Thursday Thoughts: An Intro and Then Some Thoughts

So I’ve been thinking about this blog. Blogs. Are they even still a thing? Whether they are or not is irrelevant to me, I couldn’t care less what other people are doing or not doing with their blogs (blogs god that fucking word). But I’ve been thinking about this blog, my blog, and I think I want a change. I don’t want to abandon it, because it’s my one consistent form of writing these days, but I gotta say, I am getting bored of just using it for book reviews. I still think it’s fun and worthwhile to publicly review the books I loved, liked, and loathed, but I also want to try something different.

So, inspired by a recent-ish post from BookRiot.com, I am going to try something new. Introducing Thursday Thoughts, a weekly (I hope) post about something book-related, that isn’t a book review. Meandering, bull-shitty, navel-gazing drivel, maybe, but definitely not a book review.

First topic: What was your favorite book as a child?

Wow, so that’s not actually an easy one to answer. I had so many favourites over the course of my childhood. The first book I remember reading and loving and thinking about loving to read was Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are – a classic, proving that even as a tiny human, I had good taste.

Other books followed, each one my all-time favourite in turn – Little Women, The Hobbit, Gone With The Wind. (Yeah, I was a weird kid.) Then, too, I had favourite series, and favourite books in those series – the Bailey School Kids, The Baby-sitters Club, Redwall, the Dragonriders of Pern. I was a voracious reader, an obsessive reader, a re-reader. I still am, I think, but somehow, it’s not the same. But nothing compares to those days before cell phones and on-demand streaming, when there was nothing good on TV and I had no social life to distract me, when the world in my books was far safer and saner than anything in my real life. I would spend hours and hours reading, bingeing books like an addict. My evil step-father would yell at me for reading too long and for reading at the table, and the mean old lady librarians would try to stop me from signing out too many books, but nothing stopped me. I tracked which books I had read by whether or not the covers had tiny chunks bitten out of them, evidence they had been found by my pet cockatiels Cutie and his brother Daisy, both of whom loved to munch on paperback covers.

My most vivid childhood reading memory is the time my mom bought me a pretty fresh copy of Little Women from the second-hand bookstore we used to hit up weekly, like it was church (and I guess it was, in a way). I read that book over and over and over, getting to the final chapter when Jo and the girls say goodbye to girlhood, and then flipping right back to the first page and Christmas at the March house. And then, one night, I fell asleep in the middle of reading – not a rare occurrence, but notable on this occasion because I had rolled right over the book in the middle of the night, destroying the binding of the book. I was so upset when I woke up in the morning and discovered my favourite book of the moment murdered by my own mass. And this was back in the day, when books were a luxury and not easy to replace. I cried, of course, and tried to tape the poor ruined thing back together, but in the end just put the whole bundle of loose pages in an elastic, and when I went to re-read it again, I would read each individual page, one at a time, like a medieval monk turning over his leaves of vellum. And it was wonderful and strange and monumental, because somehow that made the next reading of the book distinctly physical. The act of reading the recto and the verso of each page, and then laying it down carefully on the read pile and moving on to the next page on top of the unread pile, was the sort of meditative experience I’d never encountered before in my young life, and eventually, that mattered more than the story. I outgrew Little Women, but never my deep connection to and appreciation for books as artifacts, as physical vessels for the stories I loved, and still love, so deeply.

My bullshit is not as artless as it once was, and my writing not so elegant, but good gravy, this was nice. Thanks for reading, if you did, and if you didn’t, I guess you won’t mind if I say screw you.

– xo, R

Slow clap for the first one-day read of 2020

Let me tell you about my weekend, my lovely loves. My weekend featured a Thing that has not occurred since I was a feckless youth, attending precisely 11% of my classes and spending the majority of my time on extracurricular reading comprised equally of high-brow lit and total smut. That Thing?

The One-Day Read. The 24-hour-power-through read. The don’t-stop-til-you-drop-the-book read. It was GLORIOUS. I felt like a kid again, with the free time, attention span, and wrinkle-free complexion of university-age Robyn. What a goddamn miracle.

