How much do you push yourself out of your reading comfort zone? It’s a question I’ve been contemplating lately. I don’t want to constantly dwell in a genre fiction ghetto, but I also don’t want to spend a lot of time reading books I don’t enjoy. I did find in March that books dealing with real life issues aren’t confined to Booker Prize winners. I read a brilliant sci-fi book covering all the same topics but in a much more subtle and entertaining (for me) way.
The Examined Life by Stephen Groz
“Closure is just as delusive-it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.”
This is a collection of stories from the couch of a London psychiatrist. Most end with some kind of twist or revalattion. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them show people in denial, consciously or unconsciously, about what is going on in their lives. I can’t say they gave me any insight into my own life, being more a diverting read than a tool for self-reflection. They do shine a light on psychoanalysis as well as human nature and shows what can be achieved with the process although these are short summaries and usually feature more extreme cases which is understandable. I found the child cases most interesting although there were only two of these. 2.75/5
A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarer 1) by Becky Chambers
“All you can do, Rosemary – all any of us can do – is work to be something positive instead. That is a choice that every sapient must make every day of their life. The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.”
If it’s possible for a sci-fi book to be cosy, then this is it. Set in a time when humans have left Earth for good, Rosemary gets a job aboard a spaceship called the Wayfarer. It has a small crew made up of humans and other species, who – with one exception – are more like family than colleagues. That’s what makes this novel so feel-good. It’s mainly character focused and the relationships between those characters – including the ship’s A.I. – are really special.
There was more than enough of a plot to keep me interested and it got tense towards the end. I’ve long been curious about the sci-fi sub-genre of space operas and apparently this falls under that category. To be honest, I’m still none the wiser but I loved it.
Can’t wait to read the rest of the 4-part series, although I believe they can all be read as standalones 5/5.
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins
“You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft, that you will die without ever realizing your true potential.”
I have so much love and respect for David Goggins. He is the most mentally tough person on the planet but he wasn’t born that way; he MADE himself that way. By the age of 8 he’d endured hundreds of beating by his pimp father. As a teen he cheated his way through school and was going nowhere fast. The racism he suffered in his small Indiana town didn’t help either.
He gradually began to turn his life around by realising that no one was coming to save him and he needed to be accountable to himself. Through strict accountability and self-discipline he ‘calloused his mind’ to the point where he no longer relied on motivation to achieve his goals. He became a Navy SEAL and went on to hold a number of endurance records. He has more than his fair share of haters for having such an extreme fitness regime but they are seriously missing the point. Goggins doesn’t expect others to do what he does. He is showing you that you can do better than you are doing now – immeasurably better. That if he can transform his life, you can too and begin to fulfill your potential.
I knew his story well already but wanted to hear the Audible audiobook because I heard it has a unique format. It is narrated by the writer who worked on the book, but every few pages he breaks off and interviews David about what has just happened and where his head was at the time . This gives an incredible level of additional insight. There are also 10 challenger throughout the books which are intended to help you become the hero of you own life. It was the bestselling audiobook on Audible last year for good reason. 5/5
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
‘How does a man accept a woman, any woman into his house? Just like that, let alone a mermaid. Life changed quick, boy, I never plan it so. Later I saw that change came as change always comes, from a chain of events with a long history, too long to see from back to front, till it come.’
This was an odd one. It has been shortlisted for a number of prizes and won Costa Book of the Year 2020 so I expected it to be pretty accessible with relatively broad appeal. I think that’s what threw me and I might have enjoyed it more otherwise.
This is a deeply strange tale set on the fictional Caribbean island of Black Conch where a mermaid is caught by white American tourists in 1976. She is treated brutally by the tourists (and some of the locals) when she is strung up on the shore. This beginning was unpleasant to read. However she is rescued by a local fisherman, David, and they fall in love.
It is written in the local parlance and partly in verse but readable for the most part, plus it’s only short. I came to like the characters that helped the mermaid but wasn’t captivated by it. Maybe I am too skewed towards gentle fairytales and myth re-tellings so one set in the in the 1970s was a bit too jarring for me.. I can appreciate how inventive it was though and it is much praised so go for it if it sounds intriguing to you. 3.25/5
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
“You see, Megan, I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway”
I usually avoid winners of the Booker Prize but I’d heard so much about this one and my sister really enjoyed it so I gave it a go. I also liked the fact it was structured as a series of stories about the lives of 12 girls, women and one non-binary ‘other’. They span the twentieth century and follow a broad range of Black people from a suburban teacher, to a feminist lesbian playwright, to a high-flying banker. Some were more likeable than others, all were interesting and I liked the way the stories interconnected; the best friend of the main character in one story, became the protagonist in the next and so on. The writing is exemplary and I liked the way most of the characters came together at the end.
