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Archive for the month “December, 2021”

Reading intentions for 2022

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I have decided to set some reading intentions for the forthcoming year as I enjoyed doing this for 2021. You can read more about my 2021 intentions here and my review of them here. My 2021 intentions were rather ambitious and I’m pleased with how far I got with them so here are my intentions for 2022.

One: Slow down

I felt driven to read in 2021 but I’m not sure that the speed at which I am reading is conducive to the experience. There were lot of books I ‘had’ to read by certain dates for book clubs and courses but this created a certain degree of pressure. In 2022, I would like to read at my own pace and not feel compelled to whizz through one novel and then start the next, merely in order to meet a deadline.

Two: Complete the 52 Book Club 2022 Reading Challenge

This might seem to go counter to my first intention but I enjoy matching the novels I read to the categories in the challenge and as I have read well over 52 books this year (105 at the last count), I can easily slow my pace and still complete it. I rarely select books specifically to fulfil a category but simply match my reading to the categories, which sometimes requires a bit of creative imagination and a fair amount of poetic licence!

Three: Keep a more detailed reading journal

I started off 2021 by keeping a detailed reading journal but tailed off along the way. It does, however, make me think more about what I’m reading and so I want to try this again in 2022.

Four: Use the library

Before March 2020, I regularly borrowed books from the library but never went back to doing so after it reopened. I daren’t think what I’ve spent on books this year – it’s been one of my guilty pleasures – and I really need to get back to borrowing books. It’s somewhat frustrating because it’s not a big library and they rarely have the specific books I’m looking for. However, this does force me to read ones that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered and which turn out to be gems, such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.

Five: Explore authors in greater depth

A few of times last year I went on YouTube to find out more about specific authors: Elif Shafak, Christy Lefteri and Mohsin Hamid come to mind. These interviews certainly enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of their novels and it would be beneficial to do this more often in the forthcoming year.

I feel this 2022 list of intentions is less ambitious than that of 2021 and I’m happy with that. My aim this year is to slow down, delve deeper and extract more from my reading.

Review of my reading intentions for 2021

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Earlier this year, I set myself five book-related intentions. Read more about them here: Here’s how I got on.

Complete the 52 Book Club 2021 Reading challenge

I did well this year, completing the challenge around May/June, and I find it so much fun matching the books to the categories or finding a book that fits a specific prompt. Find out more about the categories and the books I read here.

Keep a more detailed reading journal

I started off well on this but tailed off and finally stopped around two thirds of the way into the year. I’ve been reading too fast, finishing one book and immediately beginning the next without time to make notes.

Take some literature-related courses

I did quite a few in the first half of the year but the pressure of reading certain novels by specific dates started to suck out the joy and created unnecessary stress. However, I’m happy with the ones I did and they introduced me to some gems that I wouldn’t have otherwise read, such as Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov and Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello.

Explore Middle-Eastern and Japanese Fiction

These are the books I read from these parts of the world.

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World – Elif Shafek
  • Girls of Riyadh – Rajaa Alsanea
  • Liberty Walks Naked: Poems – Maram Al-Massri
  • What We Owe – Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde
  • The Taliban Cricket Club – Timeri N Murari
  • The Red-Haired Woman – Orhan Pamuk
  • The Space Between Us – Zoya Pirzad
  • I, The DivineA Novel in First Chapters – Rabih Alameddine
  • The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree – Shokoofeh Azar
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi
  • Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa
  • The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
  • Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa
  • The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
  • Asleep – Barbara Yoshimoto
  • Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami
  • Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
  • No Longer Human – Osamu Dazai
  • Breasts and Eggs – Mieko Kawakami
  • Black Rain – Masuji Ibuse
  • Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata

Choose an author and read all or most of their work

I’m currently working my way through the novels of Anne Tyler but have only read the first three so far so this is something I will carry on into 2022.

Overall, I’m pleased with the way these intentions went and achieved more than I anticipated.

My reading week: 51/52

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Currently Reading

I have just started reading Anne Tyler‘s fourth novel, The Clock Winder.

I’m also listening to No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.

I often have a book on the go that I dip into on a regular basis and my current one is The Art of Ayurvedic Nutrition: Ancient Wisdom for Health, Balance, and Dietary Freedom by Susie Colles.

