I rarely write about the books I read. When I do it’s because I’m either comparing it to a film or TV adaptation, or I know there’s an adaptation in the works. I LOVE books, almost as much as I LOVE film and sometimes even more than. If it’s an adaptation the film is rarely as good as the book and you know I’m right! This year I’ve read a record number of books. Before I’ve finished a book I already have the next one lined up, in fact more often than not I have a stack of books rising up at the side of my bed. I can’t resist going into Waterstones every time I try to walk by it and I always end up buying one if not more books before I leave (the ‘buy one get on half price’ deal gets me every time). And so, since every book I’ve read this year has been a good one (Except one trilogy), I’ve decided to share them with you. It’s a mixed bag with no two books alike (except the trilogy), from Charles Dickens, and Emily Bronte, the hilarious adventures of Bill Bryson, some erotic Twilight fan fiction, modern classics, books to film adaptations, travel writing, romance, books I’ve read and re-read a hundred time, to crime. I’ve been on some epic journeys, met incredible characters, and felt every emotion a book could evoke. And I’ve loved all of it.
There’s no order in which I’m listing these books. I have no idea what order I read them in and I’d struggle to list them from favourite to least favourite. I’m too lazy to check the spine for an author and do it alphabetically and the same goes for doing it by title. So it’s simply as I remember them.
Fifty Shades of Grey/Fifty Shades Darker/Fifty Shades Freed by E.L James
I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst trilogies I’ve had the displeasure of reading. It’s my own fault for following the mass hype and thus paid a heavy price in loosing valuable hours of my life where I could have read something better. But that is the risk you take with any book I guess. I do ask myself time and time again ‘Why if I didn’t like the first one did I read the second and third instalment?’ The truth is I can’t leave a book unfinished, (with one exception ‘The Sea, The Sea’ by Iris Murdoch. It was beautifully written but is pure romantic mush.) Fifty Shades of Grey is a novelty read, at least for me anyway. I don’t read that much erotic fiction, none in fact, so for the first book I was quite intrigued where it would go. Turns out it goes nowhere! The first 100 pages form a simple done to death storyline which had a glimmer of potential and that already mentioned novelty factor, but it quickly becomes repetitive (every sexual encounter is near enough the same, un-realistic, with far too many “I love you’s” “We belong together’s” and mood killing romantic tear filled monologues to be exciting). It gets old really quick and by the second book I was skimming through the sex bits. I should have skimmed through it all, or better yet just skipped it. It really is a book for bored unsatisfied housewives and I’m sure even they’d find it disappointing. It’s a novelty and if you must I suggest you just read the first one. It goes nowhere but down hill from there.
A Walk in the Woods/ Down Under by Bill Bryson
I love Bill Bryson. Travelling the world is a passion of mine and travel writing is a reading favourite. I love reading about people’s travels; their experiences and how they differ from mine, what they recommend and what to avoid. And Bill Bryson says and does it all best. The first book of his I read is The Lost Continent in which he documents his travels across the lower states of America. With in the first few pages I was hooked on that Bryson humour, his intelligence and great story telling. He instantly became a favourite writer of mine and one I return to time and time again. Since then I’ve read two more of his books ‘Down Under’ and ‘A Walk in the Woods’. Both great books that have all the humour and intelligence of The Lost Continent but Down Under has become my favourite. While The Lost Continent and A Walk in the Woods follow his travels through America, a country I have always wanted to visit and some day plan to take a long road trip across/around, Down Under follows Bryson around Australia, a country I have travelled to three times in my life and fell in love with on my first trip at age nine. He visits places I’ve been to and writes of similar experiences that I can picture vividly and with fond memories of my own. On my first holiday there I was stung by a jellyfish in the sea off a Brisbane beach which since then the mention of jellyfish has sent shivers down my spine. But Bryson had his own experience, one that evokes not a shiver but belly laughs which I have revisited over and over. I read his books for the smile they put on my face, the places he makes me want to take terrifying plane journeys to, and for the occasional bit of fact giving. He is one of the best travel writers I’ve come across and by far the most entertaining.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
I’ve recently gone through a phase of revisiting old classics, or rather visiting for the first time since before now I’ve had no interest in them. Like in films I’ve been looking for what will provoke a strong emotional response. I want to watch or read things that will bring me to tears of laughter or sadness, will excite, frustrate, and above all surprise me. I don’t remember much of what I read in school except for Hamlet, or maybe it was Macbeth, but I opted to avoid books I thought we may have covered which includes pretty much all the classics. What a fool I have been. In my old age (I’m not far off 27 and that’s practically middle-aged right?) I’ve warmed to the idea of exploring the likes of Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Herman Melville, or anything from the Penguin Classics section (they all have such pretty covers). Wuthering Heights was my first choice purely because I know Tom Hardy is in a TV adaptation of the book and like all adaptations I like to read the book first. It’s beautifully written, not like anything I’ve read before. But since then, having since read Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, I have come to recognise and enjoy the style of writing that seems standard from the 19th Century. I love the way people used to talk in the 1800’s and earlier (not that I was there but I like to think books, film, TV, love letters I’ve found on the internet from war-time sweethearts, and what I’ve heard from older generations of my family have given me a good indication.), people put thought into how they described what was around them and in correspondence or words of exchange. I’m a sucker for old-time romance and am easily swept away in metaphors of beauty in people and objects. It’s just not like that any more, especially not in day-to-day life; but there is an occasional modern classic that captures what those 19th century novelists effortlessly penned. The next Penguin Classic novel I plan to read is Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson; not to be confused with children’s prince charming/happy endings fairy tales but a more adult un-glamorised imagining. I also have a list of Charlotte Bronte novels and more Emily Bronte to read which I know will take up a chunk of 2013.
