Thursday, 1 February 2018

What I read in January

Last year, I set myself the target of reading two books a month. I hadn’t been reading very regularly since leaving university in 2016 because I studied English literature and honestly, I wanted a bit of a break. I had been reading two or three books a week for three years and it took me quite a while after
leaving university to stop associating reading with panic and a bit of anxiety thrown in too.

For various reasons, I failed last year’s target miserably. This year however, I have set my most ambitious reading target yet.

I want to read 52 books - one book a week.

Since this is pretty much my only resolution, I’m taking it seriously. I’ve downloaded the Goodreads app and I’m logging each book in my Reading Challenge as I finish them.

I’ve also decided to do a monthly post about the books I’ve read each month so I can do a mini review of them and really - it just gives me an extra incentive to keep on target.

So, without further ado, here is my roundup of all the books I read in January.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

As you can see, I decided to get the year off to a cheerful start! What Happened is Hillary’s latest book and focuses on the events leading up to and after the 2016 election. I’m by no means Hillary Clinton’s biggest fan, she’s problematic as most politicians are and I don’t agree with all of her politics but I have a lot of respect for her as a person. 

She has faced so many boundaries over the course of her political career but she has always overcome them and even though she didn’t win the election, she came further than any woman in a major US political party ever has before and fought a lot harder than many other candidates have had to.

The reality is simple; if Hillary Clinton had won the election then the world would not be in such an insufferable mess right now. I’m not saying she would have made everything better overnight, of course a lot of people would still be unhappy if she had won, but she wouldn’t be going around calling countries ‘shitholes’, starting twitter arguments with Kim Jong Un, or retweeting UK far-right twitter accounts full of anti-Islam propaganda.

Now that rant is out of the way, onto the actual book. What Happened is so interesting. It gave me such a different outlook to the election that I really do believe many of us never got the chance to see. 

Obviously it’s biased and I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t make a massive effort to stay informed on every part of the election race because I’m not an American, but I have been so shocked at how much I actually managed to miss due to the media’s obsessions with certain subjects and inability to represent the election in a fair and due fashion.

She couldn’t write a book about the election without discussing her emails and it wasn’t until reading this book that I realised I had never actually looked into what the whole fuss with the emails was. I had always imagined a massive scandal, which I now don't at all believe it was. 

What Happened was quite sad to read at times. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton’s intentions, she really did try to do some good things and offer representation to people who will never get the same treatment from Trump. Considering everything that's happening politically in the world, it was a super interesting read and I'd recommend it to anyone who is curious.

The Good, the Bad and the Furry by Tom Cox

After What Happened, I needed some light relief. I’ve wanted to read Tom Cox’s books for ages because I’m a big fan of his twitter account and I was an even bigger fan of his cat, The Bear, who found fame on the @mysadcat twitter account. 

Unfortunately, The Bear passed away in 2016 at the grand old age of 21 and Tom wrote a beautiful essay about him, which made me cry. It might sound odd if you're not partial to keeping up with an internet animal every now and again, but over the years that I followed this cat on Twitter, I’d really grown attached to the updates and his passing really did make me genuinely very sad. 

I’m yet to find another internet cat that has managed to capture my heart like The Bear did. The Good, the Bad and the Furry was a really enjoyable read and it was lovely to read about The Bear in his slightly younger years. He seems like he was a really special cat. 

I also really enjoyed the parts about Norwich because I lived there for three years and the parts with Tom’s dad made me laugh out loud. It was a lovely, light-hearted read, the sort that everyone can benefit from every now and again and I’ll definitely be picking up more of Tom’s books later in the year.

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

I really, really wanted to like Turtles All The Way Down but I got half way through the novel and I still had no idea what I thought about it. 

Surprisingly, when I got to the end the last chapter made me cry but I think that might have more to do with the fact that I’d been ill all week and was feeling very sorry for myself. In any case, if something did move me greatly in the last chapter then I have no idea what it was.

The novel did do some things really well - the main character has OCD and as someone who has suffered with intrusive thoughts since I was a really young child I think it does a really good job of describing the way ideas can worm themselves into your head and affect your mindset. You may know that a behaviour is absurd, yet you do it anyway. The novel also dealt with consent and boundaries really well.

However, I found the plot and the character development really jarring and a lot of the time I felt like I was reading it behind a barrier that stopped me ever being able to lose myself in the novel.

I found the dialogue pretentious and just plain unrealistic. I’ve never known anyone speak as randomly and as full of riddle, quote and metaphor as Davis and Aza do in this novel. 

All the references to Star Wars and fanfic put me off too because it was a bit on the nose for me but I totally appreciate that could just be my personal preference.

All in all I hate to say it because I love John Green, but I found Turtles All The Way Down really messy.

In my opinion it didn’t know what sort of novel it wanted to be. There was an almost Paper Towns-esque plot of a missing billionaire, combined with an OCD awareness narrative and then full of completely random aspects that went nowhere like the whole thing with the tuatara. And I still don’t know what that ending was.

Like I said, I really wanted to like this novel. Looking for Alaska is one of my favourite books and I have a lot of respect for John Green as a person but sadly I didn’t really enjoy this. 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Enno-Lodge

This book gave me a lot to think about. 

It was an uncomfortable read at some points but definitely an important one and I'm glad I read it. If you are white, you do benefit from whiteness every day and this isn't something that white people often choose to think about, which this book did a good job of highlighting.

White privilege isn’t a new term to me and I would definitely describe my feminism as intersectional but this has made me more aware of how often I don’t have to think about race, whereas if you’re not white it’s not something you can just choose to ignore - it's your whole life. 

Obviously, this isn’t a new concept but the topics that are discussed in Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race are so articulate and accessible that for me at least, it offered a fresh perspective on how to be a better ally. 

Different people will take different things from this book but I think if you read it defensively, you're missing the entire point.

It also made me realise how ignorant I was about black British history. Now, I’ll be the first person to admit I’m ignorant about a lot of history in general (which is something I'm trying to change) but the background it gave about the UK’s relationship with things like immigration and police brutality was really eye-opening and something I’ll definitely look to learn more about if anyone has any recommendations on what to read next.

I think everyone can do with expanding their perspectives and whether you’d describe yourself as pretty well-read on the subject or completely ignorant and looking for a place to start, I'd absolutely recommend getting a copy of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

So that's one month down and 11 more to go! 

If you've read any of these books, what did you think? 

And if anyone has any recommendations of what I should read next then please let me know because I'm not myself unless I have an impossibly long list of titles on my to-be-read list.


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