52 books in 2017: January & February

I decided at the end of the last year that I would update you folks on a more frequent basis about the books that I have been reading so that my book review posts are hopefully not so overwhelming. I’m going to lump the books that I have read across two months together and tell you what I think about them. Last year I read a lot (51 books in total) and only spread them out over 3 posts so it took ages to write and I felt the content became diluted because I was trying to tackle too much.

I’m trying again to read 52 books this year and am currently 3 books behind schedule. I put this down to the first beast of a book that I completed this year:

1. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak 

Fiction/Historical/Cultural/Russian/Classic/War/Romance 

“And why is it, thought Lara, that my fate is to see everything and take it all so much to heart?”

Dr Zhiv

Now this is a beast of a book. Some of my most favourite books of all time come from Russian authors and this is another spectacular offering from the land of snow, civil war and vodka. It has been sat on my bookshelf for years and I have always nearly picked it up but something kept holding me back. Then one early January morning I woke to snow falling and ran straight to this book and started reading. Boris Pasternak won the Nobel Peace Prize after writing this book, that he was successfully forced to reject, so it was always going to be a book that I was going to read someday and how glad I am that the snow started to fall.

It pretty much took me the entire month to read, not because I didn’t enjoy it or that it was too challenging I just wanted to make sure that I was reading it right. There is a lot of history in this book and if I am being completely honest then I also had Spark Notes open on my mobile and I would check at the end of each section that I had kept up with the plot. A lot of character’s nicknames don’t resemble their actual name at all, the point of view switches constantly and as we are transported across a snowy Russia things had the potential to get a little confusing but I managed to keep up!

It is very character-centered but is absolutely not character-driven. It is focused on the particularly turbulent, violent and uncertain but yet future-defining era in Russian history – the time frame around the Russian Revolution and the following years of brutality and confusion in the Russian Civil War. It is really a story of individual fates trampled under the relentlessly rolling forward bulldozer of history.

Pasternak has very clear strong views to what was happening during this time and he used this book to express them. It became a daring slap in the face of the Soviet system both despised and feared in the Western world which I always bloody adore! However I do think that the character development suffers because of the focus on the greater external events. I could never shake off the feeling that the characters were present as merely the vehicles for driving the story to where the author wanted it to go; they never developed into real people for me, instead remaining the illustrations of Pasternak’s points and the mouthpieces for his ideas. Because of this I was left a little disappointed. I’m a reader that finds great joy in falling in love, despising, or admiring the author’s characters.

And yet despite the imperfections there is still something in this novel that reflects the genius talent that created it. There is still something that did not let me put this book aside even when I realized I did not love it as much as I had hoped. The greatness is still there, despite the flaws, and it remains something to be admired and something that deserves to be read.

 

2. I Am Sorry To Think That I Have Raised A Timid Son by Kent Russell

Non Fiction/Gender/Masculinity/Feminism/Essays/Autobiography

My dad turns from the dishes and admits “What Ryan’s seen, I can’t even imagine. I’m just so relieved I didn’t get him killed.”

I Am Sorry To Think That I Have Raised A Timid Son

I started a book club at the end of last year with some friends and this was our first read of 2017. I selected it as I have been feeling a little guilty that I have read so much about women and their rights and I sometimes forget to read about men too. O my goodness this book divided people. We all decided that this is a difficult book to enjoy but for various different reasons. It takes us on a journey through parts of America that have been hidden to us- from the scary world of the Juggalos to the far more peaceful Armish and their love of Baseball. Woven between these are mediations about the author’s own relationship with his father.

Kent is a hugely respected and world renowned journalist writing for the likes of Esquire and GQ but it seems that the thing that I struggled with most was his writing style. Whilst others struggled with the content of the book- it is graphic and can in be places shocking- which I actually quite like, it was the awkward phrasing, and the overwriting that got to me- beers are never just drunk they are ‘lisped’ and metaphor is dumped on top of metaphor and this not only becomes annoying but makes certain pages incomprehensible.