State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America by Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland
There are a lot of travel books on my list, as I mentioned already I love travel-writing, but this isn’t so much about the fifty states of America as it is the experiences of fifty very different, some funny, some sad and serious, some pretty boring, and some incredibly memorable and thought-provoking, but all enlightening writers each reliving a personal story that takes place in a state that meant something to them. These are very personal journeys, some of which mention little about the state their writing on but their fascinating and honest all the same. It’s a book I would dip into now and again and could flip back and forth to different chapters, reading it in no particular order as one state does not link in to another. It’s not a book to be rushed through but one to pick up at any time over the course a few days, weeks, months, or if you’re really that busy, years.
The Further Adventures of an Idiot Abroad by Karl Pilkington
I love watching the TV series of An Idiot Abroad. It never fails to make me laugh hysterically. Karl Pilkington (head like a f**king orange) does and says the simplest things but it gives me the biggest laughs. He’s pure entertainment (and a few educational facts thrown in there for good measure). His books are pretty much what you see on the series but written in more detail from Karl’s own perspective. I can now laugh with him but mostly at him on the screen and now on the page. There are some great photos in there too. And honestly he makes a lot of sense half the time. He says what people feel too stupid saying.
That’s the last of the travel books I promise. Though no two travel books are the same.
Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov
I’d be lost without Sherry. She’s a relationship guru there to stop you attracting or pursuing the wrong kind of guy, inspiring independence and the courage to go out and get what you want in a relationship. She is the mediator between you and your boyfriend and the manual to the inner workings of the male psyche. She talks a lot of sense but is only really there to help the women. Men can sort themselves out.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
To be honest I wasn’t too fussed about Life OF Pi before I read it. I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw a trailer for the film adaptation which didn’t spark much interest in me either. But after seeing the trailer a few more times and finding out Ang Lee is on Directing duty I decided to give the book a go so I’d get everything out of the film I could if I decided to see it. I get far more out of an adapted film having read the book first instead of after. It is nothing like I expected it to be. It is heavily based on religion, a theme which runs all the way through, and it takes a while before young Pi finds himself stranded on a life raft alone with a tiger. I’d expected more of a surreal and fantastical, mythical story but it ended up a survival tale that again rested heavily on the boy’s beliefs. The detailing is beautiful and easy to imagine but at times it became repetitive (there’s only so much you can do on a life raft with a tiger) and a lot of time was spent on meal times which I found quite boring. But the story on a whole, though I am disappointed by the ending, was original and inspiring. I don’t know if I’d read it again but I know parts of it will stick with me.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus is an incredible piece of magical story telling that I couldn’t put down. Set almost entirely in a circus Erin Morgenstern creates an imaginative world full of detail that inspires awe and wonder. The characters are brought to life on the page inviting you into their world of the Night Circus; a truly amazing place which plays the stage to one of the greatest magician battles and romantic entanglements of the 1800’s. I would love to see it brought to life on-screen. Since reading it I’ve often thought of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige as a comparison. It is up there as one of my favourite books read this year.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I don’t know how I discovered The Unbearable Lightness of Being but it’s possibly the most well written book I’ve ever read. That’s not to say it’s my favourite book (Into the Wild still holds that title) but it’s incredibly well written with a great story of infidelity and life during the Communist period in Czech society. The words flow seamlessly like an unbroken wave I’m riding as though it were second nature. I was never tongue-tied, lost, or found myself drifting out from this evocative story telling. I opened it for the story of a man torn between his love of loose women, womanising and his doting and tormented wife, but found a much more complex and interesting tale involving several characters connected through their loose morals, artistic and intellectual endeavours of the 1960’s, and a brief exploration into the work of Nietzsche and Freud. I completely immersed myself in it, never wanting to end. And like the best books and films always do it left me wanting more, to know what happens to the characters I fell in love with and even the ones I couldn’t stand. It’ a great read, one I’ll definitely read again and will recommend as a great piece of writing.
