book lists · Discussion · lists

The Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

I started this post a couple of times with the sentence “I haven’t had a good reading year” before deleting it because this is actually not true. While I haven’t read as many conventional books, I have read many different kinds of literary materials including but not limited to Korean webtoons and translated Chinese webnovels. For some reason, I haven’t been able to read as many conventional novels, paper and ink books. Not that 153 books are a shabby number but it certainly is incomparable to the 520 books I read two years ago. However, while the number of books I read decreased, the quality of the experience increased. Instead of inhaling the books, I lingered over them and the overall experience of reading these books was enriched by the extra time I devoted to them. I remember the story, the moments, the characters much more clearly than I would in the years I read more books.

Since writing books makes my reading decrease exponentially, I have become pickier about the books I choose to spend time on. I’m not exactly pleased with my reading numbers but honestly, this is about as much as I could manage this year.

Anyway, on to the books! Of the 153 I read, I loved the following ten the most:

“Children ceased to be children when you put a sword in their hands. When you taught them to fight a war, then you armed them and put them on the front lines, they were not children anymore. They were soldiers.”

Kuang’s The Poppy War is brutal. I am not really good with gore and excessive blood so initially I was worried that the book would be too much for me. However, the protagonist is entirely easy to empathize with and while the book does stray into dark places, it does not do so gratuitously. It doesn’t relish the blood and the pain but uses it to delineate the cruel and merciless nature of the enemy. There’s a tiny hint at a romance which may come to naught but I am hopeful. More exciting though is the journey that awaits the MC as she comes to terms with her own power and authority. I can’t wait to read the sequel.


“What’s the matter?” my mother snapped. “You sick?” I pulled my body back inside and bumped my head against the window hard enough to make the glass rattle, but the pain was inconsequential right now. “No, I . . . I just needed some fresh air.” She squinted at me. “Are you pregnant?” “What!? No! Why would you even think that?” “Well then if you’re not sick and you’re not pregnant then ANSWER ME WHEN I CALL YOUR NAME!”

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo was the second (or maybe third) book I read this year and I still remember how I giggled my way through it. This, honestly, is what I expect from YA novels. It is full of verve, fire, and wit. Full of fun and comedy, it still takes moments to discuss the meaning of being human and being alive. Genie Lo’s past as a sword poses interesting questions and thoughts for Genie Lo as a teenager trying her hardest to get out the city she is living in. The arrival of the certain, less-than-human, characters makes her life swerve in directions she doesn’t necessarily want it to. This book is wonderful and I loved every single page of it. I can’t wait for the sequel. Let there be a sequel.


“I avoid the mysticism of my culture. My people know there is a true mechanism that runs through us. Stars were people in our continuum. Mountains were stories before they were mountains. Things were created by story. The words were conjurers, and ideas were our mothers.”

This book and Terese Marie Mailhot’s words are not easy to read. Her pain, her absolute lack of mercy to herself, and the courage with which she lays herself bare to the world daring her readers to judge her and her decisions will make you tremble. This book, honestly, I am not sure how to stress how important and how beautiful it is. I don’t know how other people have responded to it but I personally felt it was a journey into her psyche while being a journey into my own psyche. Reading this was a powerful experience.


“We read in slow, long motions, as if drifting in space, weightless. We read full of prejudice, malignantly. We read generously, making excuses for the text, filling gaps, mending faults. And sometimes, when the stars are kind, we read with an intake of breath, with a shudder… as if a memory had suddenly been rescued from a place deep within us–the recognition of something we never knew was there…”

I bought this book for about a dollar from a library book sale and it stayed on my shelf for a long while before I picked it up thinking it would be interesting to read about reading. What I read blew me away and filled me with ideas for future novels. Manguel’s prose is beautiful. His exploration of an activity we take for granted opens up a whole realm of fictional possibilities. How do we read and why do we read and what reading does to us are things that he discusses in this hefty tome. Also fascinating is his exploration of the bonds created between people who read the same text but in such different ways. This is still the only Manguel I have read but I am definitely going to collect more of his books.


