12 books I look forward to reading in 2017

2017 has started off with a bang and here I am, still trying to process how come it’s already March. [Cue confused Travolta GIFs.] In my previous post I swore I wasn’t going to sign myself up for any additional reading challenges in 2017. Well, turned out I was wrong. One of my absolute favourite book podcasts of the moment (Sivumennen, in Finnish) started their own reading challenge called “The Shelfwarmer” challenge. According to them, a shelfwarmer is the literary equivalent of a benchwarmer in sports – a book that just keeps sitting on your bookshelves, sometimes for years and years, waiting for its moment to shine. The idea is simple: choose twelve books – one for each month – and, you guessed it, read them!

Seeing that it’s already March, I’ve already finished two books from my list. Some of them you might recognise from my previous 10 books I look forward to reading in the autumn list and some come with a track record of previous trials. As per usual, the books on this list are a mix of Finnish prize-winners, classics and a few popular bestsellers from the past decade. I’ll try to provide brief descriptions for each of the books, but as I haven’t read them, there isn’t really that much to say.

12 books. 12 months. Let’s read.

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JanuaryThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The first book I finished from this list has actually only been sitting on my shelves for less than six months. However, it could have easily sat there for years. The Elegance of the Hedgehog was an international bestseller back in the mid-2000s, and it’s also been turned into a film (which I didn’t know until after I’d read the book). It’s a poetic and philosophical exposé at the life of an old French concierge in a Parisian apartment building as well as one of the residents of the building, a highly-intelligent young girl planning her suicide.

FebruaryThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
My second read was Joan Didion’s autobiographical reflections on the year after she unexpectedly lost her husband of 40 years and had the daughter hospitalised for pneumonia. Didion is often hailed as one of the “iconic American writers” and I’ve been curious to find out why. I enjoyed The Year of Magical Thinking and I think it’ll grow on me over the years, but there were times when it also felt a little cold and distanced. Moreover, I don’t think this book answered my question. I guess I’ll have to dig up some of her earlier works, such as Slouching towards Bethlehem or The White Album to find out.

March – Huojuva talo by Maria Jotuni  
Huojuva talo (trans. Precarious house) is a Finnish modern classic about domestic violence, abusive relationships and expectations in relationships. It was written in the 1930s but published 20 years later posthumously, I believe partly because of its autobiographical nature as well as the heavy subject matter that Jotuni disentangles. The book follows a young woman’s search for a true family. It covers issues of parental alcoholism, mental illness, marital abuse, inequality between sexes as well as class. I expected the book to be a heavy read, but I was surprised by how very readable and beautiful the prose was. The narration flows with ease and the beauty of the language alleviates some of the pain inside.

He eivät tiedä mitä tekevät by Jussi Valtonen (trans. They Don’t Know What They’re Doing)
The winner of Finlandia Prize 2014 is a novel on father-son relationships, science, animal rights, social media, globalisation and … that’s about all I know. Some say it’s a literary thriller which I’m all for. Moreover, the World English rights of the novel have been sold to Oneworld, so I guess we should expect a translation soon?

Jokapäiväinen elämämme by Riikka Pelo (trans. Our Daily Life)
The winner of Finlandia Prize 2013 is a story about a Russian poet and her daughter at the break of 20th century who flee the country to central Europe following the revolution. The writing is said to be stunning and the plot to be tear-jerking, so I think I’ll save this for the autumn months. It feels like it’ll make an enjoyable cosy-up read. The book also came third when Finnish book bloggers voted for their favourites of the year in 2014.

Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt
The winner of Finlandia Prize 2015. (See a pattern here?) Oneiron tells the story of the meeting of eight women from different countries, races and ages who meet after their death. It has been praised left and right, the rights have been sold to several European countries and I even listened to the author talk about the book twice before I caved into the hype and bought the book. And then… I just didn’t read it. I tried to pick it up late last year, but couldn’t get into the right frame of mind. The World English rights have also been bought by Oneworld, but there are no news as to when the English translation is expected to come out.

Stoner by John Williams
Similarly to The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I’m also cheating with Stoner. I found my copy from a charity bookshop in about 8 months ago. Despite falling in love with the prose after the first five pages, I’ve never settled down to reading it. It’s one of those books that I know I’ll love and that I’ve been saving up for that “perfect moment”. Stoner is a “forgotten classic” that tells the story of quite an ordinary man named William Stoner who, though born into a poor farming family, gets into a state university to read English literature and becomes a scholar.

