The Road Through the Wall

The Road Through The Wall is Shirley Jackson’s debut novel. It follows a small community on Pepper Street, their everyday until the everyday shifts into something different, darker. Jackson’s known for her sinister, creeping style of writing – putting suburban drama into a light so bright you can see all of the ugly details, the unsettling sides to the individuals within her stories. Although the suburban drama is clearly present in this novel – the build-up was less impressive than my prior experience with Jackson, it didn’t feel seamless. Actually for the most part I felt the novel followed ‘normal’ suburban drama, with the kind of drama that is simply part of any community – even more so perhaps if the community is small and isolated. But the ending put the classic twist on everything, yet it felt like it came out of nowhere for me. Were there clues to get to that point? It might’ve been and I missed them. But unlike her other writing where I’ve felt dread the entire time even when I hadn’t necessarily known anything was going to happen, I didn’t while reading this book.

The story reminded me a bit of The Virgin Suicides. As I said, it’s the whole suburban drama thing but also that it follows the children of the community as closely as it does the adults. The novel opens up with some of the girls having written the boys in the community, letters – love letters, and the parents find these letters – spoiler, they’re not happy. Scandal! Shock! Disappointment! So the first 50 pages or so largely circles around these letters – although other things happen too, but it’s seen as a big deal by some of the adults in the community, where love letter writing apparently shows a lack of moral, and break of decorum.

On the whole I thought the suburban drama thing was enjoyable enough to read – it’s a bit like reading those #richpeopleproblems type stories where people are cheating on each other left and right, going bankrupt, have addiction problems, etc – you know the stories, it’s all good and fun since you know you’re from a distance, and also Jackson definitely makes fun of a lot of things and plays with things in her writing, and makes it therefor more relatable and poignant. Like for example how the people react to the end – the twist if you will – her description of the group reaction is so on point.

Unfortunately there was more I didn’t like about it. There was the sometimes questionable use of stereotypes and of people’s ethnicity, religion, or even mental states, things like that, as plot points that I wasn’t too keen on. Like the “Chinaman” who two of the girls of Pepper Street meet – what was the purpose for having him in the story? Why was he described and dealt with in such a stereotypical and problematic way? Was it meant to be a parody, or was it just outright racist? What I mean is that it wasn’t clear whether things like that was part of the story to add to the uncertainty of this community and dread of the time of having foreigners as part of their communities – in which case, problematic – or whether it was part of the exploration of the communities, if that makes sense. I get this was published in the 1940s, but I haven’t come across this sort of issue in Jackson’s writing before. It wasn’t just the “chinaman”, there was the way people reacted to some people in the community, sometimes I feel like there was hints of someone having a disability and I’m not sure I liked the way they portrayed the person. Even the ending I had some issues with, the implications of it. Like you can or are supposed to be able to predict a certain outcome from a certain set of attributes or personalities – which is I suppose a whole other story but it bothers me, especially because it’s damaging to have such a black and white sort of view on causality. Anyway, long story short – there were some things in the details I found questionable – did they have a purpose or not, were they a reflection of Jackson’s thoughts and her context, or where they there to drive the story, to highlight the communities reactions, to highlight the issues – but I’m going to leave it at that.

The major problem comes from the way the story was told, and sort of the aim of the novel. Jackson basically tries to do the same thing as J. K. Rowling does in The Casual Vacancy in that they create an entire community, try to delve into and explore community relations – group dynamics – and especially with tragedies or events happening within the community – the reactions to said events. While Jackson is clearly less ambitious, both novels share a weakness because of the way the narrative is written – the characters have less airtime, they shift very often, there’s a lot of people to keep track on, and you don’t really get to spend that much time with anyone – you only see glimpses of them at different times during the time span they follow. Which means it’s hard to get to know any of the character’s in any meaningful way. And for me this resulted in not caring about any of the characters. Since I didn’t care about any of the characters, even when shit started happening, it literally created no reaction from me.

