Fave Feminist Reads from 2017 book club

I have a new article for The Scoop out here, if you’re interested!

Round up for mid-month Feb coming soon – I bought my first physical books of the year! (But havent read very much, haha).

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January Round-Up (Ebooks Everywhere)

In January 2018, I read 12 books*. A few salient numbers and notes:

  1. All of them were ebooks**. (I switched from Amazon US to Amazon UK about halfway through the month because I needed to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for Feminist Book Club, and the US site didn’t have the Kindle edition. The mechanisms behind digital releases in different countries are beyond me, but then I am also baffled by HOW Amazon knows what country I’m in and therefore which books “are not available for your country”. ***)
  2. A female to male ratio of 1:2 – for every 1 male writer I read, I read 2 female writers, this month.
  3. Expense Report: USD52.08 (Amazon US) and GBP86.96 (Amazon UK), which at today’s exchange rate, tops out at approximately BND230 for January. For 29 books, this means that I’m paying approx BND7.93 per book. Which is a reasonable cost per book, I think.

Books of Note since the mid-month round-up (not necessarily recommendations)

Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  Feminist Book Club’s first read of the year! This was surprisingly twisty, very very readable, and made humanity seem mundanely, pragmatically lovely.

Stephanie Garber Caraval This was disappointing. Two sisters, abusive father, dream of running away to see the magical Caraval, a sort of enchanted circus that appears once a year. At this enchanted circus, the winner for the year gets a wish, and the sisters want that wish. The premise is interesting, and the novel got a ton of hype, but I couldn’t really root for the protagonist (too wimpy and fearful for too long), and it felt a little paint by the numbers. The feistier sister, Tella, is going to get her own book I think? That one seems way more interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be looking out for it, particularly.

A.J. Finn The Woman in the Window Classic thriller, with a lot of nods to Hitchcock and film noir – woman looks out her window into neighbour’s house, sees something she shouldn’t, suspense ensues. Pick it up if you’re looking for an easy, reliable thrill – there were at least two things that surprised me, although some of it was a little predictable. (And I am the kind of reader/viewer who is very easily surprised).

*Jan 2016 – 10 books, Jan 2017 – 22 books

**In other news, I had some visitors from Brunei this month and they kindly brought over 5 novels from my TBR stack back home! Yay! Will try to get through all of them in February, so as not to waste their efforts.

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***Thanks to some mild paranoia about digital surveillance, I finally found a use for the washi tape I’ve been hoarding! I.e I’ve taped over my laptop’s webcam. Thanks, Peanuts Washi tape!

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Mid-month Round Up for January!

Exactly halfway through the first month of 2018, and I have really enjoyed looking at other people’s reading resolutions and goals on Twitter and IG! Have scoped out some excellent looking prospects, and am really interested in how other people are tracking their reads!

I’ve been reading mostly electronic so far this year – mostly because that’s the only stuff thats available to me here in Kyoto. I brought a few hard copies with me, and bought a few in Bangkok, but finished them in Dec. I do have a few visitors coming in a couple of weeks, so am asking them to bring over a random few from my TBR pile back home, but for now, am depending on Kindle.

At the halfway point, I have read 5 books. Of interest:

  • Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma This was recommended by a hike buddy, and I really enjoyed it. The chapter on corn got a little sciencey in bits, but it was nice to be reminded of the steps you can take to consume meat ethically. WE ARE ALL MADE OF CORN, APPARENTLY.
  • Carmen Maria Machado Her Body & Other Parties Angela Carter redux. This collection is best read as a collection, with an underlying insistence on female access to a particular interpretation of the world (the women in the stories hear things, see things, that others don’t); a reclamation of the female body through violence (it is often through acts of violence that the feminine interpret their own bodies and selves); and the world as under siege (there are plagues, diseases, infections and contagions). It is overwhelmingly a world on the edge of implosion; communities and masses are viewed as suspect, infected. One or two of the stories seemed incomplete to me, not fully conceptualized or fleshed out. I wouldn’t call this book very readable – the prose was nice but not gripping or gorgeous. But the premises of the individual stories were interesting.
  • Reni Eddo-Lodge Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race This book arose out of a 2014 blog post by Eddo-Lodge, and I found it really interesting, particularly because it’s British rather than American. I feel like I’ve read a lot of stuff on race by American writers, and it was eye-opening to read about the history of race relations in the UK. As Eddo-Lodge points out in the book, “until I went actively digging for black British histories, I didn’t know them”, whereas the American history of race relations is sort of globally imbedded by now – Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, etc. A lot of the discourse here will be familiar, but the British context was new to me, and as someone who considers the UK, however problematically, a second home (I love and loathe it; it has shaped me and spat at me; I am comfortable and alien there; it is a part of me I am still coming to terms with) this was a great read. There were some incidents that bore more explanation, but overall a firm thumbs up. (Also, as of 2016, 70% of university professors in England were still white men. Bleurgh. I need to find out the stats for UBD.)