I still prefer to escape into the distant past or future or a fantasy land, but it’s good to spend some time in the real world. It dealt with a range of issues including race, gender and sexuality. I’ll just always struggle with literary fiction, particularly when the ‘political’ issues are upfront and centre. 3/5
Do you tend to stick with the genres of fiction you love? Do you see any problem with this?
15 responses to “March Reading Diary”
a very inspiring list – thank you. In fact, I put 4 books on my TO READ list right away – and in order to answer your question : 2 of them are totally outside my usual reading comfort zone. While the books from Groz and Evaristo were my usual „playground“ I very rarely reach to sci-fi or phantasy. But amidst all that gloominess, lock-downs and never-ending winter I crave a story as you described your Small Angry Planet. Plus you just tempted me to make a 2nd try ever with an audiobook 🤣. Will let you know, how I succeed.
England opens today after a long lock-down – please be careful.
Sending a huge hug 💕
I hope you enjoy A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. I do think it’s accessible sci-fi.
Fingers crossed the audiobook goes well! I listen while jogging or doing housework and generally prefer listening to non-fiction rather than fiction.
Lockdown may be lifting but I’m not taking risks, especially not before my second vaccine jab.
Hello Tara, I very much enjoyed this post – a good topic. You read a lot ! I am in a book club and we usually read a book a month, and yes usually stick to the same style of fiction – Ann Patchett, Patrick Gayle, Kate Atkinson, Sebastian Faulkes with a few detours – really enjoyed Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo. This time I selected Piranesi by Susanna Clark – described as fantasy – we have not reviewed it yet but I am not expecting the others to have enjoyed it – but I think it is good as you say to step out of the comfort zone and read something quite different. However the book was not what I was expecting. I have noticed this with perfumes as well – the descriptions of Orpheon by Diptyque and Snowy Owl by Zoologist bore no relation to the blurb or the notes for these frags. How do you choose a book – download an extract, or personal recommendation, online reviews ?
I liked Piranesi and hope your book club get something out of it. It is hugely evocative if nothing else and a quick read.
As for choosing books, every day I check the Kindle Daily Deals, I watch ‘Booktubers’ on YouTube and am a member of Goodreads.
Interesting question? My go-to relax fiction has always been old fashion crime. Nothing is as relaxing as Agatha Christie 🙂 However, I prefer and get my mental kicks from classic novels, I just don’t always have the energy for that.
I rarely go out of genre and read for example autofiction or sci-fi.
Loved this. Not always having the energy is exactly it. I want to read more ‘socially conscious’ works but don’t have it in me to do it often. I’ll still do it but only every now and again, with my comfort genres being the bulk of what I read. I don’t want to turn it into a chore.
I left a comment but it seems to have been eaten by the WordPress monster.
Basically it said: the space opera sounds terrific and I love hero stories of low life to amazing, overachieving high life.
I feel like WordPress is working against us lately.
I think you’d love the space opera. Val is reading it as we speak.
I don’t read memoirs generally but the Goggins one is on another level.
That’s surprising about the memoirs. I went through a 20 year stage of devouring them whole. I have dozens of them still. Have even read a few of them like Michael Caine, Barbra Streisand, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Coco Chanel multiple times. They were so inspirational.
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Yeah, if you get inspired by them that’s great. I just find celeb memoirs a turn off for some reason.
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I love the fact there actually is a genre called “space opera”, and even though I am still a bit wary of any book not firmly based on terra firma after the otherworldly whimsy of The Gracekeepers, you have whetted my appetite too about the Small Angry Planet. I know you award top marks sparingly.
Then I guess my go-to genres are contemporary fiction, crime and psychological thrillers, and self-help at the moment. I wouldn’t rush to read “socially conscious” works either!
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Perhaps Val can let us know when she finishes it and you will have her opinion to go on too.
I love the idea of space operas too and am going to look up more of them.
Thanks for helping me not feel less guilty about not reading more socially conscious books!
I’m a bit late but it’s always interesting to read your lists, I find sth I like and add to my TBR pile. That actually showcases my optimism – the ever growing TBR pile (optimism behind it that I’ll ever actually finish it). 🙂
Always good to be optimistic Ines! Hopefully you will get some time to work through that pile.