August Books List

Monday, 31 August 2015

A round-up of the books that I read this month (a bit of a mish-mash!):-

(1) Like Being Killed by Ellen Miller
Contemporary / Junkie Fiction / Mental Health: "Ilyana has never been very far from disaster and loss. A self-described "suicidal, strung-out, psychotic Jew under thirty" Ilyana retreats into her astonishing mind, prays to obscure Catholic saints, and seeks her equilibrium in six white lines laid out on the kitchen table of a squalid Lower East Side apartment."

Ellen Miller is certainly no William S. Burroughs, but damn, does she have a way with words. The opening chapter of Like Being Killed is the hardest part of the book to get through as the reader is thrown immediately into the deep end of a psychobabble conversation featuring a group of intellectual NYC junkies musing about life. If you can get through that, you're treated to a fly on the wall account of intimate drug-addicted life - think Trainspotting meets the dialogue and characters of Dawson's Creek and My So Called Life. Depressing, fascinating, sometimes difficult to read but more often than not, intriguing, Miller's wordplay is as trippy as the storyline. If you have a thing for junkie fiction like I do, you'll get on well with this little unknown contemporary classic, though it should come with something of a pretentious warning on the cover - you have been warned! [3/5]

(2) Stray by Rachel Vincent
YA / Paranormal / Fantasy: "There are only eight breeding female werecats left... And I'm one of them. I look like an all-American grad student. But I am a werecat, a shape-shifter, and I live in two worlds."

I stayed with family this bank holiday weekend and ended up reading this with my 12-year-old niece who is obsessed with the whole teen paranormal fantasy genre that stills seems to be popular. Truth be told, I did find Stray to be a bit of a guilty pleasure; the writing is consistently solid and engaging throughout, though some parts were a little cheesy and ridiculous but it was all done in a fun and youthful way (let's not forget that this is about werecats after all). It's not going to change my outlook on the world but it was nice to read something lighter and fluffier for a change, so thank you Lucy ;) [2/5]

(3) The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami 
Children's Short Stories / Fantasy: "On his way home from school, the young narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He pops into the local library to see if it has a book on the subject. This is his first mistake."

If you have an hour to spare one day and want a short, dark fantasy read, The Strange Library is the book to pick up. It's a children's book with illustrations, but it's wholly imaginative and weird enough for adults to enjoy too. I loved the story of a boy going into his library one day, asking for a book on a random, obscure subject and then becoming trapped in a jail underneath it by a horrible old man who has a sinister agenda. As the boy tries to plot his escape from the jail cell to get back home to his worrying mother, he's introduced to a girl who speaks with her hands and there's a bizarre Sheep Man who's terrified of the old man but makes excellent donuts. Only someone like Murakami could come up with such a strange and enjoyable children's story. [4/5]

(4) All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Classic / Literature / Historial Fiction: "One by one the boys begin to fall... In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the 'glorious war'. What follows is the moving story of a young 'unknown soldier' experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches."

There are some books that I've had on my shelf for years and All Quiet On The Western Front, for some reason or another, has been one. I don't know what urged me to finally pick it up, but I did so this month and I can confidently say that it's been elevated to my 'All Time Favourites' shelf. I haven't been so emotionally moved by a story for such a long time, that this just hit me for six and I can still remember feeling the hairs on my neck stand up when I read the last page.

All Quiet On The Western Front is of course one of those classics that almost everyone encourages you to read at least once in your life and I've now joined the ranks of those people. This is the story of Paul, a young German who enlists in the army straight out of school to fight for his country in WW1, along with his fellow classmates. These school boys turned soldiers are sent to the front and thus unravels the true horrors of war in vividly graphic detail. It's strange to say that I 'loved' a novel about one of the most bloodiest wars of our time, but Remarque's descriptions of the trenches, the shelling, the deeply human relationships etc are so incredibly realistic that you feel like you're there at the front with Paul, getting muddy and hoping to hell that a bomb doesn't hit your camp right now. But what I loved the most was the lack of heroism and nationalistic pride that seems to constantly plague us nowadays - this is the warts and all of war, this is a group of young adults scared out of their wits, this is the grim reality of war. 

Along with several scenes which seem to have seared themselves onto my mind (I'll never get the image of the horses being shelled out of my head for as long as I live), the lasting memory I think I'll have of All Quiet On The Western Front is the recurring theme of the lost generation that Paul touches upon and describes throughout. The thought that it was so much harder for those who joined the war when they had just come out of school and had never really experienced life properly yet - the ones who didn't have girlfriends, families of their own, or even crappy jobs to return home to after it all ended. Whose only understanding of the world was fighting, bombing and violence again. For me, those were the most painful parts to read. If you haven't read it before, read it now, and if you have read it, read it again. [5/5]

What have you been reading lately?

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  1. Somehow I've never read Haruki Murakami, though I do have IQ84 on my Kindle.

    Sometimes a cheesy YA book is just what you need as a break from heavier titles. I blew through the Pretty Little Liars series last winter because I was reading a lot of very serious dramas that dealt with things like infidelity, death, etc. etc. -- so I needed something to lighten the mood! And that series was just the ticket.

    1. I've read IQ84 and Kafka On The Shore - both are very strange magical realism books which I struggled to get into at first as his writing is so different from other authors I've read before.

      Absolutely! They help to take the edge of when heavier titles get well, too heavy so it's always nice to alternate them with something lighter and more fun. Thank you for your recommendation on GR btw, will definitely look that one up :)


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