The Trial by Franz Kafka
My education in German literature is quite elementary, and especially Franz Kafka is an author that I’ve always found fascinating. However, I’m sorry to say that the only book of his that I’ve read is The Metamorphosis because it was a required read. However, the premise of The Trial is quite famous: A man named Josef K is arrested and charged for a crime that is never revealed to him. I bought my German edition of this classic a couple of summers ago on a whim. However, the absurdity and reputation of Kafka has intimidated me to avoid this short novel.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver’s Travels is another classic that’s been sitting on my shelves for years. I honestly can’t even remember when I bought this one. Sometimes I’ve even forgotten I own it and been pleasantly surprised to find it lodged between other classics. What I know of Jonathan Swift’s most famous work – aside from the lilliputtians – is that is a satire and social commentary on humankind. I’ve also heard it being compared to Twain’s snarkier writings, which sounds promising.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina was supposed to be my big summer book of last year. I started reading it in May and got about half-way through by the end of June, but after that I fell off the reading wagon. The story of this Russian aristocratic family had so many characters and overlapping plot lines that I just couldn’t keep up with it, especially with my otherwise busy schedule. So this year I plan on dedicating one month to Anna Karenina and hopefully the second try will reveal better results.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Anne Brontë is the lesser known Brontë sister and often overshadowed by her more popular sisters Charlotte and Emily (of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights fame). However, the little bird on the blogoshpere tells me that out of the three it was, in fact, Anne who was the feminist, the forward-thinking and boundary-breaking rebel. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a story of a young widow who moves to a new village and has the local tongues wagging due to her secretive past.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg
Another book that has frequented my TBR lists, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow deals with the disappearance of a young boy that turns into a murder mystery. One of the themes of the book is study of identity politics between people from Greenland and from Denmark, which sounds interesting as I know next to nothing about life in Greenland. I bought this during my first years of university in hopes that it would get me back into reading. Well, I did eventually get back but not because of this one.

I haven’t yet decided which book I should choose as my March book. At the moment I’m drawn between Huojuva talo and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but a part of me is also suggesting that maybe I should try tackling one of those Finlandia tomes instead. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you posted. xx

Reading goals for 2017

In 2016 I set myself six different reading goals and managed to complete only one of them. The reasons for this are too numerous and tedious to go into here, but, in a nutshell, I fell out of blogging and thus didn’t visit these goals throughout the year.

So, new year, new me? Will 2017 be any different? To be honest, I don’t think 2017 will be much different. Reading and blogging have taken a slight backseat in my life and I cannot devote as much time into selecting the books I read. In 2016 I chose my books more impulsively than in the previous years and while I loved it, I also like to have some structure to guide and inform my reading. I enjoy setting myself a challenge and the exposure to new genres and voices that these challenges bring. Having learned my lesson from 2016, I’m nevertheless cutting down the reading goals by half.

My three reading goals for 2017 are:

1. Read 50 books by Finnish authors

For a Finn who enjoys reading, I read a miserable amount of Finnish fiction and non-fiction. When discussion turns to Finnish books, I’m usually the one in the party who keeps her mouth shut and pretends to know what others are talking about. However, in the last two years I’ve been trying to motivate myself into picking up more Finnish fiction and exploring authors that otherwise wouldn’t pop up on my radar. This project has led me into discovering new favourite authors – Tove Jansson, Kristina Carlson, Ilmari Kianto, Risto Isomäki etc. – as well as new voices that I wish to explore more.

But why 50 books? 2017 marks centennial of Finnish independence and, together with the national broadcasting company YLE, several Finnish book bloggers are aiming to read 100 Finnish books in 2017 – one from each year of the independence (1917–2017). I did for a moment consider joining in on the challenge, as I did 100 books in 2016 and could perhaps repeat the record again. However, going cold turkey on English, American and World literature for an entire year is not something I think I could do – or enjoy. So I think a compromise of 50 books is both manageable as well as exciting and will help me to keep the balance of structured vs. non-structured reading. It’ll be a huge challenge for myself and mean great changes and adjustments in my reading, but I know I can pull it off. And after all, it’s only for one year.

I’ll be updating my progress mostly on Twitter and Instagram (@bookarino) with the hashtag #50Finns2017, but I do also plan on blogging on some of the books.