Clearly I don’t like the narrative that I described above – while I like the idea of group dynamics and I find it fascinating as an object of scientific research and study – I don’t enjoy it as much in fiction because of the impact it has on character development. I think I would much rather read a story like this is a nonfiction format, than fiction.

So on the whole, it was an okay book and definitely entertaining while having some parts that were hitting my warning lamps, and other parts that were the dullest of dull – Skip the prologue! – but there you go. Now that I’ve read Jackson’s debut, I’m eager to return to the stories of hers I have enjoyed.

Rebecca

Rebecca is probably Daphne du Maurier’s most well known and well loved work – it’s the first of hers I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. I had heard of her ability in creating atmosphere especially – the gothic tone to her stories, and my expectations for atmosphere was met. What I didn’t know before was how utterly beautiful her prose is, obviously this is rather a subjective thing but for me her writing really had the melody of poetry, sentence by sentence. It was also one of the reasons my reading pace was rather slow at first, because I kept reading the book from “the outside” – being very aware of the words chosen to convey the story, before I was able to “disappear” as it were, and become part of the story. Any way you look at this novel, it’s wonderful – it’s clearly well written, it’s very atmospheric and beautiful and in that sense has quality to it, but it’s also rather ‘fun’ to read.

The novel follows a young woman who has joined a lady she works for, Mrs van Hoper, to Monte Carlo – as sort of an assistant I suppose. There she meets Max de Winter – a man who has lost his wife about a year prior to death and seems yet to be in mourning. The two of them become found of each other, leading to a marriage after an acquaintance of only a couple of weeks, and after some time spent on their honeymoon, Mr de Winter brings his new wife home to Manderely. And therein starts the trouble, first creeping up on you, eventually turning to quite the thrilling chase in more than one way.

When it comes to the atmosphere of the novel, Manderley is key. Of course, even the setting and atmosphere before the couple actually gets there shows promise but it’s the creation of Manderely as a place and the air of the place, the fragrance of the rose garden and the ocean, of the slightly suffocating feeling of the house – the places were she has been and is no longer. It’s clear quite early on that the place is haunted, not in a literal sense but still with consequences on all of the people involved in the estate. The new Mrs de Winter’s feeling within the house, with the staff of the estate, feeling out of place and like she is filling up someone else’s place, is so strongly described and evoked that I sometimes found this book claustrophobic. This is especially the case early on in their marriage when Mrs de Winter and Mr de Winter isn’t communicating much, and she as a newly moved in and with a personality that is easily influenced and swayed, feels trapped but can do, will do, nothing to change anything. It’s so uncomfortable to read at times, and yet the reason for it is really the strength of Maurier’s writing, and even though Mrs de Winter’s actions are at times incredibly frustrating to read – I could also sympathise with much of her feelings of being out of place and how one acts in such places, how to deal with that discomfort.

This is such a thrilling story too, because of the sense of mystery – it’s not hard to see there will be twists and turns coming right from the start of the book, and some of the twists are not entirely surprising either – but the best part is that even though they are not always surprising, the way to them are such fun to read. It really is like walking straight into disaster, and at one and the same time it’s a feeling of foreboding, dread, and thrill that keeps one moving forward to that coming disaster.

I feel like often, when reading suspensful books, one just wants to get to the “good parts” but in this book – the process, the journey to that final destination Are the good parts. Because most of the story is actually told in a very slowed down pace, without hinting too much in advance, much of the book it’s not that easy to see where the story is going to go. As I said earlier it’s not that difficult to see something bad will happen, but what that bad thing is is less clear. Or how it will happen. Because it’s actually rather “methodical”, I think this will be such a fun rereading experience – returning to this book actually knowing what will happen. I feel like, again, often with mysteries this is just the problem – when you know what’s going to happen they lose all of their spark. But not so with Maurier’s writing. I can’t wait to reread this, and seeing what else becomes visible with the knowledge of the end.

So dramatic, so much fun! I am looking forward to reading more of Maurier’s work in the future.

Until next time, happy reading!