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
The Interpretation of Dreams is a look into the psyche, the subconscious as Sigmund Freud saw it and the realm of dreams. I’ve always had a fascination with dreams, what they mean, what causes me to conjure up such imaginative nightmares or pleasant dreams and day dreams. I like putting together events from my past; recent and far off, drawing on fears, fantasies, and pressing thoughts to draw conclusions on my dreams; knowing something I paid no attention to consciously is vividly explored during sleep. Although I don’t agree with a lot of what Freud is saying his view that all dreams are a form of ‘Wish Fulfilment’ makes total sense to me and is something I completely agree with. However I don’t agree that all dreams are somehow sexual, obvious or otherwise and require sexual interpretation. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one Freud. It’s not an easy read by any means, Freud goes off on many tangents leaving his point altogether for page upon page until you’ve completely lost track of what his original point was. I get the feeling he liked the sound of his own voice and valued his own opinion far more than anyone else did. But when you identify with what he’s saying it’s an enjoyable, insightful read that you connect with and almost feel intelligent for doing so. Though I’m sure he’d say otherwise. The Interpretation of Dreams is the first of Freud’s books I’ve had the pleasure of reading and when I feel I’m up to the challenge I will enjoy opening up another.
Life after Death by Damien Echols
I became aware of the ‘West Memphis 3’ when in high school at the age of about fourteen/fifteen. A school friend of mine had an older brother who passed on a DVD for us to watch called Paradise Lost; a documentary about three teenage boys who were arrested in 1993 for the murders of three young boys. The case gained a lot of high-profile interest and from early on Johnny Depp has been a strong advocates of these men, and Metalica helped make both documentaries Paradise Lost I & II. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley have to this day claimed their innocence but due to poor policing, judgemental townsfolk, and fear-mongering the boys were convicted and sent to prison where they have spent the last eighteen years. Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison while Echols was put on death row. It was during 2011 that after many failed appeals the West Memphis three were able to plead ‘no contest’ for their immediate release. While incarcerated there have been many documentaries made and books written on their case but Life after Death is written by Damien Echols himself, charting his time in prison and life since his release. I’ve not finished the book yet, in fact I’m not even half way through, but already its one of the most raw, heart rendering and inspirational stories I’ve ever come across. It makes you appreciate what you have and not take things for granted and shows how easily life can be turned up side down. Life is precious and Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley are only just getting to live theirs. For anyone whose interested in the story there is also a new Documentary coming out directed by Peter Jackson called West Of Memphis and a feature film in the works.
These aren’t all the books I’ve read. There is also David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I enjoyed both but think I should read them again, Cloud Atlas especially, to fully grasp them. There is a lot going on there; too much to absorb in one reading. I’ve read a few Eye Witness Travel Books on Japan and China where I recently went on holiday and one on Canada where I plan to go later in the year. There may be others but the ones I’ve listed are the best. Do enjoy and if you read even one book from the list (except Fifty Shades of Grey)
you’re in for a treat.