Tentative January TBR

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New year, new month, new (tentative) TBR!

This month, I have a good selection of recently acquired books as well as some that have been in my collection for quite a while. I’m also trying to make a head start with my 2019 goals, but I suspect I might have picked too many books already… .

My January reads include:

Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident (reread; last read ca. 2003)

A reread that I started late in 2018 and want to finish off (I had about 90 pages to go and have since finished this as my first read of 2019).

Celeste Ng – Little Fires Everywhere 

Bought this on a whim with a gift card I got for Christmas, which is why I’m now eager to read it.

Robin Lane Fox – Thoughtful Gardening

Another one of my Christmas books that I really want to get to sooner rather than later. I’m not entirely sure whether I want to finish it this month or read it seasonally, but since the book actually begins with winter, I want to at least start it.

Mario Vargas Llosa – Quién mató a Palomino Molero? (Who killed Palomino Molero?)

Spanish pick of the month! I know next to nothing about this book, but who cares? (I did decide, however, that it would probably be easier to start my “one Spanish book per month” with a reasonably contemporary prose pick rather than with poetry.)

JRR Tolkien – The Two Towers (reread) OR Naomi Novik – Throne of Jade

Let’s be honest: I’ll probably pick up at least one fantasy book this month, and these two are both sequels to books I read in December.

Heinrich Böll – Irisches Tagebuch (Irish Journal)

My German pick of the month. Early 1950s travel writing that sparked the German post-war obsession with Ireland. (I also got this from my dad for Christmas years ago and think it’s time I finally read this.)

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Quote

The Road Goes Ever On

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The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

~ J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of The Rings, Part 1: The Fellowship of the Ring

Happy Birthday, Professor! 🙂

2019 Reading & Blogging Goals

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Pictured: Some of the books I hope to get to in 2019.

Just like I’m not very good at making and sticking to TBRs, I’m not very good at setting reading goals in general. I have more or less managed to meet my goodreads challenge the last couple of years (and if I didn’t, I was only two or three books short), but my aspirations never went much higher (or more complex) than that. I don’t like to have my reading choices limited / prescribed by reading challenges and I usually have trouble estimating how much time and energy I’ll have for reading thanks to work/my PhD, work-related travel, and mental health issues.

With that in mind, my reading goals for 2019 hopefully seem less boring than they otherwise might:

  1. I want to read at least 35 books. 
    • I know I could probably aim for 50 given my track record in 2018, but I already know that I want to tackle several 500+ pages books this year and those take time. Plus, I have a PhD thesis to finish and would rather set my goal lower and be carried by the excitement of finishing my challenge early than be stressed out by “having” to read on top of everything else.
  2. I want to read (from) at least one Spanish book each month. 
    • I really need to practise my contemporary Spanish skills and have at least six Spanish books that I haven’t read yet. Those should last me at least till June.
  3. I want to read (from) at least one German book each month. 
    • This sounds similar to point two but is born from a completely different background. German is in fact my first language and I own a lot of unread German books that I got from various places (mostly family members and leftovers from my degree), but I somehow never prioritise reading them. In 2019, I want to change that.
  4. I don’t want to reread more than two books each month. 
    • … because otherwise I’ll end up rereading Harry Potter again and never make progress on my pile of unread books. I might make an exception for books I first read more than ten years ago and which I’ve not reread before, but other than that, I’ll stick to new unread books.
  5. BONUS: Finish Les Misérables 

In addition to these goals, I also made a list of books I want to prioritise reading this year, but that will act more as inspiration for me when picking a new read than as a fixed TBR. Deviations are bound to happen, as will accidential book-buying.

***

In terms of blogging goals, I want to keep reviewing books regularly. I managed to stick to a one review per week schedule for much of 2018 and would like to keep that up in 2019. I mean, I have enough unreviewed books left over from 2018 to fill several weeks at least. On top of that, I would like to branch out to more essay-type posts, travelogues, and general reflections on reading, writing, and life – but since those depend on my energy levels even more than reviews do, I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep.

Oh, and I want to interact more – on this blog, on YouTube, and on Instagram. I do comment/like occasionally, but I can do much better, especially at commenting!

