MARCH WRAP UP

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it’s end-of-the-month wrap up time!! March has been quite the month..

anyway, here are the 12 books I read this month!

PS: I am majorly behind on my review writing this month, so most of these books don’t have full reviews yet, but I’m gonna catch up on my reviews this weekend (or so I’m telling myself) so I’ll update this post with links if any of them end up going up on the blog. for now, I’ll just leave mini-reviews in case you’re curious what my general opinion is for each of these books. 😊

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what i read

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🌡 Real Life – Brandon Taylor | β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜… | full review

🌡 How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa | β˜…β˜….5 | full review going up here on April 21, but if you’re curious you can also check it out on my Goodreads here

This was a very middle-of-the-road read; I didn’t think there was anything wrong with these stories per se, it was just that unfortunately they didn’t make any impression on me.

🌡 Travelling in a Strange Land – David Park | β˜…β˜…β˜…

Again, like with How to Pronounce Knife, I thought this was okay. I wish it had more of an emotional punch, especially considering that a big part of its plot was about grief, but it just didn’t end up being all that memorable or emotionally affecting for me.

🌡 We Are Okay – Nina LaCour | β˜…β˜…

I decided to read this cause I needed a short audiobook and this fit the bill. I gave it a shot, but I didn’t much like it. 😦 The dialogue was stilted and I didn’t particularly care about the story, either. YA these days tends to be more miss than hit for me, unfortunately…

🌡 The Fire Starters – Jan Carson | β˜…β˜…β˜….5 | full review

🌡The Harpy – Megan Hunter | β˜…β˜…β˜… | full review going up here on August 11, but if you’re curious you can also check it out on my Goodreads here

🌡 Young Skins – Colin Barrett | β˜…β˜…β˜…

There were a couple short stories from this collection that I loved–specifically the last three: “Calm with Horses,” “Diamonds”, and “Kindly Forget My Existence”–but the rest I mostly felt lukewarm about. I’m definitely interested in what Colin Barrett writes next, though, as I do think his writing is quite promising.

🌡 My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell | β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

This was a tough read; it made me very uncomfortable to read, but that has more to do with the subject matter than anything that Kate Elizabeth Russell did wrong because this is an excellent debut. My Dark Vanessa is definitely one of the best character studies I’ve read this year. I can’t wait to see what Russell’s future novels will be like.

🌡 All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld | β˜…β˜…

I read this because I was hearing a lot of praise for Evie Wyld’s newest novel, The Bass Rock, and wanted to check out this novel before I tried The Bass Rock. Sadly this novel didn’t work for me at all. It tried to use an ambitious structure which it couldn’t quite pull off, and the main character was just a little bit too elusive for my liking.

🌡 Milkman – Anna Burns | β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜… | full review coming soon

I LOVED this; definitely one of my new favourites of the year. Anna Burns is a one-of-a-kind writer.

🌡 You Will Never Be Forgotten – Mary South | β˜…β˜…β˜… | full review coming soon

As with Young Skins, I thought this was just okay. Mary South experiments a lot with her short stories’ structure, with mixed results.

🌡 False Knees – Joshua Barkman | β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜… | full review coming soon

The False Knees comics are some of the best things to ever come out of the internet. Adorable, beautifully drawn, funny, and so wholesome. I love these dumb birds and their antics. πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

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I don’t really do TBRs because I’m too much of a mood reader and I tend to randomly pick up a lot of stuff depending on what I have access to and what pops up on my radar during the month (also I DNF a lot 🀷), but here are some books that I would ideally like to get to this month.

the list includes: Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, Mary Toft; or The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer, Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, The Everlasting by Katy Simpson Smith, and A Kind of Compass edited by Belinda McKeon.


did you find any new favourite books in March? have you read any of the books I mentioned? let me know; I’d love to hear! πŸ₯°πŸ₯°πŸ₯°


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BOOK REVIEW: THE FIRE STARTERS by JAN CARSON

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Image result for the fire starters jan carson

Jen Carson is an exceptional writer. The Fire Starters has some of the most vivid, immersive descriptions of a city and its ethos that I’ve read in a long time. In the hands of Jan Carson, East Belfast becomes a city that is at once recognizable and unique, one that somehow feels both familiar in its everyday mundanities and yet utterly distinct in its particular quirks. All of this is to say, Carson renders the setting of her novel with a masterful balance between the sprawling and the specific.

And yet this is no portrait of a quaint, inert city. East Belfast, and by extension the people in it, is subject to tensions that threaten to, quite literally, boil over. The characters of the The Fire Starters find themselves embroiled in circumstances that seem unexpected and yet strangely inevitable. On the one hand there is Sammy Agnew who finds his violent past from the Troubles unearthed and, he believes, mutated into a far more dangerous form in his son’s actions. On the other, there is Jonathan Murray, a man whose past has, unlike Sammy’s, been painfully empty and impressionless. Together, these two men’s narratives coalesce into a narrative about fatherhood, masculinity, and intergenerational relationships: how do fathers think of their identities in relation to their children’s, especially their sons? how does a particular conception of masculinity in East Belfast relate to a particular kind of violence? how does violence seep from one generation to the next, and how does it mutate between those generations? In so doing, Carson depicts a milieu in which the momentous is often noticed and known, but not necessarily acknowledged. It becomes not so much a matter of things unseen, but rather things left unsaid despite them having been seen. In other words, a milieu in which silence pervades.