So today I obviously have no choice but to review the amaze-balls book behind this marathon read – it’s Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.

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Cover Talk

I hate to say that I bought this book because of the cover but… yeah, I bought this book because of the cover. I love it, love the colours, love the design, love the texture of it. And the font is good.

The Summary Heist

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. 

Robyn Says

I gotta say –

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This book is fucking  a m a z i n g. Like, I’m sitting here wracking my brain for something that I had an issue with or something that could have been improved, but guys, I got nothing. The writing is stunning – plot, characters, themes, fucking setting, the writing style, all of it was just *chefs kiss* perfect. I really can’t say much about it at all, other than this was by far the best book I’ve read this year – so far.

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And then, not only is this a fast-paced, excellently written book, it’s also kind of an important one as well. The exploration of racial tension in the era of ‘wokeness’ is exceptional, and resonated deeply with me. The author is a WOC, making this an Own Voices read, and although this is told from the perspective of a black woman in the US, I felt the story and the characters were just as relevant for any WOC living in the western world.

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Verdict

Read it. ONE. DAY. READ.

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Best Lines

Wayyyyyy too many… but take one for a sample.

Emira realized that Briar probably didn’t know how to say good-bye because she never had to do it before. But whether she said good-bye or not, Briar was about to become a person who existed without Emira. She’d go to sleepovers with girls she met at school, and she’d have certain words that she’d always forget how to spell. She’d be a person who sometimes said things like, “Seriously?” or “That’s so funny” and she’d ask a friend if this was her water or theirs. Briar would say good-bye in yearbook signatures and through heartbroken tears and through emails and over the phone. But she’d never say good-bye to Emira, which made it seem that Emira would never be completely free from her. For the rest of her life and for zero dollars an hour, Emira would always be Briar’s sitter.

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Fancasting couch

Can’t do it for this book… the characters were so vivid in my mind, I can’t pick actors to take their places. Sorry fam.

Book Boyfriend material

Emira, obvs.

Rating

Ten out of ten grimy pink phonecases (you will understand when you read it, but for now, trust me that it’s a beautiful reference).

ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT

I mean…

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Just… slow clap. Slow clap all around. Now excuse me while I go stress out about my own writing…

– xo, R

Nonfiction Benediction: No words.

Well, the book slump is over, thanks to a truly gut-wrenching read that I did not expect to be so affected by. It’s a tough one to talk about, but I’m gonna give it my best.

Today’s review is about Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe.

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Cover Talk

Ominous. Sinister.Very appropriate. I like it.

The Summary Heist

From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions

In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past–Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish. 

Robyn Says

This was a very different book than the one I had expected when I read that summary. Say Nothing is intense, and long, and utterly compelling. Keefe’s writing is stellar, which is no surprise considering he is a writer for the New Yorker, but sometimes the ease and elegance of his prose is easy to overlook when you think about how much research this book must have required. It’s not simply the scale of the research either, but the scope as well – this book touches on so many different events and versions of events and people involved in those events, over the span of a century… it’s incredible. And controversial topics, too. Despite being firmly on the side of Irish independence myself, I found that I appreciated Keefe’s relative lack of bias. (I think he’s on the side of the separatists, as well, though certainly not the paramilitaries and the violence they brought to the conflict).

I thought this book would be an examination of Jean McConville’s tragic disappearance and the ensuing search to discover her fate, along the lines of a true crime nonfiction. What I got instead was a stunningly comprehensive study of Northern Ireland’s violent war, a history of the IRA and it’s various branches and key players, and a deeper understanding of a subject I’d only had a very basic awareness of, thanks to Sean Bean and Brad Pitt. This book is absolutely stunning, and I highly recommend reading it. It made me desperate to learn more about Northern Ireland and the Troubles, but sadly, Toronto Public Library doesn’t seem to have many books that seem as interesting as Say Nothing. I do recommend watching Steve McQueen’s debut film, Hunger to learn more about the hunger strikes of the 70s.