My Ten Favourite Books of 2018

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You know me: I’m not the fastest reader and never quite up to date with current releases, so most of the books in this post are backlist. I’ve also not included all-time favourites like Fellowship of the Ring or Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth because those two will always, always make the list. Oh, and not all of these are actually five-star reads; just books I’ve found have had some kind of lasting (positive) impact on me this year.

In no particular order, but with comments whenever I didn’t manage to write a proper review:

  • Tad Williams – Stone of Farewell (reread; first read in ca. 2003?)
    • This is the second volume of a four-part fantasy series I loved as a teen and which has definitely held up to a reread some fifteen years later. I absolutely adore the cast of characters – which is refreshingly diverse for a book written in the late 1980s.
  • Christa Wolf – Kein Ort. Nirgends
    • A sad, sad book, but featuring a fictionalised version of one of my favourite German writers and conversations about freedom, creativity, writing, life, and death.
  • Anne Brontë – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
    • I’m not the Brontës’ biggest fan; at least not when we’re talking Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I can get behind Anne’s abusive husband-leaving heroine, however.
  • Kate Tempest – Running Upon The Wires
    • A poetry collection that captivated my attention enough to read it in one sitting, and one I feel like I understood and which made me think about poetry as a form of expression.
  • Rebecca Solnit – A Field Guide to Getting Lost
    • Probably this year’s greatest discovery? My love for nature writing, memoirs, and essays. Also, the idea of wanting to vanish into the blue of distance stuck with me somehow. (Also see bluets and H is for Hawk below. :D)
  • Ali Smith – How to be both
  • JRR Tolkien – Tree & Leaf / Smith of Wootton Major /The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
    • This is the only collection of works on this list, and one I might be biased about because I completely unashamedly love Tolkien. However, while I didn’t care for Beorhtnoth all that much (other than it being a variation on an Old English poem I know), On Fairy Stories, Leaf by Niggle, and Smith of Wotton Major struck a vein and not only made me think about creation, myth, and fairy tales, but also were in keeping with some of the other themes I seem to have been interested in this year.
  • Hope Mirrlees – Lud-in-the-Mist
  • Maggie Nelson – Bluets
  • Helen Macdonald – H is for Hawk (missing from above picture because I’ve lent it to my sister)

One thing I found fascinating when thinking about this post was that I didn’t actually find it that hard to compile a list of my favourite books I read this year. As it turns out, the number of books that really stuck with me is small, even though I read a lot of new books and new authors. However, some of those were rather disappointing, some merely average, and others good and entertaining, but without leaving any lasting impact.

2018 Blog & Reading Wrapup

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I know I’ve been complaining (a bit) in my December monthly wrapup, but overall 2018 has been a very good reading year for me. I’ve read almost double the amount of books (and manga) than I did in any of the previous years since 2013 (where I managed my previous all-time high of 41 books thanks to my final exams in both German and English lit). I’ve also read a lot of new authors and genres – nonfiction, contemporary literary fiction and contemporary poetry being the ones most out of my comfort zone.

Reading Breakup, aka What I Read This Year

Out of the 69 books I finished this year,

  • 14 were manga (all of them from Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket series)
  • 5 were non-fiction (and only two of these for the PhD)
  • 4 were poetry
  • 6 were short story collections
  • 10 were rereads (plus the 14 volumes of manga)
  • 11 were library books (two of which I’ve bought my own copies of since)
  • 2 books and all manga were borrowed from other people
  • 16 were fantasy in the widest sense of the word
  • 9 were pre-1900 classics
  • 3 were modern (non-fantasy) classics (all by women!)
  • 2 were crime fiction
  • 9 were children’s fiction & YA
  • 7 books and all manga were in German
  • the other 48 were in English
  • except for the 14 volumes of manga, all books were written in the language I read them in

… and of course several of the books I read fit more than one category.

My original goal was 35 books, by the way, but I decided to up that number after my manga reading spree. Which means I’ve still read 53 books that were neither manga nor for my PhD. I count that a huge success!

