I enjoyed writing my 2015 end of year book review so much that I was itching to write another. The problem was, I had to power through quite a few more reads before I could find myself in a position where this was possible.
Then I went on holiday and read a stack books while I was away.
I love reading when I’m travelling, although I don’t usually get through anywhere near as many books as I did on this trip (there was multiple reasons for this, but more on that later). The books I read were quite varied – a good mix of fiction, memoirs and YA. I enjoyed pretty much every single one, for different reasons.
Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My friend Hope had been imploring me to read Adichie’s novels for quite some time – I really have no idea why I resisted for so long. I picked up Americanah late last year and was hooked from the get-go.
I worked my way backwards from there and finished Purple Hibiscus a couple of days into my trip. It’s set in Nigeria and is told from the viewpoint of Kambili Achike, a teenage girl from a wealthy family who is kept under the watchful eye of her fanatically religious father. A coming of age novel, Kambili starts showing her others her true self after escaping her family home with her brother Jaja to spend time with her Aunty Ifeoma and her cousins.
Adichie is a fabulous writer who gets better and better with each subsequent novel. Although Americanah was probably my favourite out of the three, it was interesting to compare all three books in short succession. While poetically worded, Purple Hibiscus is rawer than its successors. However like all of Adichie’s novels, the story lives on, haunting you long after reading the last word of the final page.
Big Brother – Lionel Shriver
Feeling bereft after finishing my last Nora Ephron book, I decided that this was the year that I would plough my way through Lionel Shriver’s collection of novels. I’m five deep at the moment, having just ticked her second last book Big Brother off the list.
Big Brother is told from the perspective of forty year old Pandora Halfdanarson, a reluctant businesswoman who lives in a giant house in Iowa. She passes her days, distracted by her business she’s quickly losing passion for, her lacklustre marriage to a health fanatic and her two step-kids. Enter her charismatic big brother onto the scene. Once a piano playing jazz enthusiast whose good looks made women turn their heads in the street, he’s now unrecognisable, having gained a staggering amount of weight in the four years since she last lay eyes on him.
Shriver lost her own brother to obesity and it has been said that she wrote this novel in order to deal with her grief, play with “what-ifs” and speculate upon whether or not her brother could have been saved from his fate.
It wasn’t my favourite of Shriver’s books (The Post-Birthday World easily takes out top spot), but I enjoyed it none the less. Shriver is a master of language and her novels continue to be a delight to read.
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
This book, the first of Vonnegut’s that I’ve ever attempted to read, has sat on my iPad for months. I bought Slaughterhouse Five on a whim and never got around to starting it. Kindle is quite dangerous like that and the impulse purchasing of books definitely has me in its vice-like grips (but hey – there are worse things to be addicted to).
Having finally finished the book, I’m kicking myself for not getting into Vonnegut earlier. He takes a topic that by his own admission been done to death (stories about WW2), throws in a kooky protagonist and a bit of extra-curricular activity. The end result is a story that had me alternating between chuckling at the absurdity of it all and being sobered by the harsh reality of war.
The Cargo Ship Diaries: 2.5 years, 25 countries, 0 flights – Niall Doherty
I’ve been following Niall’s blog for years and had previously devoured his first book Disrupting the Rabblement. When he announced the publication of his second novel The Cargo Ship Diaries, I jumped on it immediately.
Niall spent 44 months traversing the globe without flying – a pretty impressive feat. In this memoir, he covers a particularly notable trip he took from Japan to Peru via a freighter, intertwining his real time travels with stories from his time spent in India, Iran, Amsterdam, Thailand and many other places across the globe.
Of the book, Niall states: “I’m nervous to publish it… sometimes I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, other times that it’s completely worthless and self-absorbed.” Rest assured, it is not the latter and serves nicely as a kick up the bum for anyone who is having second thoughts about crafting a life of their own design.
Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
Who doesn’t love a sweetly written book about teen romance? Eleanor & Park is a YA story about the kind of love you’re only capable of at the age of 16 – when you fall completely and irrevocably for a person, loving them with every fibre of your being.
I read this book in its entirety on a bus ride from Havana to Trinidad. I didn’t throw up on the way, but someone else did. That my friends, is a story for another blog post.
My Story – Julia Gillard
If anyone were to write a movie about Australian politics over the last few years, it would fall straight into the category of “tragedy”. Do you laugh? Do you cry? Do you bow your head in shame? Who knows what the correct response is.
I’ve been hammering away at ex-PM Julia Gillard’s memoir for quite some time now. I was captivated at the beginning, where she relayed both the details of her early life and her side of the story in the showdown between her and Kevin Rudd. However, towards the end of the book she began to cover in FULL DETAIL pretty much every single policy she pushed through during her time in government. It was a lot of legislation that would quite possibly bore even the most politically minded and it took quite a bit self-control to see the book through to completion.
