Some mini reading goals for May 2019

Two mini reading goals for May 2019:

  1. The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced recently, and it looks amazing! I’ve read 3 of the books on the shortlist – Circe, My Sister, the Serial Killer, and The Silence of the Girls, and am 30 pages into An American Marriage (it’s already breaking my heart so hard), so one of my goals for May is to read the rest of the shortlist before the winner is announced in June.
Women's Prize for Fiction 2019

Picture taken from the official Women’s Prize for Fiction website here

2. One of my other mini reading goals for May, since Ramadan begins tomorrow, is to play along with the  #Ramadanreadathon. I wasn’t planning to, but I have been so amazed and delighted and excited by the lists of TBRs coming up on my twitter feed that I actually can’t wait to dive into all the new releases and recommendations like some kind of hungry book seal.

I think I’ll choose the prayer column, simply because that’s the pillar that’s closest to my heart this Ramadan.

ramadan-readathon-bingo

Read more about the Readathon here

And to kick things off, here’s a picture of a fresh new book delivery this morning! I ordered these last month from bookdepository – they took a while to get here, but they got here in the end.

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April 2019 Round Up

11 books in April 2019, taking me to a total of 46 for the year so far. Some really good – and long! – reads this month. Of particular note:

Business Icons Khairi Metussin, Salehin Basir, Khairul Anwar Sabir, Khairul Arifin Sabir 

Business Icons

Billed as “the success stories of 10 accomplished entrepreneurs in Brunei Darussalam”, this collection of the origins of local icons such as Arkitek Idris, Han King Juan (Jing Chew), Lau Ah Kok (Hua Ho), Rano Iskandar, Abdul Razak of Abdul Razak Holdings etc is – amazing. I’m obviously a tiny bit biased (<3) , but the objective, scholarly part of me is also really impressed at how important this book is as a cultural history of entrepreneurship in Brunei. Especially given that it’s now 8 years after the book was published, and the local/national landscape of entrepreneurship has changed so, so much.

Samira Ahmed Internment 

Internment Samira Ahmed

This YA near-future dystopia about Muslim internment in the USA gave me chills. The story it is wrapped in – Layla is a rebellious Muslim teen, whose (in normal circumstances) adolescent angst is packaged as heroic action in the hellish, oppressive landscape of the internment camp, peopled with other Muslim Americans – almost feels like it’s not the point of the novel. The point is to show how quickly internment can go from being topic-of-the -day to lived reality, and how easily “normal” citizens forget  (want to forget)  about the incarcerated when they are not visible.

I really liked Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate and Other Filters, and this is another good one. It feels more purposeful, less flinching, and just as readable. The first novel I ever read about internment in America was Danielle Steel’s Silent Honor, maybe twenty years ago. I don’t know how it would stand up to a contemporary readership, but I remember the details of the camp in that novel – based in historical fact – very well. Internment writes a blueprint for how that history might come back to life in the future.

Taylor Reid Jenkins Daisy Jones & The Six

Daisy Jones &amp; The Six

This was my pick for Feminist Book Club this year! I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and this pop culture history of fictional rock band The Six and their relationship with the turbulent, flower-wild-child singer/songwriter Daisy Jones is written in Jenkins’ deceptively easy, fluid style. It reminded me a lot of A Star is Born – relationship between an older male rocker and a younger female pop star – but with a fuller ensemble cast (the rest of the Six), a more feminist sensibility, and a heartbreaking choice about the right person to love. A younger me would have hated the grayness of this choice – love is all or nothing! – but the present me accepts and even enjoys the truth of it. And maybe thinks that love is deeper and truer for being a hard choice – I guess I’m on board with the concept of bittersweetness these days.

Charlotte Gordon Romantic Outlaws 

Romantic Outlaws

This was a TOMEOver 500 pages of chapters that alternate between the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley (nee Godwin). It is fascinating to see how the mother and daughter’s lives intersect and interweave; how the conditions for women changed and didn’t change in the years between them; the tragedy of how they were almost written out of history – and how they have been, in the intervening years, written inaccurately, flattened, stereotyped, by the men (and scholars!) who loved them and hated them. Both women worked and wrote for causes greater than themselves, but I also enjoyed how Gordon allows them both the frivolity and contradictions and messiness of being teens, tweens and grown women who make choices that make you wanna sit them down and go, “Mary. No. This man is trash.”