Recently Completed

I’ve finished reading A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler. From the blurb:

Evie Decker is a shy, slightly plump teenager with a distant father and hours and hours of silence to fill. Then one night she hears local rock singer Drumstrings Casey on the radio and is instantly enchanted by his cool emotionless voice. Evie learns that Drumstrings frequently plays at a dingy roadhouse called the Unicorn. So she goes there and, with an uncharacteristically bold gesture, bursts out of her lonely shell – and into the attentive gaze of an intangible man who becomes all too real.

I’m currently (re)reading Tyler’s novels in order, this being her third. I felt this novel is different from her others although I can’t quite pinpoint why, other than the fact that there is an unusual incident which directs the plot whereas generally Tyler uses the commonplace. I enjoyed it more than her second novel, The Tin Can Tree, but less than her first, If Morning Ever Comes. At times, I struggled to understand the motivation and behaviour of the characters but notwithstanding this, it was still a quirky, interesting story.

I also read Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To Elgie Branch, a Microsoft wunderkind, she’s his talented, volatile, troubled wife. To fellow mothers at the school gate, she’s a menace. To design experts, she a legendary architect. But to 15-year-old Bee, she is quite simply Mum.

Then Bernadette disappears. And Bee’s search for her mother reveals an extraordinary woman trying to find her place in an absurd world.

What can I say? I wasn’t sure I was going to like this but it turned out to be one of my rare 5-star reads. It’s quirky, interesting and unique, heartbreaking and humorous, and I don’t know how Semple came up with the ideas or the plot – it’s so original. It’s told through emails, letters, faxes, interviews, anything other than straightforward narration, and involves breakdown, disappearance, adultery, identify theft, abandonment, and a trip to Antartica. The characters are likeable, even at their worst, and the story is unpredictable. It’s a gem of a novel.

I’ve now finished a year-long project by working my way through A Year to Clear by Stephanie Bennett Vogt. From the publisher:

Stephanie Bennett Vogt takes you on a journey of self-discovery, letting go, and transformation. Each of the 365 lessons—organised into 52 weeklong themes—offers daily inspiration designed to release stress and stuff in ways that lighten, enlighten, and last.

I enjoyed working through this although I didn’t always follow through on the suggestions. I did, however, write journal responses to the daily questions even when they didn’t feel relevant, and found doing so a useful exercise. The past couple of years have been difficult for me and if times had been normal, I may have got more out of it. Having said that, I think it has made a subtle difference to my life and at some point in the future I may work through it again as I did look forward to my morning exploration.

My final completion was Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

They used to be young, brave and giddy with hopes for their future. They married had a child, and skated through the small calamities of family life. But then, slowly, quietly, something changed.

This is told through a series of short paragraphs from which the reader pieces together the trajectory of a relationship. It’s quick and easy to read whilst being profound, and the author gives a deep insight into the mind of the narrator despite the sparse prose. This was another very enjoyable read.

Reading Next

My next read might be The Stationery Shop of Tehran by Marjan Kamali, as it’s a while since I read a Middle Eastern novel.

My quotation this week comes from Where’d You Go, Bernadette and explains the idea of the brain being a ‘discounting mechanism’:

Let’s say you get a crack in your windshield and you’re really upset. Oh no, my windshield, it’s ruined, I can hardly see out of it, this is a tragedy! But you don’t have enough money to fix it, so you drive with it. In a month, someone asks you what happened to your windshield, and you say, What do you mean? Because your brain has discounted it…It’s for survival.

My reading week: 50/52

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Currently Reading

At the moment, I’m reading A Slipping Down Life, which is Anne Tyler‘s third novel.

I’m listening to No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, which I got on special offer from Audible.

Recently Completed

I’ve just finished Wintering by Katherine May. From the blurb:

Wintering is a poignant and comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life, times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves. Katherine May thoughtfully shows us how to come through these times with the wisdom of knowing that, like the seasons, our winters and summers are the ebb and flow of life.

I’m never quite sure what to expect with these kinds of books; often they end up disappointing me in that they don’t quite do what they suggest they will. It seems to me that not only does this ‘memoir’ guide the reader through winter, highlighting the adaptations we need to make to thrive during this season, but also applies this hibernation and self-care period to times in our lives when we are going through challenges or generally feel low and out-of-sorts. For the most part, I found this an interesting, enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and particularly relevant to this time of year.

Reading Next

My next read might be Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.

My quotation this week comes from Wintering and is one that resonates with me as we approach the Christmas holiday season, a time when I retreat from the mundane and reflect and prepare for the next year.