“I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”

I have reads talking about how verse novels aren’t poetry and yaddi yadda and I feel like many people have a too narrow definition of what constitutes poetry. A verse novel is poetry and this verse novel in particular is beautiful. It is awash in emotion, vulnerability, pain, and the desire to live. Reading this was being electrified. My heart was pounding and my eyes were stinging. I loved this wholly.


“There is, at its center, something immutably miraculous about the substance and process of reading stories. We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls. We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as another speaks, listen as another listens, and feel as another feels. We read because we wish to journey forth together. There is, despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact, for me, is an occasion for joy. That we still, in this frenetic and bombastic and self-centered age, have legions of people who can and do return to the quietness of the page, opening their minds and hearts, again and again, to the wild world and the stuff of life, pinned into scenes and characters and sharp images and pretty sentences–well. It sure feels like a miracle, doesn’t it?”

I am not very keen on short stories and it usually takes me forever to make my way through a collection. However, Barnhill’s Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories is brilliant. Every story is different. Every feeling each story evokes is different but at the same time similar. Every lady in this book made me think and wonder. I cared for these women and I was invested in their ever afters. Not all of them had good endings but all of them left their mark on the world in which they lived. The writing is so gorgeous it made me weep. Lush and lyrical and utterly beautiful. I loved this one.


“She still held sorrows, but she was not made of them. Her life was not a tragedy. It was a history, and it was hers.”

I adored Hartman’s Seraphina dulogy so I knew I would like Tess of the Road however I didn’t expect to not just like but love it with the power of a thousand burning volcanoes. The MC and the titular character of the novel Tess is perhaps the biggest reason I love this book. She is so entirely human. Her flaws and her bad decisions are so easy to empathize with. The things she goes through are not easy and the family she has been…blessed with are not…hmm, really…yeah. The book is less about the destination and more about the road. This road that Tess works on shapes her so entirely that it is difficult to recognize the girl at the end of the book as the same one who set off in the beginning. She meets people and creatures who change her and whom she changes. She forgives herself for not being enough and accepts herself as she is. She learns to love both physically and emotionally. She learns to be enough. This book is just so beautifully written with positive representations of disability and sex and humanity. I can’t wait for the next instalment.


“How much do I love our family? This much. When any kind of emergency strikes, good or bad, we snap together like parts in a machine, like a submarine crew at war in the tin-can clutter of our home, none of the usual debate, character assassination, woeful monologues, and turgid hand-wringing. I’ve learned to love crises for this reason, how they make us pull together and forget our separateness and sadness; this was the second great gift of the moonfish.”

Shaun Tan is pretty famous in my neck of the woods. He has drawn and authored many picture books and wordless picture books and I am a long time fan of his brand of art and prose. In Tales from the Inner City Tan weds his art to the prose sometimes relying on the art to do the work of the prose with dizzying results. I mean, it is profound, wise, and infinitely poignant at times. The stories are bite-sized or a bit longer and the art is resplendent. Every time you read this book, you get a different flavour of emotion.


“I want him to know I am not lonely, I have ghosts, I have my illnesses, I have a mouthful of half-languages, & blood thick with medications, doctors line up to hear my crooked heart”

January Children was my introduction of Safia Elhillo and her poetry. Her words struck me deep because she writes about the same feelings I grapple with. For example, contending with multiple languages while the words you seek to speak, the feelings you seek to express, seem to have no corresponding words in any of the many languages you know. Being of many different places but not belonging entirely to anyone of them. Feeling torn about who you are and who your parents want to be. Hated for the colour of your skin and the god your worship to. Her words are beautiful and sincere and honest.


I read this collection of short comics this month and I was immediately captivated by the world portrayed within them. The comics are short and depict life in a particular neighbourhood focusing, in particular, on a grandfather/granddaughter pair. The granddaughter is unable to work and it is implied she has a disability but nothing is specified. However, rather than a discourse on issues, these comics are glimpses and celebrations of life. It is a gentle book and the art is soft and beautiful. I enjoyed reading it enough that I put it on my list.