Madeline Miller Circe 

Circe

This was another long, stretchy, delicious read. An expansion and a retelling of Circe, the sorceress who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs. (Mehehe) I read this while in Crete, and that was a trippy experience – I would surface from mythology to walk and drive around mountainous roads and villages with signs and roads named after the Greek gods I was reading about. Full, and rich, this novel walks past the tragedy of an unconscious life, the experience of coming to consciousness and awareness, how the very concept of morality expands and contracts with the brevity and depth of mortality. It’s a rollicking, immensely readable narrative about Circe and how she comes to be exiled, to claim freedom, and the gods and goddesses and mortals she meets along the way. I loved how the chance encounter she has with Prometheus haunts her and shapes her, I loved the depiction of Odysseus and Penelope and Telemachus – I really liked this book. It’s a finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, and a wonderful companion piece to another finalist, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, also a feminist retelling of Greek mythology.

Eve Ensler The Vagina Monologues 

The Vagina Monologues

I picked up the 20th anniversary edition of this in Changi airport last week, and devoured it on the flight home. I had to read it rather discreetly, because I kept tearing up. I’ve watched a performance of this only once, when I was an undergrad at Ohio State – my RA was one of the performers, and she invited us along. I have remembered it ever since then, her Southern accent, the spareness of the stage, the repetition of “Cunt” in one of the monologues. That must have been 14 years ago now, 6-7 years after Ensler performed it for the first time. It was moving to read about all the ways this play has been adapted, performed and picked up around the world; the unnecessary hostility and shame around the word “vagina”; there are new and powerful monologues in this edition.

This was the play I remembered when writing The Tudong Monologues – in many (albeit different) ways, the tudong/hijab/headscarf – as a concept and as a word is as fraught as the word “vagina”, but it does come down to female sexuality, the feminine body, and its policing and surveillance…and ownership.

To finish off, here’s a picture of my book haul from Changi. I’ve finished off The Vagina Monologues and Goodnight Nobody, am starting in on Being Mortal now – not really cheery bedtime reading, but compelling stuff so far. On into Ramadan!

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March 2019 Round-up

8 books in March, a significant dip from Jan and Feb! Never mind, I’m aiming to read 15 books in April, so that I’m comfortably at the 50 book mark by the end of the first quarter of the year. K is out of the country for most of April, so I have plenty of time on my hands (to reduce sugar and increase book consumption).

Books of note!

S.A Chakraborty The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper I loved the first two of this Daevabad Trilogy, and was gutted when I realized the third one hadn’t come out yet. (This is why my brother’s first, suspicious question whenever I recommend a book to him is: Is it part of a series/Is the series complete?) Key words: the mythology of  the prophet Sulaiman and his control of the jinn, rich, layered world-building with plenty of Middle-Eastern and Egyptian influence, complex, strong and profoundly sympathetic characters.

Sophie Kinsella I Owe You One Sophie Kinsella will always be one of my favourite chick-lit authors, for her amazing articulation of the ways we justify the nuances of our consumerism to ourselves in the Shopaholic series (new one coming out this year!). Becky Bloomwood is one of my favourite heroines of all time. I really enjoyed this latest offering, I Owe You One, which is likeable and readable, feat. a heroine who loves fixing things.

Seanan McGuire In an Absent Dream I love the Wayward Children series for its cruel fairytale justice and compassionate rendering of human longings and frailties – wrapped up in the premise of the children who come back from fairyland(s). This fourth was heartbreaking and engrossing. McGuire is a master of leaving things off the page. (I didn’t realize that she was also, under a pseudonym, the author of the Newsflesh zombie series!)

Sally Thorne 99 Percent Mine Another romantic comedy from the author of last year’s surprise hit, The Hating Game. This sophomore release was better than the debut, both in terms of pacing and in the development of the romance.

Expense Report for March 2019: BND 226.07 (I ordered a bunch of stuff off bookdepository, and some off Amazon UK.) March 2018: BND 502.92

Mostly chick-lit, romance, and fantasy this month! Let’s see what happens in April. I also picked my book for Feminist Book Club: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six. Am looking forward to diving in. (I also got my hands on a copy of Business Icons, a Bruneian collection of local entrepreneur stories, which I am very excited to read!) Before that: a pile of marking and lots of rewriting. So far, 2019 has been a delight.