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As usual, my “weirdest” book choices were my German Romantics picks (and probably Melmoth the Wanderer) — incidentally also the books I tend to get the weirdest, most unfitting Goodreads recommendations for. 😀

Favourite Review(s)

I’ve written 28 book reviews this year (and I’ve backdated all of them on this blog), but there are some that turned out better than others. My personal favourites are:

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Favourite Bookish Experience(s)

I’ve been pretty busy with my thesis and other PhD-work this year, but three “bookish” experiences merit mention:

  • I’ve been to Jena and Weimar on three separate occasions this year, which means I got to read Novalis’ Hymnen an die Nacht on Novalis’ birthday in Jena in May, visited Schiller’s garden house in June, and got to nerd out over early modern books and prints at the Anna Amalia Library in July.
  • In August, my sister and I took a weekend trip to Oxford to see the Tolkien – Maker of Middle Earth exhibition at the Bodleian library – which was absolutely fantastic!
  • … and I also got to do some real holiday beach reading in Hawaii in March!

(I’ve been meaning to write about all of these trips but… life got in the way. :D)

As for my favourite books of 2018? I think those merit their own post!

December Wrapup

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I want to say “I don’t believe December is already over!” or something along those lines, but truth is – I do believe it, and I’m almost glad about it, too.

December wasn’t a particularly good month for me personally. I was travelling for research/work until right before Christmas, and while reading went on pretty much as usual, I was just too exhausted (and sick for at least one week out of four) to do much else. Reviews in particular have fallen a bit by the wayside and I have a lot of unfinished ones that I will be carrying into the new year. I’ve also had a couple of ideas for future posts and directions I want to go in with this blog, but no energy to follow through with any of them so far.

As for unfinished books, I currently have three, none of which I will likely finish before tomorrow night: I started Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident yesterday, which I got for Christmas, and I’m still making my way through Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset. But, like I said, it’s a sad book and I can only read so much in one go, which is why my progress is rather slow. On a slightly funnier (?) note, this is now the second time that I’ve lugged Les Misérables to Spain and back without making any significant progress. Well. That’s life, I guess.

I did manage to finish a couple of shorter books this month, though:

Naomi Novik – Temeraire ★★★★☆

Yep, loved this and will absolutely add some of the sequels to my January TBR.

JRR Tolkien – Letters From Father Christmas ★★★★☆

My only reviewed book this month, I’m afraid. Short and sweet, but more an illustration of Tolkien’s penmanship, artwork, and creativity than a fully-fledged story.

Virginia Woolf – Selected Short Stories ★★★★☆

A mixed (and sometimes very experimental) bag but an enjoyable and fascinating reading experience.

JRR Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring ★★★★★

The Lord of the Rings (and particularly Fellowship of the Ring) is one of my favourite books of all time and rereading (part of) the series has become a bit of a Christmas/winter tradition with me over the last couple of years. I usually start around December 20th and get through the first book by New Year’s Eve, and this year has been no exception (even though my reading speed was a bit faster this time around because I had less family commitments and more car/train rides over the holidays).

Review: JRR Tolkien – Letters from Father Christmas

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Title: Letters from Father Christmas
Author: JRR Tolkien
First published: 1976
Dates read: 7.-8.12.2018
Category: first time read, own book
Rating: 4/5
The book in five words or less: a charming Christmas book

My thoughts:

The Letters from Father Christmas are a collection of illustrated – you guessed it! – letters JRR Tolkien wrote to his children between 1920 and 1943. As time progresses and the Tolkien family grows, the stories the fictional writer of the letters, Father Nicholas Christmas, tells the Tolkien children become progressively more elaborate. Not only does Father Christmas have to deal with the North Polar Bear’s antics and accidents, he also has to fight off an invasion of goblins and deal with the impact of the Second World War on gift-giving all over Europe.

As for my review of this book, I have to admit that I’m very biased because Tolkien is one of my favourite authors ever. However, there are a couple of points that made this book particularly enjoyable for me:

  1. The Letters from Father Christmas are extremely sweet (and sometimes heart-breaking, especially the later wartime ones)
  2. I love, love, LOVE Tolkien’s drawing style and his art in general.
  3. This book is a perfect example of “this tale grew in the telling” and I absolutely love being able to observe the process.

(It’s not a fully developed story, though – nor was it ever meant as one – which is probably something to keep in mind when picking up this book.)

