The Vegetarian - Hang Kang - 2015 - Portobello Books

While scrolling through my pictures that I'd taken of this book while reading it I became very aware that I hadn't managed to get a single one where I wasn't about to eat something... The irony is not lost on me but at least I didn't use the McDonald's pic...

This book has been getting a lot of attention recently, and I've been making more of an effort recently to read more diversely, and to read translated works. I'd also just finished All the Light we Cannot See and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet which are both pretty chunky, slow burning books, so I was looking for something short and snappy to break things up. All of these factors culminated in me reading the Vegetarian, and I'm so glad I did.

This book is short, but it is not an easy read. It is a rather harrowing account of a meek, submissive Korean housewife, beginning to lose her mind. It's hard to explain too much of this book without ruining the very carefully constructed narrative, but essentially her story is told in three acts, through the eyes of first her husband, then her brother-in-law, and finally her sister. We follow her through the eyes of other characters so we never get a true account of what is going on inside this woman's head, how mentally sound her decisions are, to what extent she understands what she is doing. It's impossible to truly identify with her, as such she remains a distant, though not unsympathetic character throughout the novel.  In many ways this story isn't really even about her, it's about the people around her, and their reactions to watching this woman completely turning her back on societal expectations and decisions. It's about her husband, worrying more that his wife's eating habits will embarrass him in front of his co-workers, than the reasons she is suddenly eschewing meat. It's about her brother-in-law, an ageing failed artist, who sees his sister's wife's sudden transformation as a spark that could rekindle his artistic fervor. Through all of the acts, it is about her sister, a self made woman who has survived by always doing the right thing, faced with this sudden act of rebellion, wondering whether her own life is simply slavery to societal expectation and nothing more.

This book is appalling, without being melodramatic. Kang does a beautiful job of treading this fine line of controlled hysteria. The novel shows one awful scene after another, but each is relayed in this incredibly restrained way, never getting to the stage where we're rolling our eyes and the suspension of disbelief has worn thin. Deborah Smith's translation is gorgeous as well. Obviously I cannot compare to the original Korean, but the sparse, beautifully written prose perfectly relays the bleak, bizarre narrative and the ways in which imagery and natural scenes are described is rich and melancholic.

I would really recommend reading The Vegetarian, I'm definitely going to reread it in a few months, as I don't feel the first time round was quite enough to truly absorb the intricacies of the novel and I definitely want to spend some more time picking it apart.

Let me know if you've read this book and what you thought!

Thanks for reading,

Review | The Vegetarian


I'm going on a little trip next week! As part of my new job I'm being sent on a four day jolly trip to the Waterstones in Cirencester to see their very successful coffee shop and essentially steal all of their ideas. But that also means that my week is going to involve to long train journeys and three nights in a hotel room with a wi fi connection I'm feeling skeptical about. So this means treating myself to some new books to wile away the hours spent waiting for The Walking Dead to buffer:

Ship of Magic - Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is one of those authors that I've wanted to get into for a long time. I started reading Fools Errand but realised about a third in that having not read the first trilogy, I was missing out on a lot of information that I needed to really engage with the story. I started the first book in the original farseer trilogy but just wasn't in the right place for it. However Luke (name you might recognise, went to Canada, ended up coming back early, whole other story) has read a lot of Robin Hobb, and tells me that The Liveship Traders trilogy is also a good place to start, so I've bought the first book which is a nice chunky volume that will hopefully keep me quiet, and if I enjoy it, I might purchase the next to from the Waterstones in Cirencester!

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

Another paving slab of a book. I've been very apprehensive about getting this, I have friends who thought it was incredible, truly life changing, but I've heard others call it melodramatic and worthless. Honestly I wasn't really intending to read this, but I'm just so curious to see which side I fall on and how I respond to it that when it finally came out in paperback I caved and bought it. I'm hoping I'll enjoy it, it's going to be quite a time commitment so hopefully it'll be worth it.

Nod - Adrian Barnes 

Something a little less daunting. This book, published last year, is suddenly enjoying a revival. It offers a fresh take on the dystopian genre that's just about run out of steam. Barnes' 'end of the world disaster' takes the form of a near world wide insomnia, with only a select few being able to sleep, and now sharing the same dream. I don't know anything else about this, but that was enough to intrigue me. It's supposed to be creepy and hell and very clever so I'm looking forward to it.