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February 2019 Round-Up

In Feb, I read 15 books. To compare

Feb 2016: 16

Feb 2017: 12

Feb 2018: 9

So a pretty variable month. I read a little more than I would have been able to otherwise this month because I went on a week-long holiday, during which I was so physically tired at the end of the day that there was plenty of time for reading.

Some books of note:

Maggie Shen King An Excess Male  – this was a Feminist Book Club pick which I never would have heard about or chosen for myself, so I’m really glad it was picked! A dystopia in which China’s one-child policy and preference for male children has resulted in a near-future in which men vie to be first, second and third husbands to women. This was a fascinating read, not least because even in this scenario, in which there is a scarcity of women, women still have so very little power and wealth of their own. They are bartered by parents, subject to the ideological underpinnings of what is still a patriarchal state, trapped within marriages they don’t necessarily want etc etc. The only difference here is that men are similarly powerless. The novel follows one such woman, May-ling, and her two husbands, XX and Hann, and Wei-Guo, who is hoping to become her third husband. Compassionately handled, flawed but well-meaning characters, this novel sketches the impossibility of full, free individual happiness in an unfree state and society; but also how as humans we can grab at less and make of it a full life anyway.

Michelle Obama Becoming – another Feminist Book Club pick, by popularish demand. I found the first couple of chapters a little dull, but after that it picked up tremendously. It is a large book, and some of the later chapters get a little repetitive, but these are minor nitpicks. It’s an inspiring read – it was so refreshing and heartening and amazing to be reminded of how selfless purpose transforms lives – your own, and other people’s. Having read both of Barack Obama’s memoirs, it was also really fun to see how this memoir intersected with Dreams from my Father, offering Michelle’s perspective on the events in that memoir and beyond.

Taylor Jenkins Reid Maybe in Another Life I really really liked Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and this literary version of “Sliding Doors” didn’t disappoint. I particularly liked the idea that we can make of our choices our own happiness. Which I suppose is a different way of saying, we can choose happiness.

Hanna Alkaf The Weight of Our Sky I’ve been looking out for this Malaysian YA novel for quite a few months now – it’s gotten tremendous buzz on Twitter and amongst SEA readers, and it didn’t disappoint. Set in the 1960s KL race riots, the Malay heroine Melati must find her way back to her mother in a suddenly hostile landscape. The racial hostilities in the novel are laid unflinchingly out, and reading something set so close to home was unnerving, making me think of all the things we do and do not write about, can and cannot say. If I had a criticism, it’s that Melati as a heroine was less than compelling, and her redemption/victory over herself was – unconvincing. Not something the novel made me feel very invested in. I’m looking forward to more from Alkaf.

Oyinkan Braithwaite My Sister, the Serial Killer Recommended by a local podcast, the novel is set in Lagos, where the protagonist, Korede, covers up her sister Ayoola’s bad habit of killing her boyfriends. Short, snappy, savvy, sly – this novel was a quick, sharp, delightful read.

Angie Thomas On the Come Up I liked Thomas’ first novel, The Hate U Give, but didn’t find it very memorable. On the Come Up is SO good. One of my favourite novels of the year so far – YA fiction about 16 year old aspiring rapper Bri. As a black teenager, Bri doesn’t get to be a child – at school and in the world, she faces racism and brutality; at home there is a lot of love, but a lot of struggle as well. A lot of the novel is about how to fight to widen your horizons as a minority, the difficulty of trying to match or even come close to the breadth given to the privileged. The novel also gave me a new appreciation for rap and songwriting – feel like I should go listen to some Cardi B and Lil Kim now.

On through to March! Am currently reading S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass, Gae Polisner’s The Summer of Letting Go, and Mina V. Esguerra’s Iris After the Incident (depending on which one I have on me at any given time hrhr). I’m also a few chapters in to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows but finding it hard to really get into.

Book expenses Feb 2019 : BND127 (Feb 2018: BND237)

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January 2019 Round-Up

Some really nice reads in the first month of 2019!