More than any other season, winter requires a kind of metronome that ticks away its darkest beats, giving us a melody to follow into spring. The year will move on either way, but by paying attention to it, feeling its beat, and noticing the moments of transition – perhaps even taking time to think about what we want from the next phase in the year – we can get the measure of it.

Katherine May

My reading week: 49/52

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I have now read 100 books this year, far surpassing my goal of 52.

Currently Reading

I’m reading Wintering by Katherine May, a perfect book for this time of year, and am fast approaching the end of Stephanie Bennett Vogt’s A Year to Clear.

Recently Completed

I’ve finally completed The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. From Waterstones’ website:

The sun brightens in the east, reddening the blue-grey haze that marks the distant ocean. The vultures roosting on the hydro poles fan out their wings to dry them. the air smells faintly of burning. The waterless flood – a man-made plague – has ended the world.

But two young women have survived: Ren, a young dancer trapped where she worked, in an upmarket sex club (the cleanest dirty girls in town); and Toby, who watches and waits from her rooftop garden. Is anyone else out there?

Although the second novel in the Maddaddam dystopian trilogy, this is not so much a sequel to the first (Oryx and Crake) as simultaneous to it, in that it tells the same story but through the experience of different characters. It is certainly interesting but I didn’t find it as gripping and absorbing as the first novel. I find both novels slightly frustrating as we see the impact of man’s actions but not the detailed process and motivations that brought the planet to this state, which I guess is a realistic assessment of how events are truly experienced in the world. Certain aspects of both novels seem frighteningly to mirror what is actually happening in our world today and I have to marvel at Atwood’s ability to weave possibilities into a horrific, viable reality. Though slightly disappointing after the impact of Oryx and Crake, I know I will have to read the final novel in this trilogy.

I’ve now finished the audio version of Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. From Penguin’s website:

This is a love story that spans fifty years, three lives, two continents and an ocean. It tells of school teacher Etta, who settles in the Canadian prairies during the Great Depression and of the two pupils who fall in love with her: Russell, a city boy who takes to farming despite his twisted leg, and Otto, who struggles in school but always tries hard – even when he’s sent to fight a war in a distant land. It is a story of love and joy, pain and passion, memory and forgetting – and one incredible journey. It is the story of Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

What I’m discovering now I’m listening to audiobooks regularly is that some books need to be read whereas others are fine to listen to. For me, plot driven novels fit into the latter category. This was a novel I would have got more out of had I read it. It’s a charming, gentle and moving story, which ebbs and flows in time, like the ocean Etta is journeying to visit. There is an interesting element of magical realism, which gives it a fairytale quality.

Reading Next

I suspect I will go for Anne Tyler‘s third novel, A Slipping Down Life.

My quotation this week comes from The Year of the Flood:

As with all knowledge, once you knew it, you couldn’t imagine how it was that you hadn’t known it before. Like stage magic, knowledge before you knew it took place before your very eyes, but you were looking elsewhere.

Margaret Atwood

Five books I want to read soon

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For the past few years, I have participated in the 52 Book Club Reading Challenge, where you aim to read 52 books in 52 different categories. Here are five books I am drawn towards reading next year, together with their possible categories. Find out more about next year’s challenge here:

1. The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. Earlier this year, I read the intriguingly titled 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World and discovered this wonderful author, who is also an interesting and eloquent speaker. The Island of Missing Trees is her latest novel – part of which is apparently narrated by a fig tree – and explores the forbidden love between a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot. As it is set in both Cyprus and London, I wonder if it might be suitable for the category ‘a bilingual character’.

2. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. I’ve seen this novel mentioned a couple of times recently, which is generally a sign that I need to read it. It’s about a bookstore haunted by its most annoying customer, which would fit comfortably into the prompt ‘featuring a library or bookstore’.

3. A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi. I came across this novel after having listened to Homefire by Kamila Shamsie and it is currently sitting on my TBR pile. It’s about the radicalisation of a Muslim teen in California and poses the interesting question: does a person decide how to live, or is their life decided for them? I think this would be a good choice for the category ‘set on at least two continents’, as it spans both America and Syria.

4. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I read Conversations with Friends, which I enjoyed, and watched Normal People, which I also enjoyed although I struggled to understand the characters’ motivations and wondered whether I would have got more from reading it. I’m therefore curious about her latest novel and feel it would suit the category ‘a book with illustrated people on the cover’.

5. Songbirds by Christy Lefteri. I loved The Beekeeper of Aleppo so am keen to read/listen to Lefteri’s latest novel. It involves the disappearance of a Sri Lankan nanny, who the police dismiss as being another runaway domestic worker, causing her employer to undertake the investigation. This seems to be suitable for the category ‘an unlikely detective’.

