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2017 Reading Challenge Update #6

Life has felt a little hectic lately with a few changes and challenges. What I find has remained constant though is the solace I feel when lost in the pages of a story. Reading is an escape, but it is also an opportunity to learn about worlds that are unlike your own.

This update contains a really broad variation of different books. It kind of encompasses all that is the Popsugar Reading Challenge as it displays a range of genres and styles, some of which I enjoyed and others not as much. Many of the titles in this update explore human nature and dive deep into emotions, but each is unique in how they do this, which is what I have enjoyed the most.

Last month was a good reading month for me. I loved reading, like really enjoyed every single moment of it, and I found myself looking forward to each opportunity that I got to read. I don’t know if I am getting more comfortable with the type of book I like to read or if I am starting to be able to better pick a book from a shelf, but I have really enjoyed the quality of books that I am reading this year.

This update contains one of the weirdest books I have ever read and also one of the best. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on the latest titles to make my recently read list!

A book recommended by a librarian: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)

Ok so confession time. I love books and I am a huge reader but I am just not a library person. I actually have this inability to be able to return books on time which theoretically makes no sense because I do think of myself as an organised and punctual person. For whatever reason I came to terms many years ago that libraries and me are not destined to be friends.

So when this category came up I was a little hesitant. How was I to meet a librarian without going into a library? Enter libraryreads.org a website full of recommendations put together by a panel of librarians! Perfect. It didn’t take me too long to decide to read this one. After reading something about it being great for fans of The Rosie Project and I was committed.

This book was odd and not what I expected. It definitely didn’t give me the good feels like The Rosie Project did. It actually creeped me out a fair bit. But then it got more interesting. And then it got weird again…

My expectation of this book was that it would talk about a person who was dysfunctional in society who somehow managed to find acceptance through human interaction. That is completely the case. However what I didn’t expect was the whole host of mental health issues that this book was going to explore outside just tendencies of aspergers which was what I had read about in the reviews.

It was interesting and took you on a complete journey through how mental health effects the daily interactions of people and how someone on the surface can appear fine, when in fact they are anything but fine. While it was a compelling read, I struggled a little as I didn’t find a strong connection with the story, however I appreciate that Honeyman has written a very clever and honest book.

A book by or about a person who has a disability: Pushing the Limits: Life, Marathons & Kokoda by Kurt Fearnley (2014)

This guy is incredible. I have been a big fan of Kurt Fearnley’s for as long as I can remember and have wanted to read his autobiography since it came out, but like most of my excuses, I just didn’t get around to it.

What an inspirational read, telling the story of a true aussie legend. It felt refreshing to read an Australian voice and just know the references and be able to feel the experiences after reading quite a few American and English books. I grew up in a small country town aswell, so could feel that connection to Kurt’s early days about what it was like to grow up in an isolated community, having your mum work at your primary school, and having to travel to another town for high school. It was stories like these that really gave you the understanding that he was just a kid who wanted something more and had enough determination to find out what that was.

Kurt doesn’t speak of his disability as a restriction on his life. It barely factors into the decisions he makes. One comment he made in the book was that as a child he always just thought of himself as short, never worrying that his legs didn’t work. I think the biggest point that he makes is that his family and friends didn’t treat him as though he was any different. This is what gave him the feeling that he could do anything he put his mind to.

One of those things he decided at an early age that he wanted, was a gold medal. Over the years I personally have enjoyed watching Kurt go for gold, dominate the sport and spark intense rivalries on the track. I think this book captures the Australian spirit while explaining the importance of the way we receive and perceive others in our community with disabilities.

A book of letters: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

I decided to read this one after seeing a few reviews that really praised how open, honest and raw this collection of articles was. After reading it I cannot help but agree, and I ended up enjoying it much more that I had originally expected.

Cheryl Strayed, the author you probably know from the book Wild which was also made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, took a job as anonymous advice columnist called Sugar and this is a collection of her work. People would write into Sugar and ask their deepest, most personal questions that I can only assume they felt like they could not share anywhere else. What follows was always an honest and again personal response which drew a lot on Strayed’s own experiences.