Seanan McGuire Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones I loved these first two in McGuire’s series about the children who come back from Fairyland and are unable to go back – Narnia, the moors of Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein etc etc. I wouldn’t classify this as children’s or YA lit, simply because the themes, especially in Down Among the Sticks and Bones are so adult and imbued with loss and longing, but the premise does come from children’s lit.

Shaun Bythell The Diary of a Bookseller I found this memoir by a Scottish second-hand bookseller amusing and crochety and it confirmed all my suspicions about the thoughts of book retailers when you wander into their stores. A handy guide for when I open my own bookstore! Hew hew.

Angela Saini Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the new research that’s rewriting the story This patient elucidation of how science has excluded and been used against women over the last century and a half was really really good. I particularly liked the chapter on menopause.

Kiersten White The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein Retelling of one of literature’s most narcissistic heroes from the POV of his childhood companion and later wife? Yes.

Katherine Arden The Winter of the Witch The final in the trilogy about 14th century Russia, folklore, mythology and orthodox religion clashing in the form of a strong, complex female heroine who is brave and ambitious and so so loveable. I loved this trilogy and can’t wait to read more from Arden.

Caroline Kepnes You I really liked the Netflix series, and so I wanted to read the book it was based on. I’m happy to say the series was such a clever and great adaptation of the novel – the cuts and changes they made work for a book-to-TV series adaptation.

Jan 2019: 12 books read, 272.8BND spent.

(Jan 2018): 12 books read, 227.4BND spent

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Annual Round Up: 2018

Three years of recording my reads! It looks so satisfying.

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ahh my Elizabeth Hoyt and Sherry Thomas binge in 2016

Some Numbers

I did not, regretfully, hit my goal of 150 books this year – I really tried, but came in at 148, 2 books short. To reframe: I read 148 books this year! I’m going to celebrate that.

2016-2018 bar chart

This is the breakdown of my book reading by month. September is my most consistent month, apparently. This year, I read the fewest books in July (7)! and the most books in March and December (17). July makes sense to me – I was travelling for quite a chunk of June and July, and there were significant family events happening. As I was reminded recently – people are more important, and more joyous, than paper.

2016-2018 line graph

I wanted to chart my overall reading as a pattern, but while 2016 and 2017 sort of mapped quite nicely onto each other, I don’t see that corresponding picture in 2018, other than in November, where book reading dips only to climb back up in December. That might be all iterations of Past Kat trying to hit book reading goals. High five to all of us!

Some Themes

readin by gender 2018

I continued to read mostly female-authored books. I did not read any poetry anthologies in 2018! I did read 2-3 graphic novels, and about 27 “world” texts, including Bruneian and other Southeast Asian novels.

Following the Money

book expenditure 2018

In 2018, I spent about 2500BND on 193 books, an average of approx 200BND a month and ~12-13BND per book. I thought this might be a little inflated because of March expenditure, when I bought some (expensive) academic texts – but when I took that month and those texts out of the equation, it worked out – to almost exactly the same, actually. So statistics works.

Takeaway: Books are expensive, there was a steady downward expenditure towards the end of the year (I’m not sure why, maybe I was working through the backlog of books I’d already bought rather than buying new ones), and this will be helpful for understanding my budget going forward.

where i buy books 2018

I also tracked where I was buying books: no surprise that almost half of my money in 2018 went to Amazon UK and Kindle ebooks. I spent a lot of money at overseas bookstores and on book depository, and very little, relatively, at Bruneian bookstores.

Books I’m Still Thinking About

Taylor Jenkins Reid The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – I read this towards the end of the year, and I totally get the hype. An Old Hollywood superstar finally chooses a journalist to reveal all her secrets to, and it was wonderful. Wise and pragmatic, glamorous and dramatic, and very compassionate. Would recommend!

Pat Barker The Silence of the Girls – This wonderful review calls it a feminist retelling of Homer’s Iliad, and “a version of the story that shifts our attention from the angry, des-tructive, quick-footed, short-lived boys to the raped, enslaved, widowed women, who watch their city burn and, if they are lucky, get a moment to bury their slaughtered children and grandchildren before they are taken far away”. I loved this book and it broke my heart.

