What I Read In 2019

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With only two weeks left of this year, I thought it would be nice to catch up on what I’ve been reading this year. It’s good to do some kinds of recaps of the year – there’s so much we can accomplish in one year but we tend to forget that. This reading list is a reminder to me that I did manage to read some books – and maybe it will benefit you as well, if you find something new to add to your TBR pile for 2020?

This year was a very inconsistent year when it comes to reading. 

In the beginning of the year, I was able to hold on to a reading routine as I had some good, inviting books to read. Then at some point I just couldn’t seem to find anything interesting and my reading routines halted for a while. During our trip in Southeast Asia, from July to September, I barely read anything. I only had one book with me but it wasn’t an easy one to read.

Back To My Reading Routines

However, things started to look up when we were driving our car on the east coast of Australia. At a camping site, I noticed a man reading a book behind a table filled with novels. He was selling them for two dollars per book and I couldn’t resist a look. I found two books and ka-ching! I was back to my reading routines.

The other improvement to my reading happened when we arrived to New Zealand. After a few weeks and some honest thinking and looking into reviews and product information, I decided to purchase an e-book reader. After 2-3 weeks of using it, I can honestly say that this was my best purchase in a while! In only a few weeks, I’ve managed to read three books already and I still feel motivated to pick up my eReader every evening.

So, through the ups and downs of it all, I managed to read nineteen books in total in 2019. That makes it approximately one and a half books per month – which is surprisingly good considering everything! 

As this post tends to get information heavy, I think it’s best to just dive into my what-I-read-list from this year! As last year, I have marked the books that I really enjoyed with an asterisk (*).

From Tartt to Rand and King

Donna Tartt:
The Secret History (1992)
The Goldfinch (2013) *

I started the year with reading an old favorite of mine: The Secret History. This was the fourth time reading it and it was nice to be back with the characters and once again marvel at Tartt’s style of writing. I really love the atmosphere in the book, and the psychology and complexity of the characters. However, surprisingly, in the end, I wasn’t as excited about the book as I had been previously. Time changes our reading habits and preferences, I think.

Then again The Goldfinch was excellent. It was awful and cruel in the same way as Tartt’s debut but I just loved the setting, the main character and how I got to experience his life journey with him. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again as it tended to be quite distressing, but still, I really enjoyed it. 

Haruki Murakami: What I Think About When I Think About Running (2007)

This book I’ve written about on the blog as well. Even though it didn’t end up as one of my favorites of the year, it has stayed in my thoughts. Every once in a while, I find myself thinking about the strengths of a writer Murakami writes about (talent, focus, endurance) or how to find your style as a writer. A good book about writing (and running), for sure! 

Beth Ravis: Paper Hearts Volume 1: Some Writing Advice (2015)

This book about writing was a good and easy but informational read! Ravis explains so many things so well in so few pages. Although I’m familiar with much of what she writes about, this book was still a fresh reminder of some aspects of writing. She also presents different story/plot structures that can help you plan your plot (that is, if you are a plotter).

Victor Dixen: Ascension (2015)

I came across this book while browsing through the YA section of my local library. Something about the name and cover made me pick up the book and the short summary in the back sounded promising: speed dating in space. Although I do think there were too many characters to be presented in such a short while and the plot development was inconsistent in pace, this turned out to be a fun page-turner I really enjoyed reading.

Tove Jansson:
Pappan och havet / Moominpappa at Sea (1965) *
Taikurin hattu / Finn Family Moomintroll or The Magician’s Hat (1948),
Vaarallinen juhannus / Moominsummer Madness (1954)
Taikatalvi / Moominland Midwinter (1957) *

When I went sailing this Summer, I noted my friends had Moominpappa at Sea in their small bookshelf on the sailboat. I had been thinking about reading Moomin for a while now as I thought Jansson’s (who was a Swedish-speaking Finn) books were written with the same idea in mind I have for Yellow Tails: funny, odd characters presenting more serious thoughts and truths about life. After Moominpappa at Sea, I continued to read many of the others from the Moomin-series. Of these, my favourites were Moominpappa at Sea and Moominland Midwinter. Both of them had a darker tone while still portraying the moomins in their silly everyday activities. These books I’ll return to in the future, for sure!

James Dashner: The Maze Runner Trilogy
The Maze Runner (2009)
The Scorch Trials (2010)
The Death Cure (2011)

Honestly, I did not like this book trilogy to the slightest. The books are, for sure, page-turners, all three of them but oh my, how they are filled with action and only action. I decided to read them because my younger sister had talked about them a great deal, and when I spotted the first book on the book desk at the camping site, it was easy to decide this was a great time to read Dashner’s bestselling series.

I’d say the first one is the best one – after that everything just gets chaotic. You never get to know the characters probably and they lack depth. For me, it didn’t really deliver life lessons to its readers. However, Dashner has managed to create an action-packed story that many youngsters have found appealing – the fact that these books get them to read is good. I just wasn’t very impressed with the trilogy.

