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?