February was a slower reading month, which I will partly blame on the fact it’s a shorter month…in reality, I think I just wasn’t enjoying everything I was reading. The pick for my book club wasn’t one I was particularly interested in, and I find that always has a negative impact on the rest of my reading for the month – I don’t feel like reading the book club book, but I feel guilty if I read anything else…so I don’t read anything…basically I can’t win!
The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
I started The Opposite of Loneliness in January and I had mixed feelings about this book, which is probably why it took me a while to finish (I started reading The Tidal Zone before I’d finished this book, and I’m never very good at having two books on the go at the same time!).
The Opposite of Loneliness is a combination of short stories and non-fiction essays which was published posthumously – Keegan sadly died in a car accident just a few days after graduating from Yale. The Introduction, written by one of her professors, and the title essay The Opposite of Loneliness, both had me feeling emotional (okay, okay, I might have cried…). Overall, I did enjoy book – the short stories in particular. I think the reason it took me a while to finish the book was because I wasn’t as interested in the essays, so I put the book down for a while. As with any collection, it’s a good one to dip in and out of. I can’t say I fell in love with the book, but I did like Keegan’s writing and found the stories a bit different and certainly enjoyable.
The Tidal Zone, by Sarah Moss
The child was a girl, but the most important thing about her was that she was herself. She was someone new, someone who had not been before and so, like all babies, she was a revelation.
I have never read a book with such a beautiful opening, where the words just hit you and come to settle in your heart. The first page and a half are properly stunning – and the beautiful writing continues throughout the book.
For me, this book is very real – it’s not an action-packed, plot-driven page turner. It’s life. It follows a significant event in the life of the protagonist, Adam, and his thoughts and reaction to that event – the near-death experience of his eldest daughter and the uncertainty that follows as they try to figure out what happened to her. I love the focus on his thoughts and feelings – the dark places that your mind can go to, the anxious and paranoid thoughts, the arguments that you have with someone in your mind (which feel so real but are actually just based on what you assume the other person would say, the doubts and fears you secretly have yourself) – I found it all really relatable. I can see that this might make for uncomfortable reading for some – it’s very much about life, death and living with the uncertainty of the unknown, of what might be round the corner – which can be scary to think about. But personally, for me, this was insightful, and real, and I took comfort in relating to these beautiful words.
Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends is not book with characters you want to be friends with. They are complex, and make questionable decisions. The book follows four characters – Frances and Bobbi, two friends at university, and Nick and Melissa, a married couple in their 30’s – although the story is told entirely from Frances’ perspective. The story mainly revolves around an affair between Frances and Nick, but as with The Tidal Zone, it is a story that is more character than plot-driven. As the the title also suggests, the conversations between the characters are central to the book. Somewhat unusually, there are no speech marks used for any of these conversations – which, to me, worked well, but I can see that this might annoy some people!
Frances is difficult. She can be closed off, and private – but you have insight into her mind, how she thinks, and can see what she’s hiding from those around her. She makes bad choices and doesn’t treat herself well, or those around her. But, to some extent, you can understand her – or at least, you understand more than the other characters do. It is a story about flawed characters and they might not be likeable, but it’s an interesting read if you enjoy delving into the mind of a complicated character.
Empire of the Sun, by JG Ballard
This was the pick for the book club I’m in and I’ve got to be honest – I probably wouldn’t have (a) picked it up or (b) persevered with it otherwise. It’s not a bad book, or difficult to read – it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m also slightly cheating by including it in this post, as I got to the end of February with 30 pages still to go…. Right now I don’t have much motivation – but at some point soon I do want to finish, just because I’m so close to the end!
The story is set in World War 2 in Shanghai. It’s an interesting perspective as this isn’t a part of WWII that I’m particularly familiar with – most of the focus at school, and in the books I’ve read set in WWII, was Europe, and so theoretically this something that interests me. However, the protagonist is quite young – and a teenager – and he doesn’t really understand what’s going on (especially when the war first starts) and I didn’t enjoy the story being told from his perspective. I think because I don’t know much about this part of the war, I found the book quite difficult to follow at times, since the lead character also doesn’t really understand whats going on!
For me, it reminded me of the type of book I had to read during school (and I might have enjoyed it more had a read it back then) – now, I would prefer to read a novel about the war which gives me a greater sense of the context and what’s going on more generally. I read Wild Swans a couple of years ago and really enjoyed that style of historical memoir which blended a personal story with social and political history. Especially since Empire of the Sun is based on the author’s own experiences of growing up in Shanghai during WWII, I personally would have preferred that style of book – but that is more about my interests than the book itself!
So, a mixed month of reading but not without some enjoyable books. What have you been reading recently?