Category Archives: Wrap-ups

Wrap-Up 4.20

April is usually such a highlight for me- it’s my birthday month!- but this year it was bookended with reading slumps, brought unwelcome post-season snow, and was filled with mostly underwhelming Women’s Prize content. I’m looking forward to moving on as quickly as possible.

My TBR goal for April looked like this:

tbr4.20

In the end I finished three and a half  out of the five. The three books I did read were all 4-star ratings for me, and I am enjoying Wolf Hall, which is the one I’m halfway through. In fairness, I’ve read over 350 pages of it, which feels like it should count for something– it is very long. I’m still planning to read The Glass Hotel very soon. And I finished one of the books from my March TBR that I fell behind on that month. So even though I didn’t finish everything as quickly as I’d hoped, I’m not disappointed with where I’m at.

Here’s what I read this month:

  1. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – 4 stars. Under other circumstances, this child-narrated mystery of disappearances in an Indian slum might have been a 3-star read for me; the mystery element was a little disappointing. But the narrative voice and themes blended well, and this did turn out to be among the highlights of the Women’s Prize for me this year.
  2. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – 2 stars. Though the premise was very strong with this one- examining the effects of large-scale disaster on a poor community- this book neglected to follow through on any of the deeper commentary it hinted at.
  3. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – 3 stars. This retelling of the Trojan War through female perspectives is a solid read with some great characters, but unfortunately failed to break free of the original narrative and didn’t bring anything new to the table for me.
  4. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – 4 stars. My favorite read from the Women’s Prize longlist, in terms of enjoyability! Though perhaps not the most impressive on a technical level, I was nevertheless caught up by the prose and characters in this reimagining of a chapter in Shakespeare’s family life.
  5. Queenie by Candince Carty-Wiliams – 3 stars. A young Jamaican-British woman in London hits rock bottom as her love life spirals out of control, dragging everything else down with it. I thought this was a great story, but so surface-level that I’ve barely thought about it at all since turning the last page.
  6. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – 4 stars. A stellar WWII fiction set in Singapore. The delivery of information is a bit clunky, especially at the end, but I appreciated each of the perspectives and thought the story was done beautifully, with nuance, and didn’t pull any punches. A real win for the Women’s Prize longlist this year, and a shame it didn’t advance.
  7. Actress by Anne Enright – 4 stars. This story of a famous (fictional) British-Irish actress and her daughter didn’t have quite as much emotional effect for me as I’d hoped, and yet I loved Enright’s skill with language and the complex dynamics she created between the two main characters.
  8. The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter – 4 stars. I’ve been reading this in bits and pieces since January; it is essentially a nonfiction medical reference work rather than something meant to be read cover to cover for fun, so I needed to take my time with it though I am glad to have seen all of the information at least once. This is an absolutely incredible resource. Review coming soon.

When I finished the Women’s Prize longlist (except for the Mantel trilogy) and the shortlist was announced, it was like hitting a reading wall for me. It wasn’t that I suddenly didn’t want to read, but that I could only manage a few pages at a time. My attention would wander. I would get tired. I would get distracted. I’m battling some sort of mild but persistent head cold which has really wiped me out. It’s been a weird time. I am happy to put this hot mess behind me and start fresh, and hopefully my immune system will do the same. I know it could be so much worse so I’ve been trying to just take a step back instead of complaining. Here’s to hoping May will be better for everyone.

wrapup4.20

(The book turned backward in the photo is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; as I’ve read over half I’m giving it an honorary mention.)

Some Stats:

Average rating – 3.5  This is the same as last month, but somehow it feels worse when there are no five stars in the bunch.

Best of month – I’m calling a tie between Hamnet, my most enjoyable read of the month, and The Vagina Bible, the book whose very existence excited me most.

Owned books read for the first time – 7 out of 8. That’s great! I had one library book to finish up at the beginning of the month, but otherwise I’ve been reading off of my own shelves, and expect it’ll be the same for May. I’m not sure when my library will reopen, but my due dates are now pushed back to June so it doesn’t look promising. I think this is the first time I haven’t been to a library all month in over five years. Now if only I could hold off on buying more books in order to make an actual dent in my TBR stack in the meantime… 6 of the books I read this month were only bought in March!

Year total – 36. Goodreads says I’m three books ahead of schedule for my goal of 100 books this year. Considering the fact that I’ve barely been reading the past two weeks, I’m just relieved I haven’t fallen behind yet.

Even though there’s been plenty to complain about through April, it wasn’t all bad! The Women’s Prize longlist was largely underwhelming this year, but I still had a lot of fun reviewing the books and chatting about them with all of you! Be sure to check out my

if you missed them! Also in response to the Women’s Prize this year, don’t miss the announcement for the alternate longlist I’m participating in:

And last but not least, my Spotlight Series post of the month featured literary fiction for April, and it’s crammed full of recommendations! Be sure to check it out and weigh in if you’re interested!

I’ll have my May TBR coming up next, and hopefully will be getting back into the swing of reading and reviewing soon. If things go as planned, I should have plenty of content coming up this month and hopefully a handful of 5-star reads to review among my posts! I am determined to have a better month. Tell me about a book you’re excited to read in May!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

Wrap-up 3.20

Things that happened at the beginning of March already feel like they took place a year ago, so this will be interesting.

To get started, a little refresher on my TBR goal for March:

tbr3.20

As I’m doing for every month this year, I set myself a goal of five specific books to read in March. For the first time in 2020, I did not manage to read all five books. I knew when I started out that this would be a tricky month to plan ahead of time, and I did make a conscious choice about halfway through the month to set this list aside to in order to focus on the Women’s Prize longlist. I managed to finish 3/5 of these books, plus I made progress in The Vagina Bible– I passed the halfway point. I didn’t even start The Heart’s Invisible Furies. These books won’t be appearing in future TBR sets, but I do still expect to read them this year; I might be able to finish The Vagina Bible next month, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies is one of my 20 in ’20 titles, so if you’re looking for my reviews on those they will still be coming eventually. As it is, I’m satisfied with my 3 out of 5 for now.