Vague Direction – Dave Gill
Something that terrifies me is waking up one day, having a moment of realisation, and then telling myself: “You plodded through. You spent so much time doing things that weren’t worth it that you wasted it, and now it’s too late.” So it’s good to catch the great discontent early, as maybe the there’s a chance to do something about it.
A tale from yet another vagabond adventurer. Dave Gill writes as a 23 year old who puts his life in Britain on hold, to venture over to North America. Here he embarks upon a year-long journey around the USA and Canada on a bike he scored for £150 pounds off eBay, without any prior training. He meets all sorts of personality types along the way, rolls through constant mechanical traumas with his bike (“you get what you pay for,” he muses in hindsight) and suffers a series of exhilarating highs and all-time lows. (“It’s this weird way of life where nothing is moderate. It’s great or it’s shit. Rarely, it’s in between.”).
We all have moments where we want to stop living within a monotonous cycle of “get up, go to work, twiddle thumbs for x hours, go home, go to bed, repeat until retirement or death, whichever comes first.” How many of us truly actively do something about this? Gill’s book is a read for anyone who is raring to give up everything they’ve got for a great adventure, but needs a final push.
Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling
I went through a big phase of reading comedic memoirs a couple of years ago and worked my way through most of the usual subjects (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman, to name a few). I never got around to Mindy Kaling’s first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?. I skipped it simply because I didn’t know much about the comedic writer, having neglected to jump on the US Office bandwagon, nor having watched her own show, The Mindy Project. So, the furore for these memoirs came and went and for me at least, Kaling didn’t get caught up in the wave.
Fast-forward to 2016, where I needed some light hearted reads to power through numerous delays at airports and Why Not Me? fit the bill. While her second memoir wasn’t anywhere near as moving as Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please (which left me bawling on the plane during a flight to Switzerland in 2014) but it got a few whole-hearted laughs out of me. As well as maybe garnering enough interest to finally give the very meme-worthy Mindy Project a go.
Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
This was not my first reading of Into the Wild. I devoured it some two years ago when I first moved to Doha and had zero amigos, apart from my fictional friends, of course. Is it the type of book that deserves a second read? Absolutely.
Krakauer’s famous book details the life and death of American Chris McCandless. Upon graduating college McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp, chooses to reject the path expected of him. Instead, he hits the road. First in his yellow Datsun, then on both foot and by canoe. He traverses the continent of North America for two years, aided only by his own wits and the kindness of strangers. It is on this adventure that he conceives the idea of journeying up north for his own “Alaskan Odyssey” – a summer spent living off the land deep within the wilderness of the 49th state. McCandless walked “into the wild” in 1992, never to re-emerge. He died of starvation and suspected plant poisoning 113 days later. His body and last recorded words were found by hunters almost three weeks after his death.
I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!
Herland – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
There was promise in the premise of Herland. Set in the early 1900, it tells the tale of three American men whose plane crashes upon a country that turns out to be inhabited entirely by females. Devoid of male company for thousands of years, these women have kept their population going by relying on asexual reproduction. Over time they’ve worked hard to form what is easily viewed as an ideal society – one that is free of war, sickness and conflict. Everything in this world – from clothing, to lawmaking and motherhood – is approached with a no-nonsense attitude and executed in a way that makes perfect sense.
Told from the perspective of Vandyke “Van” Jennings, he and his two companions Terry and Jeff are welcomed into Herland, taught the country’s language and learn of its history and the inhabitants cultural beliefs. They offer up insights of the outside world in return. Both Jeff and Van settle quite comfortably into this feminine way of life. Terry, who embodies all “desirable” male qualities, finds himself in constant turmoil with these women – unable to cope with their disdain of the very attributes that garner him so much attention in his home country of the United States.
It’s Terry’s inability to see the sense of this society that propels this story forward. Most pages are just recounts on Van’s parts of how various aspects of this one gendered society works. Gilman was a strong supporter of women’s liberation and her book survives as an important feminist work of the early 20th century.
On the Bedside Table
I’m currently reading two books at once, because life is short. Reading Lolita in Tehran has me hooked and I’m occasionally perusing Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Climate Change – It Time Running Out? on my iPad. It’s heavy reading, as the title may suggest. From there, I hope to move onto Adichie’s two short story collections and polish off more Shriver books in due course.
Going travelling anytime soon? Which books are you taking with you?
NB: This post contains affiliate links, which goes directly back into feeding the book addiction. But remember – there’s no better feeling than walking out of your local independent bookstore with an armful of novels!