The books I read in December
I can’t quite believe how quickly this year has gone, but there is at least time for one last monthly wrap up before we head into 2019. Throughout December, I finished 12 books, bringing my final total for 2018 up to 131 (the best of which I talked about here). Here are some thoughts on each of them, with links to my full reviews over on Goodreads.
Ice by Anna Kavan
[ ⭐ ] I really wanted to love this, but just didn’t click with Kavan’s style at all, sadly. I felt held at such a distance that I could derive no thematic or narrative sense whatsoever. This, in turn, resulted in a complete emotional detachment, and a reading experience that felt like a hard slog with no worthwhile payoff. I’m not adverse to strange fiction, but this lacked any kind of grounding to guide us through, and became hallucinogenic to the point of being impenetrable. Not exactly a great start to the month, but we can’t love ‘em all.
Pages & Co. Book One: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] If the concept of escapism through books has even been important to you, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It follows a young girl as she discovers the joy of ‘bookwandering’; a rare skill that allows devoted readers to travel in and out of the fictional worlds held within their books. Charming, intelligent, heartfelt, and utterly transporting, it works on two separate yet harmonious levels: It’s a fun and awe-inspiring adventure for young readers, but is also packed full of playful literary references for adults that tap into a special kind of nostalgia. Whilst one particular plot twist didn’t wholly work for me, the reading experience itself was one of the most magical I’ve ever had; like a cup of tea and a warm hug in bookish form.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Written with eloquence and pin-sharp precision, this is a subtly powerful exploration of sexism, class, xenophobia, and violence. Moss cleverly draws on the past to highlight the hypocrisy of nationalist ideals and rigid gender roles. Intelligent and rousing, it is at once a tense family drama that explores domestic oppression, and a thought-provoking, timeless social commentary.
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Written in an off-beat, conversational manner, this book follows a terminally ill young man who makes a deal with the devil: for every one thing he agrees to make disappear from the world, he’ll gain an extra day of life. It’s a simple but stylistically effective look at the difference between living and surviving; of reconciliation with the past; and the acceptance of our own mortality. It’s all fairly predictable in terms of plot progression and character development, but the quirky tone and universal themes make it a speedy and surprisingly heartening read.
Winter by Ali Smith
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] There’s no denying Smith’s brilliant wordplay, and for those willing to submit themselves to her sense of abandon when it comes to the conventions of plot and narrative structure, there is much to be debated regarding possible deeper meaning. For me, however, I once again felt held at too great a distance, which resulted in a lack of any emotional resonance. I also missed the air of urgency, and the beautiful descriptions of the landscape that had been present in Autumn. Though there are thought-provoking and timely themes bubbling beneath the surface, the unrealistic philosophical dialogue, and magical realism-esque tangents simply proved too jarring.
The World is Full of Foolish Men by Jean de la Fontaine
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A slim collection of classic French fables. The typically playful writing and the nostalgic nature of the tales made this a simple but charming little read.
A Literary Christmas by The British Library
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a treasure trove of (mostly) classic Christmas writings, ideal for getting into the festive spirit, and trying out some new authors. As with any anthology, there were some styles I didn’t gel with as much as others, but I thoroughly enjoyed the overall reading experience, with the stand out piece for me being the poignant and evocative Christmas at Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson. The book is beautifully presented, well structured, and I enjoyed the blend of both prose and poetry.
Crooked House by Agatha Christie
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Another great setup, and a group of well-realised characters that I enjoyed getting to grips with. As always, I flew through it, and loved the snappy dialogue. This is, however, one of the few instances with Christie’s work where I successfully predicted the twist. That said, she did still manage to keep me guessing along the way, and it all came together in such a clever, sinister, and satisfying way, that it almost didn’t matter.
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I wouldn’t often be won round by something as overtly sweet as this, but it’s a perfect encapsulation of the magic of Christmastime. Part origin story, and part fairy tale, this utterly enchanting read is both playful and clever in its take on the Santa Claus story, presenting us with explanations for all the big questions, from who he is, to how he manages to deliver all the toys in one night. Written by the creator of The Wizard of Oz, it’s as imaginative and charming as you would expect. As an adult, I was completely enamoured by it; I can only imagine how awe-inspiring and satisfying it would be for younger readers.
The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A strange and captivating moment in history, captured in a simple yet resonant poem; this details the Christmas of 1914 when soldiers on both sides of WWI put down their weapons, and entered No Man’s Land to meet as equals. As such, it speaks of the timeless notion of coming together at Christmastime.
Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I love surrealism when it comes to art, but really struggle with it when it comes to prose, which often makes reading Tan’s books a tale of two halves for me. Conceptually, I thought this was excellent; 25 short stories, each one focussed on a different animal, commenting on the beauty, brutality, and complexity that make up man’s relationship with nature. Each one is accompanied by a stunning double-page illustration. Whilst plot-wise, most did little for me, I always admired what the author was saying thematically, and I could lose myself in the artwork time and time again. Indeed, looking at Tan’s paintings is like stepping inside a dream world; a hypnotically rich and rewarding experience.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I think we’ve all learned the hard way that expanded universe material for Harry Potter can be very hit and miss, hence why I put off consuming some of it for so long. Thankfully, this one was a hit; pleasingly meta, yet tongue-in-cheek enough to sit nicely alongside the main series without sullying anything. The parallels with familiar, real-world fairy tales were also very enjoyable.
There we have it! My favourite read of the month was Ghost Wall. What was yours?