Here’s what I have been reading:

  1. The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall – 3 stars. A gothic murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction, this was a fascinating read. Some of its many elements worked better for me than others and the ending didn’t quite satisfy, but overall this was a good time.
  2. Things in Jars by Jess Kidd – 4 stars. I liked everything about this historical fiction mystery set in Victorian London except its whimsical writing style, which grated considerably for me. I probably would have adored this about ten years ago, but this month 4 stars felt generous.
  3. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – 4 stars. An absolutely stunning memoir of abuse in same-sex relationships. It’s full of important content and incredible writing, a nearly perfect read.
  4. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – 5 stars. This historical fiction novel re-imagines a terrible storm and a bad case of witch trials in a small sea town of northeastern Norway. I was utterly drawn in by the characters and the author handles the subject deftly, making room for new conversations about centuries-old witch hunts.
  5. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – 4 stars. A short family drama following three generations in Brooklyn and the choices that set them apart and bind them together. I would’ve liked a little more from this book but overall had a nice time reading it.
  6. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – 4 stars. Despite a whole lot of infuriating characters, I very much admired what this book set out to do. Even though it didn’t quite come together as well as I’d hoped, I loved the writing and commentary and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the read.
  7. Girl by Edna O’Brien – 2 stars. I picked this one up with low expectations and it still managed to disappoint. It focuses on the kidnapping and abuse of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, but the perspective and approach left its brutal content feeling sadly flat and ineffective.
  8. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – 3 stars. Featuring a young Dominican Republic girl who enters a loveless marriage in hopes of helping her family immigrate to the United States, this book failed to impress and yet was nevertheless very readable for me.
  9. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – 3 stars. A family saga in which four daughters aspire to find the level of perfect romance modeled by their parents; a secretly adopted son returns to the fold and shakes things up. I found this such an entertaining read, but wished it had more to offer than fun. Full review coming soon.
  10. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – 3 stars. Another family saga, this one follows two children who were rich for a short time and lived in a fancy house, only to be turned out and faced with poverty. I loved Patchett’s writing but found myself increasingly disappointed with the book’s characters, plot, and structure. Full review coming soon.

wrapup3.20

This was actually a great reading month, if you consider that I barely read for an entire week while on vacation in early March and still managed to finish one more book than my recent average of nine. I feel on the verge of a reading slump but I’m trying to push through at least until I’ve finished with the Women’s Prize. I’m saving some of the titles I’m most looking forward to for last, so hopefully I’ll have better luck soon.

Some stats:

Average rating – 3.5

Best of month – The Mercies

Owned books read for the first time – 2 out of 10. I read so many library books this month, and I won’t even mention how many books I acquired but it’s a lot more than 2- which my own-unread TBR grew considerably this month. But I only have one library book left and am not planning to check out any more (physical copies at least) until the lockdown has ended, so I expect to spend next month (if not longer) crossing quite a few own-unread books off my list and fixing this balance.

Year total – 28. Goodreads says I’m three books ahead of schedule for my goal of 100 books this year. I’m perfectly happy with where I’m at.

 

If you noticed a lot of historical fiction in my reading list above, it’s partially because I was preparing for my Spotlight on Historical Fiction post. Feel free to check it out and weigh in with your own experience with historical fiction! I had fantasy slotted for my genre spotlight post in April, but since I’m planning to stick to the Women’s Prize list for a few more weeks and haven’t been reading a lot of fantasy lately, I’m swapping fantasy with literary fiction. Stay tuned if this is a genre you’re looking forward to chatting about! Fantasy will feature later this year.

Here’s to April being a better month than March! We need it. Stay healthy, stay informed, escape with a good book. Be well, everyone.

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-up 2.20

After a slow start and some surprises in my schedule this month, I ended February on a high note!

From my planned TBR

tbr2.20

I managed to once again read all five books I’d assigned myself for the month! I had a ton of library books to start the month off so I was delayed in getting around to this list, but it all worked out in the end. From the set, I ended up with one 5-star rating, two 4-stars, a 3-star, and a 2-star. Quite a range, and not nearly as successful as January, but it felt rewarding to complete the list anyway, and fortunately I started out with the lowest rating and worked my way up, which is what I would have preferred if I had known what those ratings would be!

In total, here’s what I read in February:

  1. A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne. 2 stars. I picked this up as part of a buddy read and because I’m working my way through some past Women’s Prize winners. Unfortunately, this one was my least favorite so far. Part of my struggle was that the book is described as something it’s not (a murder mystery), and the rest came down to dissatisfaction with the narrator.
  2. All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg. 3 stars. This is not a bad book, just a basic look at problems with the patriarchy, which wasn’t new to me. The “plot” follows a family reuniting around the death of the father, though it’s more of a revelation of each character’s past than a plot. I picked it up because I had seen good reviews and knew it to be shortlisted for the 2020 Tournament of Books.
  3. The Tenant by Katrine Engberg, translated by Tara Chace. 3 stars. A Danish murder mystery (a new release from January) in which the victim is killed in the same way described in a writer’s unpublished manuscript. I found this entertaining and enjoyed the plot, but I’m afraid it won’t turn out to be a memorable thriller for me. I found the characterization a bit weak.
  4. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. 4 stars. I grabbed this title from BOTM in December, and picked it up this month to help put me in the mood for my Spotlight on Romance post. I think it was the first m/m romance I’ve read, and I adored almost everything about it. Perfect Valentine’s read!
  5. Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown. 3 stars. This is a historical/contemporary book about women’s roles in marriage, in the 1950’s and now. I expected it to have something more substantial to say about modern marriage, and was disappointed to find that it’s more revelatory about the 50’s side of things, which wasn’t new information for me. I loved the authentic quotes about historic marriage at the beginnings of the chapters, but otherwise I just wasn’t the right reader for this book.
  6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. 4 stars. An unread book from own shelves, a 20 in ’20 pick, and another romance to suit the month. This one follows two sisters in 19th century England as they find themselves unlucky (so they think) in love. It was my least favorite Austen novel so far, but I always love her writing, and spared some room in my review to talk about the film as well, which is excellent!
  7. Weather by Jenny Offill. 3 stars. I picked this up as a new release this month, and knowing it’s also eligible for the Women’s Prize list, which will be announced imminently(!). I adored the writing and the snappy (mostly depressing) observations about present society, but wasn’t drawn in by the narrative. Full review coming soon.
  8. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. 5 stars. I should’ve picked this book up last year when it first caught my interest, because I absolutely loved it. Shortlisted for the National Book Award and eligible for the Women’s Prize longlist, I think this one’s fully deserving of the recognition it’s been receiving. It focuses on a Russian community’s response to the disappearance of two young girls. It’s a quiet novel, but stunning. Full review coming soon.
  9. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. 5 stars. A final romance to end the month, and one more from my 20 in ’20 list. Also another previous Women’s Prize winner! I just barely finished this one before the end of February, and if it hadn’t been so good I probably wouldn’t have managed! This is a mythological m/m romance set in Trojan War times, and it absolutely ripped my heart out. Full review coming soon.

