Over a year ago now I wrote out the full list of 1001 books you should read before you die (you can find it online here) by hand in an effort to procrastinate. I succeeded at putting off any other task for days, and I've gone one step further now by shading in each book I read from the list with a new colour for every year. I think this gives a pretty accurate insight into the kind of person I am.
As we're now in the 11th month of 2018 (although I totally meant to get around to this months ago), I thought it would be a good time for an update on what I've ticked off so far this year, whether I'm glad I read them, and my goal for the end of the year!
So far I've hit double digits with a round ten ticked off the list, which I'm pretty proud of, although I'd love to get to 15 by 2019, so I need to get my reading socks on.
1.) My first read of the year from the list was A Question of Power by Bessie Head. Elizabeth is a mixed race woman from South Africa who has recently moved to Botswana. In the day time she works first as a teacher and then in a communal garden growing food. But, ever so gradually, at night she begins to lose her mind. Elizabeth loses her grip on reality, and is plagued by three different presences: Sello, a monk, Medusa, an angry spirit, and Dan, a symbol of all that is bad. As we move through the book, the sane Elizabeth starts to lose hold of the narrative, and more and more of it becomes confused.
The book got more confusing as Elizabeth found herself losing touch with reality. It really made you feel as though you and Elizabeth were on the same page. I gave this one 3 stars because it wasn't something I completely got into.
2.) Next up we have The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is the first Atwood novel I've read and it did not disappoint (I want to read all of them now). The premise of The Handmaid's Tale is that the characters live in a dystopian future in which all the plastic being deposited in the oceans has resulted in a decrease in human fertility. As such, society has designated young, hopefully fertile, women to be handmaids to rich men and their upperclass (but barren) wives. They sleep with the men when they're most fertile in the hope of having a child. The book carries some obvious feminist overtones and it was such a powerful insight into a disturbing future world.
This was a five star read for me.
3.) The longest book I've read from the list is The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding. I downloaded this on my kindle, and had no idea how long it was until I googled it after spending about two months reading it. It was over 900 pages long, and I only read my kindle before bed so it took over three months to get through in total. It's regarded as one of the first English novels, and tells the story of Tom Jones, who was abandoned as a baby in the house of a Squire. Bringing him up as his own, the Squire is eventually deceived into believing that Tom is a wicked teen and turfs him out of the house. From this point on, Tom engages in a lot of debauched activities, and the novel follows the remainder of his life.
I gave this three stars because I enjoyed parts of it, but 900 pages was just too intense.
4.) The first detective novel published in English is the next on this list, aka The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. This was another slightly long read, but I loved it. At the start of the novel, the reader is introduced to the Moonstone, a one-of-a-kind diamond plundered from the depths of India. Once it has been taken to England, a series of deaths connected to the diamond raise the suspicion that it is cursed. Knowing this, a malicious uncle leaves it to his niece in his will, hoping that it will bring despair upon her and her mother. When the diamond goes missing, the crime is investigated, and embroils itself in a number of other crimes.
I found this quite thrilling (although it was very description-heavy, but I kind of love this), and gave it 5 stars.
5.) Germinal by Emile Zola is the first translated novel I read from the list this year. It tells the tales of miners living in France that go on strike to protest the pittance they are paid for such a laborious job. The book takes you through the ins and outs of the strike, including what forced the miners to commit to it, the impacts on their families and how it was (or wasn't) resolved.
I'm glad I read this, because it was pretty educational, but I couldn't really say I enjoyed it, so it's three stars for this.
6.) Another French translation makes its way into the sixth slot: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. This is regarded by many as the greatest novel ever written due to its style of language that almost makes it poetic. It follows the tale of Charles Bovary, initially married to a grumpy but supposedly rich widower, who ends up marrying a girl he truly loves. The book focuses on the little things, and the plot draws itself around them.
Although I can see the appeal in the book, and it's literary prowess, it's just not something I enjoyed reading at all, and I found myself just wanting to finish it, so it's another three stars for this one.
7.) I'm trying to read more books by international authors this year, which is why we've got a third translation up next, i.e. Hunger by Knut Hamsen. Originally published in Norwegian, this novel was a pretty powerful one. It follows the story of a man on the brink of starvation. Yet, every time he is given food or money to buy some, he does something irrational that makes him end up with nothing once again. The novel goes around in a circular motion of this, getting more tightly wound with every loss. As the main character gets more hungry, he loses his grip on reality more, and you feel the same.
I gave this one 4 stars because it was so clever in the way the book made you feel so connected to the character: as he got more confused with reality, so did you (or at least I'm hoping that's what was meant to be happening!).
8.) My favourite one of the year so far is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. This is the one I was most excited about reading, and I'm still unsure how I managed to fend my way through an English lit degree without being forced to read this. Published in 1948, this is set in a dystopian future of 1984, a world in which TV screens listen to you, and monitor your words and actions. It's a world ruled by Big Brother, where political opposition is crushed underfoot, and any form of written text is pro-Big Brother and whatever he has decreed.
This was a terrifying read that I think everyone should get stuck into, and for that reason I have to give it 5 stars.
9.) Nineteenth-century fiction is one of my favourite genres, and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell fits right into that. The novel is a satirical comment on the structure of contemporary society, and critiques commonly held ideas about spinsters. Instead of being forlorn about being 'left on the shelf', the matriarchal society of Cranford abhors marriage, and is horrified by the mere suggestion of it.
This was such a powerful read, and makes for another 5 stars.
10.) The final book from the list is The Trial by Franz Kafka. This is one I've just finished and I'm not entirely convinced I enjoyed. As with many of Kafka's works, everything in this novel is fairly convoluted and intangible. The plot follows a man called Josef K who is accused of a crime that is revealed neither to him nor the reader. The book follows his attempts to seek a hearing and protest his innocence in the case, but these are thwarted by never knowing what the unseen force behind his arrest is. The book has been interpreted in many ways, but the one that speaks out most to me is the idea that the book is a critique on the facelessness of modern bureaucracy, and the frustration that results from this.
I'm going to give this 2 stars, because I just found myself getting more and more lost in the mass of frustration and claustrophobia of the novel.
And that's the end of the longest blog post I've written in quite a while. Let me know if you're trying to tick things off the list too!