There we go, that was exciting wasn't it? I know I don't do those impressive, ridiculous, double digits books hauls, but when I do that I just find that about two thirds of them go unread and that makes me sad. I find it much easier to buy two or three books, read through those, then treat myself to another two or three. That means they all get read and I don't spend way beyond the realms of sensibility which, when you're a dedicated book buyer, is easy to do.

If you've read any of these and have opinions, let me know!

Thank you for reading!


Recent Purchases | Books for a Week Away


All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr - 2015 - Scribner

So I saw this book getting a lot of praise, but all I knew about was that it followed a blind girl, and an orphan, in World War II. Quite frankly that immediately put me off and made me dismiss it in my mind as a cheap yank on the heartstrings with no real substance. However two of my bookish besties, housemate Holly and fellow bookseller Kieran, told me that it was so much more than that, and that it was a book they KNEW I would love.

I was still unsure, but pulpy quick buck war stories don't win the Pulitzer, so finally I was convinced to pick it up and God I'm so happy I did! ATLWCS is a beautiful novel, and a refreshing take on the well trodden path of the WWII narrative. It took me a good fortnight to get through, I won't say its a gripping read that kept me frantically turning the pages, but every time I opened the book I was drawn into the worlds of Marie-Laure and Werner. Their stories were so rich and beautifully written, made up of these fragmented moments of life, scattered through time, glittering like gems.

What I love most about this novel is that it sets itself apart from the more traditional World War II novels by setting out to find the light in the darkness. Both characters are caught up in tragedy, of course they are, but even in the most harrowing of times the beauty in human relationships remain. Rather than attempting to shock with gory battlefield scenes or forcing tragedy down the throat of the reader, Doerr crafts a story of survival, of quiet defiance and sheer will. It's a story about wonder, and the importance of owning your own mind. Werner is driven by scientific curiosity but restricted by the rise of the Nazi regime as they attempt to stomp out any characteristics that do not adhere to their vision of 'perfection', Marie lives adventure after another through her braille books and the games of imagination she plays with her great uncle but is housebound in the midst of the French resistance. We follow both characters through two very different coming-of-age stories and watch as their two stories wind ever closer together.

The writing is beautiful but very occasionally slips into being bloated and a little over flamboyant. and the story has moments where it's so dense you have to wade through it a little bit. The novel also jumps around in time which can become disorientating now and again. For me the biggest flaw in the novel is in the ultimate climactic scenes in which the various threads finally weave together. These passages honestly feel slightly rushed, as if Doerr had actually become slightly bored with building up to the ending and just wanted it out of the way so he could get on with the 'ten years later' style ending chapters. Having flitted in and out of the situation the entire way through the novel I was expecting something a little more sensational than what I got. But perhaps that was the point. The novel consistently refuses the melodramatic and seeks out the subtle moments buried under the drama. These qualms aside it is a glorious read. Gentle and understated but honestly unforgettable. It's definitely a novel I'd recommend. For the most part the gentle story and short chapters make it a relatively easy read but it has so much substance and is an incredibly enjoyable, sumptuous reading experience.

Let me know if you've read this, and what you thought!

Thank you for reading,

Review | All the Light we Cannot See


*Alternative title - Take a Drink at Every Use of the Word 'Read' and See if you Can Still Stand Up'

I have only really gotten back into reading in the past three or four months. Before I went to University I was what you would call a 'big reader'. I got through the first three A Song of Ice and Fire in as many weeks, blasted through six books a month easily and read consistently one after another. However once Uni life began to settle I essentially found myself reading some of my course books and basically nothing else. Even during the holidays I was so burned out reading for my degree that I couldn't really stomach doing it in my free time. And honestly I found some of my favourite books during those years of my course so I don't feel like it was time wasted, but 'reading for pleasure' just became something I didn't do anymore. Since I've graduated however I've slowly fallen back in love with reading, and so I thought I'd share my own thoughts and tips on getting back into a reading lifestyle and becoming a 'big reader' again.