The book lacked cohesion. All of the writing was linked-ish by masculinity but the mashing of what could have been two books together (one an expose on the people he met and things that he saw, the other on his relationship with his father) diluted the work. I left putting it down confused. There is an amazing story in here to tell but I don’t think that Russell quite got there due to its lack of focus.

I equally loved the discussions that it forced our little book group to have. I think the best book discussions come when you don’t necessarily like a book. If everyone universally loves it there is little debate to be had.

 

3. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Fiction/Contemporary/Cultural/Zimbabwe/Immigration

Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.

We Need New Names Blog Post

This is another book that has been sat on my shelf for far too long and another that I have been very excited to read. But again the timing never seemed right until now. With immigration and the plight of refugees taking centre stage in global politics there really has never been a better time to read this book.

I love reading books written by adults from a child’s perspective-parts of it really reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s Room.The book portrays through the eyes of a child the effects of Imperialism and colonialism and highlights the difficulties of the migrant experience. It is also a simple human story of how life goes on in the face of different types of adversity and oppression. It is a story of young Darling and her friends living in Paradise- a shanty town in Zimbabwe. We are then taken as Darling makes the move to America to live with her Auntie and witness her growing disillusion and alienation as a migrant.

Many reviews have pointed out that the structure can sometimes be clunky and that at times it seems that the author rattles through a tick list of Zimbabwe’s problems and issues rather than just tackle a couple full on but what the author does is create a piece of honest literature that had me weeping late into sleepless nights. The second to last chapter ‘How They Lived’ is a stunning piece of writing. It should be read by anyone who is anti-immigration, or who believes in the sweeping deportation of illegal immigrants. Not only is it an agonizing account of how often people go to other countries because it’s literally life or death – not to steal your jobs or corrupt your world – but it is a beautiful, raw piece about the hidden pain of those who leave home. The knowledge that this land is not your land and never will be, and the strangeness and tension that doesn’t quite leave is haunting and reads as very real.

How glad I am that I left this book to be read during a time where immigration has never been surrounded with so much debate and has never been so important to learn more about. Yes this book is not perfect but what Bulawayo does with her writing is to help you formulate your own options and articulate them with more certainty and power of belief. That is surely one of the most important things that an author can do. I am excited to read more of her work.

4. Gut by Guilia Enders 

Non Fiction/Science/Biology/Health/Medicine

“More than 95 percent of the world’s bacteria are harmless to humans. Many are extremely beneficial. Disinfectants have no place in a normal household. They are appropriate only if a family member is sick or the dog poops on the carpet.”

gut book review

 

Another book that I  have been dying to read and this majorly did the rounds a year or so ago and I just can’t seem to read something as its being so talked about.

Anyone that knows me will know how much I like to talk about the gut and all things gut related-especially poo. Lol. I think that it is so super important that we learn about our bodies, know how they work and how we can better protect and treat them. This is a quick and super informative read and really unlike anything that I have read before as science really isn’t my place of comfort. Enders does a fabulous job at writing it with the normal layperson in mind. I understood it all!!

There really isn’t too much else to add about this one. If you want to learn more about one of our bodies most important and under-rated organs then pick it up and you will quickly devour it. If your not fussed (although you really should be) then don’t pick it up but remember that I am always here to talk about poo with. What an offer. Bet you don’t get that one everyday!

 

So there we have it: the 4 books that I managed to read in January and February. I know that Dr Zhivago took up to much of my time and I am currently 3 books behind schedule but I will catch that up quite easily. Let me know if there are any books that you would recommend below- I have some lovely new bookshelves that need filling! I have  really enjoyed writing about fewer books in this post as it has allowed me to go into far more detail. Winning!!

All the book love,

Sophie x

 

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1 Comment

  1. May 3, 2017 / 10:14 am

    What a great challenge!

    I’ve always wanted to read Dr Zhivago but have yet to dedicate the time for it, perhaps I should just dive in : )

    Gemma
    Faded Windmills

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