Thursday, 13 August 2020

What I've Read During Lockdown

      What haven't I read really? Ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but with all this free time stuck at home, I've read far more this year than I have for a long time. I used to read non-stop as a child, but while studying for English Lit degree, I stopped reading for pleasure because I had to do so much of it for my coursework, and I've never quite picked the habit back up int he same way again, what with adult life getting in the way a lot. But I've been off work for five months now, and even though lockdown has eased considerably, I've still got way more free time than usual, so I've made decent headway with my reading list!



Noughts & Crosses - Malorie Blackman

So, I had actually read this one before, but I was about 12 or so at the time, so I didn't remember all the details! I borrowed it from the school library too, so I bought my own copy earlier this year, to reread it ahead of the BBC adaptation being released. I'm so glad I did as well, as there were some pretty major changes between the book and the series. Not bad changes, I'll stress that, and I really enjoyed the series, but it was good to remember the original source material as well. I think I got a lot more from the book this time around, as it dives into some pretty heavy, serious subject matter regarding racism, which I don't think I fully appreciated being as young as I was the first time around. Also, I read this early in the year (probably before lockdown really) before all the recent Black Lives Matter marches were taking place, but in light of them, this book is a potent reminder that our reality perhaps isn't as far off this fictional universe as we would like to believe.


A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

I did it, I finally finished reading this series. Well, finished so far, seeing as there's another book still to be published. I was given the whole set for Christmas a few years ago, since I was watching the TV show anyway, but it's taken me this long to finish them. Each volume is so hefty that I would keep putting it aside and reading something else in between. It could then get a bit confusing when I returned to it, to remember where I had left off with each character, particularly when I reached the point where the show diverged from the books. However, I was more eager to finish it after the disappointing final season, to see if the books can do it any better, and I'm looking forward to the next release for the same reason!


The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth - Philip Pullman

I love the original His Dark Materials trilogy, which I read several times when I was younger (and the BBC adaptation of that was great too!), and it's a really interesting one to revisit as an adult, for similar reasons to Noughts & Crosses. There's so many big, complex themes being explored in the series, which resonate with me more so now than when I was young. Anyways, when Pullman announced he was revisiting that world with a new trilogy, The Book of Dust, I was very excited. I got the second volume last Christmas, and read it early this year. While I enjoyed the first volume, it was a prequel with several new characters, whereas this one is a sequel and brings back many characters from the original trilogy. Lyra has always been one of my favourite heroines, so I love seeing what she's like as an adult now. And again, the book dives into many complicated, philosophical ideas and themes, which I find fascinating - I can't wait for the third volume now!


Gods of Jade and Sorrow - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I've always been interested in the mythologies and folklores of other cultures, and read many books when I was younger that will attest to that. This novel explores the mythology of Mexico, the beliefs of the indigenous Maya people there, which is a culture that perhaps doesn't get as much attention as others (e.g. Greek, Norse etc). I picked this up after my trip to Mexico earlier this year, as I thought it would be interesting to read more about the culture and places I had just been exploring. And while I think anyone can enjoy this book, and it's a good introduction to Maya beliefs, I do think I had even more appreciation for it having already been on my trip there. It's also a modern take on the 'hero's journey' story archetype that appears in so many mythologies, but with a female protagonist going out and discovering the world.


Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Speaking of mythology, I happened upon this in the bookshops and picked it up at the same time as the above (and the next two below). I know a fair amount about the mythologies of many countries and cultures, but Greek mythology is probably the only one I know more in depth (yes, I've read Mythos by Stephen Fry already, I knew most of the stories beforehand too). I know a few things about Norse mythology, mainly who the major gods are, but I was curious to find out more, and Gaiman is such a well-known, respected fantasy writer, I was interested to read his version of them. This was quite a light, easy read, with different myths broken down into short stories, most of which I hadn't come across before, so it was fun to discover some new tales.

