Even though it’s already two months into the new year, I’ve been inspired to write about my favourite reads of 2013.
Since seeing my sister’s ardent year to year record keeping of read books, I started my own little list. Each year I managed to read a pitiful 13 to 15 books at the most. The amount would vary depending on my locations in the year because my reading time would usually be during a commute to work. However, last years list grew somewhat from the previous years. This could have been due to my strange work schedule which gave me every third Friday off and during the summer this was prime time for laying about reading in Volkspark Friedrichshain before the weekend crowds hit.
I was looking at my list for this year and it already has an impressive number for my standards. I think this is also due to having a Kindle. I do love having books and storing the evidence of my reads in a bookshelf for others to marvel at, plus it's always nice holding a book in hand, feeling the pages and seeing the progress evident in width, but since I have been using a Kindle I have read so much more frequently. The ease of downloading a new book upon finishing another is also quite easy to get used to!
Here are my top five 2013 reads.
Wild - Cheryl Strayed
After reading “Dear Sugar” which I was given for Christmas in 2012 I felt the immediate need to search out more by this wonderful author. Dear Sugar was a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed. I found that the most interesting columns were the ones in which she had drawn from her own experience in order to answer a readers problem. She would go into depth about the shocking past she had and I wanted to know more!
Wild is Sheryl’s account of her solo hike across the Pacific Crest Trail during an exceptionally tumultuous time in her life. It reads as a memoir, adventure, advice and biographical account and is gripping and full of raw emotion. Sheryl has an exceptional ability to portray pain, loneliness, pride and achievement through her anecdotes. Her emotive and observational writing is incredibly gripping and unapologetic. She reveals so much of herself through her recollections and through her brazen, courageous admissions her accounts become so much more than just anecdotes and hold more weight than a persons mere journal entries. Some of the trials she faces along the trail are astounding but she never over sells them or tries to dramatize the stories in any way that they feel unnatural. The book is just as much about her realisations through her journey on the trail as it is about recounting the hike itself. It is an epic and thoroughly enjoyable read, so much so I wish I could read it again for the first time.
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
This may have made it to my top five list not only because of the book but because of the memories I now associate with the time I read it. I wasn’t the biggest Hemingway fan despite my brother’s avid adoration of the author. I read “In our time” for a course at university on 20th century literature and found it a bit of a struggle to get through. However, I was drawn to the auto biography of Hemingway and timed it perfectly to read during my visit to Paris. Hemingway recounts his life in Paris during his marriage to his first wife Hadley and the initial struggles he had as a writer, his tumultuous friendships with F Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and the life among the elite Paris creative society. It was really a perfect experience, reading the account and exploring the city he described so well.
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain
The perfect follow up to Hemingway's Paris diary. I had “The Paris Wife” with me to get into straight after reading A Moveable Feast. Even though it was historical fiction, it was like reading the other side of the story, after reading Hemingway's own account of the marriage and its break down. This was a great way to get more of a background on Hadley and how she came to be Hemingway’s first wife, and the ways she dealt with the title during his years of rags to riches. It must have been such a difficult time to be married to an aspiring and budding author with all of the new friends he was making, and the unavoidable change to his character with the growing fame. Hadley is portrayed as a very simple, compassionate woman who was quite unsure of herself and never completely secure within the partnership. Hadley’s account of the marriage was an enjoyable read and Paula McLain did an excellent job of melding fact with her assumption of Hadley’s voice and personality.
Aquariums of PyongYang - Kang Chol-Hwan
I'd been meaning to read this ever since my friend recommended it while we were living in South Korea. The book is told by a North Korean defector, who recounts a life so unbelievably difficult it is hard to believe he survived to tell his story. As a young boy his family repatriates to North Korea, believing so strongly in the political views of the communist party. Almost as soon as they arrive off the ship, they realise their terrible error and it is too late to turn back. They survive for a few years with only minor repercussions such as having their prized car repossessed by the government and other possessions taken away from them. However, the day comes when their grandfather doesn't return one day and it is from that point that their personal safety is at threat. The family are sent to a hard labour camp and the ensuing years in abhorrent conditions are beyond comprehensible. The honest and factual recollections of Kang Chol Hwan's years in the camp are broken up by amazingly lighthearted anecdotes that Kang managed to glean amidst his grim circumstances. It is clear after finishing the book that Kang's survival and eventual escape were possible due to his indomitable spirit, a force that is carefully wound into every paragraph of the book.
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
My friend gave me her copy of this book when I last visited Berlin. I had already seen the movie and thought I knew what to expect. But of course the story in the book was much more interesting than the premise of the movie had been able to portray. Kathy H recounts hers and the lives of her classmates during their years growing up in an orphanage and the following years after they move out as young adults. The children are bred and raised in order to eventually donate their organs until they "complete". Kazuo manages to create an innocent and childlike character from the moment Kathy H begins to narrate, all the way through to her last perceptions and insights. The narration is broken up by reflections on experiences the children had at Hailsham, which build a curiosity all the way through the book. The circumstances of the donations, the children's relationships with each other and with their teachers is always cast in a grey light which is pushed further into shadow by the intermittent reflections of Kathy H. Her childish ignorance continues into her adult life and is always compassionate but matter of fact.
Never let me go is a sad read with absolutely no hope, not even at the end of the story but it promotes thought about organ donation and the morality and selfishness of humans and what practices society will accept and turn a blind eye to.