These are just a few of the novels I am keen to read next year – there will be many more.

My reading week: 48/52

My yoga sanctuary, where I have spent over 600 hours since March 2020

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Currently Reading

I’m still reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. It’s a long novel and I’m only about a third of the way through because I’m not yet finding it quite as gripping as the first of this dystopian trilogy, Oryx and Crake.

I’m also reading Wintering by Katherine May.

For an audiobook, I’m listening to Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.

Recently Completed

I’ve just read Living Your Yoga: finding the spiritual in everyday life by Judith Hanson Lasater. From the blurb:

If you think that you have to retreat to a cave in the Himalayas to find the enlightenment that yoga promises, think again. In Living Your Yoga, Judith Hanson Lasater stretches the meaning of yoga beyond its familiar poses and breathing techniques to include the events of daily life – all of them – as ways to practise.

Using the time-honoured wisdom of the Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita to steer the course, she serves up off-the-mat practices to guide you in deepening your relationships with yourself, your family and friends, and the world around you.

Although this book has the word ‘yoga’ in its title, you do not need to practise yoga to benefit from the guidance this gem contains, nor do you need to be spiritual; it has a place in everyone’s life. The twenty-six sections, which range from ‘discipline’ to ‘fear’ to ‘compassion’ to ‘courage’, are short at around five or six pages and contain different practices (for the most part not yoga related) and mantras. This is one of the most useful self-help-type books I have ever read and I plan on working through one section a week (once I have finished A Year to Clear by Stephanie Bennett Vogt), putting the suggestions into practice, and journalling my experience and the impact it has on my life.

Reading Next

I’m drawn to Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I’ve downloaded and read a sample and very much liked it so I may have to order the real book.

My quotation this week comes from Wintering and expresses a realisation I had a few days before reading this, which I expressed in this post:

Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt.

Katherine May

Winter Wonder List

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I’ve found that compiling a seasonal list of intentions has helped me transition smoothly from one season to the next, and that this is particularly important for winter, which I dread. I mourn the warm days and light evenings of summer and feel resentful about the dark evenings, bare trees and icy air that winter brings. I want to continue to be my summer person: barefoot, sitting in the garden into the evening, fewer layers of restriction. But I can’t be that person in winter; I need to adapt. This list is to sustain me through winter, and just thinking about the seasonal things I can do has helped me to welcome this time of year rather than resisting it.

  1. Read Wintering by Katherine May – I bought this earlier in the year but have been saving it for now.
  2. Light candles and snuggle in a blanket – To add a cosy feel to the dark evenings.
  3. Attempt to knit the Evermore sweater – It’s on circular needles, which I’ve never used before, knitted top down, which I’ve never done before, and has American instructions, which I’ve never experienced before – what could possibly go wrong?!
  4. Knit a chunky hat – I’m going to need this for my next intention.
  5. Wrap up warm and go for walks – There is something very beautiful about fresh, frosty days, especially when the sun is shining, but whatever the weather, being out in the crisp air is exhilarating.
  6. Host a Christmas or New Year celebration – To bring the warmth of connection to the darkness.
  7. Visit London – A tradition that my daughters and I seem to have established for this time of year, with lunch and a trip to an art gallery or theatre or ballet or, one year, an immersive Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol‘ experience where I dressed up as a Victorian!
  8. Choose a word for next year – The Christmas and New Year period is a time when I reflect on the past year and plan for the next one, and finding a word that encompasses the direction I want to go in helps.
  9. Attend a yoga workshop – I want to learn more about yoga and experience it as a way of life.
  10. Begin practising ‘Living Your Yoga: finding the spiritual in everyday life’ (by Judith Hanson Lasater) – I’ve just read this book once through and plan to spend a week focusing on each section.
  11. Take part in Everything Art’s ‘Care December‘ offering – I used to art journal on an almost daily basis but have lost my mojo over the past eighteen months and done nothing. I’ve participated in many of Everything Art’s offerings in the past so this seems an ideal opportunity to restart. Find out more about it here (it’s free, simple to do, can take just a few minutes a day, and you don’t have to be ‘artistic’!):
  12. Do something spontaneous – This is my go-to for every season: grab an opportunity that suddenly presents itself.

As I mentioned, winter is my least favourite season, but setting these intentions has created a sense of excitement and an embracing of the possibilities that this time of year offers.

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