What is Not Yours is Not Yours

What is Not Yours is Not Yours is a short story collection written by Helen Oyeyemi, published in 2016. Ever since hearing about it prior to its release, I’ve been interested to read these stories focused on and around keys – real and imaginary, with fairytale themes and magical realism elements woven in there. Unfortunately on the whole, it was a disappointing reading experience. As with all collections there will be a mix of good and bad (almost all), but in this case it was a definite leaning towards the less impressive that made up the bulk of the reading for me.

The first story, “books and roses”, was one of my favourites – it’s possibly the longest one in the bunch and is not only long in the actual page count but is perhaps also the most intricate, with stories within stories. It follows a young woman who as a baby has been left in the care of a religious house of some sort if I’m not mistaken, and she’s taken care of there – but then we see parts of the story of her life, and parts of the story of a woman she gets to know – and how their two stories have unexpected connections. It’s kind of hard to sum up this story because it goes in several directions and moves from character to character, it doesn’t focus in on this one woman even though that’s where it starts off and where it ends. All I can say really is that it’s magical, it’s got a sense of being a tale told and re-told, a “folkore” feel to it actually rather than fairytale, which is to say it feels a bit more grounded in history than in the surreal although it definitely has its elements of magic too.

Another story I really liked was “a brief history of the homely wench society”; which is basically about two secret societies, one brotherhood sort of society and the sisterhood society that is created as a sort of response to the “only-boys” allowed rule, there’s a bit about the societies, the rivalry between them, and about a girl – set in the present – who is part of the homely wench society, and one particular moment in her life where the societies meet. Again, I don’t think I’m making myself that clear since it’s a bit hard to sum up Oyeyemi’s stories in few words, they have so many threads going at the same time. But I liked the blend of history, feminism, and a sort of tongue in cheek attitude that seeped through this story.

When Oyeyemi is on her game she’s great. She can be so effortlessly entertaining and funny at times, poking fun at modern society in all its silliness and glory. Often times I found myself smiling or even laughing at an especially cut-to-the-core kind of truth that will lose some of its edge with time, which is certainly one of its strengths now but might not be in the future. Another thing I really liked was her magical touch at times – especially in the above two stories but it’s obvious she’s got a wonderful imaginiation and much beautiful imagery in these stories – that was lovely to read.

However, there were quite a few stories here that I thought lacked direction and precision. They felt too chaotic; not in the sense of them being magical realism and done on purpose in that way but rather that they weren’t planned out in advance, just taking shape and not being re-shaped and re-constructed after the fact. As I said earlier, a lot of these stories have several threads going; which would be fine if one is able to connect them all, weave them in so as not to leave strands hanging – but personally I don’t think she manages to make them all come together. It felt sloppy at times, even when the threads were made of gold and shimmer – the actual execution left something to be desired. I do think part of this has to do with my taste as a reader – what I expect from a short story especially. For me a short story needs extra direction, in comparison to a novel where there’s time to go off tangents and develop a more complicated backdrop. A short story should in my opinion be planned, weighed, have not a single word in it that doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s fine to have stories with magical elements, to be taking the route of direction in unexpected ways – it doesn’t have to be linear. But I think a story that doesn’t have some sort of direction – even the irregular ones – end up being long-form poetry, or if they’re not beautifully written – just ramblings. That’s my two scents on short stories, feel free to disagree.

I know the interconnected stories was one of the reasons people like this collection as a whole; that it’s clever how they connect to eachother. For me, this added nothing and in fact I found it instead to be a lazy plot device that was distracting and took me out of the stories. But again, this might be a personal taste thing – I just didn’t think it added anything to the stories, maybe it would’ve if I read the stories closer to eachother, or if I read them again. But as it is, I didn’t think the connections added anything aside from the one detail of who set fire to the house.

All in all, I think there’s potential in Oyeyemi’s writing and I like many of the themes and imagery she plays with, but ultimately this was kind of a sloppy mixed bag for me and I hope I will get on with her novels better. Only time will tell.