2. Continue the Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge

To balance the massive increase of Finnish literature I plan to continue with the Around the World in 80 Books challenge (run by the fantastic women at Hard Book Habit). I know my reading choices are in general incredibly white and Western –Western European to be precise–, which is why last year I felt it was time to stop the navel gazing and reach out to other cultures. However, in 2016 I read only 13 books that fell within the limits of this challenge and still haven’t blogged about any of them (aside from the unforgetable Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom). So even if I were do devote the other 50 books of this year for this challenge, there’ll be yet another year of world literature to look forward to. And that’s how I like it!

3. Re-read Harry Potter and/or the Moomin books

This is an idea that I’ve been toying with for some time now. I’m not a huge re-reader, and struggle to pick up books I already know and love instead of new exciting titles. Originally I’d already planned on re-reading the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling in 2016, but decided against it because I was already juggling so many goals and challenges. And boy was I right. However, I feel like now is the time to go back and revisit the world of witches and wizards. One of the inspirations for this challenge has been the podcast Oh Witch Please, where two brilliant female academics discuss and analyse all the books and the movies of the series. I’ve only listened to the first two episodes, but I’m already loving it.

An alternative to great Harry Potter re-read, is the Moomin series by Tove Jansson. I think I read this series between the ages of 7-10, so there are bound to be huge gaps in my memory as to what really happens in the series. I adore Tove Jansson and having read her biography, I feel the need to revisit this series and see the parallels to her own life with my own eyes. The series would naturally also count for my challenge of reading 50 Finnish books, although I think I’d really love to read them in the original Swedish instead of the Finnish translation that I’m familiar with.

Whether I’ll end up reading Harry Potter or Moomins, I don’t think I’ll be posting reviews for individual books. However, I’ll try to write a collective review of the entire series at the end of the project, so as to wrap up my thoughts and feelings on both the individual books as well as the series overall.

What are your reading resolutions or goals for 2017? Are you a planner or do you think plans make reading feel like a chore? Let me know in the comments. x

2016 reading in review

In the beginning of 2016 I set myself six goals which I hoped would inspire me to switch up my reading and pick up new, exciting and challenging books. And I believe this is exactly what it would have done had I remembered my goals. Alas, it was not to be, and here were are, in time for the confessional.

I successfully met only one of the six goals. However, looking at my reading statistics I’m positively surprised that some of my goals from previous years are now bearing fruit: my gender balance is close to 50/50, I’ve started actively reading both plays and poetry and am no longer avoiding “big books” (In 2016 I read 4 books that were over 600 pages, and am currently in the middle of two more). All the same, it’s time to look back on those goals and how gruesome where my failures. But first, some numbers:

In 2016, my Goodreads challenge was to read 52 books – and I read 101 books. That’s 4 books more than in 2015. However, according to Goodreads that’s a total of 25,193 pages which is almost 1,000 pages less than in 2015.
In 2016, I read 9 books out of my 274 TBR, which means I now stand at 101/274. That’s down by half from 2015.
In 2016, I read 49 books by male authors and 44 books by female authors. There were also six graphic novels that had both male and female authors/artists.
In 2016, I read 73 books in English, 19 books in Finnish and 7 books in Swedish. Out of these, 12 were translations.
In 2016, I read 47 books by North American authors and 19 books by Finnish authors. The United Kingdom fell into the third place with 15 books. In 2015, the number of US authors was 43 and 30 for UK. The number of Finnish authors on that year was 25.
In 2016, I read 76 physical books and 22 ebooks. Out of the physical books, 61 were paperback and 15 hardcover. I also listened to one audiobook.
In 2016, I read a variety of different types of literature. Compared to 2015, the greatest changes were the decrease of classics (by half from 2015) and the increase of science fiction and childrens literature (doubled) as well as disappearance of some previous genres (horror and contemporary).

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So let’s recap the goals and analyse my failures shall we.

1. Read 20 books I already own

AHAHAHAHAA… This is actually quite sad. I read a measly 8 books that I’d bought before 2016 and continued to buy on seven books a month on average, so this goal was utter failure. This year alone I acquired exactly 100 books, and little over half of them still stand unread on my shelves. Although many of these were either gifted to me or bought with gift cards, I still need to kick the habit of buying cheap ebooks from the Kindle Daily Deals – this amounts to 35 new books of which 19 unread – as well as second-hand books (33 books of which 23 unread).

