Books to Read – 2018 edition

Lists and list-making has a definite charm – fans of bullet journals would probably know. I’m not a #bujo person myself, but I’ve read The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which I like to think is the Heian era version of #bujo, so I can appreciate the sentiment somewhat. When it comes to making to-read lists, though, extreme frustration is what I feel most frequently, because no motivation, no sense of direction, and anxiety, make a rather absent-minded and infrequent reader.

Now look again at the title of this post, and groan.

This might call for lots of second thoughts, but seriously, what can I do except keep giving myself second chances and cling to hope? I really want to get back into my old habit of reading, but I’ve been trying for two years now without much success. Social networking over reading – Goodreads challenges and groups, #booklr – didn’t help at all; in fact they increased the pressure and left me flailing too often to read. So this year I’m taking a break from the groups, the yearly challenge, and #booklr reading fests (not that I’ve really participated in them with any sustained effort) to find a route that’s easier on my nerves and more enjoyable generally.

When it comes to enjoyment, university curricula are very efficient at shooting down one’s hopes. Let’s see then. The sort-of official reading list for one of my courses this semester, Postcolonial Literature, has 17 entries, and roughly 23 authors at least. There’s one optional courses about Renaissance drama that shouldn’t be too difficult – I have to read a minimum of three plays, four to be on the safe side. But there’s another optional on literary theory – specifically, structuralism and deconstruction – that’s not going to be remotely as easy. There’s also another core course, and I have no idea of the reading list for that one. Encouraging, right?

But on the other hand, owing to Doctor Who, fan projects, and a general change in my personal preferences, I want to read more science fiction, and dip back into my old love for fantasy. I would’ve mentioned LGBT+ romances too, but romances don’t hold my attention. Instead, I think I’ll go for a reading range this year that takes into account both my semester reading and other reading.

I can’t convey in words the intense shame burning me right now, because I’ve been on this train for the last two years to no avail, and part of my brain is screaming at me, “YOU’LL FAIL! YOU’LL FAIL LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO, AND YOU’LL WANT TO SET YOURSELF ON FIRE BECAUSE YOU’RE INCAPABLE OF KEEPING YOUR WORD!”

So, apart from that wave of nauseating defeatism, I think I’ll offset the additions this year with some of the books I haven’t been able to finish last year, some rereads, etc. Here’s a list.

  • The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: course reading, Indian, fiction. I’ve been looking for a reason to read this one for some time now. Recently I’ve felt attracted to books that have water, rivers, oceans, as a key theme, and then this cropped up on the reading list. Well, then. This will probably be my first read of the year.
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente: 2017 reads, American, fantasy > mythpunk. Can’t have enough of that sub-genre. I’ve read Radiance, and I did all I could to not scream at its magnificence. Deathless isn’t impressing me as much, for reasons (Tumblr aesthetic is over-saturated with it, etc.) But I’ve read half of this story, and it’s really fantastic.
  • A Dance of the Forests by Wole Soyinka: course reading, Nigerian, drama. I don’t have the faintest idea what this is about, but I’ve read some of Soyinka’s poems before, and I liked his writing. This shouldn’t be too bad.
  • Kristen Lavransdatter, vol. II: The Wife by Sigrid Undset: 2017 reads, Norwegian, historical fiction. This is one of the books that make you feel warm and thoughtful in retrospect, more so than Bleak House or Tom Jones. The first volume is more popular, I’ve heard, for obvious scenery porn – which is, to be fair, extraordinary. But in terms of character drama, I found volume II meatier. Too bad it tends to be rather slow and dense at times. I had to drop it while halfway through due to coursework pressure, but this year I’d like to finish at least volume II, if not III as well.
  • Warrior’s Apprentice (Young Miles #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold: (author: American), sf/f fiction. Space opera! Something light for a palate cleanser after four texts that are likely to be really dense (the first and fourth in the list are certifiably so). I read the first Vorkosigan saga omnibus, Cordelia’s Honor, last year, and liked it a lot (there were a few missteps and hinks in there though). I should like to have the sequels interspersed with the heavier reads.
  • Shame by Salman Rushdie: course reading, Indian, fiction. The Satanic Verses or Midnight’s Children are more famous works of Rushdie, but this one is less often talked about. I haven’t felt brave enough to pick up one of his books till now, so this one should help me a little.
  • The Mountains of Mourning and The Vor Game (Young Miles #2 and #3) by Lois McMaster Bujold: (author: American), sf/f fiction. With this I’d finish the second omnibus, and then to take a break from the saga itself till the next year (2019 feels so unreal, though) in favour of other sf/f books.
  • Petals of Blood by Ngugi Wa’ Thiong’o: course reading, Kenyan, fiction. Another book from Africa! The Goodreads description itself has me hyped. I don’t know what condition I’ll be in by this point in time, though.
  • Plainwater: Essays and Poetry by Anne Carson: 2017 reads, Canadian, poetry, creative non-fiction. Seriously, what even is this book? It’s all sorts of brilliant, but severely opposed to any form of binge reading. Of course, leaving a book one’s in love with only half-finished is unfair.
  • July’s People by Nadine Gordimer: course reading, South African, fiction. Yep, Africa again. I’ve read a few short stories by Gordimer before, and I liked them. So, picking this one over Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.
  • Surfacing by Margaret Atwood: course reading, Canadian, fiction. I’ve wanting to read this book for a long, long time. Glad I have another reason to read it now apart from that I’ve heard good things about it.
  • The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit: 2016 reads, (author: American), creative non-fiction, memoir. This last entry makes twelve entries, so I’m hesitant to add anymore and make the list too extensive and unrealistic. One book per month should work out fine. That said, I’d like very much to end the year with a reread of the book that practically changed my world. This is the book I read, completed, and adored during a time when I couldn’t almost any book I started.

This isn’t in a set order, and I fully expect it to be changed, rearranged and fast-forwarded as the year progresses. However, I do want to read all these books this year itself, and to be able to write about them when I’ve finished.

Well, then? Fingers crossed for 2018.