A Dog’s Head

A Dog’s Head by Jean Dutourd follows a young man who is born with a head of a dog, a spaniel head to be exact, and body of a human male. The book starts off right at the moment of his birth, when his parents – a ‘normal’ human couple – discover this child’s head, and continues on through his childhood years, his time in school as a young boy and teenager, up into adult years and trying to find love, meaning, and come to terms with his identity. Like Wendy Doniger points out in the introduction, this book can be read in many different ways. One can argue that Dutourd presents us with an examination of human traits in the guise of animals – like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animal traits can be viewed as a mirror to humanities personalities, flaws, and challenges.

What struck me as the strongest theme and motive in this book is otherness, in all of its forms. For example Edmond (the main character) is part dog, part human – he is, so to speak, part of two ‘races’. It’s not difficult to see how this could be viewed as a story of bi-racial identities, the feeling of not quite fitting in with either group, not feeling like one has a ‘home’ or a place where one can be oneself without this complicated identity being up for discussion. Dogs shy away from Edmond, either they ignore him, take light of him, try to run from him, or simply dislike him. The humans around him too, make fun of him, laugh at him and talk about him behind his back – even the ones he trusts and values. His search for a place in society, to like-minded people who will welcome and accept him as he is, drives the story along.

Another way I found otherness as such a central part of this book is how the way people view Edmond is slowly having an effect on how he views himself. From the start his parents decide to ignore the fact that he has a dog’s head, and so he lives a rather normal life. Then comes the day when he is supposed to start school and suddenly his small world grows – is filled with other people’s perceptions, prejudices, judgement and values. His parents start to acknowledge his head from that point onwards to make him realize what sort of person he is – he is constantly being forced to acknowledge his head as an abnormality, by his parents, his friends, his lovers, his collegues, every person he comes across. At first he thinks nothing off it, later coming to detest this part of himself. There’s just so much of the process of othering that so many people I think could relate to in Edmond’s story. The fact that this can be taken as a sort of fable lends it all the more to so many different experiences.

But A Dog’s Head is not just the story of a person searching for a place to call home, or an identity fable. Another theme that for me really felt central was the way dog vs human was dealt with in this book, or rather human vs animal is perhaps an even clearer way to describe it. For such a long time it seems many humans have perceived themselves as the top of all living existence – as the elite, the best of the best, evolution’s highpoint. The way other animals, dogs for one, is viewed as a contrast and in comparison to human’s is something I find fascinating and also quite important. In this book there’s constantly commentary on the degrading nature of a dog, of a dog like a filthy creature, a creature driven my passion and lust and desires, uncontrollable and without moral or intelligence. The words against Edmond is often of that nature, speaking of his appetite or his status in comparison to the “complete” humans around him, as he is clearly lower in status no matter his class, his financial situation, his intelligence, etc. No matter where he is, no matter who he deals with, the fact of his dog’s head is never forgotten and is alone enough to lower him in status so that even the people who works for him view themselves as far superior to him. Human as leader and master of all other animals and nature is such an accepted concept, and I feel Dutourd is partly questioning this – in his mirroring of human values, how humanity contrasts itself with other beings to feel superior and different, to draw lines and not let anyone cross them.

There is so much in this book to think about, but even putting aside all of the more philosophical and analytical aspects – this is an entertaining and well-written book in its own right, filled with wit and bitterness but at turns funny, poignant, magical and tragic. It’s just so many things in a neat 150-page package. I only wish more of this author’s work was translated into English. Crossing my fingers for either more English translations or a time when I can read French fluently, either way – this is fantastic, definitely worth a read.

Our Endless Numbered Days

What a whirlwind of a novel Our Endless Numbered Days was for me. It took me some time getting into the book, as I was trying to navigate the 8 year old narrator Peggy, changing scenery from a house in London, through cities, villages and woods – until Peggy and her father reached die Hütte. The first third or half of the book reminded me a bit of Hansel and Gretel – only, in this version the father doesn’t leave his kids in the wood but drags his daughter out further and further away from civilizations, to live in a cabin in no mans land. There’s a darkness to this story right from the start, and her father’s looming anger and instability is always on the edge, shaping their existence on the way to die Hütte and the time they live there. Like Hansel and Gretel there is that feeling of darkness and something lurking that is unsettling, and the violent actions contrasted with the beautiful and the quiet, really captivated me.

