The perfect book

I’m lucky enough to be going to on trip to New York with my daughter in a week’s time and it goes without saying that I can’t wait. The list of things to see and do is already quite long and new things get added every day.

Any trip away requires planning, although in my case it’s not really what to wear that takes up most of my attention, but rather what book to take on the plane. The decisions about what clothes to take are relatively easy as I don’t really have that many clothes, but the decision about what book to take is more difficult because there are just so many choices.

It’s important to get your book choices just right when you are flying long distances.

I remember going on a trip to New Zealand a few years ago. It’s only a three and a half hour flight from Sydney but it seemed endless because I’d chosen the wrong book. I really hated the book I’d taken and spent the whole trip trying to read Harry Potter over the shoulder of the woman sitting next to me. I’m sure she thought I was a bit weird.

I know you are probably thinking that I should just take a whole bunch of different books on my iPad but sometimes your eyes get quite irritated on a long flight and I find an actual books to be more soothing.

This leads me to the first thing on the list of plane reading requirements (after being interesting and engaging) which is that that the print can’t be tiny. I can no longer read really tiny print at the best of times, and certainly not when I’ve been awake for more than 20 hours.

Secondly, the book needs to be not too heavy both in terms of storyline and physical weight. No gut-wrenching memoirs for me thank you. But on the other hand I don’t like reading anything dry (no biographies) and I don’t really reading like out and out rubbish, but I’m sure there is a sweet spot of books that are page turners but also well written. I quite like hopeful books and I like psychological thrillers but I’m not a fan of too many gruesome details.

A couple of books on my list of possibilities are Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. This book sounds interesting, if a little confronting, so perhaps not the thing for a long plane trip. My sister has also recommended The Seal Woman’s Gift which sounds interesting and extraordinary. If it doesn’t make it on the plane, it’s definitely on my TBR.

Some other books on the list are How to be Happy by Eva Woods and Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson, which sounds pretty thrilling.

If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them. If they don’t make it onto the plane, I’ll definitely check them out so please share your favourite recent reads.

My best reads in 2018

person holding book from shelf

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I love this time of the year. Not only do I get to have a holiday, but I also get to read all of the “best books of 2018” posts to see what great books I might have missed. I love to read what the various book sellers,  reviewers  and other bloggers have chosen as their favourites for the year and what they think will be worth reading in the coming year. As a regular library goer I like to make a note of the most anticipated books and then wait until they hit the library shelves. (Call me a cheapskate, but it works for me).

Last year I mentioned that I had only read a couple of dozen books when other readers seemed to have read 80+, so this year I decided to keep a list. There are about 24 books on the list again this year, which equates to two per month. The list doesn’t include books I abandoned, either because they were boring or because the main character was totally unlikeable. I like my protagonists to be flawed but generally decent people, otherwise I tend not to care what happens to them.

Top picks for 2018 (all with flawed characters)

Behold the dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. This book is about two Cameroonian migrants, Jenda and Neni,  who are trying to live the American Dream. Whilst waiting for the results of their application for asylum, Jenda gets a job as a driver for a Wall St banker (Clarke), while his wife Neni works as domestic for Clarke’s wife. Their lives are compared, but neither family is painted as perfect. Set in 2008, just prior to the Lehmann Bros debacle, this is a complex book about money, privilege and happiness. Highly recommended. If I had a star system, this would get lots of stars!

Little fires everywhere by Celeste Ng. I loved this book about a dysfunctional family living in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This is a book about motherhood, secrets, art and identity and caused a lot of discussion at my book group. What I especially liked about this book was that each of the characters had their own view of the world and their own reasons for taking the actions that they did. It’s a very even-handed book, you could really understand where everyone was coming from.

Still life with bread crumbs by Anna Quindlen. This is a highly enjoyable read, reminiscent of an upmarket Elizabeth Berg novel. This review describes this book as “comfort food” and I think that’s fair comment. It’s an easy read about a middle-aged photographer trying to re-invent herself after a downturn in her economic situation.

This is how it always is by Laurie Frankel was the book on everyone’s “must read” list this time last year. It’s about a family who’s little boy Claude decides that he wants to be a girl. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this book, as I thought it might be too confronting, but it’s an excellent read. The book is about a regular family facing a difficult situation. I especially liked the fact that they make mistakes (just like in real life) but they essentially love their child and just want him/her to be happy.

These are my favourites. What was your best read in 2018?

Don’t judge me

Do you ever worry about people judging you because of your reading choices? I’m ashamed to say I do.

Last week I was in the middle of a pretty intense workshop when we decided to take a short lunch break. The workshop facilitator wanted to pop out and get a coffee so I thought I’d take the chance to get a bit of fresh air and pick up some books from the library. I’d reserved them during the holidays but forgotten what they were, so when I arrived I was a bit surprised to find that they were definitely holiday reads (very light thrillers) and I wondered briefly if I should take them back to my desk and chuck them in a drawer or take them back into the workshop and have the inevitable conversation which starts with “so what are you reading?”.