2. Read 20 books from my TBR 274 list

NOPE. In 2016, I read only nine books from this long list of high-ranked books. I enjoyed most of them, but I’m also seeing a trend of my reading shifting more towards what’s current now instead of picking up the backlist from previous years and decades. This is a shame but also understandable as I often am more exposed to new releases than reviews of older titles. However, I don’t plan on scratching out the massive TBR. I’ll wait for one year and see if the progress continues to be minimal or if 2016 was simply an anomaly.

3. Read at least 4 from the selected list

EH, 2.5/4 ain’t so bad? I was so excited for my choices, but then I never got excited enough to actually pick up and read the books. Why? I don’t know. I guess my downfall was beginning with Anna Karenina which I first procrastinated on for several months and then after starting it had to return it back to the library before even reaching the end. However, I do plan on going back to and finishing Anna Karenina in 2017. The two books that I did finish from the list were Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami. Lord of the Flies left me a bit underwhelmed, whereas The Strange Library definitely delivered on the strange. I’m definitely want to read more Murakami in 2017!

4. Read 16 books in translation

ALMOST THERE. I read 12 books in translation in 2016 – that’s about one per month. This was mostly thanks to signing up for the Around the World in 80 Books challenge, which forced me to look for books from different countries. In 2016, my reading was dominated by US authors, and although several of them had an immigrant background, they mostly publish their writing in English. However, similarly to the TBR274 goal, I’m not letting go of this one yet. Translations do still make approximately one tenth of my reading, but with more time and conscious effort I might be able to up that into 15 or even 20 per cent.

5. Read at least one book in Swedish and German

YAY for Swedish, nay for German. In 2016, I read the most I’ve ever read in Swedish in year – 7 books! This was partly due to a Swedish literature course that I took in the spring and partly because I came across several interesting Finnish-Swedish authors. My plan is to keep reading around five books a year in Swedish to broaden my vocabulary and improve my reading comprehension. In contrast, I don’t know what I should do with German. In 2015 I read 3 books in German, so to drop down to zero is quite a downgrade. I currently have a couple German books on my TBR shelf, but unless I get round to reading them in 2017 I don’t know when I might read them – if ever.

6. Read 16 books by Finnish authors

SUCCESS! In 2015 I started to make a more conscious effort to read in my native language, Finnish, and to read more Finnish authors. I set myself a 15 in 2015 challenge which I aced and felt confident that next year would be piece of cake. In the end, it wasn’t. Reaching the milestone of 16 books took a real last minute reading sprint. My top three reads were Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom, Sing no Evil by JP Ahonen and The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westö. However, this will not be the end of these goals, as I plan to devote 50% of 2017’s reading solely for Finnish fiction and classics. After the bumpy experience of 2016 I do feel a bit apprehensive, but like they say – no pain, no gain.

Best Books of 2016

‘Tis the season for reminiscing and hygge, so here I am, back at blogging to tell you about my favourite books read in 2016. As per usual, most of these were not published in 2016, although there are also a few of those lurking on the list. Due to the (on-going) blogging slump [enter vague explanations here] there are no reviews to link to, so I’ll try to be brief with my praise.