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales - Marie O'Regan & Paul Kane

As the name implies, this is an anthology book, a collection of short stories by multiple different authors, collected and edited by O'Regan and Kane. I actually studied fairy tales during a semester of my degree programme, so any sort of retelling appeals to me. It's interesting to see all the different takes people imagine on these classic, well-known tales, and that's a big part of the genre, that they've been retold so many times over the centuries. Most fairy tales were originally very dark in nature, so I like seeing the return to that in more recent years, showing the dark, twisted elements of human nature. These weren't just retellings either, some were entirely new stories, inspired by the style and content of traditional fairy tales, so there was a mystery and intrigue to those ones, when you didn't know how they were going to end!

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is one of those novels I've heard about forever and always meant to read, but just never got around to. I love Pratchett's Discworld series (though I still haven't read them all yet), and I've read and enjoyed a few of Gaiman's other books as well, so the two of them writing this together seemed like it would be perfect for me. I was also interested to check out the Amazon adaptation of it (which I have since watched and very much enjoyed, it follows the book super closely), but I wanted to read the book first. I totally loved this one, and I understand why it became so popular when it released. It's full of fantasy elements combined with Biblical stories and characters - which was literally the topic of one of my degree essays, as so much fantasy work draws on religious source material. But this felt like a very fresh take on it, packed with so much quirky humour and weirdness, making for a fun ride from start to finish.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

I saw the film years ago, and I think it's so iconic that people sometimes forget it was a book first. The next few entries on here are all books that I borrowed from my flatmate, and when I noticed she had this, I was surprised at myself for not having read it before. It's a short volume, almost a novella really, and I finished it in one sitting, outside on a particularly sunny day. It's hard to separate the character of Holly from Audrey Hepburn's portrayal of her, but her book self was very similar to how I remembered her in the movie, this free-spirited, enigmatic woman who captivates the people around her. 

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Another classic novel borrowed from my flatmate that I couldn't believe I hadn't read before. I know I have my own copy from my degree packed up in a box somewhere, but our reading lists were too long to read everything on them, so this must have gotten skipped over. It's also one of those stories that we're all so familiar with growing up, but the novel contained a lot of details and plot point that surprised me greatly, as I only knew the general outline before. It's got some fascinating themes to it, about the nature of monstrosity, and the human desire to play God, compounded by the unreliable narrator (one narrator has written down the story as told to him by Victor Frankenstein himself). I definitely have more appreciation for the novel now, and its influence in the literary canon.



The Other Mrs Walker - Mary Paulson-Ellis

I chose this out of my flatmate's selection, as it's largely set in Edinburgh, so it's always fun reading about a place you're familiar with. It's a mystery in general, but there's a lot of exploration of personal, family relationships, and I like reading anything character-driven, and understanding their personalities and motivations. It could get a little confusing with the multiple timelines at play, but it was interesting to see how they all slotted together, especially as the reader knows more than the protagonist for much of the story - though I did predict the ending pretty early on.

Where's My Happy Ending? - Anna Whitehouse & Mark Farquharson

So this is the first non-fiction book on this list - I typically read more fiction, but have started exploring more non-fiction in recent years, especially through audiobooks. It came highly recommended by my flatmate, who found it hilariously, and she was definitely right about that. It's also a very honest exploration into marriage and relationships, and how they work in the modern world we live in. I found it very interesting, because it reaffirmed a lot of my own thoughts on the matter, especially the misconception that getting married means you've ticked the boxes and can live happily ever after - that's definitely NOT how that works!

On The Road - Jack Kerouac

Ok, I've read this before, many times, but it's still one of my favourites. I picked it up again while waiting for an order of new books to arrive - damn pandemic delaying deliveries! I wanted to read something about travel, since I'm missing it so much at the moment, stuck in one place as I am. I think there's a lot of books that should be revisited at different times in your life, as you may find something new in it each time. I last read this at university, before a lot of my own travels, so now I have a lot more experiences similar to those in the book! And you see characters differently over time, as you yourself change, though they still remain some of my favourites.

