(Outside of) 2016 Reading Challenge

So, it’s the second half of January and I still haven’t written what my challenge is about. But, all in due time (sort of!).

                First, a little list of books I read outside of 2016 Challenge and books I started to read, but didn’t complete.

  1. caseyCasey Watson – A Last Kiss for Mummy – Another book of Britain’s most famous foster mom. This time it tells a story of Emma, a fourteen year old foster child with an infant on her lap. Casey and her family form a bond with Roman, Emma’s baby, immediately, but with Emma herself, a process is longer and harder. As Crying for Help, the story is heartbreaking, and Casey seems like an angel wanting to help all those hurt kids. Also as before, the literary value is not that big. But I can forgive, because of the admiration I feel for every good foster family.
  2. el paso de la helice.PNGSantiago Pajares – El paso de la hélice – Not sure if that was translated into English. The Polish title is “Książka, kórej nie ma”, which means “A book that doesn’t exist”. My Spanish is not that great to grasp the meaning of the original title – the best I have is “A step of the spiral.” Yeah, well. A story about the bestselling series of books, and the search for the mysterious author, who fails to provide the last part. A story about a book that touches and changes lots of people’s lives? What more can I want? Some clichés, true, but still – great read.
  3. Maria Czubaszeknienachalna-z-urodyNienachalna z urody –– Maria Czubaszek, recently deceased, was a Polish writer, satirist, journalist and more. A woman of many talents. But, I shamefully admit, that for me she’s “the woman who openly said she had abortions when she was younger.” Don’t get me wrong, though. I absolutely mean it in a good way. We need more women who would openly say they had abortions. That said, the book was just her thoughts on life, marriage, friendship, people. Her own, I mean. Her life, her marriage, and her friendships with people. But, through her book we can see also ourselves; she’s talking about things people think, but not too many say out loud. Enjoyable funny and a surprisingly fast read – surprisingly, for I usually don’t like non-fiction books. But I guess an exception proves the rule and all this crap. Oh, and the title could sort of be translated to Unimposing Beauty.
  4. a-hatred-for-tulipsRichard Lourie – A Hatred for Tulips – a great psychological drama, about war and its effects on people, and especially about one boy with a great desire to make his father proud of him. The only one who deserves a full review, which I will get into later.

Some of those I started, but didn’t manage to finish:

  1. before-i-go-to-sleepJ. Watson – Before I go to Sleep – This had potential. Really did. The trailer also had potential. I actually thought it was going to be phenomenal. So what went wrong? Maybe my expectations were too high. The story is about a woman with a rare disease – every time she falls asleep, she forgets her past when she wakes up. She keeps a diary to help her memory, but the diary tells her not to trust her husband.” She’s trying to figure out what’s going on, but it’s hard when you keep on forgetting everything you’ve learnt every time you go to bed. Okay, so one more time – what went wrong? I didn’t think it was too far-fetched. I just thought it was boring. Every day she would wake up and we would get yet another description of how she can’t remember he previous day and about how she’s surprised at her appearance – that she’s so much older than she remembers. I have a weird feeling that this might turn out to be quite existing if I had patience to wait/read that long.
  2. american gods.PNGNeil Gaiman – American Gods – This was supposed to be my “Book published in America.” What better book to put in the challenge under “published in America” than about American gods? But it turned out to be too mundane, complicated, and after around 150 pages I felt it didn’t make sense. And since it had a few hundreds more pages to go….
  3. spod kołdry.PNGLuke Bradbury – Undercover – An Australian guy comes to London and as a way to make some quick cash, he decided to sleep with women for money. You know, a male prostitute. Initially it was interesting, enough to ignore the style, which was… not so good. But then it became repetitive and quote dull, honestly, so I didn’t waste my time.
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Reading Challenge 2016

There are some books that I don’t really know what to say about. A few sentences are enough, but a whole review? I got nothing. Here are those 6 that fall into this category, and that end my 2016 challenge.

