a book a week for a year - 3

Seriously you guys, deciding to read a book a week for a year is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Still going, still going! Here’s the fourth instalment… 


28. The Year of Living Danishly / Helen Russell

My friend Jess Larsen suggested I *listen* to this book (this was during my awful month of vertigo and I couldn’t read. No, no, not ideal when one is halfway through a reading challenge) and I’m so glad she did. This was an awesome recommendation, it’s definitely going to be one of my favourites for the year. The book follows the story of Helen and her husband ‘Lego Man’ and their move to regional Denmark from London. Seeing as I was on the cusp of moving my life from Australia to London, it felt particularly apt. Helen is a fantastic storyteller and she is FUNNY. During such a crappy month of sickness, this book had me in stitches, which was most welcome. Got to love a bit of self-deprecating humour right? Her journalistic research meant I also learnt quite a lot about Danish culture! Funny, smart, likeable and a great story.

Find it here.


year changed world

29. 1989: The Year That Changed The World / Michael Meyer

If you’ve been following along this year, you’ll probably notice a theme emerging around German history. I AM OBSESSED. And only recently too! I’m pretty sure I slept through most of my school history classes and I’m kicking myself I never took modern history as an elective. (Surely it should be compulsory?) Anyway, better late than never right? I picked this book up in a cute Melbourne bookshop earlier in the year and while it took me a little while to finish it (I was constantly on and off Google looking up who all of these (probably very well known) 1980’s Euro political leaders were) I learnt a bunch and I’m glad I read it. What I liked most about it is the personal vantage point that Michael took with the book: as a journalist, he told only what he saw, what he’d researched, who he’d personally interviewed — which in fact, was a LOT. He certainly seemed to be in the right place at the right time for a whole lot of the late 80’s. For anyone interested in the dynamics of Eastern Europe in the lead up to the fall of communism (and an alternate perspective on the story that America tells), you’ll enjoy this book.

Find it here.


girl on the train

30. The Girl On The Train  / Paula Hawkins

I feel like… I might be the only person in the world who didn’t LOVE this book? It has sold millions and millions of copies, there’s a movie on its way and it smashed records for weeks spent at number one on the all-important charts and yet… I don’t know. I mean, it’s certainly gripping — I finished it in one sitting — but I’m not sure that’s always the sign of a good book, at least it’s not for me. All of the characters are horrible and it’s sort of predictable. What I did like about it (to completely contradict my previous point) was the fact that the female protagonist Rachel isn’t really likeable. She’s a struggling alcoholic, a manipulator and has an obsessive and destructive personality. Of course I felt compassion for her, but more often it was pity. BUT… this is a good thing. It’s important that complex female characters are represented in literature and being ‘likeable’ is often boring and limiting too. I’ll always champion telling the narrative of women’s authentic personal experiences, rather than following the paradigm we’re often fed about what it means to be a Valued Woman In The World. So in that sense, this book is great. But… I just didn’t love it.

Find it here.


the alchemist

31. The Alchemist / Paulo Cohello 

I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about this book, it’s been a ‘must read’ for a little while, but I had zero idea what it was actually about. Standing in one of my favourite Melbourne bookstores in June, I was looking for a read for the flight to London. I felt like it had to be a special sort of book, you know? Something to really commemorate the moment. So there I was, feeling the embossed cover, flicking through the rough pages, when the woman who owned the store approached me. “This book,” she smiled, “has the potential to change your life if you read it at the right time.” Done and done. It was as if she was letting me in on a secret and reading it felt the same. Rich in story, symbolism and mythology, it’s easy to understand why this book is so well-loved. It speaks to you. But I don’t really want to tell you anything else about it, I think it’s best to just read it for yourself. And then probably read it again, once a year, for the rest of your life. That’s just the sort of book that it is.

Find it here.


truth beauty

32. I Love Dick /  Chris Krauss

All freaking HAIL Chris Krauss. Just to touch on my previous point earlier about the important of representing authentic female narratives in literature, THIS BOOK DOES IT TERRIFICALLY. It blew my mind. Originally published in the 90’s, I Love Dick (great title) is having somewhat of a resurgence, contributing to some really interesting feminist conversations, asking the question: “Who gets to speak and why?” It’s sort of memoir, sort of novel, sort of neither… but the question of what is or isn’t fictionalised makes it all the more intriguing and yes, I’m sure, polarising. There’s not much of a plot, it’s very conceptual and heavy in a lot of art / literary references, many of which I missed. The first half is essentially a collection of letters from Chris and her artist husband Sylvere to a man, Dick, that Chris has fallen in love with. An artist in her own right, the book follows her struggles as forever being the ‘plus one’, and her growing obsession with Dick. The second half was my favourite; you feel her confidence growing as the narrative shifts up and her writing style changes. Chris presents ideas about women in love, sex and relationships that I’m still grappling with myself and the world probably still isn’t (sadly) ready for this book in a lot of ways. It’s words as art, it’s important and I look forward to reading it again.

