Happy New Year! Hope you all have a brilliant 2014 and discover many new and wonderful books to help you on your way. I wanted to round up the reviews of books read in December and write a few of my thoughts on what I read last year, as well as looking forward to what this year will bring. I thought the best way to start the new year fresh was to a few mini reviews of the final books of 2013.
Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White
I have been planning to read this book for a long, long time, after studying Victorian Gothic literature at uni and reading The Moonstone and absolutely loving it. I’d heard The Woman in White was even better, in fact, a seminal piece of Gothic fiction. It’s told in the form of a detective story, with a series of testimonies surrounding the mysterious Anne Catherick (the Woman in White who gives the book its title), the doomed marriage of Laura Fairlie to Sir Percival Glyde and the shady dealings of Sir Percival and Count Fosco. I was a little disappointed, but perhaps more because it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. I enjoyed the descriptions of the characters, Count Fosco was particularly unforgettable, and the story was great but I found it started to drag in the middle and I found parts of it a little predictable. That said, it’s hard to look back on fiction from so long ago as ‘new’ as such as the themes and storylines have been read or viewed so much in modern times on the page or on screen that it sometimes feels like cliché. I really wanted to love this book but I wasn’t as enchanted with it as others are.
Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl
I have been meaning to read this book for such a long time (I think probably since I learnt about it in primary school!). The diary of Anne Frank, a young Jew in hiding in Amsterdam with her family during the Holocaust, shows the horrors of that time from the eyes of a teenager, alongside all of the worries and angst teenagers go through. It begins before they go into hiding and gives an idea of the growing concerns of Jews and the increasing level of persecution they faced. Anne is trying to make sense of it all herself and writes in her diary most days talking about life in hiding, family fights, food shortages, the kindness of those who helped them and the fear of being discovered. It’s funny that, even though Anne Frank was alive in a completely different time, I recognise so much of her writing style from my own diaries at a similar age – the melodrama, the feelings of being misunderstood, and those intense feelings for a certain boy. It is so sad what happened to Anne and her family, and to think that if another month had gone by before they were discovered, they may have just survived.
Michel Faber – Under the Skin
This novel. It is a little terrifying. Isserley spends her days travelling up and down the A9 (the main route connecting the Central Belt of Scotland with the Highlands) on the hunt for hitchhikers – not just any hitchhikers, but strong and healthy male specimens – to pick up in her car. What happens to them afterwards is someething quite unexpected. It’s pretty creepy and this is such a chilling book that will leave you with images in your head you could hardly have conjured up in a nightmare. I was recently driving along the A1 (another main artery from Scotland down to Newcastle in the north of England) and experienced it in a completely different way, leaning forward, imagining myself as Isserley, trying to imagine what she would be thinking. This is a work of fiction unlike anything I have ever read and I’m looking forward to seeing the film, coming out in early March this year. It’s a bit of a departure from the novel from what I’ve seen so far but the trailer is available here if you would like to see what you’re letting yourself in for beforehand!
I’ve seen a lot of posts with reading stats – I never knew I was a stats geek (I hated the subject in school) but I really enjoy them now so I have been browsing through my reading from 2013.
53 books read in 2013
21 written by women, 32 by men
19 were published in 2013, 11 were classics
27 were written by British authors (6 of these by Scottish authors), 12 by Americans, 2 by Australians, 3 by Italians, 2 by French authors and 1 by an African author
6 books were translated
48 fiction, 5 non-fiction
It seems I’m not very adventurous in my reading, with the majority written by British authors, hardly any translated books and just one book by an African author, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. It seems there is a bit a gender imbalance as well with just under 40% of the books I read last year written by women. I’ve not consciously analysed my reading before so it’s really interesting to see how it all pans out. I’m starting the year off with a book by a Nigerian female author which is a step in the right direction at least!
For a look at all of the books I read in 2013, have a look at my Books 2013 page. I’m looking forward to getting started on my 2014 page! I’m not taking part in any challenges, although I have set myself one to read one non-fiction book a month as I tend to favour fiction so that’ll bump up my non-fiction number for this year.
The first book I’m reading this year is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m about three-quarters of the way through and it is a very powerful novel so far, focusing on the life of a small cast of characters in the 1960s before and during the Nigeria-Biafra war. I didn’t know anything about the events at all before I started reading it but I keep finding myself looking things up online to learn more about what happened. I love it when a book feels educational, not forced, but inspires you to learn more about things you haven’t experienced before. More coming up once I’ve finished reading!