  1. cats-eyeA book by a Canadian author – Margaret Atwood Cat’s Eye – a story of Elaine, a painter, who goes back to her hometown (this hometown happens to be Toronto), for a retrospective of her art. She reminiscences on her high school friendship with three other girls. In one sentence, it’s a really good novel about coming to terms with one’s past, and with our identity. It’s both funny and sad at moments, compassionate and gripping. One thought stroke me most from that book – some version of “Everyone around me my age seems adult, and only I am pretending.” Pretty much sums me up.
  2. dzicy-detektywiA book by a South American author – Roberto Bolaño Los detectivos salvajes – I’d call it a great saga about poetry and poets, and journeys and searching. With many colorful characters. Who reminded me of the beatnik movement, and I may be wrong, but I will remember them as “South American beatniks.”
  3. A book published in 2016 – Emily Bleeker When I’m gone. Somehow, thewhen-i-am-gone word that comes to my mind is “cute.” The story is such: Luke buries his beloved wife after she dies of cancer. Then, he starts receiving letters from her and begins obsessing with finding the answer to the question of who’s delivering them. Reminded me of “PS I love you” (which I didn’t like, by the way). I liked “When I’m gone” a little better.
  4. warsztatA historical fiction book – Eduardo Roca El taller de los libros prohibidos (Workshop of Forbidden Books) – the author’s look on how printing was invented. To be honest, at first I thought this was going to be about some place where all the prohibited books go to. Nope. But the real idea was equally good. A lot of characters, which at first made it a little hard to follow, but they all tie up nicely. And it’s always good to read about how people used to live 500 (or more) years ago.
  5. An erotic book – John Cleland – Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – a zwierzenia-kurtyzanycontroversial book that used to be prohibited. It caused a scandal back in the day (first published in XVIII century), but nowadays we have 50 Shaded of Grey, so we’re not discouraged, right? Okay, but in all seriousness, I’m not going to compare this to 50 Shades of Grey or any other book. It’s a story about a poor girl, Fanny, who’s used by a rich and manipulative owner of a brothel. When you take away all the vulgarity of that book and the rather simple language, it’s a story as old as the world – about how rich people take advantage of the less fortunate. Also, I am so not a fan of erotic books.
  6. przechwytywanieGrimm’s Fairy Tales – if I need to read fairy tales, what’s better than the ones written by Grimm? Also, I just happen to have that book at home. No idea why. Please don’t judge me. Anyway, the fairy tales by the Grimms brothers were the first I ever read on my own, and they scared me a little. I mean, they teach children that beautiful people are always good, and that stepmothers are always evil. Not to mention parents abandoning children in the woods, mother making her daughter slice her own feet to fit a shoe, and beautiful princes that will always, I mean always come to your rescue and marry you. I mean, if you’re beautiful and joyful, and good and virtuous, that is. But if you’re beautiful, it’s guaranteed you’re also the other three. But in all seriousness, these stories are fun to read when I’m an adult, but if I ever have children (hopefully not), I will not read those to them. Not a chance.

So, there goes my list of books I read this year for the challenge, but I didn’t mention some others, that I read “in the meantime.” In total I read around 40 books in 2016, plus I started some, but gave up after a few chapters. Not a bad year, though worse than 2015. I do however, go rather for quality than quantity – hence the number of abandoned books.

More on the subject to follow.

“Room” – Emma Donoghue (Reading Challenge – A Book I read in English)

przechwytywanieJack is five. He has spent all his life in a single room, locked with his mom. He believes that the room is a whole world, and there’s nothing else. Until one day his mom thinks of a plan to run away, and tells him the world is a huge place with lots of people in it.

przechwytywanieThis is not an easy novel. It’s not an easy story, it was not an easy movie, and it’s not easy to review. First of all, deciding on narration solely by Jack was brave, but risqué. Not a lot of people know how to narrate from a child’s perspective, and not a lot of people do it well. Especially not such a small child. I have mixed feelings whether the author succeeded or not – mostly because I have no idea what I was thinking when I was five. But I felt it believable, I didn’t think Jack was written inconsistently and I think his voice was pretty realistic.

I did have, however, some troubles with getting through the first part of the book. There may be a few reasons. First of all, I had to get used to Jack telling the story, with all his mumblings and childish way of seeing the world. Secondly, the tasks that Ma and Jack did in “room” – which was a garden shed in reality – were mundane and made it hard to focus on the story, making me wait for some action to begin. But the third reason is, I think, the most important. I felt claustrophobic, and when they did get out, it felt like a breath of fresh air. From literary point of view, I guess that’s really good. I was supposed to feel the way they did, and I was supposed to feel emphatic towards them.

It did read better after their escape, the way Jack was reacting to the world, his feelings and thoughts about the surrounding  and people he met were pretty well written, with a nice hint of humor.

I understand, though, how the book may awake love in some people, and hate in others. It’s not easy to read text that’s written entirely in child’s voice, text that sometimes is about poo and drinking from his Ma’s breast. I wouldn’t say I loved the book, but I’m rather one of those who can see and read between the lines, about what the grandparents must have felt, and the nurses, and the publicity, and all of it. Describing it from perspective of a child made it different, made it more horrifying.

There we come to why I have mixed feelings. I was missing Ma’s point of view. I understand the concept, we must leave something to the imagination, and the author wanted to just tell Jack’s story. I get it, and I don’t get it at the same time. There was so much potential in it, so many emotions that could emerge on the pages of the book, the love towards the child, and the hate to the way he was created. The fear and loneliness of a woman who was kidnapped and forced to live in a small room for 7 years. That could have been a great story of its own.

I understand, though, or at least partly, the author’s decision to make it Jack’s only.