Normal People - Sally Rooney

I watched the series before I read the book. I know, I never do this, but I had seen so much hype around the series that I couldn't help it, and only then ordered the book afterwards. The series does follow it very closely though, but it did mean that I read the characters with the actors' portrayals in my head at the same time. Not necessarily a bad thing in this case, since it was so well acted, but its a reason I typically read the book first in most cases! It's such a good story in either form though, delving into a very rare, special relationship between two people. It also shows them growing up and try to find their place in the world, something most of us can relate to, and explores some serious mental health topics. Without giving away any spoilers, I had mixed feelings about the ending, as I wanted a little more from it - but equally, it felt realistic, and I don't think a sequel is necessary.

Girl, Woman, Other - Bernadine Evaristo

This might be my favourite book I read during lockdown, out of everything on this list. It tells the stories of 12 different Black women in Britain, and is very heavily character-driven. As I mentioned I love exploring characters, their personalities and back stories, so this was super interesting for me. I especially enjoyed the fact that it was all about women, and I actually bought it just before all the Black Lives Matter protests kicked off, so it made for an even more poignant read at that time. Each featured woman is so different to all the others, proving that no one experience is the same as another. All the stories are interconnected, but it's not always clear how at first, so I enjoyed watching all the connections between them unfold. Each chapter focussed on a particular woman, but we would also see them through each other's eyes as well, so it was fascinating to see different interpretations of them. I would definitely recommend this one really highly!

Beneath the World, A Sea - Chris Beckett

I happened upon this while browsing for books through an independent Edinburgh bookshop, and was intrigued by the premise. It takes place in a delta cut off from the rest of the world, and inhabited by unusual, fantastical creatures, who expose the deepest parts of people's minds. Fantasy elements plus character psychology? Sounded good to me! It was an interesting read for sure, with a very unique story, unlike anything I've read before, but I as a tad underwhelmed overall. I was expecting some bigger event or conflict towards the end, but it ended up being not quite as dramatic as I had hoped. I still enjoyed it, just not as much as others on this list.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

This is another of these classic novels I've always heard about but never got around to reading until now. I've read several other dystopian novels, so the basic concept is similar, but of course every imagined future is a little bit different. I found it interesting in this one that society is so heavily controlled, but by making everything easy for people and emphasising pleasure and activities and sex - unlike other dystopian futures that seem much more bleak. It's a very clever manipulation of people's desires and emotions though, once you delve into it. And while dystopian novels are quite popular and have many iterations now, it's important to remember that this one of the early examples of the genre, a highly original idea of its time.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams

I bought an omnibus edition of this, and read all five parts together, not just the first volume! I had read this before when I was much younger, borrowing copies from someone else, but it's been a long time and I only remembered the general plot of the first part really. Tackling the whole thing in one go was quite an effort, and I did get a little muddled sometimes when moving from one part to the next, as they are clearly structured with distinct stories in each one, rather than one big, overarching plot, so it might have been easier to hold five separate books to keep it straight. Like, if you asked me now, I couldn't say which things happened in which specific part, I just know all of it! It's an amusing, entertaining read for sure, with so many quirky details and eclectic characters. There are some bigger themes, with many mentions of and underlying searches for meaning in the universe beneath it all, but these are balanced with lots of humour and seemingly random happenings across the galaxy, to keep it light and fun.

Enduring Love - Ian McEwan

This is the last thing I finished reading, just the other day, after rediscovering my copy of it. I think I started it years ago, but never finished it, as I was at university and just didn't have time next to my reading list. I decided to give it a go again, and got through it pretty quickly. My copy didn't have any blurb so I was kind of going in blind, and it definitely wasn't what I expected based on the title and first chapter, but it was quite fun and interesting to figure out where it was going overall. I wasn't sure if I would like it at the beginning, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the end!



So that's everything so far - what next? I actually dug out some books while visiting my parents, from my university reading list that I bought at the time but never actually got around to, so it'll be a few classics up next. I've also got a few wishlists bookmarked online, a mixture of classic I haven't gotten to yet, some more Black authored books that it'll be important to learn from, and a few other finds from browsing recommendations, especially from independent bookshops, so I've certainly got plenty more to get through!

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