Read if you like: an entertaining Christmas read, Tolkien’s art, calligraphy, creative puns (North Pole is all I’m saying), people doing sweet things for children

December TBR

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What, not a tentative TBR, you ask? No, not this month. I mean, there is still a chance I’ll unexpectedly add books during the last week or so, but for the first three I’m set at least. The reason? – I’m travelling for work for two and a half weeks and these are the books I brought.

Naomi Novik – Temeraire

A recent and unexpected addition that I borrowed from my sister. The book has dragons and the Napoleonic Wars, what more can I say? (At the time of writing this, I have already finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed myself.)

Rosemary Sutcliff – Sword at Sunset

A book I carried over from November. I love Rosemary Sutcliff but since this is a retelling of the Arthurian legends, it’s pretty sad (also glorious, but mostly sad, especially if you know what’s coming) and I have to be in the right mood to read it.

JRR Tolkien – The Father Christmas Letters

The last on my list of Tolkien’s shorter works I wanted to read this year and the only “Christmassy” book you’ll see me touch (this month, or – probably – ever).

Virginia Woolf – Selected Short Stories

For when I want to read something quick during lunch or when my brain won’t let me focus on anything longer.

Victor Hugo – Les Misérables

Remember that I still want to finish this this year? (Or at least make significant progress…) Well, being away from my bookshelves for 2.5 weeks – including airplane and train travel – will hopefully do the trick. The funny thing about this book is that it doesn’t actually feel that long, it’s just a pain to carry around all the time.

November Wrapup

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This wrapup is a bit later than usual because November was a very busy month for me – and December is gearing up to be the same. The main reason for my business was the conference I organised as part of my PhD research at the end of the month and which was responsible for swallowing much of my time and energy. I did get a fair share of reading done – more than I thought I would (or did).

Books I finished this month:

Claire Fuller – Bitter Orange  ★★★☆☆.5

A page-turner that I couldn’t put down even though I guessed most of the ending about two-thirds through the book.

Toni Morrison – Home ★★★☆☆.5

Extremely well-written but a tad too short to really develop the characters.

Kate Tempest – Running Upon the Wires ★★★★☆

I find poetry very hard to rate – this collection was poignant, carefully put together and fascinating in its subject matter.

Charles Maturin – Melmoth the Wanderer ★★☆☆☆

A gothic literature classic that did not age well. I loved Maturin’s original idea, but the execution was severely lacking at times.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists ★★★★☆

Short but to the point. Not necessarily eye-opening for anyone who has thought about or practised feminism before, but Adichie’s personal examples give her convictions a new twist.

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I have three more unfinished books (Naomi Novik’s TemeraireSword at Sunset, and Les Misérables), all of which I’ll be continuing in December.

 

Review: Toni Morrison – Home

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Title: Home
Author: Toni Morrison
First published: 2011
Dates read: 7.-12.11.2018
Category: first time read, library book
Rating: 3.5/5
The book in five words or less: excellently crafted but too short

My thoughts:

Home is Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s tenth novel, but it is the first of hers I’ve read. It tells the story of Frank and Cee, two black siblings from Lotus, Georgia who get separated when Frank joins the army. While Frank, recently returned from the Korean War, battles PTSD and (survivor’s) guilt, teenage Cee runs away with a good-for-nothing man, has to learn to look after herself, and falls in with a doctor who experiments on women. Home combines all these narrative strands into an exquisitely crafted, well-written novel about trauma, family and belonging. It also does so while being stylistically and linguistically accessible and despite dealing with heavy topics.

I really liked Home and would recommend it to anyone interested in black identity, 1950s America, or Toni Morrison’s other works. My only criticism is that the book felt altogether a bit too short and could have done well with a couple more pages to give the siblings’ backstories and relationships more time to develop. The way it is, with the narration shifting between Cee and Frank (and interspersing other characters’ perspectives like that of Frank’s ex-girlfriend Lily or that of their step-grandmother Lenore), there are a lot of things that only get hinted at and I would have loved from some of them to be given more room. That way, the punches which this book packs (and there is more than one) would have had even more impact and I would have felt less detached from both the characters and their story.

Read if you like: The Help, Shadow from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (of whom Frank reminded me), Toni Morrison’s other works, 20th century American history, blackness & identity