Hey, it’s been a long time! I don’t know, I’ve been feeling increasingly alienated by the internet. Well, alienated in general actually. But maybe more so by the internet as a standalone world? It’s become so huge and amorphous, yet at the same time so utterly small it’s suffocating. Whereas it used to be easy to find spaces online as a refuge from daily life, now it’s become almost impossible. I feel like it’s all converging into this one enormous frightening aggressively capitalist beast. Every tiny bit of pixels is selling you something, whether goods or neoliberalist ideas. You can argue that tumblr has an endless leftist politic discourse going on, but it’s too often devoid of any meaning or intent and too often approaches the world in black or white terms, unambiguously and quite frankly naively too. Though of course there’s always some good stuff here and there, but overall the tone of the internet feels aggressive and forced to me right now. Anyway, the internet is getting kinda scary? Is it me? Is it the places I go to? Is it the places I don’t go to? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a phase, maybe I’m growing up. Maybe it’s the death threats I’ve gotten? Haha, of course, to try and unapologetically be yourself and female at that (yet I’m so normative!?!) means the same thing online as off. The world is getting more right-winged and I’m feeling less safer and closer to death every time I watch the news. I write this giggling because it’s almost surreal, yet utterly true. Oh well, I say with a light-hearted sigh. Death is always near and I’ve always felt comfortable with that.
Ok ok. But my nihilism isn’t what I want to write about. Let’s carve out my own safe space here again, you know?
Anyways, I just finished a really nice book so I figured I’d write up on my favourite books I’ve read this year. I don’t think I’ve ever read as little as in 2015 though. There was a period of months that I hardly touched a book. Which is kinda weird because ever since around the age of 15-16 I’ve always needed a book to escape in and fall asleep to. What did I do in those months? I don’t know?? I was hoping you could tell me because I have the worst memory of all time. This is why I have a goodreads. Because too often I’ve started a book and ended it thinking, this seems a little too familiar? Only to find out I’d read it before. This year it happened not only once but twice with No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. (I would write about this if I remember the book but of course, I’ve again forgotten it. No offence to the book, honest.) But there are some books that stick to me and these are the ones I want to talk about.
A note: in large part I’ve stopped giving star ratings on goodreads because it just doesn’t reflect the many-layered feelings books give me. I can love them for the writing, the tone, the characters, or the theme. I can love them for all of that together, which makes it a good book to me. But, I know there are times that no matter how good a book may be I’m just too damn depressed or anxious to enjoy it. Yet some books can drag me out of that just by something I cannot pin-point. A feeling maybe? Maybe it’s just good writing? Maybe it’s just me being me? Who knows, who cares (I don’t). These couple of books I’ve read this past year have been able to do this and I’ll attempt to describe why or how they left an impression on me. These are in no particular order!
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Honestly, I just found this a lovely and nice read that was a perfect page-turner for procrastinating on summer exams. The build-up of the story was interesting and fun to read and I enjoyed some of the theories that it explored, but mostly I’m writing this title down because I still think about the Japanese teen girl and her Buddhist grandmother nun a lot. And I’m pretty sure that at one point I drunkenly told my friends their story as if I had known them myself, which is always a sign of a good read to me.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This is a book of pure torment. When I read the blurb I was like why would I want to bother reading a Bildungsroman about a bunch of dudes? But I’d seen the awesome Cat mention this on her tumblr enthusiastically and I almost always quickly google any and all books mentioned by people I like and see if they are available as a download and it was. This book plays dangerously with the borders of a gross fetish for trauma (both physical and emotional) and it often made me sick to my stomach. Yanagihara said herself ‘I wanted everything turned up a little too high’. It is more than a little and I still feel pretty ambiguous about some things in this book, but the fact (i.e. a fact that solely lives in my completely subjective inner life) is that the characters in this book still live beside me today like old friends. Sometimes I read an article or something and I think of one of these characters as if they are flesh and blood. My heart wrung itself in pain when I saw this buzzfeed quiz. (I got William.)
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
I’ve been wanting to read this forever and it did not disappoint; it was a very nice story about loneliness, connecting to others, more loneliness and food and basically that is all that I want in life (and books).
Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
It was sad and nicely written. I did not connect to the character but that may be because she felt pretty dead inside and so do I. But that is why I liked the story. Loneliness, not knowing who you are, fleeing away from yourself and everyone you love, death. Right up my alley.
4.48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane
Anyways, anything and everything about sadness but most of all mental illness is always at the top of any to-read list for me. It’s a short read. You can find it here. There’s a current Flemish theatre adaption for this! I missed their first run but they’re coming back in April, I can’t wait to see it. I can’t wait to feel ambivalent about it and I can’t wait to read reviews on it that write about mental illness as a creative catalyst and vomit a little.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
I wouldn’t describe this book as a favourite and I was not compelled by the characters, except a little for the protagonist but the world Delany built here has stuck to me like glue. I don’t say this often, but it was very weird. Like, a little alienatingly weird? But good? I think? A sci-fi classic apparently. (Side note: Delany’s Babel 17/Empire Star on the other hand might be my favourite book of all time, because it’s so fun and the story just glides! That reading experience was one of the most fun times of my life which I’m sure isn’t saying much but if you come across it you should pick it up.)
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
Given to me by the purest angel on earth, aka Beth, aka my boss over at Doll Hospital?
It’s mainly about a cat, so that should draw me in enough. You know me. It’s basically about a couple who end up sharing a cute cat with their neighbours. I loved how the story builds up and throughout I really felt the couple falling in love with the cat, a couple who isn’t specifically cat-inlined. Also, an incident happens toward the end of the book that made me real-life furious and perplexed which had me sighing angrily on lone busdrives for at least a month after finishing this. I really miss the cat.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
This was the book that made me write this! An epic fantasy novel! As you might be able to tell from my list here, I’m not heavily inclined towards fantasy. I do truly love magical realism as well as sci-fi, but fantasy often infuriates me? The world building is so black-white and they often pretend to mean to say something about The Unique Human Experience but more often than not every theory falls flat and is grossly burdened by obvious racism, misogyny etc. This is also true for sci-fi, though. But I’ve read more sci-fi than fantasy so I can find my way there a little easier. Because of this I often sigh deeply at fantasy titles but I mostly chalk this up due to not knowing all that much of the genre and occasionally try to read one. The reason I started this was because I’d read Lui’s Paper Menagerie and fell in love with it. So I took the plunge and ended up being rewarded. Though it starts of with some typical tropes, these get incredibly nuanced throughout the book which is what interested me most. It also has, like, giant mythical whale creatures and ships modelled after them so I’m sold.
So you know, I guess, that’s it.