1. Get into the habit. 

Making reading just another part of daily life takes a few weeks of effort. Like going to the gym or tending a garden, making reading a regular habit takes actively forcing yourself into it for a little while until it just becomes something you do. Try and find space at least once a day to read, you can set yourself a page count or timer if you like, or just make sure you're reading, however little, every day. You could choose a specific time of day, on the bus in the morning or while dinner is in the oven. If you find it hard to set a certain time try using something like Don't Break the Chain to give you motivation or get someone else to hold you to account. After a while reading will stop feeling like something you need to make time for, and be as much of a habit as brushing your teeth.

2. Stop adding to your TBR pile. 

I know this will sound strange, but the more unread books I see on my shelves, the harder it is for me to actually read any of them. I know, I'm insane. For the time period that I was really not reading, I was still buying books, because I wanted to read, I wanted to get out of this slump and get back to being the avid reader I was before. But I would try and start my new books, then feel guilty about all the unread books already sitting on my shelves and think I should really get through some of them first. But what do I pick? Do I finish that series I enjoyed but never got to the end of? Do I go for one of the classics I really should have read by now? Do I read these new books I've just bought while they're still relevant? Being overwhelmed with choice is a huge detriment to getting anything done. I had the bookshelf equivalent of the woman rifling through a stuffed wardrobe complaining of having nothing to wear. In the end I took most of my unread books and put them in a suitcase. I go back now and again and some make it out and get read, but I will probably end up donating most of them. It's silly to waste them on my shelf when they could go to someone who will read and love them. The likelihood is I'll forget about them. And if I find myself pining to read some in later years I can just pick up another copy and actually read it straight away this time. So stop crowding yourself with more and more unread books. Trust me.

3. Figure out if you're a 'TBR reader' or a 'Mood reader'.

In the book blogging/ booktube community there's a trend in which we post a declaration of our TBR, a pile of books 'to be read' over that month/summer/weekend and for some people that structure and planning really works. I however, have learned that if there's one way to guarantee a book goes unread forever, it's to put it on a TBR pile. I find that for me this method works once a year (bizarrely) and that's making a long list of books to get through over summer. Even then there must be no order or time frame or I will just never get to them. I don't really have an explanation for this. Maybe I just really don't do rules and 'limits' even when I'm the one deciding them? Whatever the reason, I find I read more consistently and enjoy my reading more when I just buy two or three books, read them and then buy some more once I've finished. This means I'm unlikely to have those massive haul posts/videos that I actually quite enjoy reading and watching, but it does mean that I'm a much happier reader. So work out whether a TBR is something that works for you, or if you find that just going one at a time suits you better.

4. Balance dense or complex books with lighter reads. 

I love literary fiction, but sometimes reading can feel like a chore because you feel like you have to concentrate to get through it. Fortunately I also love fluffier reads and find that reading one alongside the other works beautifully! I read a lot of non fiction this way, and got through Quiet by Susan Cain, which is dense and deals with a lot of research and studies, alternating with the first three books in The Emperors Edge series by Lindsay Buroker (incredibly trashy, moreish steampunk books that take less than a day to get through each). You can see my reviews here. I did a similar thing with Wool, a book that I began to find heavy going and slow about half way through but really wanted to finish. I began to read fifty pages of it, then treat myself to fifty pages of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman which is a joy the whole way through and kept me motivated to finish Wool. It worked perfectly! If like me you often find yourself reading dense or slow moving books, balancing fluffy humour or fast paced fantasy can be a great way to keep your reading pace and finish your books.

5. Make Reading 'Your' Time. 

Reading for me is one of the few activities that I have to be completely focused on. You can watch TV and play on your phone and have your emails up on your laptop all at once, but reading needs all of your attention, and for me that means that reading is one of the few activities I do that allow me to be completely switched off from everything else. For a while I had trouble really sinking into reading, as I'd find myself having to come back out and check my phone or refresh twitter. Now it's become the ultimate 'me time'. Something that is about taking time for myself, to do something I enjoy without feeling the buzz of connectivity that is part of modern life. So turn your reading time into a treat. Create a comfy reading area on a soft rug by the fire, sinking in pillows and blankets on your bed or stretched out on the lawn in the sunshine. Reading in the bath is a bit of a stereotype but it's a good one. Occasionally I treat myself to some LUSH goodies, toss them in the bath and relax and read until I go all pruney. Books are an escape from daily life, to enter a different world or meet different kinds of people, or be exposed to different ideas, and I think that makes reading a perfect opportunity to take some time completely for yourself. Make reading part of your wind down at the end of a long day or your Sunday lie in and it'll become something you look forward to and crave.