Despite my small doubts, I still think this is a painful, but inspiring story, written with lots of sincere empathy. Inspiring, honest and gripping reading.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky (2016 Reading challenge – A book written in 1st person narration)

bez-tytuluThe perks of being a wallflower. What a wonderful notion! That’s what I thought when I chose to read this book. The title captivated me, and I really, really hoped the content would not disappoint me.

                Fortunately, it didn’t.

                The term “a wallflower” was associated with women and dances. A wallflower was the girl that wasn’t invited to dances, therefore standing by the wall. Now it’s referred also to people (of both sexes) who are introverted and quiet, yet they attend social gatherings, observing others, and not participating.

                The protagonist of a book is Charlie, a sensitive, quiet, yet very intelligent boy. He writes letters to an unknown friend, and tells him all about his life, friends, feelings, drugs, alcohol and sex. Even though he probably doesn’t know himself who he’s writing to, he tells about his deepest emotions and problems the way he never tells anyone else.

                From the first pages I fell in love with this book. I kept on thinking that it was the most beautiful and brilliant book about depression. Right next to Cather in the Rye. Charlie, though, is not really a Holden Caulfield. It doesn’t mean that I loved the book less, by no means. It talked about loneliness and feelings of isolation. Of not belonging anywhere. Of the importance of finding friends and being honest with them.

                I feel like all the subjects that matters to teenagers are here. First love, first heartbreaks, trying alcohol and drugs. Importance of friends, acceptance and family. The topic of homosexuals and what may happen, and how they feel, if they don’t have any support from the adults. About respect for women, and about respecting oneself. About finding out who we are, and searching for our own, unique path.

                I loved everything about this book. It’s rare that I can just say it without any “buts” or adding a little critique, even a very minor one. But this is what perfection looks like for me. Not a single complain.

                Totally recommend.

What Was She Thinking (Notes on a Scandal) – 2016 Reading Challenge, A book published in United Kingdom

bez-tytuluNothing like a good scandal. The most recent one involves a 41-year-old Sheba (Batsheba), a teacher, and her affair with one of the students, Connolley. The book is written as a recollection of the events and the narrator is Sheba’s fellow teacher, Barbara.

                Let me begin with noting that there was not a single character in the book that I would truly like. Sheba was emotionally immature and let herself begin a “relationship” with a boy, who was her student. It’s not a story about love beyond boundaries, such as age or relation teacher-student. It’s not about love at all. Connolley had a nice, little adventure and moved on. Sheba cheated on her husband and hurt her two children.

                Then there’s Barbara. She’s a stern, cold woman who doesn’t have her own family or any friends. She developed an obsession for Sheba from the latter’s first day at school. Soon becoming Sheba’s friend became some sort of a meaning of life for Barbara. It’s not entirely stated if that fascination came from Barbara’s hidden lesbian feelings, frustration, or jealousy over Sheba’s family, or simply craziness. Personally, I think she was a lesbian, hid it all her life, and the obsession came from frustration.

                But that’s just my opinion.

                As well as feeling sorry for Barbara. Maybe she didn’t deserve to feel sorry for, but she was lonely and had no real aim in life. So I felt for her. Doesn’t mean that I liked her, tough. Too cold, too manipulative, too controlling to be likeable. Her style lacks of emotions, and though I usually like it when there are a lot of emotions in the book, not this time. The empty tone, that Barbara uses, fits her character perfectly and any other would ruin it for me.

I read a lot of opinions that the movie was better, but to be honest after reading the book I couldn’t focus on the movie. Seemed very boring for me, which the book didn’t.

                The book itself is very well written. It’s really honest, and the characters – unlikeable as they are – are created carefully and realistically. The book is fascinating and definitely worth a try. It’s a great story not about the affair itself, but about extreme loneliness. It’s a great psychological portrait of a few characters, but mostly of Barbara.

Anne series – L. M. Montgomery (2016 Reading Challenge – a book I have read before)

              ania z zielonego wzgórza  Despite my long-running love and fascination for Montgomery’s books, I hadn’t finished the series about Anne before now. I had only read the first three books, and part of the fourth one, but till recently I couldn’t have brought myself to read the rest of it.

                Lucy Maud Montgomery herself stated that she was tired of Anne and writing books about her, and that she was only doing it for her fans and publishers. I had always had that feeling that I could sense it in later books about Anne. I’m not quite sure what exactly the problem is. These books are still classics, well written, though a tab boring at times, and Anne is still the same person, despite her “auburn” hair, more thoughtfulness and less talking. Somehow, though, something always felt “off” with the later books for me. Maybe it’s that Anne belongs to the world of childhood, and thinking of Anne past the age of 30-40 seemed like a sacrilege for me.

               emily of new moon The other thing is that, while I liked Anne a lot, it’s Emily of New Moon that has always been my favorite, hands down. I may be biased, because it was Emily who taught me to love reading, and because Emily reminds me of myself much more than Anne does. I am aware that Anne was created years before Emily was, but in my life Emily was first. It’s my absolute number one among Maud’s protagonists. I always had the impression that it was Emily who was more similar to the author herself. I mean, after all, they both climbed “the Alpine Path.”