I’m actually halfway through Susan Hill’s The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories, but had to stop because it was getting a little too creepy. I don’t foresee myself picking this up again till I’m in a braver/more reckless mood!

Book Expenses so far

Amazon US Total: USD52.08 (BND68.96)

Amazon UK Total: GBP16.44 (BND29.87)

Total in BND: 98.83

So far, no money dropped in Japanese bookstores, although my Japanese Amazon Prime is definitely getting a workout.

 

Onwards through the rest of the month!

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Reading in 2017

General Overview 2017

I am happy to say that I hit my reading goal of 150 books for 2017! I managed to read 151 books this year, squeaking in just under the buzzer.

Reading Chart 2017

2017!

Last year I read 162, so overall I read 11 fewer books this year, which works out to around a book a month less than last year.

2016 vs 2017 Bar Chart

Jan 2017 kicked Jan 2016’s ass, but Dec 2016 kicked Dec 2017’s ass, so if we take those two end months out of the equation and treat them as anomalies, it was in the middle 10 months that I incrementally lost ground, 1 book a month at a time.

I’m still happy – 151 is still about 2-3 books a week, which is really all I aim to maintain. As for why I lost that extra book a month – I’m not sure! I wrote and co-produced a play this year, published two books, fell in love, moved to Kyoto for a few months for a fellowship – all of these things were so so wonderful and they maybe took up a bit more time than expected. In other words, life happened! Given the loveliness of life, it was worth losing 11 books, I think.

But lets look at trends from year to year! I’m so excited to have data on this.

2016 vs 2017 Line Graph

So, what’s cool is that from April onwards, my reading trends from 2016-2017 are almost identical! Look at those blue and yellow lines. They’re basically hugging. They tight.

So the Januaries started out very differently, but things evened out quite amazingly by April. 2018 is going to show whether these data points equal a pattern or whether it’s just a coincidence.

Reading by Gender

This year was no different than 2016 – I continued to be drawn to and read mostly books authored and collected by women.

reading by gender 2017

Proportionally and numerically, I read more books by men (35 to 116 by women) in 2017 (2016 chart below for comparison).

In particular, I remember in October I actually read 3 books in a row by men, broke it up with Fay Weldon’s Worst Fears and then read two more male-authored books.

So in October 50% of my reads were male-authored. I also read only 10 books in October, my third lowest number of the year. COINCIDENCE OR CORRELATION? Haha, who knows. Either way, overwhelmingly I continue to read female-authored books.

Two interesting facts:

  1. Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. felt very male to me
  2. I was surprised to learn that M.R. Carey of The Girl with all the Gifts and this year’s read, The Boy on the Bridge, was male and not female – I had just assumed the latter

These subverted expectations tell me that I do think there is a fundamental stylistic and thematic difference between male and female writing. Again, I think this partially goes back to the awareness the female voice has about the possibility of male violence at any time, which is absent in male writing. Male writing, in some ways, romanticizes romance between men and women in a different way to female writing. It assumes agency and choice for females, idealizes that – which female writing does not, always juggling checks and balances, threats and opportunities.

gendered-reading

2016 for comparison

Reading by Genre

Reading by genre 2017

No surprises here – category fiction (romance, thrillers, mysteries) were almost half of my reads in 2017, followed by “literary” fiction, and then non-fiction. I read less YA than I thought – am a little surprised by this.

2017 was inadvertently a year of graphic novels – 7 of them. They were all actually really good – Habibi up there as a disturbing and problematic and powerful piece of work, and I managed to read the seminal Watchmen as well.

Three poetry collections this year – 2 of them Mary Oliver’s (so clever and compassionate and wonderful), and 1 from a Bruneian poet, Fice KB!

Only 1 play, and that was a really old one – Marlowe’s Faustus. But it did open the door to thinking about how “deal with the devil” is such an interesting trope to use to comment on society – and to compare to Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes later in the year – what kind of deals with the devil do women make versus men – is really a question of what men are allowed to want versus what women are allowed to want.

Favourite Reads this year

In no particular order, my top 10 reads this year were

Naomi Alderman The Power An early entry – so early I thought I’d read it last year, and was surprised when going through my notes that it was actually January this year that I’d read it. I’ve written about it already, but this was a book I lent out, and loved talking about, and just generally a powerful, buzzy book that seems in hindsight particularly appropriate for the feminist revolution of 2017.

Annie Dillard The Writing Life Beautiful unflinching memoir about what it is to write – its meaninglessness except to oneself, how it is everything and nothing all at once, and nevertheless, how if one chooses to write, one must hold oneself to the highest, hardest of standards – because nobody else will.

