing as I type this that the other is Fun Home which is actually a graphic memoir, so, technically the first graphic novel I’ve read?), so between me being ridiculously out of my element and the fact that its inclusion on the Man Booker longlist caused quite the stir, I had no idea what to expect from this. And I’m writing my review without having settled on a star rating, so, we’ll see what happens with that. I really, really enjoyed this, but I have a few too many nagging criticisms to say that I loved it.

Sabrina doesn’t really follow its titular character, as she goes missing by the tenth page; instead it mostly follows Calvin who works for the U.S. Air Force, whose childhood friend Teddy comes to live with him. Teddy is Sabrina’s boyfriend, and he’s utterly broken up about her disappearance. We then follow an array of characters – Calvin, Teddy, Sabrina’s sister – all trying to come to terms with their loss, all while being confronted with wild conspiracy theories about Sabrina’s disappearance.

What this book excels at is creating an atmosphere thick with paranoia, in the most terrifying portrait of our modern society that I think I’ve ever seen in fiction. Littered throughout the background of Sabrina as contemporary set pieces are news articles and internet forums; there’s talk of mass shootings, conspiracy theories, fake news. The characters are so inundated to this constant and aggressive stream of tragic news that infiltrates their lives, that the stark contrast of their simply drawn, blank expressions is recognizable and haunting. This probably got under my skin more than anything else I’ve read recently; this is not a comfortable book on any level.

What I didn’t love about Sabrina was that there is just so much going on, and it doesn’t all come together in a completely satisfying way. This is one of those books that builds and builds tension, but rather than culminating in a brilliant resolution it kind of just ends. After I put it down I wanted to give it 3 stars as I felt so dissatisfied with the ending, but upon some further reflection I do think this was so effective in achieving what it set out to do that I can’t help but to commend it for that.

Now, onto the Booker situation, because we clearly can’t end this review without touching on that. My feelings on this have run the gamut from ‘graphic novels are a form of novel and therefore should be eligible’ to ‘how can you compare graphic novels with literary fiction when they’re so substantively different and rely on fundamentally disparate storytelling conventions’ and you know what, I still don’t know where I stand on this. I understand both sides of the argument completely. At this very moment, I think I’m leaning toward the idea that graphic novels shouldn’t be eligible – not as a gatekeeping, elitist thing, because I absolutely do think that the merit of graphic novels has been dismissed for far too long; I’m just not sure how you can judge something like this against something like The Overstory. Judging is always going to be inherently subjective, but it really is an apples and oranges situation. And with Sabrina, the only text is in the dialogue and glimpses of emails and articles; there’s no prose outside that, which makes its inclusion on a literary award particularly perplexing. But, at any rate, I’m glad I took a chance on this one. Booker or no Booker, I see what the fuss is about.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City | Warlight | Normal People

Man Booker 2018 Shortlist Reaction

Well, here we are!  I’ve read 10/13 so far and the shortlist was announced this morning.

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Photo from the Man Booker website.

Anna Burns (UK)  Milkman (Faber & Faber)

Esi Edugyan (Canada)   Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)

Daisy Johnson (UK)   Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner (USA)   The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)

Richard Powers (USA)   The Overstory (William Heinemann)

Robin Robertson (UK)   The Long Take (Picador)

I posted my predictions on Twitter yesterday: In Our Mad and Furious City, From a Low and Quiet Sea, The Overstory, Everything Under, Normal People, Milkman, so, I only got 3/6.  And I find it crazy that having read 10/13, all 3 that I haven’t read yet made the shortlist (Washington Black, The Long Take, and The Overstory which I started last night).  4/6 of the shortlisters are women; are we going to finally see another woman win??  Hopefully.

The one I’m most excited to see on this list is Milkman, which I thought was simply brilliant, if a bit niche, so I didn’t think it was likely that it was going to make the shortlist over some more conventional choices, but I ultimately did add it to my predictions list at the last second as I thought it was so deserving.  And, unless I end up really loving one of the three I haven’t read yet, it’s the one I’m rooting for to win.

The other two I’ve read, Everything Under and The Mars Room, I also really enjoyed – I gave 4 stars to both – but they’re not the ones I had been most hoping to see on the list.  Which brings me to what I consider the three major snubs:

In Our Mad and Furious City is literally the only one I’ve read so far where I’ve thought ‘yes, this is a winner.’  It’s a flawlessly written, unapologetic account of working class London told through the eyes of five different characters, and it’s fierce and frenetic and utterly unforgettable.  Its exclusion from the shortlist baffles me.

