2020 Mid-Year Book Tag

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Internally, I feel like that .gif of Michael Scott from the Office where he screams, “Everyone stay f*cking calm!”. Externally, I feel fiiine. It’s July in a few days. I’s fine. I’m fine.

A month ago I decided to change my reading goal for this year from 40 to 30. I had only read 5 books by then and I realised I would never ever be able to catch up. It’s been a bit disheartening as I really wanted to smash last year’s goal, however I felt like I needed to stop and reconsider. When you have a book blog (or a bookstagram or a booktube) it’s easier to obsess over numbers and feel like you can’t allow yourself fall behind schedule. I know I sometimes feel torn between wanting to read more and write more, and not having enough time or energy to dedicate to that because, well, I still have a full time job and other commitments.

I don’t want reading to feel like a chore or a tick-box exercise to me, so that is the first goal for me, which comes before any other reading goals. And goals can be a good thing to measure yourself against, so you can look back on them and say, “I did that!”, but they need to be reasonable and achievable, otherwise they’ll just make you want to give up. And that’s just no fun!

The reason why I haven’t read that much this year is, well, life. There’s not much space in your day and in your brain, when you’re changing jobs and planning a move across the country. Not to mention the wee little thing that happened called global pandemic, which definitely impacted a lot on my anxiety levels.

So 30 it is for this year! Here is my mid-year book tag based on the 9 I read so far.

1. Best Book I’ve Read So Far in 2020. Tough one, but I’d say The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, even just for the fact that it’s been with me for most of these six months. This semi-autobiographic novel follows the life of Selin, a freshman at Harvard, as she navigates the intricacies of becoming an adult, crafting an identity and falling in love for the first time. It’s touching and funny and I feel like it will stay with me for a long time. Here are my 10 favourite passages from it.

2. New Release You Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To. If I had to pick a release from this year it would be The Vanishing Half, by Britt Bennet, a novel about two sisters from a black community in the deep south of the US. Growing up, one keeps her black identity, one tries to pass as white. Being a bit more realistic, I think I will definitely read This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, which was released last year. It follows two agents on opposite sides of a war who start a correspondence and then fall in love. Basically: lesbians in space!

3. Most Anticipated Release of the Second Half of the Year. If I don’t say “Midnight Sun” am I even a millennial? But the answer is Midnight Sun, by Stephanie Meyer. No, I won’t give an explanation. If you judge me for it, I don’t have time for your negativity here.

4. Biggest Disappointment & Biggest Surprise. Biggest disappointment for me was The Man in the High Castle, by Philip Dick. I had quite high expectations because, well, it’s a contemporary classic and the core idea of the book is brilliant. The execution however… is not. Sloppy characterisation (I had to stop and remind myself who was who multiple times, because they all act and speak in the exact same way), unnecessarily confusing plot, forced lyricism and an anticlimactic ending are only some of the reasons I found this book deeply disappointing.

The biggest surprise of this year so far, on the other hand, is Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare. I didn’t know I would like it so much! It’s fresh, wholesome, and makes you pine and sigh in all the right places. I am a sucker for a slow-burn romance (I belong after all to the AO3 generation) and this one ticked all the boxed for me!

5. Book that Made You Cry & Book that Made you Happy. One of the saddest and deeply touching books I’ve read in year is The Room, by Emma Donoghue. I was already familiar with the plot as I’d seen the film years ago (and yes, I cried for like two thirds of it), but boy this book did not tread lightly on my tear ducts! Yes I cried, yes I was disturbed by some of the ugliest things in this book, but this novel also left me with such a joyous appreciation for life and relationships. All in all, worth the tears!

On the other hand, The Department of Mnd-Blowing Theories by Tom Gauld made me laugh until I almost cried! It’ a snappy, well-curated collection of Gauld’s comic strips for the New Scientist and it’s such a nice little volume to just leaf through while you’re having a cup of tea. Would definitely recommend to all nerds and beyond!

Now on to some more personal questions:

6. How many of the books I read came from a public library? I’m very happy to say 4 of the 9 books came from a public library. When I moved cities I signed up to my new library but since the actual building is closed, I could only borrow audio books or ebooks. Silver linings! I used to think audio books were not for me (I’m too easily distracted!) but I now actually love them! They’re a great companion for knitting, which is also a new hobby of mine.

For completeness’ sake, 3 of the 9 books were either gifts from friends or I found at a book crossing. Finally, I bought the other two, one as a present to my boyfriend, the other for myself.

7. How much have I spent overall on books? Last month I received a very generous Waterstones gift card from my former colleagues, so I bought 5 books (my first book haul in 2 years!). As I said part of it was paid for by the gift card and I split the remaining costs with my boyfriend who also wants to read these books, so I ended up paying around £7, if I remember correctly. I think I might consider buying more books in the future, but I think libraries and book crossings will always be my main source of reading (and listening!) material. After all, this is Marina’s Library Card.

8. How many books written by women did I read? Only four of the books I read were written by women, that’s slightly below 50%. In the back of my mind, I honestly thought I was smashing this goal, so this is quite disappointing. It has been my goal for the last 2 years now to make sure at least half of my reads are written my women. This is especially necessary, in my opinion, if you tend to read a lot of literary fiction, since the literary powers that be seem to think literary fiction = white male authors. I definitely need to do better on this front.

9. How many books written by POC authors did I read? A very disheartening 0. I’m sure (or at least I hope) many of us have felt the need to diversify our reads lately, so it’s very saddening to realise the average author of the books I read is still very much male, white, and Anglo-American. The only author who does not tick any of these boxes is Elif Batuman, who coincidentally is also the author of my favourite book of the year so far. I really need to do much better on this front, start practising what I preach and make my reading habits more inclusive.

10. Reading resolutions for the rest of 2020? I think it’s clear my main goal should be to diversify my reads, so I want to make sure half of the books I read in 2020 are written by women and half are written by non-white people. There’s definitely a lot of work to be done there to catch up.

Living in the UK, where most bookstores (and libraries) still group all books in translation into a very slim bookshelf tucked away at the back of the store, it’s quite challenging to get your hands on a book that was not written by an Anglo-American author. A few brave indie publishers are working really hard to change this: Charco Press focuses on Latin American authors, Tilted Axis Press publishes radical Asian literature, Europa Editions brings many contemporary Italian authors to English-speaking readers. Other great translation-focused publishers include Fitzcarraldo Editions, Granta, And Other Stories, Faber Books, Pushkin Press, and Peirene Press.

As part of my reading resolutions for the rest of the year I want to make sure I read at least 3 books in translation published by one of these publishers. I’m especially interested in minority voices from smaller European countries, an I might even try and read some Dutch books not in translation (thus finally putting my Bachelor’s to good use!).

What are your reading resolutions this year and are you on track?

This is M signing out for now!

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