Find it here.


the course of love

33. The Course of Love / Alain De Botton 

If you are currently in a romantic relationship, have ever been in a romantic relationship, or ever plan to be in a romantic relationship again, may I suggest that you read this book. But be prepared: it’s not particularly heartwarming, though this is a good thing (I think.) I am a huge Alain De Botton fan and this book leapt off the shelf into my hands whilst browsing the English section of a bookstore in Amsterdam in July. Full disclosure, I was feeling particularly vulnerable / confused / frustrated / ‘all the feels’ in my romantic relationship at the time (moving to another country with your lover *may* have the potential to rock the boat a bit, folks) and I wanted a book to soothe, guide and inspire me. It sort of did that… but it felt more like a kick up the arse. I took a LOT of notes. We’ve all heard the ‘relationships take work’ message and this book guides us through not only what that even means, but what it actually looks like. Following the tale of a very normal marriage between two very normal people, Alain shows us why he believes romanticism has screwed us all up when it comes to love. He shows us who we are in relationships (to the point of being scarily accurate for me) and what it is that we’re truly seeking from others. I particularly resonated with the first section of the book which was focussed on the infatuation phase of a relationship, and less with the parts on marriage / children, but that’s purely because I’m yet to experience those for myself. No doubt The Course of Love will come in handy if / when I ever find myself there. I felt both hopeful and disheartened by the end of this book; my romantic notions a little bruised and battered. But again… I think this might be a good thing.

Find it here.


it's okay to laugh

34. It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) / Nora McInerny Purmort  

While I’ve been trying to read more fiction this year, I daresay that memoir will still reign as my most-read genre for this challenge and for a few reasons: I love people and I love hearing their stories, I’m always hungry to remember that I’m not alone in this weird and wonderful adventure called Life, and… it’s a style of writing that I most connect with, as a writer. While fiction often appeals because it takes me OUT of my life, memoir often feels like an invitation to dive deeper into my own. I’ve certainly noticed this over the past few years of blogging: when we’re telling OUR story, we’re in fact telling the story of the reader, providing a space for them to reflect and connect with parts of their own life, mirrored. That’s how I feel anyway. And this book got me writing! While I can’t connect specifically with Nora’s devastating experience of losing her husband and father to cancer within weeks of each other, by inviting me along as a reader, I began to pry open the doors to my own experiences of grief, it helped me reflect on how we grow and cultivate self-awareness through pain AND pleasure and I cried and laughed along with her. I remembered we’re all just doing our best, floundering along, hurting, healing, enjoying the ride. I hadn’t read any of Nora’s blog before picking up this book, but I’m a big fan now. She is a gifted writer, compassionate human and her Instagram is also hilarious. Another honest book on authentic female narratives, hurrah.

Find it here.


letter to my daughter

35. Letter To My Daughter / Maya Angelou

It is always a joy to read the words of Maya Angelou and I tend to seek out her work whenever I’m craving some wisdom and perspective. Letter To My Daughter gave me both. Rather than being a ‘letter’ as such, this book is more a collection of essays on a myriad of topics and the lack of flow between them is probably my biggest and only criticism. Perhaps it’s one to pick up and put down, rather then attempting to read all of the way through. Some essays were funny and entertaining, some sad and disturbing; all brutally honest, kind, thoughtful, hopeful. It didn’t change my life, but I’ve no doubt it has the potential to do so.

Find it here.



truth & beauty

36. Truth & Beauty / Ann Patchett 

I listened to the interview that Ann Patchett gave on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast (episode 6) mid-last year, where they were discussing the questions of ‘how do we move through our pain and grief via creativity?’ and ‘do I ethically have the right to share my story when it involves others?’, referencing Ann’s memoir Truth & Beauty. I remember thinking right away that I wanted to find it and I don’t know how it’s taken me until now to do so… but I literally could not put it down once I’d picked it up! It’s definitely going to be in my top 5 for the year. As I said above, I adore memoir, but this book read like a novel; what Ann brings to this story of her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy is her expertise as a fiction writer. The plot, character development, descriptions, aahhhhhh it is a unique and moving book. Ripe sentences, brimming with love, a joy to read, there were many layers to this book: Lucy for one, is magnetic (I’m currently reading her own memoir) and their friendship was all kinds of magical and messed up. I never tire of hearing about the processes of creatives and Ann dives deep into the discussions, frustrations and wins around their writing over the years. Gosh, just thinking about it now makes me want to read the book again, I loved it THAT much. I can’t wait to read more of Ann’s work, both fiction and non-fiction.

Find it here.


I’m digging how many female authors we’ve got this time around, right? Next instalment coming very soon! You can find the first, second and third instalments herehere and here.

Before I go, I’ve decided to start an online book club! Want in? Pop your email in below and I’ll email you all about it. We can be bookworms together. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Always welcome to share this post with your peeps.

Claire x

 

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