                Ok, that being said, let’s go back to Anne and her life after the first book. A few months ago I read all Anne books except for the first one (and except the very last one, that is “The Blythes are Quoted”).

                The Anne Shirley books are as follows:

  1. Anne of Green Gables – Anne’s age 11-16
  2. Anne of Avonlea – 16-18
  3. Anne of the Island – 18-22
  4. Anne of Windy Poplars – 22-25
  5. Anne’s House of Dreams – 25-27
  6. Anne of Ingleside – 34-40
  7. Rainbow Valley – 41
  8. Rilla of Ingleside – 49-53

So, the books I re-read this year are:

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of the Island

Anne of Windy Poplars

        ania z avonleaThe first Anne book (Anne of Green Gables) left her with Matthew’s death and her decision to give up studying and stay in Avonlea to help Marilla. Thus, we have Anne of Avonlea, where Anne is a teenager, teaching in her former school, and running the Avonlea Village Improvement Society (A.V.I.S). The book is full of this special humor, Anne’s imaginative spirit and some funny misfortunes she gets herself into. Anne is growing up, becoming an “important” member of Avonlea, but still stays the same cheerful, scatter-brained girl we all came to love

      anne of the island  Anne of the Island – at the end of Anne of Avonlea, Mrs. Lynde moves in with Marilla after Mr. Lynde’s death, so Anne can go to university, as she had dreamed of. Anne starts seeing herself more like an Islander, than just a member of Avonlea, which is another milestone in her development. Somehow, I couldn’t find anything particular about this part. Cute and funny, and uplifting.

       anne of windy poplars Anne of Windy Poplars – Anne is engaged to Gilbert, but Gillber is completing medical school, so Anne takes on a position of a teacher at a high school in Summerside. I think this is the book where I started to lose patience with Anne (hence my former giving up on Anne around 10 years ago or more). I started to be tired of Anne’s happy-go-lucky attitude, but mostly of her ability to make everyone love her, regardless of… anything. And of her constant desire to form new couples. But still, enjoyable enough.

Esperanza’s Box of Saints – María Amparo Escandón (Reading challenge 2016, A book written in 3rd person narration)

Esperanza

(Previous title – “Santitos” Polish title translates into “Esperanza and her saints”)

Meet Esperanza, a young widow, who has just lost her child, Blanca. Esperanza is a humble, deeply believing woman, living with her best friend and her daughter. When Blanca dies, Esperanza’s world falls apart. As always, she takes comfort with her faith and her saints. During Blanca’s funeral, one of the saints tells Esperanza that Blanca is not dead and that she has to find her. Thus Esperanza embarks on her journey, which is full of surprises, but which is in reality a journey towards accepting a loss of a loved one.

I picked this one up in library because of its bright cover and because of the title. Description mentioned a trip and since I’m a sucker for everything that happens “on the road,” I borrowed it. As I suspected – judging on the pink cover – it was a light reading. Yes, it’s quite engaging, and with a deeper touch. It tells about small, but important things that matter, but we tend to forget about. About someone with strong morals, who was willing to bend them for a loved one. About how we forget what’s important. Yes, it has it all. Still, it’s told in a humorous way, which made it a rather undemanding, but quite well written novel.

Esperanza is not a complicated character. Her motive is the same from the beginning till the end. The plot of the whole book is totally implausible, but once you get used to the fact that practically everything can happen, and weird coincidences are pretty normal, you’ll enjoy it. For me, it was interesting to find out what more can happen and in what bizarre way Esperanza will get out of her next problem. Plus, I got to follow her from a small, poor village in Mexico, to the dark alleys of Los Angeles.

Recently, I’ve considered myself rather a cynic towards everything religious, so I was afraid this book would get on my nerves because of the “God theme.” It didn’t. Instead, I found it amusing, cute and sweet. The only thing that did get on my nerves, was that every man that Esperanza met on her way, seemed to fall in love with her. But, as I said, the plot was totally implausible, so I got over it.

One more thing that I enjoyed was the threat with the priest. The book begins with Esperanza’s confession to her trusted priest. The confessions continue practically throughout the whole book, and they are always followed by the priest’s prayers and thoughts about Esperanza. Maybe it doesn’t move the plot forward too much, but it’s a nice touch, as different points of view usually are.

Generally, despite talking about death of a very young girl, this novel is a really optimistic one. It has a lot of humor and simplicity to it. It made me smile on a lot of occasions. Finally, and probably most importantly, it’s full of hope. After all, the protagonist’s name is Esperanza (Spanish word for “hope).