Verdict

Read it. A compelling tale of one family’s tragedy, set against an illuminating examination of the “troubles” of North Ireland’s struggle for independence.

Best Lines

As I mentioned above, this was a very well-written book. I am relying, as always, on Goodreads to find the best quotes, since I pretty much tore through this book so fast I barely had time to blink, let alone take notes.

– Claude Lévi-Strauss once observed that, “for the majority of the human species, and for tens of thousands of years, the idea that humanity includes every human being on the face of the earth does not exist at all. The designation stops at the border of each tribe […]

– Dating back to the Iliad, ancient Egypt and beyond, burial rites have formed a critical function in most human societies. Whether we cremate a loved one or inter her bones, humans possess a deep-set instinct to mark death in some deliberate, ceremonial fashion. Perhaps the cruelest feature of forced disappearance as an instrument of war is that it denies the bereaved any such closure, relegating them to a permanent limbo of uncertainty.

– Outrage is conditioned not by the nature of the atrocity but by the affiliation of the victim and the perpetrator. Should the state be accorded more leniency because, legally speaking, it has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force? Or, conversely, should we hold soldiers and cops to a higher standard than paramilitaries?

Fancasting couch

Not appropriate at all.

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Book Boyfriend material

DEFINITELY not appropriate.

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Rating

Nine and a half out of 10 VERY GOOD BOOKS.

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ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT

THIS WAS A VERY SINCERE POST AND I AM VERY NOT USED TO THAT SO. FORGIVE THE AWKWARDNESS. Back to normal, with the stupid jokes and the gifs, with the next review, which will be posted soonish.

– xo, R

A slump.

I’m in one. It’s terrible. Approximately 1.6 billion books on my TBR and I still can’t find a book I want to read.

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I mean, I’m reading. The no twitter thing is working, of course. But my dudes, my heart just isn’t in the books I’ve got on the go – some science fiction, some literary fiction, a few smutty romances. You know, the usual. I’m just not feeling any of it.

I need a series. No, I need a fantasy series. Shit, I need a high fantasy series. Dragons makes everything better. Throw in a wizard and you got yourself a goddamn winner. But I feel like I’ve read everything that would fall into this category?? Unless…

Do I dare…

Has the time come…

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IT’S WITCHER TIME, BABY.

Aw yeah. Let’s do this.

– xo, R

Read. Cry. Repeat.

Howdy, y’all. I believe I promised an actual review, and since this week has been insane at work (program planning for 2020 is in full swing and I went into panic mode after reviewing 2019’s fourth quarter stats… #librarylife), I’m going to make good on my promise to review my three favourite books of 2019, starting with number 3.

It’s one I held out against for a very long time (and also the wait list for the hardcover is still like 5 million people long… okay, 501 as of today – and this book was published in 2017!)… Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Cover Talk

I gotta admit, part of the reason I wasn’t so eager to read this book despite all the hype, aside from the fact that I am suspicious of book hype in general, was the cover. I loathe it with a fiery passion. It doesn’t fit the book, in my opinion, and even if you overlook the generic design, the colours are hideous. It looks like those books you had to read in high school, the ones that came in sets of like 50 and that you’d never heard of and wouldn’t be able to name today, the ones that didn’t seem like real books at all but always had some bizarre twisted shit in the otherwise forgettable plots that low-key fucked you up for the rest of your life. Right?

The Summary Heist

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . the only way to survive is to open your heart.

Robyn Says

Holy. Fucking. Shiznit. This book. THIS. BOOK.

If I hadn’t had to work the day I started reading it, it would have been a one-day read. Fucking work, man. As it was, I read it on my breaks and on my lunch, when I got home, on the treadmill, during dinner, before bed… and I finished the next day, sobbing into my cereal.