6. Chill man, it's just reading. 

God we all make a fuss about reading. We can attach so much weird guilt when we don't feel that we're reading as much as we want, or as much as others are. You only have so many hours in the day and we all have to figure out our priorities to fit them. Maybe you're happy to give up reruns of Next Top Model in favour of curling up with a book. Maybe you aren't. Maybe you can dedicate a whole evening to reading, maybe you've got other shit on. Reading should be something you enjoy and yes, if you want to cultivate a reading lifestyle, there will be pockets of time where you have to push yourself to read, but most people who consider themselves 'readers' have worked out a pace that suits them and their lifestyle. I have some days where I will do nothing but lie in bed and read, I have days where I catch twenty minutes reading on the train to or from work. I have days where I just don't read at all. I also read pretty slowly. It can take me a couple of weeks to get through one book, particularity if its very dense and something to savour and pick apart as you're going through. This can be frustrating as it feels like every book is a time commitment, unlike my housemate Abby who can inhale books in days. But it's not something I let myself get stuck thinking about. The more you stress and guilt yourself about how much you 'should' be reading, the more you'll give yourself analysis paralysis and not be able to get started. Let go of this obligation to be reading, start to see it for what it is: a past-time. Literally a thing you do because you enjoy it and it gives you a pleasing way to spend your time, as well as having some benefits to you (if you make that masturbation joke I swear to God.) Sometime you might want to do other things or just not feel like it and that's fine.

So those are my tips for making reading part of your lifestyle. Feel free to share any tips and also check out this similar post by Bee over at Vivatramp, which I remember being really helpful to me last summer.

Thank you for reading.

Tips on Being a 'Big Reader'.


I can't believe it's March already! And yet so much has happened in the first two months of the year I'm almost surprised that we're only just at March. I started seeing a guy called Luke at the beginning of January and had my first Valentines for about three years (in which I got this adorable handmade door sign!(1)) and have generally had a wonderful few months with him. He flies to Canada tomorrow, and we knew that when we were setting out so though I'm going to miss him the goodbyes weren't too melodramatic. 

We also had pancake day (3) in which my own apron was entirely for aesthetic effect as my kitchen-savvy housemates were in charge of the batter and the flipping, while I was in charge of the application of delicious toppings and of course the very important eating process.

The lovely Coralie Bickford Smith (illustrator of Penguins clothbound classics and writer of the Fox and the Star) came to do a signing with designer Paul Barnes at my branch of Waterstones. They were both lovely and Coralie spent a lot of time talking to guests and signing books and I had a great time putting together the displays (4).

The last few days of February were intense! I had a job interview for a new, more senior role at a different Waterstones, and got the job!! So I'm really sad to be leaving my current friends at Waterstones, but excited to go on to new challenges, more hours (and better pay... ahem.) And I really shouldn't only work part time... I end up sitting around derping with Tom all day, which leads to pictures like (2). After my job interview I worked a NINE HOUR SHIFT HOLY HELL and then got home and into pyjamas just in time for Luke to come over and stay for a few nights before he leaves the country. We had a lot of fun, we went to London Zoo and made friends with some teeny tiny monkeys (5), got attacked by an escaping parrot, saw baby gorillas with their mama and generally had an awesome time.Then on the last night we had a house party and bought all of our various nerdy weird-ass friends together (6). It was a really good night and lovely to hang out with my work friends somewhere that doesn't involve a rota. 

So February has been jam-packed and lots of fun. March is going to involve considerably more hard work and challenges, but after two months of essentially bumming about it's something I've been craving. 

Let me know how your month has been and what you've got on the cards for March!


MARCH | Goodbyes and New Beginnings



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