Two wrap-up pictures this month (and they don’t quite match, because I had to take them on different days, sorry, hopefully this doesn’t bother anyone but me); I had so many library books in the beginning of the month that I returned before the end, before I knew what else I would manage to read. But otherwise, a satisfactory month. Two 5-star reads that saved it at the end!

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.0 , can’t complain!

Best of month – I… cannot decide. Disappearing Earth was a slow delight that I wanted to savor; it’s well written and I enjoyed every single chapter and character. The Song of Achilles was an emotional marathon of a read that hit all the highs and lows and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t rate one over the other.

Owned books read for the first time – 4 out of 9. I will be adjusting my library usage because 5 books at a time turned out to be a little more than I wanted. But even with so many checkouts, I only acquired 3 books this month (none of which I’ve managed to read yet, sadly); anyway, I crossed off more unread titles from my own-unread TBR than I added, so I’m still happy with this.

Year total – 18. I’m two books ahead with my Goodreads goal (100 books in 2020), and I managed to read just as many books as in January, despite the fact that Jan lasts ten years and Feb lasts ten seconds. I’m happy with this as well!

 

A couple of non-review posts from this month:

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 1.20

January. What a month to start the year! To be honest, I’ve been at a mental and emotional low for a few weeks, for reasons and no reasons. I think it’s affecting my reading speed, but not my reading experiences, and I think that every month I tend to read a little less than I expect going in so it’s hardly worth dwelling on here. Other than feeling a bit off, it has actually been a great reading month, as far as content! My goal for the year is to read more books that I will enjoy (as opposed to books that I’m generally happier to have read than to have enjoyed reading), which of course is hard to judge in advance, but it’s going well!

First off, I’m using a new TBR system again this year, where I focus on 5 specific books I want to read that count toward goals/commitments, and then fill in the rest of my reading time with whatever I please. This was my selection for January:

tbr1.20

…and I’m happy to say I’m off to a good start, because I’ve completed the list this month! Three of these were 5-star reads for me, and the other 2 were 4-stars. Here’s a little breakdown of my reading this month:

  1. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – 5 stars. Though this story got off to a rough start for me, I ended up loving the unique structure and meta element of this book, and felt it worked so well with the book’s themes of sexual abuse of students from teachers/mentors. I can see why it won the 2019 National Book Award for fiction!
  2. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder – 3 stars. I loved the magical premise of forgetting / losing memories of objects, and the themes of conformity vs individuality certainly made an impression. But ultimately I was disappointed this one didn’t dig a little deeper into its magical element, and I felt like opportunities were missed in unanswered questions.
  3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier – 4 stars. I read this along with Melanie! It features a young Englishman and his enchanting cousin who may or may not be a murderess. I couldn’t quite sympathize with the male narrator, but loved the ambiguity of the plot and nuance of characterization. I also watched the 2017 film adaptation this month, and for a movie that follows the story fairly closely, I was surprised how disappointed I was with basically every aspect of the film, right from the beginning!
  4. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – 5 stars. In an experience similar to that of Trust Exercise, I wasn’t sold on this one until the structural shift halfway through the book. It ended up being an emotional and convincing read that plays with time and intent very well! A great end to my 2019 Booker Prize journey.
  5. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey – 3 stars. I loved the messages I pulled from this read about the quiet ubiquity and internalization of abuse and manipulation women suffer at the hands of men, but the layout of each chapter as a different conversation/story from the narrator’s life never quite worked for me the way it seemed like it should’ve.
  6. The Martian by Andy Weir – 4 stars. This is a modern sci-fi staple that I’m several years late with, but have finally picked up and fully agree with the positive reviews! The narrative POV didn’t work quite as well for me as I’d expected after watching the film several years ago, but I still immensely enjoyed this interplanetary survival story, science and all.
  7. Long Bright River by Liz Moore – 5 stars. My BOTM selection from December, and an anticipated 2020 release, I had such a good time with this mystery about the opioid epidemic. It’s not flawless, and it might over time get bumped down to a 4-star rating for me, but I was completely sucked in by the complicated family dynamic and the challenges that come with addiction. Review to come.
  8. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – 5 stars. I’ve seen sci-fi readers raving about this novella, and now I understand why. I picked this up one evening out of curiosity, just intending to read the first page or so and get a feel for when I might like to read it, and ended up finishing it the same night. I loved the personality of this part-robot SecUnit whose job is to protect humans and whose passion is avoiding all contact to watch serial television. Review to come.
  9. Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford – 4 stars. This was actually close to a 3-star for me simply because again, I was left with a lot of unanswered questions and vague ideas where I tend to like more concrete magical elements and directly implied messages, but the themes I drew from this brief plot really made an impact, and I adored the writing style. Such a weird, wonderful little book. Review to come.