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Throughout all this, Carson pays particular attention to names, the ways in which something, once named, becomes Something–a sudden representative of the essence of some kind of phenomenon or event, one that is almost destined to prove inadequate to the task of that representation. Names fall short in The Fire Starters; they obfuscate rather than clarify.

“This is Belfast. This is not Belfast.

Better to avoid calling anything a spade in this city. Better to avoid names and places, dates and second names. In this city names are like points on a map or words worked in ink. They are trying too hard to pass for truth. In this city truth is a circle from one side and a square from the other.”

“The Troubles is too less a word for all of this. It is a word for minor inconveniences, such as overdrawn bank accounts, slow punctures, a woman’s time of the month. It is not a violent word. […] The Troubles is always written with a capital T as if it were an event, as the Battle of Hastings is an event with a fixed beginning and end, a point on the calendar year. History will no doubt prove it is actually a verb; an action that can be done to people over and over again, like stealing.”

The only thing is, I wanted to feel more strongly about these characters. As cliche as it sounds, my favourite character from this novel was East Belfast, and really, considering the amount of time we spend learning about the conditions of the city from a kind of literary bird’s eye view, it is absolutely its own character. That said, I wanted to feel more attached to the two main characters, Sammy and Jonathan. I definitely cared about their struggles and anxieties, but I also didn’t feel like like they had 100% of my sympathy.

Regardless, The Fire Starters is an impressive novel with even more impressive writing. Jan Carson is definitely a writer to look out for.

Thanks so much to Transworld Ireland/Penguin Books UK for sending me a copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

3.5-


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TO DNF OR NOT TO DNF? (discussion)

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in 2019, I DNFd 41 books.yeah.

given how, uh, unusual that is, I thought I’d dedicate a post to discussing the books I DNFd (or “Did Not Finish”), why I DNFd them (plus some reasons as to why I DNF books in general), and some books I DNFd that I’d be willing to give (or have already given) a second chance.


PART I: ALL THE BOOKS I DNFd IN 2019

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behold all the books that I DNFd in 2019!! (sorry if you see any of your favourite books on here, I GAVE THEM A CHANCE I PROMISE) (if your favourite books are The Idiot or Milkman, though, keep reading because I may or may not have drastically changed my opinion on them πŸ‘€)

2019 was a bit of a weird reading year for me in that my reading underwent a huge change in terms of the genres I was pursuing. at the beginning of last year I was at a point in my reading life where YA just wasn’t appealing to me anymore. all the YA books I was picking up were getting either 2 or 3 stars, which was very frustrating and not exactly great in terms of motivating me to read more. so I decided that I’d shift my reading towards other genres–this is where all those DNFs come into play.

because I was moving away from YA, I had a lot of trouble deciding what, exactly, I should move towards. I’d been in the YA world for so long –90% of the people on my Goodreads were YA reviewers, all the BookTube channels I was subscribed to were YA-focused–that I didn’t quite know how to approach the world of Other Books. I knew I wanted to read more literary fiction and maybe non-fiction, but I had no idea where to start. this basically meant a lot of trial and error, with the “error” part being all the books that I DNFd. I just read a bunch of stuff that I thought I’d like and hoped for the best; sometimes that paid off (hello Sally Rooney!!!) and sometimes that didn’t (hello 41 books I DNFd!!).

June was an especially Cursed month, with a whopping 10 almost-consecutive DNFs, which, needless to say, really took a toll on my motivation to read. honestly at that point in the year I felt like I was doomed and that I was just never gonna find a book that I liked. 🀷

_2019 Reading Spreadsheet - DNF-page-001

so this is a table of every single book that I DNFd in 2019, organized by how much of that book I read before I DNFd it. a big reason why the list is so long is that I decided to include every book I DNFd, even if I read like 5 pages of that book. it seems kinda pointless to do that, I know, but I really just wanted to keep track of every book that I decided to read, sat down to read, read a bit of, and then decided not to read, regardless of whether I read a lot of that book or not.

as you can see, there’s a pretty wide range of how many pages I read of a book before I DNFd it. the lowest number is 7 pages–lol I started listening to the audio of Everything is Trash, But It’s Okay, got like 5 minutes into it and immediately nope’d my way out because I could not stand to listen to anymore–and the highest is 288 pages. most books I gave at least 30ish pages, a bunch I gave 60+ pages, and 9 books I gave 100+ pages. so I did give a lot of books a decent chance.

