In this post I'm going to run through every book I've read in 2016 so far and give a general overview of what I've enjoyed and what my readings habits have looked like. I think this is a nice way of assessing my pattern of reading and doing a succinct round-up. Talking about three months of books feels like a nice balance between a too sparse book selection and "woah buddy slow down now, that is too many books, seriously please stop throwing books in my face". So here goes. Here are all the books I've read in the first three months of the year.
1. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) - Felicia Day | ★★★★★
I started off the year beautifully with this absolute gem. I really enjoy a bit of humorous quirky celebrity autobiography type business, but this book showed me that they can reach a level of relatability and humanness that I've not quite seen before. I love the way Felicia talks about her experiences with perfectionism, depression, and sometimes toxic video gaming. She is funny in such an incredibly down to Earth way that I really admire. I love her now. A lot. Thanks Felicia.
2. Welcome to Night Vale - Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor | ★★☆☆☆
I was never really into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast that much but I do appreciate its short form absurdist humour and pure unadulterated weird. Having said that, the novel disappointed me. I thought it might be more accessible to me or that it might work in a fun and different way as a novel, but what really happened here in my opinion is a really misaligned story and ultimately quite a boring plot and character dynamics. The story starts off with intrigue, but becomes a sort of muddling combination of weirdnesses, some of which you're supposed to be invested in and some of which you're supposed to shrug off. When literally everything is weird, weirdness itself doesn't work so well as a narrative device or plot twist. It needs something to contrast with in order to be engaging. Despite my initial interest in the uniquely humorous voice of Night Vale, it wasn't enough to drive this as a novel for me. The plot is barely there. The best thing I can say for it is that there were plenty of one-liners that made me laugh out loud, but a novel needs more than that.
3. The Little Android - Marissa Meyer | ★★★☆☆
This is a beautiful little retelling of The Little Mermaid with a robotic edge. Nice and succinct, nice and heart-wrenching, emotive, and hopefully a nice introduction to the world of the 'Cinder' series (I'm hoping to read that sometime soon).
4. Pretty Little Liars - Sara Shepard | ★★★☆☆
These kinds of teen girl high school drama books are not usually my thing, but after a close friend told me about how the Pretty Little Liars series got her into creative writing, and after I'd seen the TV series advertised a lot, I decided to give the first book a try, and I really enjoyed it! The sense of mystery and suspense is quite nicely done, and the characters are all well woven together.
5. Flawless - Sara Shepard | ★★☆☆☆
I continued the Pretty Little Liars series and found my tolerance for it waning a bit. Some of the plot developments in this instalment irritated me, but I think for me this is a series possibly best progressed through intermittently. I still think the suspense is well done, and the unseen antagonist keeps the story compelling and chaotic. I fully intend to come back to the series after a break and see how things progress.
6. Hotel World - Ali Smith | ★★★★☆
I really liked Hotel World. It tells the intertwined stories of four people who are all connected to a hotel. One of them is a ghost, and that narrative in particular was my favourite in all its childlike glee and forgetfulness of the details of living. Ali Smith uses lots of stream of consciousness stylings in her stories here, and I love it. I love the way all the stories flow into each other and everything is connected. It's spooky and dreamy, but it feels very real and visceral.
7. The Mist - Stephen King | ★★☆☆☆
I think I like the concept of The Mist more than I ultimately like the story. I'm not a fan of the random and unthinking infidelity of the protagonist (it serves to make me not care about him at all, and thus makes the story somewhat hollow for me). However, the spooky, fraught atmosphere is nicely done, and there are lots of interesting characters and responses going on in here. It feels a bit like an unfinished and more callous version of Day of the Triffids, which is one of my favourite books.
8. The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros | ★★★☆☆
This is an odd, short novel made up of diary entries by a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago and talking about her experiences of being poor, having friendships with different kinds of girls, dealing with boys, and so on. It's a really nice read, and I loved the disjointed diary feel and the sense of tween innocence. There are some touching moments and some funny ones. Overall I thought this book was a really charming exploration of lots of different topics and events and relationships within an engaging diary framework.
9. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card | ★★☆☆☆
This is a militaristic sci-fi story about a super intelligent six year old who goes into training to fight bug-like aliens. I found a lot of the narrative quite unappealing and repetitive (Ender has a lot of fights, some cliché questions about whether or not he's intrinsically violent, and is basically perfect at everything), but the interesting part of the book for me was near the end, when we learn more about what the 'buggers' actually are. Therein the story begins to feel like it is going somewhere. Sadly, the rest of the book feels like a dull slog through some poorly-executed attempts at political and social commentary.