Honorable mention: I (finally) started reading Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible this month as well, but it’s a bit textbookish so I’m fine with taking it slowly and wasn’t trying to finish it this month. I really love that this exists and am looking forward to reviewing. Maybe February! …Maybe March.

wrapup1.20

All in all, a quality reading month. I read 4 library books, 2 BOTM selections from my unread shelf, a couple of 2019 releases I was sad to miss last year, 3 2020 releases, a buddy read, a translation, and a couple of backlisters I’d been meaning to get to for ages. And ratings were so high!

Some stats:

Average rating – 4.2!

Best of month – Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Owned books read for the first time – 5. Out of 9. More than half! And I only acquired 3 books this month, one of which I’d already read and simply received a free copy to own, one of which I read this month, and the last of which I’m planning to read in February. This is a great start to the year for my own-unread TBR! Hopefully it’s the start of a longer trend.

Year total – 9. I’m on track for my Goodreads goal of 100. Even though it’s a slightly lower number than I was hoping for in the longest month of the year, it’s a great number for me. Yay!

 

Since I’m mentioning anticipated releases in all of my TBR posts this year (February’s list coming soon), I’d also like to note here that I read 3/12 of my featured releases for January within the month. I have library holds on a few others that have recently come available, and I’ve crossed two books off of my TBR entirely, at least for now. The two I’m no longer interested in are: Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt, which has been the subject of much recent controversy; Hannah sums up perfectly in this post! The other is Raymond Fleishman’s How Quickly She Disappears, which I could end up changing my mind about but for now Naty’s review post has convinced me this isn’t what I’m looking for at the moment.

 

And a few of the non-review posts I’ve shared this month, in case you missed them!

 

Is the reading year off to a good start for you? Let me know below!

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up: Booker Prize 2019

The Booker season has passed, the year has passed, a lot of the buzz surrounding these books has passed, but it’s time to collect my thoughts on the 2019 Booker Prize now that I’ve read the whole list. (Well, almost the whole list.)

I’m going to start by ranking the longlist in order of personal preference, with a few words about my reading experience. I’ll link the titles to my reviews if you’re looking for more in-depth thoughts or general information about any particular book.

 

13. Quichotte by Salman Rushdie. I expect I’ll get around to reading this one eventually. BUT Quichotte wasn’t published in the US until the shortlist was announced, and I wasn’t prepared to read both Cervantes’s Don Quixote (which I would want to read beforehand) and Quichotte while the prize was going on, and now it feels less urgent. I know Rushdie is a big name in the literary world and a previous Booker Prize winner, but I can’t claim an opinion. (The only reason I’m placing it at the bottom of this list.)

44599127

12. An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma. 2 stars. I can see why this was nominated. There ARE some appreciable elements here: the commentary on racism and prejudice in Africa (and beyond), and what is, in most respects, a wonderful cultural snapshot; both fit in well with this year’s other nominees. But I found its structure more like a gimmick that never panned out and I HATED the male character’s attitude toward the woman he supposedly loved. While I can admit there are some good aspects here and that part of my dislike is personal (such as not enjoying the writing style), I was dismayed to see this made the shortlist.

35003282

11. The Wall by John Lanchester. 2 stars. This one was very readable and unproblematic, but I don’t understand the choice to longlist it at all. Despite how glaringly obvious its parallels to real-world issues are, it fails to offer any new observations or perspectives. There’s just… nothing to dig into here, and the ending addresses none of the concerns raised. Perhaps I somehow missed it, but I found no worthwhile statement or even question here, despite the story being perfectly fine.

40180117

10. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. 2 stars. I don’t begrudge this book its fan base, but this was not a good fit for me. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale especially for its ambiguous ending, and found myself frustrated with its sequel for spoon-feeding me the answers to all of the questions I didn’t ask. Which isn’t to say it’s objectively a bad book. My main criticism with seeing it longlisted is simply that it reads more like a predictable YA dystopia than literary fiction, so while ultimately I’m glad that this one’s making waves and capturing the hearts of many, I don’t think the Booker prize was the right placement for it, especially beyond the longlist.

42975172

9. Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. 3 stars. Despite a premise that struck me as highly intriguing, I felt mostly indifferent toward this one in the end. It’s got some beautiful prose, if that’s your thing, but not much plot, and again, just nothing really to dig into. Unlike with The Wall, it did at least seem like an attempt was being made, and there were a few individual elements I enjoyed- a chapter here, a character there, etc. Ultimately I was left wishing it had simply gone farther in any of the promising directions it could have taken based on its premise. I can see why this is working better for some readers, but it was underwhelming for me.

44285925

8. Lanny by Max Porter. 4 stars. This was mostly a fun read (despite the heavy topics of otherness, child safety, and mortality) and beautiful on the page. It’s divided into three parts that are all very different from each other, and I had a very different experience with each: the first piqued my interest, the second COMPLETELY hooked me, and the third took the magical element too far for my taste. I wouldn’t have been heartbroken to have missed this one, but it doesn’t seem out of place on the longlist.

41940306. sx318

7. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak. 4 stars. This book is not without its flaws, but I came to it late after seeing quite a few negative reviews, which worked in my favor. Though the execution falls apart to some extent in the second and third parts of this narrative, it’s a readable tale with an interesting structure and worthwhile themes of prejudice and injustice in Turkey. I’m indifferent to its placement on the shortlist; its advancement encouraged me to pick it up, which I don’t resent, but it wouldn’t have been one of my top choices to advance.

46777584

6. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli. 4 stars. Admittedly it did take a while for this one to convince me, but in the end it won me over. I thought the structure and plot worked well together, I was emotionally invested, and appreciated the dive into a timely topic. I think a spot on the shortlist would’ve been well-deserved and I’ll continue to be disappointed that it missed the chance both with the 2019 Women’s Prize and now the Booker. I highly recommend picking up Luiselli’s nonfiction Tell Me How it Ends alongside this one if you’re interested in the topic of Mexican and Central American migrants crossing into the US.