Saga, volumes 2–6 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
For me 2016 was the year of Saga (which is why I’m counting this series as one book). Although I read the first volume of this science fiction graphic novel series back in late 2015, it was only after volumes 2 and 3 that I knew I was properly hooked. This genre-defying kickass story tells of an unlikely couple running from the wrath of two warring races and its diverse cast of characters, dark humour and wider themes make each volume and each issue such a joy. In short, Saga will keep you at the edge of your seat and still manage to surprise you with its twists and turns.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another science fiction favourite of the year is Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s a classic for several reasons and often compared to Orwell’s 1984 – which I read last year and that also made it’s way to the top 10. Personally, however, I found that its pleasure-seeking, conditioned and manipulated population was far more scarier than any of the prospects in Orwell’s dystopia. Perhaps it’s the clear parallels in today’s society or the chillingly good writing that made this such an unforgettable read.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Both in 2015 and in 2016 one of the big and debated issues in print media and literature was race – especially in the US. The Black Lives Matter campaign and many instances of wrongful conduct raised awareness of these injustices. One of the buzz books at the heart of the discussion was Citizen, a brilliant, thought-provoking and angry collection of poetry and essays on what it’s like to be black in America. It opened my eyes, made me furious and angry cry at the unjust world.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Dept. of Speculation is a special book in the sense that I’ve never heard of it anywhere else but the blogosphere. That is not say that Jenny Offill isn’t a household name, because she sure as hell should be. This book is deceptively short but it still manages to map the course of a woman’s life – relationship, marriage, trust, family and career, family versus career, artistry, the mundane. I devoured this book  in a day and I know for sure that I’ll return to this book in years to come.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
So I’m probably the last person in the world to read and adore Elena Ferrante. I purchased my copy at the beginning of 2016, but held back a long time in order to try and let the hype die down. And I loved it. I think the charm of My Brilliant Friend is that it’s nothing extraordinary – if you’re looking for a new and exciting, unique story, this is not your book. However, if you’re looking for well-written characters that come to life, that you recognise and that become your friends, this is your book. Perhaps 2017 will be the year of Ferrante?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This book. I have a draft of a review on A Little Life which I started back in January and have since then unsuccessfully tried to edit and polish. It’s hard to put to words what this book did to me, what it made me feel and how it made me think. I know it’s the big marmite book of 2015 – you either love or hate it, with passion. I don’t think it’ll be a modern classic or something taught at schools, but it is very much “of its time” and manages to capture something essential of this generation of individuality.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Do you know those books that suck you in from the first page and keep you in their grasp until the last page? The Vegetarian is one of them. Told from three outsider perspectives, this story of a young woman’s decision to become vegetarian is a harrowing, raw and almost titillating. Moreover, Deborah Smith’s translation is so fluent that it feels like the story could have been written in English. It also won this year’s Man Booker International Prize.

Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
To be completely honest, I’m actually quite surprised to find Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House on my favourites list. Similarly to My Brilliant Friend, it’s a rather quiet and calm book – although with a lot simmering under the surface – and it’s that overall sense of stifling heat, guilt and shame that’s captured in this book. Funnily enough, this was passed on to me by my mother who gave up on it because “it’s dull – nothing’s happening”. A family saga on the cusp of Turkish revolution”.

Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks
In 2016 I managed to read a few non-fiction pieces, but translator-author-columnist Tim Parks’ Where I’m Reading From blew me out of the water. It’s one that I’ve seen many times in the Goodreads “Because you read X you might enjoy…” bar, which to be honest is often a hit-or-miss. Being a translator and a budding editor this naturally covered a lot of the things I already know about and am interested in, but it’s the style in which Parks presents his ideas and doesn’t mince his words that really had an impact on me.

Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom
Inspired by the Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge I picked up this Finnish Finlandia Prize winning novel set on the Trans-Siberian Express Train. I didn’t know what to expect and was positively surprised by this novel. Similarly to Silent House, Compartment no. 6 has also slowly sneaked its way to my favourites list. The vivid descriptions of Soviet surroundings and the sense of constant movement have stayed with me for the most part of the year. I read this in its original Finnish, but I’ve heard the English translations by Lola Rogers doesn’t pale in comparison. (Pssst. It also gained a mention on the WSJ best books of the year list, you know.)

 

Review: Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom

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PAPERBACK; 182 P.
TRANS. LOLA ROGERS
SERPENT'S TAIL, 2014/2011
SOURCE: LIBRARY

A sad young Finnish woman boards a train in Moscow, in the waning years of the Soviet Union. Bound for Mongolia, she’s trying to put as much space as possible between her and a broken relationship. Wanting to be alone, she chooses an empty compartment—No. 6.—but her solitude is soon shattered by the arrival of a fellow passenger: Vadim Nikolayevich Ivanov, a grizzled, opinionated, foul-mouthed former soldier. Vadim fills the compartment with his long and colorful stories, recounting in lurid detail his sexual conquests and violent fights.

There is a hint of menace in the air, but initially the woman is not so much scared of or shocked by him as she is repulsed. She stands up to him, throwing a boot at his head. But though Vadim may be crude, he isn’t cruel, and he shares with her the sausage and black bread and tea he’s brought for the journey, coaxing the girl out of her silent gloom. As their train cuts slowly across thousands of miles of a wintry Russia, where “everything is in motion, snow, water, air, trees, clouds, wind, cities, villages, people and thoughts,” a grudging kind of companionship grows between the two inhabitants of Compartment No. 6. When they finally arrive in Ulan Bator, a series of starlit and sinister encounters bring this incantatory story about a ruined but beautiful country to its powerful conclusion.