Discussion

I Feel Like I’m Disappearing and Other Stories

Sometimes the world is too big and you are too little and no matter how much shine you put on yourself, you cannot sparkle.

Sometimes you speak and speak and speak and no one seems to be able to hear you speak. Or your words aren’t important enough to warrant a response. And your warmth is not necessary or welcome. And your friendliness is a burden. So you retreat into yourself where your vulnerabilities are safe from rancor and judgement.

Sometimes no matter which heights you reach, the mountain is taller and you can never quite get to the peak. And you just want to stop and crawl into a hole halfway up the mountain.

Sometimes it is always winter.

Sometimes sadness has no purpose other than to fill your eyes and remind your heart of happiness, what it used to feel but can no longer.

Sometimes you just need to find other things to do with your hands, eyes, and mind so you don’t think too much about things that don’t bear thinking about.

Discussion

A Letter To Myself

It is 1:20 am and I have just finished a book that made me weep. The fan in my room is on, its blades are whirring as fast as they can go but the air is hot and presses into my skin. The highway is singing. It never stops. It lives a hundred thousand lives in flashes of light when the tires of a passing car kiss the particular piece of the highway right in front of my house just for a second before they are a memory and another has taken their place and the warmth they generated.

So. I battle with myself. Again. If I were less or maybe more, I wouldn’t be here on this sticky night that reminds me of home and frangipani flowers. The scent of the sea and island magic brimming in the shadows. I’m overflowing with words. Rustle of the sugarcane. A serenity manufactured by the last rays of a sun too enamored of its brilliance. That shine.

To be from an island country means having the scent of the sea in your veins. It means having an intimate relationship with heat; your body will know heat in ways that your heart cannot comprehend. I forgot that heat. I forgot that music. I forgot the press of the water in the air. I forgot the curl of my hair.

Writing Ronaq means I peel back all the years and find myself again. That little girl I was that I haven’t been for so long. The girl whose dreams captured the nights and ate them up to reveal pearly mornings. That girl I tried so hard to shove into a person who knows who she is what she is and why she is. Writing Ronaq means confronting the lies I have told myself. Of owning the loneliness I intentionally cultivate, of admitting that step I take away because to me being a writer means being in pain. I write best when I hurt. At least I thought so. All the feelings I keep inside instead of spending on someone else. All those feelings I fold into words and shape into stories–not my own because I don’t have one but other people’s. That’s how it works with me.

I forgot the madness of it all. The fever that owned me when I was that girl in Fiji, walking bare feet on hot stones, running around challenging the eye of the hurricane, the dark, the magic, the danger, the madness. I forgot it all. Now I remember. I suppose I am ready to write Ronaq.

Real Life

What If I Don’t Have Enough Personality to be a Public Personality?

Hi. Hello.

*stares into the void* *adjusts microphone*

I don’t know why my brain waits until it is almost midnight and my family is asleep (thus not around to reassure me) to think about stuff like this. So…here we are. A mid-all right, it’s almost 1 am but it is Ramadan and suhoor is in one hour and I am rambling.

You don’t get to the grand old age of 34 without becoming aware of your own strengths and flaws. I am painfully aware of mine. The flaws, I mean. As I grapple (I love that word, say it with me grapple (what you do with an apple)), with the idea of becoming an author, I feel some pressure to perform my personality. To be funnier, wittier, happier, more charming (damnit, this broke my parallelism but you get my point). The other point is I am none of these things. Well okay, I am a little bit of all of them but I am also Pisces and though my belief in horoscopes is not very solid, I do admit to the qualities that define people of that particular persuasion. Namely, I’m almost always off in my my own world, not very aware of what is happening around me.

It is not that I am not interested in these things, I am. I just have so many other things I am interested in that I am not always present in the 100% definition of the word. You know what I mean? That and I am not sure I can always say what I think. Take Twitter, for instance. I find Twitter incredibly difficult because I feel like I always have to be either smart or funny on there and honestly most days I am neither.