40245130

5. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. 4 stars. This was a very high 4-star read for me; I loved its themes, the narrative voice, the vignettes that read almost like individual short stories (though I’ll continue to argue that they’re not), the range of unique and fascinating characters. I had only a couple of small hang-ups about the overarching plot and the themes feeling a bit forced at times, but ultimately I appreciated this book quite a lot and highly recommend it- it holds up as a Booker winner. Even though it wasn’t my personal favorite read from the longlist, I would’ve been happy to see it as the sole winner this year.

41081373. sy475

4. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. 5 stars. This one’s ranked ahead of Girl, Woman, Other only by a very small margin, as is the next book. I simply had such a fun time with this one. It took me completely, pleasantly by surprise- the fact that it’s probably one of the first literary thrillers I’ve read couldn’t have hurt. I’m neither shocked nor disappointed that it didn’t advance farther than the longlist, but it’s quick, accessible, thought-provoking, and a bit hard to categorize; all elements I love.

38819868. sy475

3. The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy. 5 stars. Another short book that accomplishes a lot, this one manages to address a range of interesting topics while also being one of the most structurally innovating books on the longlist. It’s not quite as… politically charged as the shortlisted books, so I can see why it didn’t advance farther, but I am so glad it was longlisted; I for one, might have missed it otherwise, and found it entirely worth the read.

42972048

2. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. 5 stars. This is definitely a book for Frankenstein fans, of which I am one, so this was always going to work for me, I think. There’s not a lot of plot and the humor doesn’t always hit the mark, but on the whole I loved Winterson’s prose, I loved the emotion it was able to provoke and the avenues of thought it led me down. This one manages both to expand upon Shelley’s original themes and take them in new directions, while also Frankenstein-ing the structure, adding Shelley herself and her characters into the mix, and contributing to modern gender discourse. It’s absolutely everything I wanted it to be and I loved every page.

42123787. sy475

1. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. 5 stars. This one takes patience. At 1000 pages, it’s probably the least “accessible” book on the longlist, though aside from the time commitment I did not find it particularly challenging to read. Some aspects of this worked better for me than others, but at the end of the day this is THE book from the longlist that impressed me most and will stay with me the longest. I love the import it gives to a seemingly unimportant character, I love the perspective it highlights, I love the way it loops around and doubles back on itself, drawing a complete narrative out of an exhaustive strand of thought. I understand that this isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but in my mind it was the most deserving of this year’s Booker win. It’s timely, it’s experimental and ground-breaking, it’s feminist, and, a lot of the time, it really is fun. At least, for me it was. This ended up being my favorite read of 2019 as well. It raises the bar high. There’s nothing like it.

45735014

 

As a whole, it’s not a bad or unusual longlist. Thematically there’s a lot of focus on political unrest, on the very divided opinions we’re seeing in the world right now and what the long-term effects might be. There’s a lot of fear for the future here, and a close examination of injustices. A fair amount of feminism as well, and more than half the list written by women. All of which I can appreciate.

It’s not been my favorite longlist though (I’ve only read one other full Booker list so take that as you will); despite the four 5-star ratings, this felt like a safe list, with a lot of big authors starring. Two that I liked a lot were titles I’d already read, and THREE 2-star ratings was a real low for me. I wasn’t originally planning to read the entire list, and I might’ve ended up having a better time if I hadn’t pushed myself through so many that weren’t doing much for me. So, a mixed year. What I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t ALWAYS read the full longlist, especially if it doesn’t appeal to me initially as a whole.

I’ll link my initial longlist reaction post here for anyone curious, though it’s mainly a preview of which books I expected to read or not at the time, which definitely changed.

 

Now for the shortlist. Unfortunately, the one book I didn’t end up reading was shortlisted, so I’m still not entirely informed here, but I’ll do my best.

Image result for Booker prize shortlist 2019

On the shortlist: Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities, Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, Atwood’s The Testaments, Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, and Rushdie’s Quichotte.

Again, on the surface, not a bad list. Countries represented include: Nigeria, Turkey, US, UK, Canada, and India. 4 out of 6 are female authors. Every book here (that I’ve read, at least) is structurally interesting, challenges the political status quo, and offers a unique perspective, generally through a particularly well-drawn character. But… both authors with a previous win appear here (Atwood and Rushdie), as does a previously shortlisted author (Obioma). There are several here I would’ve traded, if the choice had been up to me. I would’ve loved to see Frankissstein in place of The Testaments (both are gender-focused sci-fi tales), Lost Children Archive in place of An Orchestra of Minorities (both tell a story of people traveling to an unfamiliar country) and perhaps The Man Who Saw Everything in place of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (the only similarity I can think of drawing here is a spoiler, so I’ll refrain). I have no idea whether I’d be willing to trade Quichotte or with what. Admittedly my choices would leave us with more UK- and US-based writers, which would be disappointing though not the only consideration.

I’ll link my initial reaction to the shortlist here for the sake of completion, though if I remember correctly it’s mainly a sum of what I’d read so far and still intended to read.

 

I hoped that Milkman winning last year while I was in the midst of reading it boded well for Ducks, Newburyport this year, which I was reading at the time of the winner announcement. Unfortunately, the winner(s) announcement turned into quite a mess, instead.

Image result for booker prize winners

Both Atwood and Evaristo were named as the winners of 2019’s Booker Prize, which… a lot of people had a lot of issues with. I’ll link my initial winner reaction here, which includes some of the arguments being raised at that time; primarily, that Atwood’s book was not particularly literary, and that the joint win wasn’t fair to Evaristo, the first black woman ever to win the Booker.