Gavin Extence: The Universe Versus Alex Woods (2013)

I bought this book for one dollar at a charity shop. The title was fun and after reading a few pages I decided I would give this book a go. It reminded me of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and the main character definitely had some Don Tillmanish going on there. However, even though the book was a fun read and even educational, I found it hard to fall in love with it. There was just something missing, maybe between the characters or in the plot itself. 

Stephen King: On Writing (2000) *

I spotted this book on the bookshelf of our hosts in New Zealand and decided that I could and I would read it during the week we were staying there. Although I had to rush through it, I loved it. It was fun, informational and really critical to some aspects of living and writing which I enjoyed because King expresses ideas and thoughts that not everyone has the courage to bring forward. This one is definitely a book I’ll remember for a long time.

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (2017)

Another book I found at another host’s bookshelf in New Zealand and knew this was the time I would give the popular book a go. I had been thinking about buying it a couple of times and always left it at the store but now I got to read it – for free! 

The first 150 pages were really enjoyable and proper page-turners. There was something similar, again, to The Rosie Project and Alex Woods, but halfway through, the book kind of lost its tempo. It felt like the problems that were presented in the beginning of the book got solved too easily which for me wasn’t believable. This is most likely an enjoyable book for many but for me, it was too… straightforward. 

Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead (1943) *

This ended up being the only audiobook I listened to this year. But it was a long one – 32 hours / 753 pages. It’s also a book one does not read as a light evening read. It’s filled with ugly truths, unhappy fates and awful trouble people can cause on each other. But it’s also a wonderful book with a complex plot, even more complex characters and it celebrates the wonder of creating and staying true to your passion. 

I loved this book, although it was a huge struggle to get through. I would like to read it again at some point, most likely from my eReader where I can adjust the font size and line spacing. This is definitely one of my favourite books even though it wasn’t my favorite read (and there’s a difference).

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One (2011) *

I saw the movie earlier this year and really liked the idea behind it, so I gave the book a go. Even though they had changed a lot of the plot for the movie (to their advantage, I’d say), I had so much fun reading this book. It was entertaining and a proper page-turner – and it didn’t matter that I mostly had no clue about the computer games the characters were talking about or playing.

What I really liked about the book was that the author didn’t make his characters too easy to like. They all have their weaknesses, their ugly sides, and I had a hard time liking these characters. I really respect an author who has the guts to give their characters truly ugly personality traits – it feels real.

Karen McManus: One of Us Is Lying (2017)

I just finished this YA book this week. It’s okay, probably a good book for a typical young adult because it deals a lot with challenges youngsters have – but for me they were too stereotypical and their problems weren’t that interesting to me because they lacked timelessness. I kept on reading it, however, because I wanted to know the ending. Therefore, in that way, the book had a good mystery going on there.

19 + 2

In addition to these nineteen books, I have two pieces of fiction that I’ve been reading but didn’t make it to the list:

SenLinYu: Manacled (2018–2019)

This was a fan fiction story I read during the Summer and Fall. I wouldn’t maybe include it here otherwise but the story was, in total, 350,256 words. If it would have been printed out as a novel, it would’ve been a heavy book to read. The story was great, filled with good writing and great plot twists – and that’s why I think it deserves a place on my reading list.

Andre Aciman: Call Me By Your Name (2007)

The book I have carried with me from Finland to Southeast Asia to Australia and to New Zealand… without getting even halfway. There are so many things I like about this book but it’s something I can read only in short snippets. The language is too beautiful, I just can’t read it as an evening read. It has to be read with time and thought. 

I think I’ll hold on to this book a bit longer and see if I get through it. To think a book can be too good to be read!

A Short Summary

I read some good books this year. My reading list was quite YA heavy and I read many books from the same authors but maybe it was okay – for me, it was most important to keep on reading all sorts of books, whether they were all the same genre or not. And I got to read books from a long period of time: the oldest was from 1943 and the newest 2017!

But for next year, especially with my new eReader in hand, I’ll try to challenge myself more and try different genres from several different authors. I also hope to read more in Finnish. I already have a long list of books I look forward to reading during 2020! I also hope to be able to keep on with my reading routine, between 30 to 60 minutes every night. 

But now, it is time for me to round up this book list review / blog post and let you pick something for your TBR 2020 pile. Was there any books on this list you’ve read yourself and especially liked or didn’t like? Or did you find some interesting book to read during Christmas or next year?

Lessons With Murakami

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Some nine years ago I walked into a book store that had a sale on all sorts of books. That was still a time when I purchased books in the spur of the moment: if the title, synopsis and the writing style agreed with me (checked by reading a paragraph or two), I’d buy the book. That day I left the store with two books: one was a classic and the other one was a memoir – a genre I’m not very familiar with.

The memoir was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. A thin book, 180 pages, published in 2008. The back cover promised personal essays on running, a sort of memoir written by the famous Japanese author.