I decided to take them with me but somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself mumbling about this not being indicative of my usual reading fare (as if anyone cares). The facilitator, lovely woman that she is, said kindly, “I’m not judging you” but this made me wonder how much we judge people by their reading choices and more importantly how much we judge ourselves.

I never try to make people think that I’m a literary kind of person, but I do read a lot and people often ask me what I’m reading. At any one time that could range from thrillers to literary fiction to memoirs to self-help books. I read most genres except perhaps horror and fantasy books. I’m a pretty fussy reader unless I’m stuck in an airport in which case I’ll probably read anything, or if it’s the holidays and then I’m allowed to read whatever I like. It’s part of the holiday splurge and something I rather enjoy. Good food, lots of nice wine and some unchallenging books. Lovely!

I’ll get back to something more nourishing soon.

 

Not enough books!

I haven’t read enough books this year! I know this because I read this post by an author who said she had read a whopping 81 books as well as finishing her second novel and having a baby. I was impressed but also pretty sure that I hadn’t read anywhere near that many, so I must have been either very lazy or very busy. Let’s go with very busy…

This set me to the task of trying to work out how many books I HAVE actually read this year and I can tell you truthfully that it’s closer to two dozen than 81. I was feeling a bit like an under-achiever until I worked out that this is two books a month, which is not too shabby and also doesn’t take into account the many books that I started but didn’t finish because they were boring, too long-winded or just didn’t grab my attention for some reason. It also doesn’t include books I’ve read but forgotten about already, but in my view, if you can’t remember the plot line of a book then it probably isn’t worth counting.

I realise that it’s not important how many books you’ve read, but how much enjoyment they’ve given you. So instead of impressing you with my amazing reading prowess, I thought I would just pass on a few recommendations about books I actually finished and enjoyed as well.

Top of my list would be The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood. This book tells the story of a 100 year old Lithuanian woman who meets an 11 year old boy obsessed with the Guinness Book of Records. I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did as I’m not always keen on books about old people, but this really is a charming book. It’s message is that it’s never too late to strive for something.

Other books I enjoyed were:

Before we visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This is a cross generational and cross cultural book about mothers and daughters facing obstacles and making wise and sometimes foolish choices.

Station Eleven by Hilary St John Mandel. This is a science fiction book that I made my book group read despite their reservations. This post- apocalyptic novel tells the story of a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. I really enjoyed this book and so did my book group!

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson. Another book about old people! What’s going on here?  I read this book mainly because it won the Miles Franklin Literary Award and also because it was written by a West Australian which is where I’m from. And although it’s about old people, it’s also above love, secrets and coming to terms with your past. It also features the work of some iconic designers and it made me happy to think that I actually knew who these people were.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This is a book for people who like reading books about people who like reading books. It’s not especially profound and is based on a very unlikely premise, but it’s also as comforting as a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day.

I could go on and on, but I’m really interested in your recommendations for books I should read in 2018. I already have a TBR list but I’m happy to add more books. There’s never enough time to read all the books on my list so a few extra won’t hurt.

Who can you trust to recommend a good book?

I’m an avid reader and I’m always keen to talk about books and swap recommendations. After you’ve read a few books that someone recommends, you get a pretty good idea of whether or not you have the same tastes. It can be quite tricky when a friend tells you that a certain book is fabulous and you hate it.

In my book group we don’t always agree on the books we read, and we certainly have different tastes, but since we’ve been meeting for about 20 years we have a very good understanding of the sort of books that each member enjoys reading. One of my friends is a huge fan of Louise Penny and Nordic noir, and another really likes historical fiction and British murder mysteries. We often recommend books to one another, rather than suggesting that the whole group read them.

I tend to like books that move along quickly, but are well written. I often read contemporary fiction, for example Paula Hawkins’ book The Girl on the Trainbut to be honest these type of books don’t really stay with me after I’ve read them and I often can’t really remember the plot line or what happened in the end. I don’t particularly like books with long descriptive passages and I tend to like books with likable (but flawed) characters. I like books that make me feel and think.

I was overjoyed when I discovered the podcast What Should I Read Next? Each week the host (Anne Bogel) talks to a different guest about what books they like (and dislike) and then recommends what they should read next. If your reading tastes align with the guest, then its worthwhile tracking down their recommendations and giving these a whirl.

On top of this Anne Bogel has an online book group and every year she releases a list of recommended reading for summer. She also releases a list of her top five books and I’ve come to really trust her judgement. One book that she recommended during the year was The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I really enjoyed this book which is set in a contemporary black community in Southern California. Brit is currently in Sydney appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival which is on this week, so I’ll be looking out for a chance to hear her interviewed around the town.

I’m planning to read all of her top five books over the next six months. I’m already reading The Dry, by Jane Harper and I’m looking forward to reading the next one on the list. If you borrow most of your books from the local library, you might like to work your way through last year’s shortlist as these are likely to have hit the shelves of you library.

So do let me know if you have read any good books lately. I’m always keen to swap ideas.