After writing that post, quite a bit more drama ensued. I read several articles that were published after the fact, a couple of which stood out; this one, for instance, in which the judges discuss their deliberations and admit to choosing the winner not by weighing the literary merit of each story, but by looking at the authors’ careers and critical/cultural standing as well. Then there was this article from Ducks’ publisher about the difficulties small publishing houses face participating in big literary prizes, and thus the unfairness felt when they’ve put in the money and work and aren’t given a fair chance at winning. It was quite a debacle, and that’s not even taking into account the fact that the judges’ SOLE JOB was to choose a single winner, which they failed to do.

I can’t deny I wanted Ducks, Newburyport to win. I hadn’t finished reading it and I hadn’t read Girl, Woman, Other yet, but my opinion hasn’t changed after reading them. I do think that Evaristo’s novel is a quality winner. It’s arguably more readable than Ellmann’s novel for the sheer difference in size, and its themes are just as timely, insightful, and significant. Evaristo’s win puts a great story with a creative structure and messages of equality into the hands of readers who might not have bothered reading the Booker winner this year if it clocked in at 1000 pages. If I had to pick a second choice for a winner, Evaristo would’ve been it, and honestly maybe it is the better fit. I can live with it, anyway. I can be happy about it.

On the other hand, I mostly ignore Atwood’s win. I can’t help it. I love her writing, and she probably deserved to win for The Handmaid’s Tale, but for The Testaments? In a way, I feel that her 2019 win was a way for the judges to retroactively award her for Handmaid’s and the huge fandom it inspired. I think of Atwood’s 2019 win as a sort of lifetime-achievement award, which isn’t what the Booker should be, but I just can’t wrap my head around anyone thinking The Testaments is one of the top literary achievements of the year. It’s not a bad book. I’m not trying to say it’s not an achievement, or an important piece of modern culture, or fully deserving of its popularity. It’s just… not a Booker winner. Not in my mind.

 

And thus ends my experience with the 2019 Booker Prize. (At least until I eventually read Quichotte, but I’ll confine my thoughts to a single review for that.) I had a much better time with the 2018 list, so this isn’t going to scare me off of ever reading the Booker longlist again, but it does encourage me to be more choosy.

If you followed along at all last year, feel free to share your level of satisfaction with the 2019 Booker Prize below!

 

The Literary Elephant

2019 Reading Wrap-Up

One last hurrah before I return to reviews: all the stats from my reading in 2019!

Let’s start with Goodreads, since that’s one of the main ways I keep track of books:

goodreads2019

goodreads2019pt2

2019readingchallenge

I had no difficulty beating my Goodreads goal of 100 books this year, and I surpassed last year’s record of 118 books as well! But I actually read about 4,000 fewer pages than last year, and my average page count dropped by 54 pages.

This seemed odd to me at first because I read 3 books over 1,000 pages in 2019: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (1,179 pages), The Stand by Stephen King (1,440 pages), and Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (1,020 pages), along with 7 additional books each over 500 pages.

But upon reflection, I’m sure the lower page count comes down to the fact that I read 32 individually bound short stories this year! I wasn’t expecting it when the year began, but  2019 ended up being The Year Of The Faber Stories. It was a fun experience sampling all of these tiny volumes (plus a few other short fiction, nonfiction, and graphic pieces), but it has definitely affected my stats!

faberstoriescompleteset

This was also the year for excellent novellas. Many of them didn’t make my favorites lists for the simple fact that I really am partial to longer works, but I can’t close out 2019 without mentioning these superb 4- and 5-star novellas (in the order I read them):

But size isn’t everything. Let’s measure my reading in some other ways… and bring on the pie charts!

2019readingstats.png

As you can see, a lot of my reading this year came from fairly recent publications. This is probably a result of my reading fewer classics in 2019, which I’m sad about but not devastated. I’m sure I’ll return to classics before too long. In the meantime, here’s how my reading shook out by genre:

2019readingstats2

I did my best to pick just ONE genre to represent each book, but alas, I read some real genre-benders this year, and felt especially torn on the classics, most of which fit an actual genre regardless of their age; a few of my 2019 books (about 10) needed more than one category, so the percentages here are slightly skewed away from my 126 book total but I think overall this chart is still a good indicator of what I was reaching for!

Even though 6% seems relatively small, I do want to give a special shoutout to my nonfiction reading this year, primarily because I have never in my life consistently enjoyed nonfiction or actively reached for it before this year. I can think of only 2 nonfiction books I enjoyed before 2019, and one of those I mistook for fiction for over 50 pages, so. I really hope to increase my nonfiction percentage in 2020 because I know I’ve barely dipped my toe in the genre (or technically, collection of genres) and I’ve loved reading to learn, which nonfiction encourages. Since I didn’t have time for recapping my year in nonfic during Nonfiction November, here’s a little overview of what I read this year, all of which convinced me I should be reading more nonfiction:

Also unexpected this year:

2019readingstats3

I’m using “YA+” to represent books like Aesop’s Fables which I think are technically “children’s” tales but are probably read more often by adults these days, and Suspicious Minds, which seemed like an adult story written for a YA audience, as well as a few other tricky cases. But even combined, YA and YA+ made up very little of my 2019 reading, probably less of my yearly reading than ever before in my life. I hope to read a bit more YA in 2020 because I still enjoy lit from that age range, though I expect adult lit will comprise the majority of my reading from here on out.

2019readingstats6

There is of course room for error with assuming gender based on one-paragraph author bios, but I wanted an idea of this ratio so I did the best I could. As far as I know I didn’t read from any trans or non-binary authors this year, which is tragic, but I am happy I’m reading almost twice as many female authors as male.

Technically I calculated this chart by tallying the author of each book read rather than giving each other one tally, so Stephen King actually makes up 6% of the “men” wedge by himself. I am on a slow journey through King’s entire oeuvre, partially because I like his stories, partially because I think it’s fun to track an author’s writing over such a long period of time. In any case, I read 8 of his books this year, including his longest-ever published novel, the 1400+ page uncut edition of The Stand. I think the highlight for me this year was Full Dark, No Stars, a 4-starred collection of 4 novellas/short stories.