Having an understanding of Strayed’s life as gained from her memoir Wild, you could really understand the situations in her life that she drew from, and for me the more I know about a person, good or bad, the more I can respect what they have to say. This becomes particularly relevant if they are dishing out advice!

I loved the way Sugar would take her reader and give him/her the confidence to make huge, life changing decisions, or how she would provide the simplest words of reassurance. This book is not filled with sappy, the world is beautiful be grateful advice, but it is truth, it is raw and it is the tough love that everybody needs to hear.

A book by a person of colour: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

I don’t even know where to start with this book. It was incredible, powerful, rich and completely captivating. Without a doubt the best book I have read this year. Telling the fictional story of Starr, a 16 year old girl from a rough neighbourhood riddled with gang violence and crime, it explores issues of race division in modern America.

When Starr is driving home from a party with her childhood friend Khalil, they are stopped by a white police officer and an unarmed Khalil is shot and killed. What follows is a long fight for justice and an exploration into social divisions based on race in America, told through the eyes of Starr and her family and friends. This is unfortunately a familiar story with these kind of situations making many news headlines and fueling the conversation for activism groups in America such as Black Lives Matter. This book opens up these stories and fights for the injustice of many real victims.

I read this book in a day. I planned for that to happen as I knew this wouldn’t be a book I could walk away from. I wanted to devour it in one sitting and truly appreciate every single word that Thomas had written, and to try and understand for a minute the reality of the story. But of course I could not, and I found myself in tears at the frustrations of Starr and her family as they fought for justice for Khalil.

I cannot recommend this book enough. There is an important message about race to be understood from this story and I think it is delivered through one of the most controlled pieces of fiction I have read in a long time.

A book involving a mythical creature: The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (1997)

I decided I wanted to finish this series after finishing the first book earlier in the year. I didn’t love the first book but I was interested enough to want to follow the adventures of Lyra and Pan further so decided that I would give the second book a chance.

I actually enjoyed this one a little more. Again I was hesitant at the start as I remembered all the little things that annoyed me with the first book, but then I opened my mind and remembered I was reading this for the adventure and I fell into the rhythm of the story.

In this story, we enter multiple worlds and I gain the gravity of having a world such as our own included. I always find this grounding as to me, it acknowledges the fantasy and creates a world where we as a reader can realistically begin to think of it all as possible. Young Will was an interesting character and I liked the way he came to interact with Lyra and Pan.

With witches, daemons, angels and a whole host of other mythical creatures such as the weird Specters, I think this definitely ticked the box for this category. I liked the direction this book took the series, so I will commit to finishing the third book – I may just have to wait until I finish this challenge first!

A book from a nonhuman perspective: The Bees by Laline Paull (2014)

This book was so weird, but also really well written. I feel as though I have read my quota of science fiction for the year so I really wanted to stay away from robot or alien perspectives for this category, which really left me with one alternative – animals.

This book had pretty good reviews so I decided to give it a try. Set in a orchard hive, the book tells the perspective of Flora 717, who is born a sanitation worker, the lowest class of workers in the hive. She is different than the others, bigger and darker, and while this kind of ‘deformity’ would usually result in her being destroyed, she is spared as her differences are deemed useful.

It is all very 1984 with bees, as conformity and divisions of class are enforced. Each bee class has its distinct role to play in the functioning of the hive, and all operate from the one desire to protect and serve their Queen. Flora 717 learns to understand the hive and gets the opportunity to experience different jobs that are usually restricted to those from a higher kin, all while focusing her attention on to Accept, Obey, Serve. Flora however cannot help it though and she finds herself committing the biggest crime of all…

This book is an interesting insight into a world so separate from our own, and if you like books that are about animals but have meanings that can be interpreted by humans (or if you just really like bees), then this is a book for you.

Only 14 books to go!

Sally x

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