I’m currently reading like crazy in an effort to finish my 2016 book pile; we’ll see if I make it. But I’ve also tried to reflect on the things I’ve read, as one does this time of year.
I’ve read more this year, in terms of number of books, then I have before. For years I kept a reading journal and ended up reading around 80 books per year,this year it’s almost double that. I’m not sure exactly how many because in the beginning of the year I switched from my journal to the Goodreads app. Undecided if that was a good idea but now I’ve kind of gotten used to it,messy graphics and all.
A big part in the larger number of books this year is my obsession with books that fit in my bag( I’ve written about this before), I’m not sure it’s a huge increase in terms of pages. But undoubtedly my love of instagram, or rather the Bookstagram community, is also a component. It is absolutely the reason why I have read so much in english. Getting info about new books, sharing peoples enthusiasm and opinions feeds my curiosity. Maybe next year my infatuation will lessen and I’ll get back to mixing books in english and swedish more evenly.
When I scrolled through my feed trying to chose on my favorite reads of 2016 these ended up being the ones that I felt most for, although not in any particular order.
Living,Thinking,Looking by Siri Hustvedt; this collection of essays is a bit uneven, as these things are wont to be, but when she gets it right it is sharp as a knife. Much of it has stayed with me and I’m often recommending this book and quoting her endlessly. But it is layered; I’m a big believer in the whole “you read what you need to read when you need it” i.e. books almost as Roscarch test. What I find inspiring now might not be so in the future. A book I have under consideration for a re-read.
The tsar of love and techno by Anthony Marra; this one was a dark horse, had never heard of it when someone who I trust recommended it warmly. Thus I took a step outside of my comfort zone, and I’m glad I did. Marra has interwoven stories of different people in the Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, telling the story of the everyday people trying to live under the weight of communism as well as hyper-capitalism. It’s raw but also very acute and funny. His debut is on my TBR for next year, Marra is a gifted writer.
The Emperor of eight islands by Lian Hearn; I loved “The Tales of Otori” that I read a few years back and I’m happy that Hearn is back with a new series. This book contained the first two volumes in “The tales of Shikanoko”, I’ve also read the third and waiting impatiently for the fourth to turn up at the library. Much is the same between these two series; the feudal mythical Japan that Hearn has created is still the backdrop but these stories are more complex and dark. The storytelling is also divided between more characters adding to nuance. When I want to relax this is the kind of thing I want close at hand. You can keep your HBO Game of Thrones(which I of course have watched but only because a) everyone else watches it b) waiting for part four of this c) had already seen all the seasons of Penny dreadful).
Skuggan av ett liv by Hilary Mantel; this is Mantel’s memoirs called “Giving up the ghost” in the original. Mantel is a brilliant writer; her Cromwell-series has been one of the best reading experiences in my life and I picked up this to tide me over until her third installment comes. Despite loving her I had very low expectations, and it ended up being read rather randomly whilst on the road, but I loved it. She has such a warm voice and a delicious sense of humor, a keen eye and a sympathetic heart. She does not fall into the trap of deducing from her childhood that she would end up where she did(Dame and all!) but manages to see it from a child’s point of view; the confusion, the fear and the magic. In so many ways I see mirrored in her story the story of many women. The episodes when she wasn’t taken seriously by doctors for example.
Department of speculation by Jenny Offill; this was much hyped but lived up to it. The story is so condensed, these little fragments but as a reader you still connect the dots and it feels like a privilege to read it, be allowed to draw my own conclusions.
Stoner by John Williams; another hyped book, and this one also lived up to it. Nothing really happens in the book but Williams writes in such a way to evoke empathy with our protagonist, we feel with him, we suffer and rejoice.
Letters to Milena by Franz Kafka; When I was young Kafka was a revelation about what literature could be. I will always have a place in my heart for him and we might just have a second summer of love as I’ve realized his correspondence and diaries have been published. How did I not know this? “Letters to Milena” ended up being the first of these that I read and it is a wonderful read about a love frustrated and unrealized. Raw but beautiful. What I did think exemplary with this edition is that towards the end Milena gets to speak up. Just reading his letters to her leaves you with the impression that she is a cold woman. Not so; she was a woman who loved but who also understood very clearly that their love would be the end of her and never his salvation.
Gods and Kings by Dana Thomas; speaking of destructive behavior. I liked this a lot when I read it but it has grown on me. I keep coming back to it. I don’t know how someone who doesn’t love fashion, and has a special interest in the creations by Galliano and McQueen, would feel. But here is a framework of how fashion went from the arena of creativity to a global industry and how it effects the clothing industry in general that is of general interest. But for me it was a lot about how these two designers actually came to be that was the main takeaway.
People in the trees by Hanya Yanagihara; I started 2016 with Yanigahara’s Manbooker prize- nominated “A little life” which is melodramatic to say the least. When I read it I was in rapture but it has faded considerably since then. So not with “People in the trees”; her debut that I read this summer. The short version is that a scientist finds something on an island in the middle of nowhere, and acts according to what he thinks is reasonable, what he manages to convince himself is justified. It is a harrowing read, I had a lump in my stomach throughout. Books like this are not enjoyable but very important; for me it is up there with Frankenstein,Lolita and Death in Venice. It’s feel bad literature. It’s a dive into the dark side of humanity, and ultimately that is a lesson we need to be reminded of. Crazy people/fundamentalists often think they are being very rational, they function according to their own logic, one that is at odds with the rest of society. Ethics and morality are not written in stone but needs to be debated over and over again, by all of us.