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PART II: REASONS FOR DNFing A BOOK

1. Disliked/hated/was bored by the writing

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Notable mentions:
β–Ί A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (56%, 200 pgs) — which was possibly the most excruciatingly boring vanilla book I have read in my entire life and would’ve probably gotten the lowest of 1 stars had I actually finished it
β–Ί Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (18%, 45 pgs) — which was literary fiction at its most pretentious and unreadable
β–Ί Family of Origin by CJ Hauser (45%, 129 pgs) — which I went into expecting a nice story about brother-sister bonds but instead got an incest plotline which was *technically* not incest but still basically incest πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
β–Ί The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (22%, 46 pgs)- which started out fine but then I just couldn’t get along with the weird, off-kilter writing (I also tried reading some non-fiction from Deborah Levy, specifically The Cost of Living, and gave it 2 stars, so maybe she’s not the author for me…)

2. Writing was okay, but didn’t feel any motivation to keep reading

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Notable mentions:
β–Ί White Teeth by Zadie Smith (43%, 229 pgs) — which was going fine but it was 540 pages and I just didn’t have the willpower to wade through so many more pages
β–Ί Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago (38%, 90 pgs) — which was interesting but then the plot felt like it wasn’t really going anywhere and I got tired of reading about plot with no focus on characters
β–Ί Lie With Me by Philippe Besson (18%, 27 pgs) — which was written in a really distant, stiff way so that it felt like I was being told characters’ emotions as opposed to actually seeing them feel those emotions

3. Didn’t end up finishing the book for a uni class

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Notable mentions:
β–Ί The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
β–Ί The Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
β–Ί Dracula by Bram Stoker
β–Ί The Mezzanine by Nicholas Baker

these books I DNFd exclusively because we had stopped discussing them in class, and they weren’t gonna come up in any other assignments, so there was kinda no use in me using the very little time that I had to finish them when I didn’t needed to.

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PART III: GIVING DNFd BOOKS A SECOND CHANCE

having been consistently reading books for like 7ish years now, I’ve gotten a chance to really hone my reading instincts and figure out what I like and don’t like in the books that I read. so when I read ~50 pages of a book and it’s not sitting well with me, I trust my instincts and just go ahead and DNF it. some books I give more of a chance than others, but at the end of the day if I’m not enjoying something I won’t read it. simple as that.

HOWEVER, the thing with DNFing books is, you kinda never know if maybe you missed out on a book you would’ve loved because you were possibly hasty in DNFing it. this has especially been the case in the last year where, as I explained, my reading tastes have changed A LOT.

that being said, there are 3 books that I DNFd last year that I’d really like to give–or have already given–a second chance. I’m giving these books a second chance because:
a) I feel like I’ll like them if I’m more patient with them, especially now that I know what I’m more into in terms of genres and
b) a lot of people whose reviews I trust LOVE these books

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1. The Idiot – Elif Batuman

I’ve already read this book this year after I DNFd it last year and, uh, I rated it 4.5 stars and it’s now one of my favourite books of the year lol. the world works in mysterious ways. I don’t know what put me off of reading The Idiot last year, but I’m so glad I decided to give it another chance because I LOVED it. (also now I have a perfectly valid excuse to buy it so that I can have this iconic cover on my shelves)

2. Milkman – Anna Burns

again, a book I DNFd last year, decided to give another chance this year, and that I am currently LOVING (it’s 100% going to make it to my favourites shelf this year). this is such a masterful book; I have so much to say about it once I actually finish it and manage to write out some semblance of a coherent review of it.

a big part of why I’m loving this now whereas last year I didn’t is because last year I had zero knowledge of the historical background behind this novel. like I knew absolutely nothing about the Troubles or what Anna Burns meant when the narrator was talking about the people “over the road,” “over the water,” “renouncers of the state,” “defenders of the state,” etc. so a lot of that flew over my head and I was just very, very confused, something which was not exactly helped by the fact that this is a novel that demands a lot of your attention.

honestly Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing saved my life; I understand so much more about the Troubles now because of it, and am finally able to understand the historical moment that Milkman is set in.

3. Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

this is the only novel from this list that I haven’t actually revisited after DNFing it, and probably the one that I’m least sure about to be honest. I’m 100% still gonna give this a second chance though because so many people whose opinions I really trust have not only loved it, but have considered it their favourite novel of last year. also, there’s that tiny lil fact that this book won what is arguably the most prestigious literary award there is, aka the Man Booker prize, so that’s probably a point in its favour lol.

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AND THAT’S IT. this was a long post, but I had a lot to talk about, especially since last year was such a strange mess of a reading year for me. thankfully though, things have settled down this year reading-wise, and I’ve been much more immersed in a community that promotes books that are similar to the books that I’m currently interested in.

the bulk of what I read is now literary fiction, short story collections, and non-fiction (mostly memoirs and essay collections). and I’ve been so happy with what I’ve been reading and have been finding a lot of new favourites, so I guess last year’s reading crisis actually amounted to something.

anyway, I hope everyone is healthy and doing alright what with this ongoing pandemic and all. let me know if you DNF books and what your general opinions are about DNFing books. thanks so much for stopping by!!


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