At least with Instagram, I can post pictures which speak a lot more than I do. I am slowly learning to let my personality peek out but honestly, I am still figuring out who I am. I thought I’d be done doing that by now but nope.

And then I wonder if I annoy people because I annoy myself. And then I wonder if I care if I annoy people because most of the times I feel like I don’t and other times I just want people, all people, to like me but that isn’t remotely possible so isn’t it okay to just be myself, whoever that may be, and let people be themselves. Surely the world is big enough for all of us and why am I doing this to myself at 1:12 am, I don’t know.

The great thing is nobody reads this blog so I feel a measure of freedom writing these things. The most difficult thing I am finding is being honest with myself. The second most difficult thing is articulating myself as a real person living in a real world instead of projecting a sliver myself onto a fictional character and having them be my mouthpiece. Another difficult thing is realizing myself in a language and finding myself created anew by the nuances of that language–whatever it may be. Isn’t it a fascinating thought though? Who I am in Fiji-Hindi may not be who I am in English. Both versions of me are me but in complex and different ways. So I have multiple personalities in multiple languages just as I have multiple identities contextualized by the different people I am with at any particular point in time.

As I said, it is 1:17 am.

But back to the original point of this after-midnight ramble, I may not have enough personality to be a public personality but you should see the inside of my head. Actually, you shouldn’t. I want you to like me.

Discussion

The Arrival of Spring and Other Happy Instances

Winter persisted this time around, didn’t it? I didn’t feel it as acutely as I did the year past because I was, happily, not sick every single time I walked outside (like I was in winter 2017) but the tail end of the season left me frustrated for warmth.

It’s not like I love summer too much but spring, oh spring. Spring is my favourite season.

Flowers are my brand, you see. Actually, trees are too. I took this one in Granville Island:

IMG_5281

I should hang out with my DSLR a bit more often. Anyway, so, I sold a book–to be completely clear, my agent sold my book to Scholastic and it very much looks like it is going to be released in 2019.

Since I am being honest here, let me just say that I still am a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. The idea that people are actually going to be reading a story I wrote  hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I have faith in the story though, faith in the characters and the world I have created. I can say somewhat objectively that the book doesn’t suck.

I know that not everyone will love it but I hope a significant number of readers do. I hope the people it was written for love it.

When a writer becomes an author, certain things change. This change is difficult if you are socially awkward like me and don’t always know what to say what needs to be said. Or if you are contrary like me and prefer to let your work speak for you instead of the other way around.

I am still figuring things out. It’s difficult when your default reaction to the world is to grab a book and disappear into its pages.

I have been feeling quietly desperate these past few weeks because I need to get sunk into another world and life hasn’t let me have this escape. I am currently planning/0 drafting a MG novel, my very first venture into the genre, and the experience has been interesting so far. I am not certain at all that I have captured the voice but I reckon if there is authenticity, I will be satisfied. Maybe. Who knows?

I will try to be more active here in case there are future readers who are interested in the things I think about (the idea boggles my mind but just in case). I can’t yet afford an author  website but it will happen someday. For now though, I really need to get back to writing. My fingers itch.

Discussion

Reports from Winterland

It occurred to me that I have almost but not quite abandoned this blog and I most certainly don’t want to do that so here I am.

Sort of.

I seem to have lost myself. I haven’t been able to push the world away and sink into a book like I used to. I am not unhappy. In fact, I dare say I am happier than I have been in a long time. But for some reason, I can’t turn my brain off and simply read.

I only finished 10 books in January and it seems the number will be even lower in February. I have a lot of books to read but I can’t stay up past 1 a.m. without vicious headaches and the day is full of things I must do.

It’s not that I have completely stopped reading. I can’t do that. I read a page or five every day from a volume here and there but the speed at which I have read is s l o w.

But the rate at which I acquire books has sped up now that I have some money to spend. *shrug*

But this post wasn’t meant to be anything other than a hello, I’m still alive.