Aside from Stephen King, there are only 3 authors I read multiple books from in 2019 (2 books from S. A. Chakraborty, 3 from Jenny Han, and 2 from Margaret Atwood, though one of those was a graphic novel illustrated by another artist). I picked up a few new works by some authors I’ve read in previous years, like Blake Crouch, Riley Sager, Anna Burns, and Taylor Jenkins Reid, among others). I’m not doing a pie chart for this one since there are only two categories, but actually 70% of my 2019 reading came from new-to-me authors.

2019readingstats5

I chose my 2019 TBR system (making all new books acquired in one month my official TBR for the following month) in hopes of encouraging myself to buy fewer books and to read what I’m buying promptly, which obviously didn’t work. I succeeded only once all year, though twice more I came close. All in all, I hauled 145 books this year, not counting books I bought that I’d read in other copies in previous years, which I didn’t realize I wasn’t keeping proper track of. Of those 145 hauled, I read 63 so far, which is 43% of the books I acquired this year, but actually 50% of my 2019 reading. I’m making new goals to address my obvious issue of buying so many more books than I’m reading, but to be honest I just don’t care that much. I want to read all of these books eventually, it encourages and inspires me to own books that I’m excited about, and I don’t really buy myself other “fun” things. Please don’t @ me for my questionable budgeting and hoarding habits.

I think the rest of this chart is fairly self-explanatory; I love using the library and having those checkouts make up a third of my reading is pretty typical. I think the two short stories I read online were the only “ebooks” I completed this year, the rest of my reading was in physical copies. My two rereads were both books that I bought this year, one of which I read twice in 2019, one of which I read first in 2018. (My rereads and online  reads were actually both 1.5% of my reading at two books each, the chart just didn’t like half percents.)

2019readingstats7.png

I was very curious about this one. I did have 7 fewer 5-star reads than last year, which probably plays a part in why my reading year felt generally underwhelming. But the number of my 2-star ratings in 2019, which felt unusually large and in my mind was a big reason for my dissatisfaction with my 2019 reading, is actually a SMALLER percentage than last year, which is shocking to me. This is really making me reconsider whether I should be more open to 1-star ratings, because my 2018 2-stars did not stand out to me as negatively as most of my 2019 2-stars.

Generally, I never feel that I’ve actively hated a book enough to rate it 1-star, and I like to think that if I am THAT disappointed in the reading experience I would break my non-DNFing habit and put the book down. But my lingering negativity for some of these 2-stars is really making me question whether I’m doing ratings wrong. I didn’t do a “most disappointing reads” post this year because I knew it would put me in a terrible mood, but I will list my 2-stars here for anyone curious:

I just want to add a note that these are not necessarily objectively awful books, and I think I tried to specify in each one of my reviews who might get on with them better than I did.

But let’s move on. I only have a couple of things left I want to mention, and I think we can ditch the pie charts now. Here’s one last graph:

2019readingstats4

This is based on setting rather than the author’s country of home/origin. I did try to track whether the author had spent time in the setting country, but had too many that I was still uncertain about to feel I could draw up an accurate graph. I’ll settle for mentioning that I’m confident most of my 2019 reading was from authors who had actually been to the countries they used as settings.

Also worth noting: I counted multiple countries here for books that took place in more than one setting, but only if it felt like a substantial part of the book. There’s some overlap with the “fictional” category as well, I counted two categories for books that were clearly fictionalized versions of a particular country.

I didn’t do very well about reading outside of my home country this year, even though to my credit 59 books is slightly under half of my 2019 reading- a step in the right direction. But I think I only read 6 (ish) translations this year (some of the Faber Stories are not very clear about their translated status, so I’m not sure on the exact number), which is really very sad even though it probably is an improvement from my reading in the past. Hopefully I’ll be able to bump up my percentage of translation reading in the future, and decrease the percentage of books set in the US.

I’ve mentioned a few things now that I hope to see change in the future, some of which are vague ideas at this point- if you’re curious about my specific goals for 2020 or want to find out how my 2019 goals turned out, check out this post of goals.

I’ve also done some other fun lists lately that round up my 2019 reading, including my 2019 favorites and almost-favorites, some books I’m sad to have missed, my 2019 experience with BOTM, and new some new releases that found their way onto my radar. Also looking ahead, I’ve drawn up a 20 in ’20 list of 5-star predictions from my backlist TBR.

And last but not least, another notable facet of my 2019 reading was my completion of the 2019 Women’s Prize longlist; I followed along throughout the prize, posting reviews on each nominated book and thoughts on the judges’ decisions with the shortlist and winner.

I’ve been buddy reading some past Women’s Prize winners with an excellent group of bloggers as well; these are the titles we’ve read in 2019: A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, and The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

I also read most of the 2019 Booker Prize longlist; I’m finishing up with one more title in January, and putting the final title on indefinite hold. My full thoughts on the longlist will be forthcoming this month, but you can find most of my reviews and thoughts through these links to my reaction to the shortlist and my reaction to the winners.

And now, since I’ve waxed on about my reading year long enough, I’ll say adieu. Overall, I would rate 2019 as a 3-star reading year for me, but there were definitely some good moments and I have high hopes for the year ahead.

Best of reading to you all in 2020!

 

The Literary Elephant

Wrap-Up 12.19

A quick recap of my December reading, before my statistics for the full year (which are imminent)!

