Books I Thought I Would Hate That I Actually Enjoyed
[Three Book Thursday #1]
I tend to write rather long book reviews. I think there are two types of audiences for book reviews, and so you either write about the book as a recommendation (or warning) for new readers, or you write in detail as a forum for discussion for other people who have also read the book.
I tend to do the latter, so I thought it would be nice to create a space where I can recommend some books in a short and snappy weekly post. I'd like to try to give them all a theme, with this week's theme being books I thought I'd hate but actually really enjoyed, so if there’s any themes you’d like for me to consider let me know by commenting on this post or messaging me on Instagram.
I have left affiliate links for all three books below because, frankly, my kids need shoes.
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A Little Life // Hanya Yanagihara
This is the gargantuan book that has taken bookstagram by storm in the last few years. You’ve almost certainly heard of it, and while you may feel as though the hype has passed I would still suggest you consider reading it. It was published back in 2015 and I only got around to reading it this year, and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed by that.
The story primarily follows the lives of four young friends, from their formative years during University to old age and the inevitable. It is a tale of friendship and the nature of growing closer, growing apart, growing up, growing old.
The book is written beautifully. Yanagihara has managed to find ways to describe feelings, thoughts, emotions, apprehensions, and actions in utterly unique ways, while still maintaining the sense that these descriptions were the most efficient and most appropriate choices.
My (very long) review ends with a pretty damning statement, that this book is impossible to recommend. Well, this is awkward, since I am literally recommending it here. Thinking about my friends and family specifically, I know exactly who I would recommend this to, and specifically who should never touch the book. The positives of this book far outweigh the negatives, though; it is a journey, the satisfaction doesn’t come from completion but from becoming engulfed by the book and feeling every emotion with the characters as you read along.
I would suggest you consider the trigger warnings and how they sit with you, and then maybe give this a go. As I say, you don’t need to finish the book quickly. In fact, there’s no need to put pressure on yourself to read it at all! There is no harm in accepting that it may not be for you.
little scratch // Rebecca Watson
I’m pretty sure I picked this up based on an instagram recommendation with absolutely no prior knowledge of what to expect. I was initially daunted by the erratic format, with seemingly no rules or conventions being followed, text all over the page in different sizes, fonts, and orientations. You become accustomed to this new style of writing surprisingly quickly, though, as if all books had been written this way.
I have seen attempts at similar styles before and since (Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies comes to mind), but Rebecca’s style here doesn’t seem like a gimmick or overly difficult to grasp — it is well thought out, completely complementary to the narrative and themes, and is deliberately constructed to enhance the reading experience rather than just as a pretentious ploy.
This book details the thoughts, inputs, outputs, and commands of our unnamed protagonist on what appears to be a normal Friday at the office, but is littered throughout with relatable millennial overthinking (her routine and thoughts will be recognisable to anyone who has commuted to and worked from a London office setting), and ultimately a lot of trauma. I don’t really want to reveal what is at the heart of this book, it definitely enhanced my experience going in blind, but there is some trauma at the heart of this book so you may wish to look up the trigger warnings if you believe that may affect you.
I doubt there is a single correct order to read this in, but there is an audiobook available if you’re interested in hearing the author's intended reading of this. This isn’t a poem, irrespective of how it appears on the page — it is to be read fast (from my perspective), like a never exhausting continuous flow of thoughts. I think part of the charm of this style, and in particular Rebecca’s execution of it, is that each individual reader will create their own rules and use their own logic to give the text on a page a real voice.
Small Things Like These // Claire Keegan
This is the shortest ever nominee for the Booker Prize, and it has recently been named on the 2022 Booker Prize Shortlist. There’s no hiding what I originally made of this book from the first chapter. I think I predicted in my video that this book would be “a whole load of nothing”. Oh, how wrong I was.
The book centres around Bill, a humble, hard working family man working as a coal and timber merchant in a 1980’s Ireland plagued by Thatcherism. It is dull and grey, businesses are clothing, times are hard, the mood is low.
When Bill notices some strange occurrences at the convent, debate ensues about whether he should intervene in what he thinks he may have seen, or if he should just mind his own business and focus on his own. His instinct may be telling him to intervene, but he is convinced by those around him that doesn’t want to do so at the detriment to his family, since the convent is his biggest customer.
Everybody in the town appears to already know what is happening to some extent, yet they all choose to do nothing about it, with some even encouraging Bill to pursue it no further. Silence is complicity, but the argument from the likes of Bill's wife Eileen is that speaking up puts their family at risk for the sake of strangers.
The main feature of this book are the Magdalene Laundries, which is evident from the dedication and notes on the text. These were real asylums run by Roman Catholics in Ireland that operated from the 18th century, taking in “fallen women” (initially prostitutes, which extended to unmarried mothers, to eventually any young woman who showed signs of promiscuity). The truth about these institutions had not come out until the 1990’s, and the details are seldom taught in history classes (for obvious reasons).
I knew a very small amount about this only because I had watched a movie about it many years ago. While it isn’t going to win any awards, The Magdalene Sisters is the movie that brilliantly and quite accurately depicted the realities of these asylums.
There has been some criticism of this story being told from a male perspective, though I feel that is often a knee jerk reaction and something I will offer a response to and discuss in more detail in my big booker video. Overall this packs a real punch for such a short book.
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