February Reading Roundup

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Verdict

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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There are 22 comments

  1. I am also far from being a young adult but I plan to read The Hate U Give soon. I have not even seen the film yet. I will likely do so after I read the novel.

    I also love books about books. How Fiction Works sounds very good. I should also give that a try.

    1. I haven’t seen the film either, Brian. When a story exists both as a book and a film, I usually prefer to read the book first because I like to form my own picture of the characters and places based on the writing, and I don’t like it so much when I have images from the film floating around in my head. But maybe I’ll watch it now.

      And hey, as for being a young adult, the good thing about blogging is that you can always stay young as long as you don’t update your profile picture 😉

  2. Both the Woods and the Prose are fantastic, aren’t they? I also started the Pillow Book but didn’t make progress as I was so unwell and couldn’t read much.
    I also have The Hate U Give and have high hopes for it.
    Too bad about the King Lear retelling.
    You had a very good month though. And traveling.

    1. Hi Caroline, I’m really sorry to hear you were unwell. Yes, it was a good month overall, despite one or two flops. The Woods and the Prose are two that I’ll probably return to from time to time. I hope you’re feeling much better now and are getting back to the reading!

  3. What a great combo. I’m still on the hold list for the Jenny Hval book you reccommended. The James Wood book surprised me, in that I enjoy his short pieces but was suspicious that the longer work would be too, um, uninviting or maybe even a little pretentious, but I quite liked it.

    The Francine Prose book I really like and her new one is just as satisfying IMO but maybe less satisfying if you don’t share her taste as she focuses on a few topics in considerable detail (including an essay on Mavis Gallant, which I love): did it add a lot of titles to your TBR? I’ve never read Amis, but I will likely try one eventually.

    And I’m glad Angie Thomas’ book is getting so much attention: such a worthwhile story/theme. The only YA book I read last year was The Hazel Wood (which was rec’d on TNYTBR podcast) and it was very entertaining, all the more so because I felt I could just enjoy the story and not spend so much energy focussing on the writing!

    1. Excellent! The Hval book is quite odd, so I’ll be interested to hear what you make of it. I wanted to post about it in more detail because there were some things that worked really well for me and others that didn’t, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time.

      I haven’t looked up Francine Prose’s other books yet—her list of recommended reads at the back of this one already added waaaay too much to my TBR list 😉 But thanks for the recommendation, and I think I will read it one of these days!

      1. it took me ages to get to this one; when the copy was finally available, I wasn’t in the right reading mood. Now everything is shipping slowly (but not complaining). I’m with you on the question of some of the elements working really well. At times, it felt to me as though she may have slipped into a “this is fun, errrr, should say interesting” aspect of telling the story but overlooked whether those elements actually supported her theme. In some ways, I didn’t care because she caught me right away, wanting her to find a place to room where she felt she belonged, and I found the setting (especially) interesting; in other ways, I longed for a tighter, more compact and streamlined narrative to showcase the intriguing questions of belonging and borders, vitality and decay, connection and erosion.

        1. Wow, was this two years ago already? OK, then I don’t feel quite so bad about not remembering much about what worked or didn’t work in this novel, since I never did get around to writing that post. I do remember that, like you, I was immediately caught up in the book, but then felt it drifted in places. But the powerful symbols of decay and the desire to connect have stayed with me. Thanks for reminding me about this one!

    1. Hi Kathleen, Yes, I see that you focus more on non-fiction. It’s good to read your roundup and find some other good recommendations, especially The Intelligence Paradox. Happy March to you too 🙂

  4. I have read The Hate U Give and really loved it. I just watched the film in February and it was really good, of course a couple things were different but overall I felt it was a very good book to movie adaptation. I hope you have a chance to check it out.

    I hope you have a wonderful March!

    Tina @ As Told By Tina

    1. Hi Tina, Thanks for visiting! Yes, I hope to watch the film one day, although I’m a little nervous because I often don’t like movies where I’ve read the book first. I’m glad to hear it was a good adaptation though. It was good to read your update too, and I hope your month is going well, especially the Border Brujas project!

    1. Hi Nicole, Yes, it’s a fascinating book, with lots of great examples to illustrate his points. Good to hear that you enjoyed The Hate U Give too—seems to be popular with quite a few commenters!

  5. I’ve actually had a copy of The Hate U Give on my Kindle for ages, but still haven’t got round it somehow. I definitely hope to read it soon, as I’ve heard great things about it. I’m glad you enjoyed it!
    How Fiction Works definitely sounds interesting too, so I may have to check that one out as well 🙂

    1. Hi Laura, Yeah, I’m like that too—my Kindle is full of unread books. I read quite a bit, but I buy books even faster 😉 Hope you get around to it soon, and if you do, please let me know what you think 🙂

  6. I read and loved THUG and just got the DVD from Netflix yesterday to watch this weekend. I always read the book before watching the movie. With the exception of the first Harry Potter movie, the book is always better to me.

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