Books I finished reading in December:

  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. 4 stars. I had high hopes for this Booker Prize winner, and it (mostly) lived up! I did end up with a few criticisms about plot and how much one story can realistically accomplish, but overall highly enjoyed the read and support the win.
  2. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. 3 stars. This was a buddy read, and a previous Women’s Prize winner. Obreht’s 2019 release looked so appealing to me that I was hoping to get along well with her debut and move onto her new release, but that didn’t quite happen. I appreciated a lot of the smaller pieces that made up this narrative, but it didn’t quite come together for me as a meaningful whole. I’m glad that I read it, but didn’t have as much fun with it as I’d wanted to, and am now on the fence about picking up Inland.
  3. Mostly Hero by Anna Burns. 5 stars. The longest short story from the Faber Collection, and probably the selection I was most excited for out of all 30 titles, this one absolutely lived up to expectations for me. It’s a spoof on superhero narratives, as well as a fun ride in its own right and delightfully literary. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face while reading.
  4. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak. 4 stars. I’m on a quest to wrap up my 2019 Booker experience, and this was one of the last loose ends. I’d seen so many underwhelming reviews for this book beforehand that I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy it, and I think the low expectations really worked in my favor. In the end I appreciate the concept more than the execution, but I enjoyed at least one part of the book thoroughly, and found the rest tolerable enough that my experience was mostly positive.
  5. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. 5 stars. I knew I would love this book, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Though the subject is difficult and infuriating (one young woman’s experience with the US legal system and rape culture after a sexual assault), it’s an engrossing and insightful read meant to inform all sorts of readers about a process that isn’t working the way it should be. This is exactly the follow-up to Unbelievable that I was looking for. Review coming soon.
  6. The Body in Question by Jill Ciment. 3 stars. This intriguing little volume was one I was almost sad to have missed in 2019, but then I saw it was under 200 pages and available at my library, so I picked it up on a last-minute whim and flew through it in a day. It is certainly a thought-provoking tale, but ultimately its two pieces (an arson/murder trial and an affair between two of the jurors) were held too far apart  from each other for this to work for me. Review coming soon.
  7. Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver. 3 stars. Another Faber Story that I was looking forward to, though sadly with less exciting results. I’ve never read Kingsolver before, and I still want to, but this was not the right story for me. It’s an admirable concept, but very little happens here, and the Point is so predictable that it feels unconvincing and ineffective when the moment of clarity arrives. It’s no surprise that the land where Native Americans once made their home have utterly changed through no fault of their own, and that this story makes that argument without taking it farther only shows how dated it is, in my opinion. Review coming soon.
  8. The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz. 2 stars. One of the Faber Stories I was least excited about, and should have just let pass me by. I’ve never read Diaz before either, so I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt at least once. This is a story of a man trying to bounce back after losing a long-term relationship he ruined through excessive cheating. I hated the main character and his (male) best friend, and the story goes nowhere, really. I think the ending is supposed to be cheeky/humorous, but it fell flat for me. Review coming soon.
  9. One Day in December by Josie Silver. 3 stars. Every now and then I read a romance, and December was clearly the time for this one. It’s formatted around New Year’s resolutions, so picking it up between Christmas and New Year’s was really the way to go. Most of the good feelings I retain for this one have to do with reading it at the right time. Otherwise, I think this is a rating I might actually lower in the future, because I didn’t think the story was very well done. It relies heavily on telling rather than showing, with rather nonsensical characterization, and a drawn-out romance I didn’t quite buy. Review coming soon.
  10. The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty. 4 stars. I am SO PROUD of myself for finally returning to this book after I put it down in March. I think that time span really was necessary, because I ended up enjoying this sequel considerably more than the first book in the trilogy once I was in the right frame of mind for it. Now that the world and characters are more established, things are turning unpredictable and enticingly messy (the conflict, not the writing, which is great); I can’t wait to see how it will all end in the third book, which releases later this year! Review coming soon.
  11. The Institute by Stephen King. 3 stars. This started out so promisingly, but in the end felt more interesting as an idea than anything else. The characters and plot points all seemed crafted around the central idea, which left both elements feeling sadly underdeveloped. But it was fun to read this so soon after Firestarter, which shares some big similarities, and both have strong Stranger Things vibes, which I loved. The buddy read experience (as always) was also very enjoyable. So, a mixed bag. Review coming soon.
  12. Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce. 3 stars. This was my final Faber Story of 2019, knocked out in the 11th hour while I had a few minutes to wait for a friend. I’ve only read excerpts of Joyce in the past, and am still interested in trying more of his work, but this was not a good place to start. It’s an eloquent, poetic little story about a man having an affair, but it’s full of references to other Joyce works, including several pages of annotations about these references jammed in at the end of the book. A beautiful and interesting piece that I just wasn’t the right audience for. Review coming soon.

I’ll still be reviewing the titles I haven’t gotten to yet; my current plan is to review Know My Name in full, the last four Faber Stories in a normal round of Faber Stories mini-reviews, and the rest I’m going to attempt to assemble in a joint post of short reviews.

That was my December in books! Quite an eclectic mix of genres and topics, some definite lows, but also two exciting favorites. I was THRILLED to knock out both The Kingdom of Copper and The Institute (kind of unexpectedly, tbh, considering they’re both 500+ pages and one was part of a buddy read that had gone rogue) in the last three days of the year, a victory which officially CLEARED my currently-reading shelf before 2020! I’m a little sad I didn’t read the very last Faber Story before the end of the year, and a little sad also that my hold for The Man Who Saw Everything didn’t come up in time for me to finish up with the 2019 Booker Prize before 2020, but it is what it is. I’m pleased with my numbers here, if not all of my ratings, and most importantly I’m excited for the reading month (and year) ahead!

wrapup12.19

Some Stats:

Average rating – 3.5

Best of month – Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Most disappointing – The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz

Owned books read for the first time – 9! Out of 12! Even with 4 short stories I’m really pleased to have focused more on books I own than library checkouts.

December TBR tally2/6. This is pitiful, considering that for once it was a small enough number that I should have been able to read all of the books. I’m REALLY BUMMED I didn’t get to Supper Club or American Predator, both of which I’m hoping to find time for in January instead! I’ll link my Nov. haul / Dec. TBR here in case you’re interested in the list.

Year total – 126. I surpassed my goal of 100! 29 of them were single-bound Faber Stories, but still. I read some very long books also to balance it out. Stats coming up in my next post!

In the meantime, if you missed any of my fun lists recently, I’ll link them here (this is why I’m behind on reviews again, sorry!):

 

Have you read any of these?

The Literary Elephant