This is a story… I don’t even know how to talk about this story. I can only speak for myself, but the most extraordinary thing was how this book captured how deeply trauma can damage a person, and how simple it is for a person to hide that damage quite well, in order to go about her day-to-day life. The slow reveal of Eleanor’s past is masterfully crafted. I really can’t say too much more about this novel. In my opinion, it’s best read without knowing much at all. I will say that there is a cat, and she is a life-saver, as most cats are.

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Verdict

Read it. There’s a reason half a million people have given this book 4.3 out of 5 stars… it’s because it’s FREAKING AMAZING.

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Best Lines

*Winifred Sanderson voice* GoodREEEEEEEADS!

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

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“…in principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder”

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“Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are.”

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Fancasting couch

Eleanor – Phoebe Waller-Bridge

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Raymond – pre-douchebag Chris Pratt

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Sammy – Jim Broadbent

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Polly – the prettiest google image result for “parrot plant”

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Glen – the Prince

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Book Boyfriend material

This is not a book boyfriend kind of book… but Raymond, I guess.

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Rating

Nine out of ten perfect little rescue cats who give you a will to carry on, even when everything is shit and life doesn’t seem worth it. DO IT FOR THE CAT, GIRL.

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ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT

FYI it is much easier to trash a book you hate than it is to write even a single word about a book you love. There is probably a life lesson in there but it’s not even Tuesday and I’m so so tired.

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Next up, book #2 in my top 3 of 2019!

– xo, R

Now you’re on the Trolley! 2020 Reading Resolutions

Welcome to the 20s, old sports! Yes, I am going to be this insufferable until I get used to saying 20 freaking 20 (terrifying).

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So it’s that time of year again, this shiny, brand new year, when resolutions are made and goals are set. I, for one, love resolutions. Time is undoubtedly a construct, but hey, it’s out construct, and even if the first day of the first month of the first year of this new decade is an arbitrary designation, at least the illusion serves a function in representing a chance to change our ways and try to improve. Right? Right??

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Anyway. So here are my goals and resolutions and what have you.

  1. Read at least 125 books this year (or roughly 2.5 books a week). I hit 155 in 2019, so I think that’s a pretty reasonable goal.
  2. Finish reading all of the books I’ve marked “Currently Reading” (lies) on Goodreads. I use that feature to earmark books I want to read in the near future, but it’s gotten way out of hand. I think improving my usage of Goodreads overall is something I need to work on.
  3. Make a dent in the TBR pile by reading at least one book a week that I already own. I get distracted by all of the new library books I get every day, and the books I actually own usually get put off. The one downside to working at the library – books everywhere.
  4. Buy fewer books, both print and digital. I mean, we all know that’s not going to happen (sorry, G) but like, at least I can say I tried.
  5. Use OverDrive for e-audiobooks. I hate audiobooks with a fiery burning passion, but I think I might be able to get into them for nonfiction reads. We shall see.
  6. When the urge to scroll through social media hits, reach for a book instead. NO. MORE. SCROLLING. Trying to cap my phone time at an hour a day, because phones are evil and I miss the days when I was forbidden to own one. I got so much more reading done (and writing, but let’s not talk about that mmmmmkay).
  7. Read EVERYWHERE – waiting in line, during solo meals, on work breaks. Which brings me to the next point…
  8. Resurrect the ingenious EMERGENCY BOOK strategy of my youth – basically, never ever EVER be without a book. Bring one with you everywhere you go, all the time. Insert jaws-boat.gif – we’re gonna need a bigger bag.
  9. Improve my reading space. Since moving in with my husband, I haven’t really had a chance to build a comfy little nook. So the goal is to move into our new house and design the perfect cozy reading space -that means a bright light, tons of massive blankets, and a big-bellied cat.
  10. Read things that I enjoy, and in the same vein, stop reading things I don’t enjoy. I started doing this last year, and I think that’s the main reason I was able to read more books than I have since I was in high school and shirking all homework to tear through the western canon and also all of Anne Rice’s collected works. Life is too short to read books you don’t like. Yolo. Read what you want.

