After a slow January, I hit my reading stride in February. We stayed in Croatia all month, with just a quick side trip to Slovenia, so I had plenty of time to read and catch up with writing too.
Here’s a quick roundup of the books I read last month.
Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval
We’ve all met people who don’t have good boundaries, haven’t we? But in this disturbing Norwegian novel set in England, this is quite a literal problem, as a young biology student finds herself melding with her roommate. It’s all quite bizarre, and I’d recommend it.
How Fiction Works by James Wood
This is pretty much what a book about books should be, in my opinion. It’s written by a well-known critic (of New Yorker fame among others) and delves deep into the workings of novels through a wealth of apt literary examples. It deals with complex ideas in plain English, with no recourse to abstract neologisms or dry academic theory. I think it’s a great read both for writers and for keen readers.
We That Are Young by Preti Taneja
Ah, I suppose things couldn’t go on so well, could they? After two great reads, my month took a nosedive with this one. I love the premise—a retelling of King Lear set in contemporary India—but was disappointed by the end result. It was an odd experience of being assaulted by huge torrents of information about the characters and yet ending up not having a clue who they were or believing that they existed.
The Green Man by Kingsley Amis
This was an odd one too. It’s essentially an old-fashioned ghost story, written and set in 1960s England. And, like every other Kingsley Amis book I’ve read, its central character is a heavy-drinking, self-hating male misanthrope. I mostly read it to see how he incorporated the mythical character of the green man, an ancient pagan symbol related to vegetative deities, and although I quite enjoyed it, I wouldn’t really recommend it.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is billed as a YA novel, but I enjoyed it immensely, even though I am far from being a young adult these days. Its central character is a teenage girl, Starr, who sees her friend shot by police during a routine traffic stop. Most of the novel covers the aftermath of the event, while also exploring other themes and painting a moving and convincing picture of a girl, a family and the wider society.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Despite the title, you don’t have to be a writer to enjoy this book. It’s really all about close reading, examining the details of great writing and seeing how it works. It’s broken into chapters with headings like “Sentences”, “Paragraphs”, “Character” and so on, and each one explores its theme by dissecting great works of literature.
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
What interest could a diary of Japanese courtly rituals a thousand years ago possibly hold today? Plenty. I read this for Japanese Literature Challenge but haven’t had time to post about it yet—I hope to write something next week. Briefly, though, it’s a disconnected but fascinating collection of stories and observations, and what I got most from it was the importance of paying attention, of seeing the oddness and beauty in the world around you even amidst a broader sense of chaos and dissolution.
Ah, this is hard. I’d happily recommend five of the seven books I read this month, and it’s tough to pick my favourite. I’ll pick The Hate U Give just because it’s so contemporary and politically engaged and has so much to say about the world we live in, and also because I never read YA novels and was so pleasantly surprised by this one.
What was your favourite read in February? Let me know in the comments. And if you want to discover more books, you can read some of my other book reviews or check other bloggers’ monthly roundups over on Feed Your Fiction Addiction.
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