Compartment no. 6 is a fantastic novel about travelling – the odd kinship formed between complete strangers – and about Soviet Russia. It begins with the boarding of the Trans-Siberian train, in which a young Finnish student finds herself sharing a train compartment with a boorish Russian construction worker. The girl is looking for an escape from her current situation, because she feels trapped and unable to make up her mind about her relationship with a young man she cares for. Hoping to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Siberian nature and to shut herself from the world, she is, however, forced to come into contact with the brazen, oversharing comrade.

The beauty of the novel lies in the way in which it describes movement. Liksom’s writing is so vivid and compelling that I could almost see the landscape flashing in the train window with my very own eyes – all from the comfort of my comfy couch and centrally heated apartment. I guess it is no wonder that Liksom chose to set the novel during the freezing winter season, as it emphasises the desperation to live and the yearning to die inherent in the nation. The apathy and passion, the poverty and garish luxury – the Soviet Union drawn in Compartment no. 6 is full of contradictions. Even the most despicable travel companion somehow becomes endearing in closed confinement.

Although the many of the details have faded away in the months after reading this novel, Compartment no. 6 is one that still occasionally comes back to haunt me. Although at first it might seem slightly underwhelming in action, the novel leaves a lasting impression. The rhythm of the narration, the pulse of the train on the tracks, feels alive, and the depiction of Soviet Russia as both abhorrent and intriguing is almost loving. There is much to despise in the swearing, uneducated, misogynic male character, but yet there is also the hint of honesty and raw humanity that’s been stripped back to its basest form. So what is the novel really about? In my opinion it’s about two people, two worlds coming together in a closed space; the contact is unavoidable, and though the situation feels occasionally very claustrophobic, there is also much to learn by listening and opening up to these discussions.

I very much enjoyed Compartment no. 6, and I’m glad that it has been translated into several languages and thus has found (and hopefully charmed) readers across the world. If you do ever come across a copy of this book, I urge you to pick it up and read it. For such a short novel it provides fascinating insight to human relationships. I’d especially recommend this to readers who are planning to or have travelled the Trans-Siberian railway or are interested in Soviet fiction in general. If you want more convincing, I suggest you read also Sarah’s and Madame Bibi’s fantastic reviews.

4/5

An unknown Russia frozen in ice opens up ahead, the train speeds onward, shining stars etched against a tired sky, the train plunging into nature, into oppressive darkness lit by a cloudy, starless sky. Everything is in motion: snow, water, air, trees, clouds, wind, cities, villages, people, thoughts.

10 books I look forward to reading in the autumn

Although I generally fail when it comes to TBRs, I enjoy the thrill of selecting books and curating a list of books that sound interesting or have been recommended to me. For my 20 books of summer project I read a total of 10 books from the selected 20, but instead of beating myself for it, I’ve decided to start afresh. Recently I’ve come across bloggers and vloggers making seasonal TBRs that cover several months instead of making set lists of books that they try to complete in 30 days. Inspired by this, I’ve compiled my own list of ten books that I’m excited about and that I believe will be perfect for the upcoming autumn months. Autumn is the time when I usually get back into classics and pick up heavier books, both in size as well as subject matter. Hence my autumn picks are divided into three genres:

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  1. Classics
    1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – I’ve owned my copy now for over 2 years, and have been putting the book on my TBRs for approximately a year. I shall read this. It is decided.
    2. Anna Karenina – My big book for the summer that I, unfortunately, had to put down. But since I got to the half way point during summer, there’s still hope that I’ll finish this by the end of the year. I just need to commit to it.
    3. Stoner – It’s a bit odd to call this a ‘classic’ seeing that it surged in popularity only recently. However, based on what I’ve read so far, this seems like the perfect autumn read.Autumn2016CR
  2. Crime
    1. Career of Evil – Sadly, there were no beaches for me this summer, so my beach read of the summer will have to become a late-night-with-tea-and-quilts read.
    2. In the Woods – I bought this just recently, and I want to delve into Tana French’s writing. I’ve heard great things, and if I enjoy it, I’ll have five more books to go in this Dublin Murder Squad series.
    3. The Secret History – I won’t be returning to uni this autumn, so I’ll need my fix of university literature.Autumn2016CO
  3. Contemporary fiction
    1. The Vegetarian – I have it. I want to read it. QED.
    2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – I love me some Tim Burton, and seeing that the film adaptation of this book is coming out soon, I want to know what to expect.
    3. OneironOneiron was one of the first books I purchased in the beginning of the year and, like A Little Life, one that I had been waiting to get my hands on for some time. It was the winner of last year’s Finlandia prize and in general one of the most hyped, loved and criticised book of the year. Now that the hype is gone, it should be the perfect time to read this.
    4. Uprooted / Remains of the Day / Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow / The Trial – Okay, so I have too many books that I want to read and cannot decided which one to add as my tenth pick. I’m hoping to get to at least one of these, better yet maybe two or three. Uprooted has peaked my interest with its Polish setting and interesting heroine, Ishiguro is on my 2016 TBR, Miss Smilla a book that I’ve owned almost since the beginning of my studies in university and The Trial a book in German that I’ve been meaning to get to (plus its short and a classic).

