So far this year, I’ve read 33 books. I’m damn proud of that, though I also know that I sometimes read to hide from the world so maybe I shouldn’t be. Lots of people I know want to read more, and feel all kinds of guilt for not doing it. Having a long commute and skipping social media means that I have the time and brain space to read. I’m also a lot healthier now than I have been over the last few years. In 2014, I read 29 books. If memory serves, a bunch of those were finished over the Christmas break coz I wanted to get my Goodreads total up. I’m that kind of nerd, that kind of list-obsessive. Also, #realtalk, setting a reading goal was probably a much better thing to do with my Christmas break than actually feeling my feelings.
Anyway, please don’t feel bad if you want to read more and don’t. There’s a lot behind my impulse (obsession?) to read a lot. I’ve got a bunch of short things to recommend if you’d like to read more.
(I’m going to use affiliate links for the books I recommend. This means that I’ll get a small referral fee (5%) from the retailer if you buy something using the links below. I buy all my books from Book Depository which offers good value and free delivery. I also dislike amazon for all the usual reasons. If you do buy something, I’ll get store credit at no additional cost to you.)
I typically gravitate towards reading memoir in the dark and depressing subcategory. Someone recently asked me for a non-sad book recommendation, and I was not the woman for that. (I suggested Eligible. Katherine Heiny’s first collection of short stories is also a riot.)
So far this year, I’ve read:
2 graphic novels
2 poetry collections
2 short stories
10 collections of essays
and 4 non-fiction books
Some were very forgettable, some will be with me for years to come. The highlights:
I read Sunshine in an hour - it’s a sexy, thoughtful, funny, modern collection of poetry that I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t think poetry is for them.
I read Mr Salary and said (out loud, to no-one in particular) “damn Sally Rooney can write”. You don’t need to buy it. I got it for free online. Terrific Mother was also great. (I discovered it via Literary Friction, a great UK-based podcast about books and reading)
I re-read The Yellow Wallpaper (PDF). I first read it in college. It was the shortest text on the reading list which meant I could squeeze it in amidst a busy schedule of going out 3 nights a week, writing for the college paper and competing in debate. It’s the story of a woman suffering with postpartum mental health issues, within the patriarchal healthcare system of the day.
I read Dead Girls so I could participate in this book club, but didn’t love it. It’s an uneven collection, with only the first third focused on the ‘dead girls’ trope of the title. The rest is about the author’s moving to LA, which was fine but that’s not the book I bought. Samantha Irby’s first collection of essays were hilarious. I can’t wait to get the second collection when they go on sale on Emily Books in September.
I’ve been reading Esme Weijun Wang’s writing for years, and enjoyed her last book The Collected Schizophrenias. She writes about her diagnoses, her interactions with the mental health system and the impact it has had on her life. I wish every mental health professional would read it.
I’m trying to read more books by Irish authors and found two gems: Constellations by Sinead Gleesonand Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning. Constellations is a series of essays on the body, pain, feminism and grief. Mind on Fire is, according to the cover, a memoir of madness. Both are great.
Deborah Levy’s living autobiography series is wonderful, and very quick to read. Both instalments have really stayed with me. Lori Gottlieb’s memoir on being a therapist in therapy was funny and great.Educated by Tara Westover has been everywhere, though the hype is justified. Now My Heart is Full is a different kind of motherhood memoir. (I heard the author on Longform and then bought the book).
I read Adele coz it was about a sex-obsessed woman, but didn’t love it. Do we really need to be pathologising women’s sexual desires? Not everyone has enjoyed Peach, but I did. It captures the visceral terror of living post-sexual assault. I find that disjoined prose often overcomes the limits of language when it comes to communicating trauma. I read this on a very triggered day, and found it immensely soothing. (That said, had I read it on an average day, I may not have enjoyed it as much.)
I lost a Saturday to Normal People and have no regrets. In many ways, it’s a classic romance and as I said before, damn Sally Rooney can write. First Love would be a nice companion piece too. Dark but good.
I read Emergency Contact because I love Mary H.K. Choi’s podcast. This was firmly in the ‘well written but not for me’ camp. Crudo is another quick read. It was written in real time during the summer of 2017. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking beach/pool read, this would be a great choice. (This interviewwith Olivia Laing was also great.)
Becoming Wise is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I have a lot of religion/faith/spirituality baggage, so I didn’t think this would be for me but I bought it after hearing the author, Krista Tippet, onthis podcast. (Are we sensing a theme here? I always seem to go from podcast to book). The book is a selection of stories and reflections on big topics like love, equality and spirituality. It grew from the On Being podcast, which I really must go deeper on. This is a book that embraces the nuance and shades-of-grey in complicated questions. I underlined almost every page. (If you want to try the podcast, John Donoghue’s episode is a great place to start.
Tell Me How It Ends is another quick read for anyone interested in the migrant crisis. It’s structured around the questionnaire the author (who volunteered as a child advocate) completed with unaccompanied children who entered the US illegally. She worked with hundreds of children who found themselves caught in a convoluted legal process. The book skilfully expands the conversation beyond today’s crisis to look at the historical inter-twinning of communities on both sides of the border.
I read The Body Keeps The Score to learn more about trauma and the body, and to find suggestions for things that might help me. It was a dense, academic read but worth it if you're interested in better understanding PTSD.
I finally read Not That Bad, a collection of essays about rape culture edited by Roxane Gay. It was a 5 star book for me. Hard to read, but very rewarding. I know I’ll be thinking about those essays for a long time.