At first I thought the narration that was supposed to follow an eight year olds mind was a bit too mature, to really feel like such a young child. There were little things that kept pulling me out of the story, as Peggy and her father made their way to die Hütte. I think this was perhaps necessary as a contrast too, to Peggy’s “after” state as she is narrating the story 9 years later and we slowly are filled in as to what has happened during that time period. But I will say the narration was one reason why it took me a while to be invested in the story. Although the writing has beautiful sections right from the start, it was really the scene of the snow storm that sold me completely and made me eager to read more. I somehow feel like Claire Fuller’s writing, or her voice, got stronger as the novel progressed.

As I said the thing that really works isn’t just the beauty in the writing or the actual beauty in setting, forests and animals and picturesque cabins but the ugly and the cold and the many details that show the hardship Peggy goes through and how all of it changes her slowly into Punzel, into a new person that is looking back on the life she lead up to 8 years old as a foggy memory, already dusty with forgetfulness. The hardness of the weather – in the way of wind, rain, snow, darkness, but also the shifting of the seasons, her and her father’s adapting to their new environment and how many mistakes they make until they become acclimated to this new life and new place.

It isn’t just the Hansel and Gretel thing that makes me think of this as a dark modern fairytale. There’s moments where it really feels like magic is part of this world; the great divide, or the weather acting like a person with moods and a mind of its own. Her father grows increasingly unstable and further away from the person that he was, tumbling back and forth between being in the present and being a wreck, wanting to die and having a new project to live for. His constant inner battle and the way they affect Punzel is just, so so enchanting and scary and captivating and just utterly chilling. I can’t at all describe how the darkness of this novel really creeps up on you, first gradually and then really landing on you in the last few pages.

And the end. To be completely honest, even reading the last couple of chapters I was starting to feel that there was no point in getting the “after” story any more than we had already got (by page 250 or so) but then the end was just perfect for this story and made me realize the reason for some earlier parts being included, it was absolutely necessary for the story Fuller wanted to tell. The end literally made me shiver. I’ve cried and laughed and felt so many different emotions while reading before, but this is the first time that a book made me shiver – I think that’s how surprising and unnerving the last bit of this novel was for me.

I just can’t get across all of my thoughts on this. In my head, as I look back on the story, I see everything in colour and I smell wood and snow and feel the cold air bite into my skin and I hear the water of the river thunder by and I feel the dread and the fear and the haze of the characters in this story, and I just can’t make it all come down in words. I can only say I’m now very excited to read Claire Fuller’s novel Swimming Home that’s coming out very soon, and hope to find more wonderful (and dark) stories told with even more precision.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book in the series, and one I kept postponing to read because I didn’t want it to end, didn’t want to be over and done with this series. I’ve already watched the movie while it was still showing at the cinema, but haven’t watched it since so it’s been a few years and most of the story was fuzzy at best, as I read the first line in Deathly Hallows.

The Harry Potter books are all very well loved, held dear to all who grew up with the boy who lived, a boy meant for grand things – for adventure, for sacrifice, for a battle to the death. As the entire story arcs final round – it makes sense that this book would be grand in the actual plot, I mean – it’s the showdown between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort – how can it possibly get more dramatic than that? And yet, this book lacked a certain sense of tightness that I felt the other books had. Even in the longest of the books in the series, Order of the Phoenix, which isn’t only long but painful to read because Umbridge is such a big part of it, I was never bored. I never felt that scenes were long winded, dragged out, or unnecessary for the story to unfold. But I did feel this at times with the Deathly Hollows. There were several parts that dragged on and on, like the time Harry spends with Hermoine and Ron in the woods – on the run – trying to destroy the horrokruxes. But then the actual fight between Voldemort and Harry lasts a very short amount of pages – it didn’t feel evenly paced. It didn’t feel as carefully plotted out as the other books have. And let’s not even talk about the last chapter that was lazy story-telling, cheesy epilogue scene created to make you feel that bittersweet sensation. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bittersweet. What I don’t love is when I know I’m purposefully being made into feeling one feeling, a certain feeling or reaction. I don’t like seeing the author pull the strings; as soon as I do, I stop feeling anything at all.