    Autumn2016CO2

    What are you planning on reading this autumn? Do your tastes change with the seasons or am I the only one affected by this? I’d love to hear about you’re reading in the comments! x

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander #1)

outlander

EBOOK; 864 P.
DELL PUBLISHING CO., 1991
SOURCE: PURCHASED

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

TV and film adaptations truly have the power to pick-up backlist books and make the bestsellers again. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been enthralling readers since 1991, but I think it was only after the release of the trailer for the TV adaptation that the younger generation of readers became aware of it. In fact, Outlander is one in a long series of stories to take on new mediums of storytelling – The Song of Ice and Fire, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, The Martian, Room. Although book lovers generally prefer to read the book before seeing the adaptation, it must be admitted that these films and TV series often encourage non-readers or casual readers to return to the realm of reading. And yes, I confess that I probably wouldn’t have read Outlander if I hadn’t watched the pilot episode and got invested in the story.

Outlander is a historical fiction novel that begins in 1945 when the protagonist of the novel, Claire, travels to the Scottish highlands with her husband Frank from whom she has long been separated due to war. The trip to Scotland ties together with Frank’s upcoming post as a history professor and his interest in tracking down his heritage. Claire, however, is using the trip to reacquaint herself with her husband and think about her future now that the war is over. Fate, however, has other plans for Claire: visiting one of the many historical sites, she touches a stone and falls 200 years back in time only to run into Frank’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather and there after taken by Scottish countrymen who are planning to rebel against the English rule. Lost in time, Claire tries to adapt herself into her new surroundings whilst looking for a way to return, but finds herself attached to a young Scottish stable lad.

Sounds like your everyday time-travel historical romance novel? Think again. Outlander is a confusing, surprising and conflicting book. The beginning of the story introduces the characters, the time period and the surroundings, and in my opinion it was the point in the story that I enjoyed the most; I can definitely see why so many people have fallen in love with this book. I gobbled several hundred pages in just a few days. However, after the excitement of the new situation started to wear off, the book began to fall apart. The main focus suddenly shifts to the sexual tension between the two main characters which escalates in a span of few chapters, and almost as a counterbalance to all the romance, the book get violent – assault, rape, murder, torture, trauma, you name it. Violence itself doesn’t turn me off a book, per se, except when it’s used for no apparent reason than just adding more pages to the story. I mean if you thought Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life was torture-porn, steer clear of Outlander!

Aside from the violence, what confused me in Outlander was the lack of an overarching storyline. Usually books have several storylines, but there tends to be always one that is stronger, more emphasised, and that carries throughout the novel. In Outlander, however, none of the storylines seem to stand out; it’s more like a series of storylines that sometimes overlap, but mostly stay separated from each other. Having grown used to the overarching type of stories, reading this book was both distracting and fresh. I found the story hard to grasp at times, and especially towards the end the book started to drag on and on without any indication of coming to an end.

All this being said, what I loved about Outlander was its take on heros and heroines. The book steers clear of some of the most common tropes of the genre and doesn’t shy away from the cultural clashes between gender roles in different time periods. The book also takes acknowledges the aspects of both physical as well as psychological healing. Overall, I’m sad to say that Outlander wasn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series. However, if you’re interested in historical fiction, Scotland and don’t mind violence or descriptions of sex, you might want to give this a try. I wouldn’t recommend this to younger readers, though, as it is rather graphic.

3/5

Seen without the suddenness of surprise, there was nothing frightening about the dead man; there never is. No matter how ugly the manner in which a man dies, it’s only the presence of a suffering human soul that is horrifying; once gone, what is left is only an object.