Katherine Arden The Bear and the Nightingale AND The Girl in the Tower A bit of a cheat here naming two books as one, but I loved this (series that I didn’t realise was going to be a series) that is set in medieval Russia, draws on Russian folktales, has a daring and reckless heroine, and perfectly captures the arbitrary, fickle cruelty of the best fairytales. I’ll put up a post about this at some point because some of the lines are just lovely.

Neil Gaiman The View from the Cheap Seats A collection of non-fiction essays from Gaiman, on art, writing, life – compassionate and generous and wide.

Naomi Novik Uprooted High fantasy, a girl who reluctantly goes to work for a dragon and who even more reluctantly comes into her own as a witch. I read a lot of fantasy novels this year about girls/women who are forced into their destinies, who are just trying to survive because – Maslow’s hierarchy. These stories haven’t generally ended with self-actualisation, but they have ended with the heroines realising that self-actualisation is a thing, and it is a thing that they can claim and seek. I’ve loved that and been saddened by it, because I have always believed that the world is as big as your dreams – the bigger you dream, the bigger your world is. When you’re in survival mode, your dreams are necessarily truncated, limited.

E.M Delafield Diary of a Provincial Lady 1930s Britain, a hilarious, sparky, country wife who worries about hats and her children and her absent but loving husband. Just a book that I will go back to again to re-read because it’s light-hearted and good-hearted and fun.

Susan Carland Fighting Hislam Based off a PhD thesis, this book had the best articulation of feminism with faith that I’ve read so far – clear, accessible, and so relatable to me.

Robin McKinley Deerskin Painful retelling of a Charles Perrault fairytale, in which a king-father falls in love with his princess-daughter, and rapes her. The ending is redemptive, mostly, but it’s a hard journey.

Robin Sloane Mr.Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore This reminded me a little bit of Dave Eggers’ The Circle – but it was just a very very skillfully crafted story about bookstores and technology, with a very likeable protagonist and cast of characters. So readable, so satisfying. Sometimes all you want is a good dependable story with no pacing issues- and they’re actually really hard to come by!

Cherise Wolas The Resurrection of Joan Ashby A very late entry to the top ten! This was my second or third last book of the year, a 500 page behemoth rivalling last year’s A Little Life. This would be an excellent book club read I think – a genius writer who reluctantly embraces motherhood when she falls accidentally pregnant, despite her husband promising her they would never have kids because of her writing – how she struggled to find balance between work and life, how she kept her writing life secret and sacred, how understanding is not the same as love.

One of the great things about this book was that it gently evoked how much writers predict and construct reality in the world around them. Ashby could see the future because life has a narrated quality about it.

There was a bit of a cheesy turn when one character goes to India to seek spiritual truth, but overall it didn’t kill the book. So yes! I would recommend. Readable and kind and expansive.

Reading Goals for 2018

Looking back at my goals for 2017, I mostly hit them, except I’m starting to think I’m never going to get around to finishing those classics I mentioned at the end of 2016. But I know that books come to you at exactly the right time, so there may come a time in 2018 that something about The Brothers Karamazov will be how God wants to speak to me, so I haven’t given up hope on finishing that or the others yet.

Goals for 2018! I want to keep reading 2-3 books a week, so 150 will be my goal again. I also am planning to track my book expenditure this year! I want to know exactly how much money I give to Amazon and to overseas bookstores and to Best Eastern and generally how. much. I. spend. on. books. It’s definitely not an expense I begrudge, but I also don’t want it to be a careless, thoughtless expenditure, so tracking this will be a good first step I think.

I would like Feminist Book Club to keep going, definitely. It has been a joy and a privilege to discuss books with these women.

I would also like to get better at taking pictures of my reads! I love those artfully set-up and photographed book accounts on IG, especially @cosyreads – so pretty! It’s going to be my goal to do one of those a month? Is that realistic, given my limited designing and photographing skillz? We shall see!

 

That’s pretty much it, reading-wise. Here’s to a wonderful wonderful 2018.

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December mid-month round-up and Kinokuniya Bangkok book haul

Midway through December and I am four books from hitting my 2017 goal!

So far this month I’ve read 7 books, all pretty good but none really standout except for Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadowsan AU fantasy about England in ye olden times, with a heroine who houses a bear inside her skin. I’ve noticed a trend in books I’ve read this year around heroines who are so busy trying to survive that they literally cannot think beyond the horizon of survival – there are no dreams, no wide open vistas for these heroines, only gritted-teeth getting through the day, past this cruelty and then the next. Which makes them strong and present, and utterly sad. (I loved Hardinge’s The Lie Tree about a Victorian female archaeologist last year, and I’m so happy to find out she has a few other books in her backlog that I can check out!)

Some of the other novels this month:

Adelle Waldman The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Male author in relationships with women who are too good for him, his frustration with his own inability to commit etc etc. This was sad and toxic and very male and my friend F was right – it made me feel sad about relationships in general. So it was good, but not uplifting or redemptive at all, just very pessimistic about life and about that one guy you know who is nice but also an ass.)