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Exactly.

That’s all for today, folks. Here’s to a bright new year, filled with books galore.

– xo, R

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WRAP IT UP

Oi oi, it’s page 364 of the year, so I guess that means it’s time for the annual ROBYN’S YEAR IN READING WRAP-UP EXTRAVAGANZAAAAA post.

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2019 was a motherfucking BANNER year for books, kiddos. I was actually hesitant to do a wrap-up because, let’s be honest, there are still like 30 hours left of this year, I can finish 2 more books AT LEAST. But at this moment, I am sitting pretty at 155 books read this year, the most, I think, since I started tracking numbers. According to my trusty book-stats bitch, Goodreads, that means I read 48,859 pages, and I rated my read books an average of 3 out of 5 stars (a solid meh, which is pretty on point).

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Today, though, I wanna recap my 4 and 5 star reads, because frankly, I can’t remember what the hell I read last week, let alone last January.

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January

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A solid start to the year. Also, hey, King of Scars, miss you, babe 😘

February

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Faeries, haunted corsets, and bleak Soviet history – I am nothing if not predictable.

March

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MURDER! BOOKS! BEYONCE! WEDDING PLANNING!!!

April

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I see a trend, and I am not upset about it.

May

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YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS Vasya x Morozko = tru luv 4eva

June

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The honeymoon reads – Chernobyl, pure horror, librarian literary fic, and good ole’ alien-lovin’ Cottonwood smut.

July

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Domestic witchery and professional head-bitchery.

August

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Two of my top reads of the year – Someone Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I am crying just thinking about them.

September

Nada! It was an insane month, and though I read quite a few books, none of them cracked 4 stars.

October

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Sobbing. Just sobbing.

November

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The most 4 & 5 star reads in one month, and I think the most books read in one month, which also happened to be NaNoWriMo month – coincidence? No, no it was not.

December

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Last month, and the best book I read this year – Elif Shafak, TEACH ME YOUR WAYS.

SOME THOUGHTS

I really liked taking a look back at this year’s reads. I read (and re-read) some really amazing books this year. I definitely read more nonfiction this year, especially about Chernobyl, which I was desperate to know more about after watching the HBO series. Fantasy and horror are always my top genres (with a bit of science fiction thrown in there as well). I read fewer romances this year, maybe because I’m busy living my own romance novel these days (hey G Smiling Face With Hearts on Apple iOS 13.3).

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My most pleasurable reading experience was tearing through the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. I’m kicking myself for not reading these sooner (hello, Russian historical fantasy, WHY DID YOU DENY YOURSELF THIS, PAST ROBYN??) but in a way, it was nice to experience that rare feeling of racing through a completed series, knowing the ending is right there in your hands rather than two years away.

My top 3 reads were:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman,

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

2. Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

1. 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak.

To my own surprise, shame, and feckless-book-reviewer’s-horror, I didn’t actually review any of these books on the blog. I will remedy that, but for now, listen to me when I say that you must GET THESE BOOKS FROM YOUR CLOSEST LIBRARY / INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE AS SOON AS MOTHER-FLIPPIN POSSIBLE AND READ THEM AND KNOW THAT THERE IS HOPE YET FOR THIS BLEAK AND BROKEN AND BURNING WORLD, FOR SUCH BOOKS AS THESE EXIST, FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN FOR YOU, DEAR READER, TO READ AND TO BE CHANGED BY, IN BEAUTIFUL, INDESCRIBABLE WAYS.

Anyway. That was 2019. It was a big year for me, personally and professionally and bookishly. Thank you sticking around these blogosphere parts if you did, so long bish if you didn’t… and if you’re new to these parts, welcome, prepare for chaos, hope you’re ready for some bookish bullshit, shenanigans and general hooliganry.

2020, let’s do this.

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– xo, R

P.S. THERE’S STILL LIKE 29 HOURS LEFT, GO READ A BOOK!

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