Have you read Outlander or watched the TV series, and if yes, what did you think of it? I’d love to hear other opinions on this book.

20 Books of Summer + BONTS Bingo

Summer’s here! Yes, it’s finally time to put on that sunscreen and dust the picnic quilt. For me summer is synonymous with ice scream, bright summer nights, swimming in the lake and, of course, summer reading. Last summer I participated in both the Books on the Nightstand Summer Bingo as well as 20 Books of Summer, and read far far more than I expected. I had so much fun planning my TBR and trying to come up with books for different bingo categories that I knew I had to do it again this summer. Moreover, thanks to the challenges I discovered some absolutely wonderful books that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have taken time to read. I’m not deluding myself in thinking I could improve upon last year’s success, but because I’m crazy for lists and reading challenges (and because I’m kinda failing my other resolutions for the year), I want to try my best.

20 Books of Summer is hosted by Cathy from 746 Books, and the aim of the reading challenge is to set yourself a summer TBR – and stick to it! You can go with either 10, 15 or 20 books, or as many as you think you can manage during the summer months. Last year I completed 17 out of 20 books, so I’m setting the goal again to 20 books. My list of books consists of both library books and of books I’ve been meaning to read or have owned for a long time. In addition, I’ve included the two books that I didn’t get round to reading last year: A Tenant of Wilderfell Hall & A Storm of Swords. One of my summer reading traditions is also to try and tackle a big classics – last year it was The Egyptian and the year before that Moby Dick – and this summer I’m tackling Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which I’ve already started reading.

Introducing my very ambitious, realistic-only-in-an-alternative-universe 20 Books of Summer TBR:
20BooksofSummer2016

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • ISO by Pekka Hiltunen ✓
  • Room by Emma Donoghue ✓
  • Brave New World by Aldos Huxley
  • Sonja O. kävi täällä by Anja Kauranen ✓
  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos (currently-reading)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg
  • A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
  • When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen ✓
  • Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
  • Pollomuhku ja Posityyhtynen by Jaana Kapari-Jatta ✓
  • Musta satu by Aki Ollikainen ✓
  • Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (currently-reading)
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ✓
  • Silent House by Orhan Pamuk ✓
  • Manillaköysi by Veijo Meri ✓
  • Essays by George Orwell
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (currently-reading)

I picked up books for the challenge based on what I was interested in reading right now as well as books that I’ve been putting off because of subject matter or the length of the book. I own way too many “I’ll read this some day” books, which is why I’m using this challenge as test to see if I really want to read those books or if I should just give them away – yes, I’m looking at you A Song of Ice and Fire box set. But in order not to bury myself under a pile of heavy books, I’ve also included some rather short books, that I can easily carry with me to the beach. A few non-fiction books and a collection of essays will be perfect for travels and for the cold rainy days I can armchair travel to Italy, France, Istanbul or Westeros.

Book on the Nightstand is one of my favourite literary podcasts – gutted to hear that it’s ending this summer – and they host an annual summer reading bingo that runs from May 28th to September 1st. The bingo charts are generated from a large variety of categories HERE (note: refreshing the page will automatically create a new bingo card), and the BONTS Goodreads group offers plenty of solid recommendations for books in different categories. I’m rather pleased with the card that I got and have already spent a wee while dreaming about the books I will read. However, if you have any recommendations as to books with main characters over the age of 50 or 60, I’d love to hear them (I can only think of Etta, Otto, Russel and James or Elisabeth is Missing).

My BONTS Summer Bingo Card:
BONTS Summer 2016 Bingo

I’ve intentionally matched some of the bingo squares with the 20 Books of Summer TBR – such as Barnaby Rudge for “Obscure novel by a famous author” or Is that a Fish in Your Ear for “Has been on your TBR for longer than two years” or Silent House for “Any book by a Nobel Prize winner” – in order to motivate myself to actually read the books I say I would love to read. However, I’m well aware that I have two books over 1,000 pages on the list (A Storm of Swords and 1Q84), so it’s quite possible that I will only get to one of them. I’ve also left some room to fill in books that are not on my TBR, because I am essentially a mood reader and will want to veer from my TBR every once in a while.

So, I guess now that that’s all set, I’ll just have to get started on the actual reading. I’ll try my best to review books as soon as I finish them, but if that doesn’t happen, there’ll at least be a wrap-up post coming in September. What are you reading this summer? x