From a Low and Quiet Sea has the best sentence-by-sentence writing of any of the longlisters I’ve read, by a landslide, and while that alone shouldn’t guarantee a book a spot on the shortlist, it’s also a highly moving and intelligent work.  Ryan has been longlisted before but never shortlisted, and I really thought this was going to be his time.  This is actually the one I would have bet on to win, if I’d had to put money on one of them.  So, I’m glad I’m not the betting type.

Normal People was largely considered the favorite to win, if you’re interested in odds and all that, so its exclusion was probably the most surprising.  The hype is a bit extreme with this one, but even so, I ended up loving it, and thought it was one of the more emotionally complex things I’ve read in ages.  I’d been really warming up to the idea of this winning, so to not see it on the shortlist is rather odd.

Very relieved to see that Snap and Warlight were passed over.  And probably Sabrina as well… I finished it last night and I’m still working out how I felt about it; I did really enjoy it but ultimately don’t think it was shortlist material.  Also, while I enjoyed The Water Cure, I don’t particularly think that was shortlist material either, so I’m fine with the exclusion of that one.

But anyway, all things considered, I’m a little underwhelmed, but it’s also a little tricky to have a decisive opinion on the shortlist when I’ve only read half of it.  Which I still can’t believe.  10/13 of the longlist and I’ve only read half the shortlist.  Just my luck.  I’m going to keep at it though, I’ve got The Overstory out from the library right now, a hold on Washington Black, and I ordered The Long Take online.  Hoping one of them ends up being 5 stars for me.

What are everyone’s thoughts on the shortlist?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney
★★★★★
Faber & Faber (UK)

 

Engrossing, complex, and emotionally honest, Normal People is an understated powerhouse of a novel. As this book ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts it’s particularly difficult to summarize, but basically, it’s a sort-of-love-story about Connell and Marianne, two young people growing up in small town Ireland together, who both move to Dublin for university in 2011.

There isn’t much going on in this book aside from Connell and Marianne’s ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship, but I wouldn’t describe this as a romance novel as much as a novel about being human. Sally Rooney highlights with razor-sharp precision the oddities and intricacies that complicate interpersonal interactions, even between two people who love one another. This book is about miscommunication, but not miscommunication as a plot device; miscommunication as an intrinsic part of the human experience, naturally calling into question the possibility of truly knowing another person. Connell and Marianne’s inability to open up to one another is so much bigger than these two individual characters; it’s about gender roles and socioeconomic differences and power dynamics and social status and preconceived notions and projections and misinterpretations, and Rooney examines it all minutely through the lens of this one ill-fated sort-of-couple. She also has the uncanny ability to cut to the emotional core of a scene without sensationalizing, and I think that’s what strikes me as the most accomplished element of this novel.

I think this book is inevitably going to be underestimated by some because of its premise, and because of all the hyperbolic claims that Rooney is the definitive voice of her generation. But it’s a deceptively clever book; it’s perceptive where it could easily be vapid, it’s clear-eyed where it could be melodramatic, and it has more intellectual and emotional depth than anything else I’ve read recently. A bit of an unconventional choice for the Booker longlist, but it fully earned its spot in my opinion, and I’d love to see it shortlisted.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City | Warlight

book review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

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WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, 2018

 

You know those moments when you find an author you think you’re going to like, but you chose the wrong book of theirs to start with? That’s what happened with Warlight. This was not a good book, but I don’t think it’s over between me and Ondaatje. More on that in a minute.

Warlight was almost unbearably boring. I’m sorry, I know that ‘boring’ is the kind of pedestrian critique that we try to stay away from while reviewing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that felt this utterly pointless. There’s no conflict, no character development, no intrigue, no payoff. This book meandered through the narrator’s recollections of his youth in post-war London, halting all too briefly on defining moments, claiming to imbue them with weight but never willing to properly examine them in any kind of broader context. The nonlinear chronology could have been used effectively, but it served only to create such a distance between present-day-Nathaniel and past-Nathaniel that the chapters about his childhood lacked any sort of spark or passion or urgency. The one question that Ondaatje never seems interested in answering is why the reader should care about any of it.

The one saving grace for me was the prose. Ondaatje’s writing struck me as both elegant and effortless. There is no question that this book is well-written, and I found myself pausing at certain sentences, impressed by their construction and insight:

You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.

But despite these flickers of profundity in the sentence-by-sentence writing, there isn’t a whole lot of emotional depth to this novel on the whole. For a novel purportedly about memory and perception and unearthing the truth, far too much remains unexhumed. The whole thing is bizarrely perfunctory and passionless, and there is no doubt in my mind that Warlight‘s inclusion on the Booker longlist is an homage to Ondaatje’s illustrious career more than a reflection of the quality of this particular novel. But, again, I’m willing to read more Ondaatje in the future, as I refuse to believe this is the height of what he’s capable of.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City