Laurie Geldman Class Mom (American mothers, their involvement in their kids lives, lightly humorous, a quick read, but nothing very substantial.)

Imran Hashim Annabelle Thong (A Singaporean novel about a Chinese Catholic girl doing her Masters in Paris at the Sorbonne, looking for love and purpose. Entertaining, gave me an insight into some Singaporean quirks, but pacing was off, especially towards the end, the central love story felt just about believable but not much more than that, and I didn’t buy that Annabelle herself was a particularly likeable heroine.)

M.R Carey The Boy on the Bridge (companion of sorts to the zombie novel The Girl with all the Gifts, it was a little bit long and draggy in parts, but otherwise a page-turner. Too many people in the ensemble cast – if I hadn’t read this fairly quickly I’d have had trouble keeping track)

Angela Y. Davis Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movemen(A collection of essays and interviews by and with renowned activist Angela Y. Davis, this was primarily very interesting to me because the whole abolition of prison-institutions is a new argument to me, although apparently I’m very very late to this party. Reminded me how important it is to stay engaged with your community, to work towards making it a better one for everybody.)

I was in Bangkok over the weekend for a conference, and dropped in at the Kinokuniya in Siam Paragon. Due to having blistered feet (didn’t want to add too much more weight to the laptop load I was carrying), and being cognizant that in March I’ll have to ship all my books back home, I picked up just three books:

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  • An Agatha Christie spoof,
  • a tome on what it means to be a female artist (it sounded like Joan Ashby is a female counterpart to all those novels about male writers and their long-suffering wives a la this year’s movie Mother, and a little bit Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, so I’m looking forward to this one) and
  • what seems to be one of these stories about a protracted, intermingling-lives, almost-but-not-quite romance. Sort of Sweet Valley Saga-ish without the reincarnation.

Four books left to the 150 goal, and just under two weeks to go to 2018! If I get stuck I might refer over to Ask a Manager’s book recommendation round-up for the year. Her recommendations are always quality.

 

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Feminist Book Club: a year of feminist reading

I’ve kind of fallen behind on recording the Feminist Book Club meets, but before I fall even further behind, I just want to note down here the books we read this year, along with who picked them, if anyone is interested!

(November) Roxane Gay Bad Feminist (My thoughts here)

(Feb) Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran  (My thoughts here)

(March) Ayisha Malik Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (My thoughts here)

(April) Jami Attenberg All Grown Up  (My thoughts here)

(May) Caitlin Moran How to be a Woman (My thoughts here)

(July) Naomi Alderman The Power (My thoughts here)

(July) Arundhati Roy The Ministry of Utmost Happiness 

(Aug) Balli Kaur Jaswal Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women  (My thoughts here)

(Nov) Anne Helen Petersen Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman  (My thoughts here)

(If I’ve left out any books, I hope someone will correct me!)

Upcoming for 2017 so far, we have

(Jan) Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

(Feb) Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale

(May) Julia Alvarez In the time of the Butterflies

(July) ed. Nick Haramis Courage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to be Grateful for Michelle Obama

 

With other months to be filled in shortly!

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November Round Up – from Kyoto!

December 2017, here we are. I ended up reading 8 books in November, bringing my total count to 139 books for the year. I’m really hoping to still hit my 150 book goal, so 11 books in December it is!

Not really many noteworthy books in November after the mid-month round-up – I read a couple of thrillers, an anthology of ghost stories, but nothing very compelling. I made a move to Kyoto this week, and didn’t bring a lot of books with me – Imran Hashim’s Annabelle Thong, Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows, Lynn Weingarten’s Bad Girls with Pretty Faces. I’m still Kindle-less since I lost mine a couple of months ago, but I’m trying to get a new one now.

Fun Fact: This will be my third Kindle in maybe 8 years? – I sat on my first and favourite one, cracking the screen and my heart; I think I left my second one on a plane earlier in the year. My eyes can’t take reading off my phone or a laptop for any length of time anymore, so an e-reader is pretty indispensable to me.

Fun Fact #2: I have a TBR folder on my Kindle of about 20 books, and roughly 1000 e-books overall. This is why I need to start tracking my book purchases.

Now that I’m settled in Kyoto, my goal is to get back to a regular reading schedule, not snatching bits and pieces of time here and there. Life was pretty mad in Brunei last month, but it was all good, good things, so no complaints. Nevertheless, my aim is always, as Gustave Flaubert said, to be regular and orderly in my life so that I may be violent and original where it counts. Shout out too to Junot Diaz, who was stern on the duties of writers to reading. We don’t need more writers, he said, firmly – what we need are more readers.

Here we go into the last month of the year – let’s finish strong.

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Kyoto!

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