At the start of the year I was determined to kick start my reading habits, and set myself a challenge to read 52 books in 2016. Rather than being a target that I’ll race to hit, I’m treating the challenge as a way of reminding myself to always have a book on the go, and to read more widely.
As we reach the 3-month mark, I’m looking back at how I’m doing and what my favourite books have been. I’m currently 2 books behind schedule due to one long and challenging read, but I’m catching up fast and am feeling much better about the amount of time I’m committing to reading instead of aimlessly scrolling Twitter or watching Netflix. These are the books I’ve most enjoyed in the first 3 months.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling is one of my favourite comedians around right now, but this book turned her into one of my favourite people too. Her sense of humour is sharp, wicked, and yet so accessible; her stories about her professional life are interspersed with universal struggles like trying to subtly leave a party when you can’t be bothered saying goodbye to everyone and working out exactly what your friend means when they say they ‘hooked up’. The whole book reads like a mid-week dinner date with your best friend, when you unload all your ridiculous and embarrassing life vomit on the person you know will still love you even when you’re being your least glamorous self.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
This book and the month it took me to read it are the reason I’m currently 2 books behind schedule on my reading challenge, but it was worth it. Murakami’s books are always beautiful even in translation, and it always amazes me how he can write about so little in such a captivating way. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle isn’t an easy read; although we have a consistent protagonist the narrative detours through so many sub-plots, background stories and characters that it sometimes feels disorientating when the central story reappears. There are a hundred theories on what The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is really about, but the stand-out theme for me is the feeling of isolation when you feel at odds with your life and the world you live in.
High Windows – Philip Larkin
When I was in high school Larkin changed the way I viewed poetry; The Whitsun Weddings was the first collection I’d ever read that wasn’t high-brow and lyrical, but gritty and colloquial. Larkin wasn’t without his flaws – his nasty streaks of misogyny and racism cannot and should not be ignored – but he wrote about real places and real lives in a way that made poetry accessible to all. High Windows is often referred to as Larkin’s most pessimistic work, but the glint of hope that characterises him so well is still there. Pessimism with a streak of secret optimism; it feels very me…
Four Stories – Alan Bennett
My grandma sent me this book for my birthday and I absolutely devoured it. The Lady in the Van has been re-popularised recently after being released as a film but all four tales are absolute gems that show Alan Bennett at his most witty and observant. All the stories have a touch of the surreal about them, but his unparalleled talent for writing characters that feel real makes the unlikely situations seem almost everyday. Highlights for me were ‘The Laying On Of Hands’ narrating the shared, unspoken panic and embarrassment of a congregation of celebrities (and the priest) at the funeral of a prostitute to the stars, and ‘The Clothes They Stood Up In’, in which a middle-aged couple are forced to reassess their life after a bizarre burglary.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
When I announced I was reading this on holiday I got grimaces from my 2 friends; “this is not a beach-read, you will cry”, they promised me. I didn’t cry, but that is much more a comment on my rare and random crying triggers than on the emotional weight of this book. I’m probably telling you something you already know since almost the whole world read The Kite Runner back in 2007 when the film came out, but if you haven’t then be prepared to have your heart broken repeatedly. This book highlights not only the destruction of Afghanistan by war and revolt, but the hypocrisy of the caste system that forces Amir’s first big wrongdoing, and comes back to haunt him later in his life.
What have you been reading this year? Find me on GoodReads and let’s be friends!