At the time, I was desperately trying to find ways to integrate sports into my life and thought that maybe this book could inspire me to make running into a habit. So, I bought it. I hadn’t read Murakami before, but this felt like a simple, nice way to get to know him and his style of writing.

However, it wasn’t until this year, 2019, that I actually managed to read and finish that book. Funny enough, soon after purchasing the book a friend of mine asked if her friend could borrow it because he was writing a book essay about Murakami. I borrowed it as I hadn’t started reading it yet, with a promise to get it back in a few months.

I did get it back in a few months – nine years later. Because two months ago, I saw my friend again and got the book back.

I did get it back – and the timing was perfect.

The Ideal Timing

I don’t know if you know this – but you know how sometimes you read a book and think this was the perfect time to read this book? It could be the theme of the book that feels relevant to you at the moment, or maybe the hero of the story is pondering the same things that you are.

The book might have been waiting in your pile of books to be read but you just never got into reading it. But then something happens, you pick up that book again and boom – it’s a match, the mind is ready for the content because the timing is perfect.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was that kind of match.

It’s a short book with nine journal-like entries that Murakami wrote under the course of one year when he trains for one of his many marathons. In these essays, the author reflects on his journey as a runner – but also as a writer. Originally, I purchased the book because I wanted to find the motivation to run. However, as I read it now, nine years later, the book gave me new thoughts and perspectives on writing, not running.

Metaphors and Thoughts

Although the book is short, it’s nothing to binge on. The essays are not fictitious but based on Murakami’s life experiences and thoughts on these experiences, that fill the chapters with some sort of lessons on life. Taking these life lessons in and thinking about them takes time, and therefore I read one chapter here and one chapter there – twenty pages or so at a time.

The book is for the most part about running although Murakami does share some of his thoughts on writing as well. For instance, he describes the moment when he decided to write his first book (he was in the bleachers of Jingu Stadium watching a baseball game when the thought came to him) and the process of becoming a full-time writer.

But although most of the essays focus on him training for a marathon or a triathlon, many of his thoughts on running can be turned into metaphors about writing. One of these thoughts / metaphors is about consistency when it comes to training. Murakami writes:

”The total amount of running I’m doing might be going down, but at least I’m following one of my basic rules for training: I never take two days off in a row. Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it.

– –

If, however, the load halts for a few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work that hard anymore, and they lower their limits. Muscles really are like animals, and they want to take it as easy as possible: if pressure isn’t applied to them, they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work.” (p. 71)

When it comes to training and running, this excerpt presents a cold, hard and true fact. But it applies to writing as well: creativity is a muscle that needs constant training to produce desirable results. And when improving one’s craft, consistency is a key. During a typical week, I don’t take more than a day off from writing – and that is why it never gets too hard to sit down and get my writing done. It’s a process similar to Murakami’s marathon training, only for me, it’s about sitting on my butt in front of my computer.

Three Lessons I Took With Me

There are three things in What I Talk About What I Talk About Running that resonated with me particularly well:

1. ”Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”

In the foreword, Murakami tells about an article he read where famous marathon runners revealed what special mantra goes through their heads while they run. One of them was ”Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” which means you have very little control over the hurt part of running, but it’s up to you to choose how much you wallow in it, how much pain you can take.

Writing can be seen as a marathon race, as well. It’s a process with as many feelings, emotional ups and downs, as during a 26.2 mile / 42,195 km run. Creating a novel from the first draft to being published contains inevitably some pain but how much you decide to invest thoughts and feelings in that pain is up to you.

2. Three most important qualities of a novelist: talent, focus and endurance.

This is something I hope to get back to later on this blog. Although I don’t fully agree with Murakami here, he does have a point. Talent is needed, some sort of knack or gift for the craft (although – what is talent, really?), to get good at producing quality.But talent is a fickle thing and isn’t really under our control – and this is where focus and endurance come into play. The ability to concentrate helps you to utilize that limited talent of yours, and endurance is what keeps you going and helps you finish those projects.

3. Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut.

 

Taking time to ”stubbornly, rigorously, and very patiently tighten all the screws of each individual part” (p. 161), that is, to practice and improve ones craft day after day, piece by piece, can pay off big time.

Say that you’re editing a novel and want to make it better but don’t know how. You start a time-consuming project: you start by reading about plotting and structuring a story, then you move on to storytelling and how to write fluent dialogue. After that comes creating authentic characters and tweaking the details, creating an as-perfect-as-possible manuscript.

Reading all these things and applying them to your writing can take a huge chunk of your time and feel ridiculous, time-consuming, like nitpicking. Why do this, why invest all this time in learning details – why not just try rewriting the whole story instead? At least you would be writing.

But suddenly, the parts fall into place and you understand how all the small details create a bigger, well-functioning picture. You end up improving your craft by taking all that time to learn.

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Have you read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? What in it resonated with you?