10. Room - Emma Donoghue | ★★☆☆☆
Room is an incredibly hyped novel about a little boy, Jack, and his mother, who trapped in a room (him since birth, and her for seven years). It's an interesting concept, but unfortunately I felt that the whole book felt quite empty. It is written from Jack's point of view, and this makes for some exasperating and irritating prose. His voice seems very inconsistent - one minute he is using babbling baby talk, and the next using excessively complex words for a five year old. The book focuses on Jack and ma's adjustment to life once they escape their room, but rather than feeling poignant and explorative, it all felt quite emotionless and dull to me. I found the characters quite transparent and I couldn't bring myself to care much about them despite the emotionally charged circumstances of the plot. For me, it just wasn't explored in a way that felt real, or even particularly sympathetic.
11. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte | ★★★★☆
I started reading this one because I wanted to try out Google Books on my phone, and I found Jane Eyre for free and thought "that'll do." I'm so glad I did, because I love it. There are some serious twists and turns in this book, and a heavy dose of calamity for Miss Jane Eyre, but what's striking is her resilience and commitment to her beliefs and her strength throughout. We start off with Jane as a child, which is fun, and introduces us to her thoroughly unfortunate start in life and simultaneously, her determined and just nature. There is plenty of heartbreak and some exquisite moments of joy expertly woven through the plot, and Jane is so uplifting and encouraging through it all. She is a wonderful character, and she tells her story beautifully.
12. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith | ★☆☆☆☆
This is an odd one. I expected it to be silly, of course, and it is. Mr Darcy even makes a testicle joke more than once. There are some great uses of humour in the zombie edition of an already very witty classic, but I think some of it is quite ill-matched. Seth Grahame-Smith changes lots of details that in turn change the dispositions of a lot of the characters, and I think that's a shame. I'd much rather read a zombie Pride and Prejudice which retains the original characters and the historical conventions than one that turns Lizzy Bennet into a bloodthirsty warrior ready to stab Darcy at any moment. It dampens the more subtle, smirking sarcasm that made her such an enjoyable character to read in the first place. On the other hand, the ball scenes can be more fun with the looming sense of an impending undead beheading. I just wish it felt less erratic and more in keeping with the tone, wit, and characterisation of the original text.
13. The Star Diaries - Stanislaw Lem* | ★★★★☆
This was one of the greatest, oddest, and most 'me' books I read across these three months. It's formed of a series of connected short stories detailing the narrator's encounters with amusingly shaped aliens and confusing breaks in the space-time continuum. I love the way the stories are distinct, but create a whole picture, I love the silly humour (including some brilliant acronyms) which echoes the Douglas Adams school of funny sci-fi that I adore, and I love Ijon Tichy's resigned meandering through a thousand awkward intergalactic experiences and punch ups with himself from different days of the week.
14. The Wander Society - Keri Smith* | ★★★★☆
Keri Smith has written this lovely book exploring the everyday adventure. She details her findings of an apparent society of wanderers who have made Walt Whitman their icon. The book is such a nicely put together ode to loving your surroundings and drawing inspiration from them, offering instructions for wandering, and lots of introspection. I'm really into this and I think it's full of great ideas.
15. Someone Like You - Roald Dahl* | ★★☆☆☆
As much as I love Roald Dahl (and I do), this short story collection really doesn't do him justice in my mind. It does have my very favourite one, Lamb to the Slaughter, but a lot of the other stories compiled here feel like they are unfinished or are just unpleasant with none of the winking, impish humour or astonishing revelations that Dahl is so good at. Also, in this edition there is a foreword by Dom Joly in which he gives away a bit of plot, so I wasn't a big fan of that.
16. Josie and the Pussycats - Cathy East Dubowski* | ★★☆☆☆
This was left in an office clear out pile and I saw the incredible and quintessentially 2000s cover and I had to read it. Funnier than your average cringy pre-teen book of little substance, what I mostly enjoyed about this book was its playful absurdity, e.g. when Jack Black is murderously wielding a baseball bat and singing Blue Öyster Cult's '(Don't Fear) The Reaper'. And you know, it has an eight-page colour insert with photos from the film, so obviously I'm sold.
I'm quite happy with the mix of things I've read so far this year, although I do want to focus on more new releases across the rest of the year as it's really fun to be aware of what's being published right now and to be part of a very current reading community and culture. However, it's nice to read an eclectic selection of things too! Whatever I read in the next eight months of the year, I just hope I have fun and enjoy it.
* For the sake of transparency, books introduced to me via my three week work experience stint with Penguin Press in March are marked with a star.