Thursday, 23 March 2017

February 2017 Reviews

Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Forth Estate 9/03/2017 Paperback

In the spirit of reading more broadly and outside of my comfort zone, as well as having read Americhana last year, I picked up Half of a Yellow Sun. I found both of Adichie's books difficult to read, although this one was definitely more difficult to follow. Part of my reasons for reading is because I feel I ought to self educate my self on other cultures. But unlike Americhana, where I felt I was learning and changing my opinions on how things work in Nigeria and the US and London, as well as finding the answers to those ignorant questions I might have asked, I felt completely out of touch with the characters in Half of a Yellow Sun. 

It was a difficult read to pick up, I loved the storyline set in a time of revolution, but I somehow really struggled to connect with its protagonists. Half way through I voiced my scepticism to my Grandmother, who has both read the book, and remembered the forming and dissolving of Biafra. For her it was a touching memory, and captured the atrocities and the feeling of the time. She told me of how Biafran children were promoted for adoptions, and the starvation. Suddenly I had new eyes and finished the book quickly with new appreciation for these people living their lives amongst it all. 

I've called it a 3 out of 5 because of that; "well maybe you had to be there" feeling that I had in the first instance. It is the only book I read in February and it slowed me down. A difficult, but overall a good read. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Change Your Reading Habits

This may be presumptuous, you might be very happy with your reading at the moment. The genres you read, the authors you target, fiction, non fiction, etc. But I personally have read three articles, just today, totally by accident about reading books by men or women.

Changing your habits depends, I think, entirely on what you want to achieve from reading. It is common among my reading friends, to have a goal to read more classic novels. But without the habit or knack of reading that kind of prose, it can be difficult to keep up your enthusiasm. Especially if you destroy a summer by reading one gloomy Hardy book after another, as I did. Furthermore, regardless of being a classic, you should only read what you would find interesting. If you're not a fan of crime novels, explain why you're reading The Moonstone? You're setting yourself up for failure.

But aside from my view on classics and only reading the ones you might actually enjoy and love, I would encourage alternating. One classic, one modern. Or One classic, one teen fiction. One classic, one manbooker prize. swapping in this way gives your brain a bit of a rest and leaves it ready for your next challenge.

Looking back over the books I've read recently, there are certain habits that I fall into that I think I'd like to change. For example, in the last year I've read just three classics, have a 15:13 split between female (15) and male (13) authors, three non-fiction books, and ten that I bought from Amazon. The majority of the authors I have read here are either American or British, and write in those settings, though I have a few curve balls with two Nigerian authors, a German, an Australian and an Indian. Looking at my habits in this way definitely makes me want to read more classics (Still) and I want to read more from different nationalities, specifically female writers from those other countries.

Look back over the books you've read and consider what your own patterns are. Are you reading male or female authors more? What is the ethnicity of the authors you read, or the characters you read about... In a time where publishers are asking for diverse writers to produce books that will familiarise people with other cultures besides your own, it becomes increasingly important to me to self educate through my reading.

It can be hard to alternate with too many goals, but recognising your own habits can be the first step to expanding your reading. This can even be extended, for example if you love libraries, aiming to borrow from your library would be a good goal. Or keeping bricks and morter book shops on the high street, think about where you source your books. Want to reduce waste? buy second hand. Want to support charities? Buy from charity shops.

What ever you want to get out of your reading, tweaking those habits and ruts we all fall into can be a brilliant way to expand and try out new things.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

You are what you read

When I started out writing this blog, I wanted to write a listicle about those favourite bookworm characters from books. As I started my research I found several blogs in a similar vein that had focused on female book loving characters. I wondered how many had set out to write a list of female characters or had retrospectivly changed the title to be only female characters to excuse the fact that it is nigh on impossible to think of central male characters that read.

I got to thinking why this is. "It is a truth universally acknowledged..." that it is difficult to encourage younger boys to read. Girls get books that are aimed at their feminine side, and in recent years there books aimed at younger girls that encourage them to embrace all aspects of their personality and see each element as a strength. Boys on the other hand get a far more heavy handed list of stereotyped stories.

As a female I fondly remember the book smarts of Hermione Granger, Belle's delight in the Beast's extravagant library (I'd love a man if he had a library like that too, girl...), or Matilda's devouring brain, and Elizabeth Bennett's defence of her reading as one of the many pleasures she takes in life.

Of the male characters I could think of that read, it was a secondary character, and they happen to be readers in order to be helpful to the story. Klaus Baudelaire got a couple special mentions in other lists, but his reading is academic more than anything else, which proves useful in some of the characters' more sticky situations. Mr Bennett retreats to his library often, presumably to read, and perhaps this is where Lizzy learnt to love books, at her father's knee. But he is hardly the focus of the story.

Perhaps the author knows that it wants to appeal to its demographic, so it pays to make your readers read themselves in the characters. One way to do that with female characters is to make them readers, or bookish and therefore similar to the reader. But the difficulty apparently comes with male characters. There are plenty of male characters in books but why don't they read?

If we are what we read, as a reader I identify with classic characters that also read for pleasure. I could not think of a single male character that reads for pleasure. I know that men that read for pleasure exist, why are they not represented in the literature they read? Why are male characters depicted as only reading for knowledge, further pushing the idea of reading as nerdy for boys?

If anyone can think of a male character that is similarly enthusiastic about books as Matilda, Belle, Hermione and Elizabeth Bennett, please let me know! In my experience I am yet to come across one.