Julia Alvarez In the Time of the Butterflies – this was a Feminist Book Club read, and we had a fantastic time discussing which of the four revolutionary Mirabal sisters we would have been. I didn’t expect to like this because revolutionary novels set in dictatorships (in this case, the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s time) are not my leisure jam, but this was the most female one I’ve ever read, and a lovely counterpoint to the only other Dominican (-American) writing I know – Junot Diaz’s.

Mary Robinette Kowal The Calculating Stars and its sequels – The Lady Astronaut of Mars series…wow. Fantastic world-building of an alternate Space Race (involving more women) after a post-WW2 meteor renders Earth predicted as uninhabitable in a slow-burn matter of decades. I read it shortly after reading Hidden Figures, and they were wonderful companion books.

Alfian Sa’at Malay Sketches – vignettes of Singaporean Malay life. This was poignant, far-reaching, and told the truth with tenderness and precision.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman Herland – I don’t know if this was objectively good, but it’s a book I keep turning over in my head. Three men stumble across a female society in the deeps of the Amazon, which has been populated exclusively by women (divine births) for generations and generations, and the way the ideas of religion, education, development and family are developed is amazing.

Naomi Novik Spinning Silver – I had been looking forward to this meaty fairytale since Uprooted, and it didn’t disappoint. Fairytale logic – cruel and arbitrary and sharp – is spun relentlessly around this retelling of Rumpelstiltskin imbued with Jewish mythology.

Meena Kandasarry When I Hit You – This memoir-non-memoir was unforgiving and unflinching.

Cheryl Lu-lienTan Sarong Party Girls – Jazzy, the exuberant, headstrong protagonist, wants what she wants and the way she begins to question what she wants throws a hard light on ang mohs, social class and mobility, and Singaporean culture, Funny, fast, Singlish.

Zen Cho Spirits Abroad – This was the collection of short stories that I wish I was gifted and wise enough to be able to write. Malaysian spirits, Malaysian humans, at home and abroad. Whimsical, warm hearted, just a delight.

Imogen Hermes Gowar The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – I read this at the beginning of the year and still remember it, this story of class and struggle and choices in Victorian England.

Special mention to Phillip Pullman’s The Book of Dust (yesss back in Lyra’s Oxford, with an equally wonderful protagonist), Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (just a phenomenal piece of determined history-making), Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic (like Zen Cho, I wish I could write this kind of magic).

2019

In 2019 I would like to keep to about 144-150 books (12 books a month-ish). I don’t think I can feasibly do more, and I marvel at readers I’ve seen who do! I think this amount works for me and my lifestyle, and gives me time and space to read longer texts at my own pace.

So far in 2019 I’ve read two books and am working through The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (I have thoughts)…and Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch, which I pre-ordered, just downloaded itself neatly into my Kindle. Yay! Here’s to many many more books to love in 2019.

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Mid-December 2018 Round Up

7 books so far in December, and 12 to go if I’m to reach my 150 goal in 2018! There are basically 12 days left in the month, so if I read a book a day, I can do it (haha). We’ll see, I’ll try!

So far in December, some books of note:

Sherry Thomas The Hollow of Fear The third in this Lady Sherlock series, it is romantic and bittersweet, and perfect for me, a romance reader who likes a cozy mystery (not too many twists and turns, not too much intrigue to remember, human element at the forefront). The OTP is winding their way slowly to one another, which I’m grateful for, given the slowness of the second novel in the series. I can’t wait for the next one. And one of the secondary stories, with Treadles the police officer who grapples with the revelation that his wife might want more out of life than marriage and kids, is lovely.

Shirley Jackson The Lottery and Other Stories The Lottery, like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, is one of those stories that I am never quite sure if I’ve read or not. I found it underwhelming, but maybe I need to go back and read it again. It was an interesting companion to Guy du Maupassant’s The Necklace, which I also encountered for the first time this month (and which still haunts me).

Finally, not a book of note, but a podcast I’ve really been enjoying: Public Domain Theatre, hosted by Kelly Nugent and Lindsay Katai -“high brow literature, low brow commentary”. Absolutely my jam.

Final two weeks of December! I am so excited for 2019, and working towards closing 2018 out strong. I’ve already chosen my word for 2019! Sending all good wishes out your way.

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