Sunday, 25 June 2017

Favourite books of the year so far..

Given that we are now halfway through the year, I (like pretty much every other book blogger/vlogger) decided to compile a list of the best books I've read during the last six months. Of the 28 books I've read since January, to be honest, there have been many that I didn't enjoy or can't even remember reading (see my earlier post A frustrating reading year). But, I have managed to come up with five that I actually rated five stars on Goodreads - so, in alphabetical order (according to the author's surname), they are as follows:  

MauriceMaurice by E.M. Forster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful and courageous (given that it was written in 1914) novel. There were definitely some moments of implausibility, but you could say that about many a book that features a heterosexual love story.

What is painfully realistic is the torture that Maurice goes through realising he is "different" and the loneliness he feels because of that difference. His attempts to overcome his difference (i.e. his sexuality) are utterly heartbreaking.

There's a line in the book that England would never legalise homosexuality because the English have an inclination to ignore human nature. It's comforting to know that Forster was wrong on that score (he did actually live long enough to see homosexuality be decriminalised). While things are far from perfect in terms of accepting that some people are gay (or bi or don't otherwise fit into the heterosexual bracket), we have certainly come a long way.

 The Emancipation of BThe Emancipation of B by Jennifer Kavanagh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this because I know and like the author, Jennifer, so wanted to support her work. My plan was that I would be nice about it on Goodreads if liked it but keep quiet about it if I thought it was rubbish. What was I not expecting was to love it but I did.

This book is amazing. I was genuinely hooked from the first page. Most authors if their plot, as this book does, revolved around a modern-day hermit, would make the said hermit mad or bad - or probably both. But Jennifer's B is neither; he's someone who is fulfilling a lifelong desire for complete solitude. The story focuses on how solitude enables him to truly know himself and to truly understand his life. However, it is also reassuringly realistic. B struggles with the lack of contact with others and, as you might expect, with the sheer boredom of it all.

As an introvert, I've often want to shut the world out - in fact, today, I opted for staying at home by myself to read this book rather than go to a social event where, gasp, I might have to speak to people. Therefore, it was fascinating to read something that explores the idea of total solitude and, more importantly, how it wasn't necessarily a terrible thing.

I am know I biased because I consider Jennifer a friend (with a lowercase f; she'll get the reference), but I think this book probably would have been nominated for award had she'd been more of a "name". She's known as author in Quaker circles and is known for work as a literary agent, but it's a shame she's not better known as a novelist in more general circles. Her work is really interesting and deserves more recognition.

Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family SecretAnnie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely fascinating story of how Luxenburg tries to find out what happened to his mother's "secret" sister Annie - only finding out about her existence a few month's before his mother's death. More than that it explores why his mother kept her sister hidden and how a woman, as Annie was, could be committed to a mental asylum and essentially forgotten about.

I think the book also taps into a fear that you have when someone you love dies - did you really known them? Will some secret come out that changes how you view them? How Luxenberg comes to terms with the fact that his beloved mother kept a major secret from him and his siblings (and possibly his father) is another intriguing element of the book.

The only downside of this book is that it's difficult to get hold of in the UK (I had to order it via Amazon)

My Own Story: Inspiration for the major motion picture SuffragetteMy Own Story: Inspiration for the major motion picture Suffragette by Emmeline Pankhurst
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Emmeline Pankhurst, these days, has a reputation for being stern and deeply unforgiving of those who have the temerity to disagree with her - a reputation that's probably deserved given that she cut off all ties with two of her daughters (even packing one off to Australia).

But, what this book shows is that she was undeniably a great leader who galvanised women into action. While her militancy tactics may or may not have done more harm than good in getting woman the vote, she certainly was instrumental in raising the issue in public consciousness.

I can't help but feel that, like the double standards she so often refers to in this book. history would have treated her differently had been male. There's been many a male leader with just as many personality flaws as Pankhurst but who are remembered for their achievements rather than the fact they were difficult customers.

 The Last Act of Love: The Story of My Brother and His SisterThe Last Act of Love: The Story of My Brother and His Sister by Cathy Rentzenbrink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was totally engrossed with this heartbreaking account of a sister dealing with her brother's accident and the aftermath from the moment I read the first chapter. So much so that I sacked off doing usual Saturday morning chores and spent time reading this instead.

Anyone was ever lost anyone they love will relate to this book - whether their loved one died suddenly or died after a long illness (or in the brother's case, died after being in a permanent vegetative state). The decisions that Cathy and her parents have to make are torturous: if they need to accept all hope is gone and their son/brother will never recover, if they should believe that he is "there" in some form (even if he can't communicate the fact), and what they action they should take if he really is gone. Does make you realise that just because you can keep someone "alive" with modern medicine, you sometimes perhaps shouldn't (note I am not talking about someone who has been left severely disabled; I am talking about someone who has no signs of conscious thought).

What Rentzenbrink does so poignantly is to showcase hard the grief process is, particularly when you're grieving for someone who is technically still alive. The recriminations about what you did and did not do, that you should be coping better, or that you should be living your life a certain way. She doesn't really provide any answers to these questions (because there are none); just that you need to be kind to yourself and learn to accept you'll never be "over it".

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