There are several deaths in this, although surprisingly few if you think about the sort of battle that takes place in it, but only one had any impact on me – made me cry, and made it actually hard to continue reading because my vision was blurred. But it was also the only time I felt sad, although this book is filled with things to be sad about. The reason I think is to do with the above mentioned – I saw the strings, so I couldn’t help but focus on them. But there are other feelings except sadness – and one thing I did feel, and strongly, was irritation. And frustration. Especially towards Ron, which in this book is absolutely the point, and is in that sense successful. But I also felt frustration at some things I had never felt before – the fact that so many background characters get no real shape, or that Slytherin constantly gets such a bad rep and I don’t get that because it’s one of the houses so why is there never any good or even praiseworthy actions from the students of that house? If it’s not filled with “bad” people, why does no Slytherin character get to challenge that prejudice? One thing I realised as I was reading this book is that the actual Harry Potter books, at least this one although I’m pretty sure this could be said for all of them – still lack a certain amount of depth. Yes – they create a sort of basic outline of amazing worlds, of Hogwarts, Gringotts, etc. – but it’s really the fandom that has made the entire Harry Potter world so rich. What I mean to say is that the things the books lacked in, the fandom has made up for, has really filled in and developed into something that is alive and is growing and changing. And I think, without the fandom, the Harry Potter books would be a great but ultimately simply a young-adult fantasy series that would soon be added to the piles of books of similar character, instead of the epic place the Harry Potter series has worldwide.

Getting back to the “young-adult fantasy” thing, as I was reading this book I felt again for the first time that this really has been written towards a younger audience. By that, I mean that it follows the plot-driven, not particularly rich-in-detail sort of writing that is common to this type of book. For some reason I have always thought the Harry Potter books were so incredibly rich and with so many layers, so much depth, and in some aspects that’s true but when it comes to the writing, I’ve realised I find J. K. Rowling’s style and voice to be slightly underwhelming. It might be especially noticeable to me as I’ve just read her novel The Casual Vacancy. But nevertheless, it was an interesting discovery for me as it contrasted to my prior impressions of the Harry Potter books.

All this being said, I still enjoyed reading this book immensely. It’s easy to get into, it’s for the most part fast paced, it’s thrilling even when I knew the major plot line. It was fun to return to Hogwarts and to all of the characters I feel I know so well; Harry, Ron, Hermoine, Mrs Weasley, Mc Gonagall, Lupin, etc. And I was happy to finally wrap this story up, even though I’m sure I will return to it one day.

Reflecting on a year passed

Some things have become quite clear as the year has passed, and that is that I don’t do well under any form of rules for my buying habits. This seems to be a general trend for me, although it has been especially obvious with books since that’s what the majority of my money goes to. I never go overboard in the sense that I spend more money that I have, or that I can afford. I never drown in books in my room because I have nowhere to put them either (although, it’s getting there, I need more shelf-space!). But whenever I say to myself that I’ll only buy x amount of books, or only from x places, I set myself up for failure. I suppose I am a born ‘rebel’, determined to break the rules even if I’m the one who made them.

I made a few reading related goals at the end of last year, a few of these were related to the buying of books – all of which I broke within the first few months of the year, then discarded. I had one big goal which was to read about 50% nonfiction, another thing I tweaked although I have definitely read more nonfiction than previous years so I consider it a win. Something I noticed as I was reading nonfiction, and trying to prioritise them, was that nonfiction (non-memoir) books takes me longer to read than fiction. The reason is probably that I read nonfiction the way I do course literature – I read it as if I’m going to get tested on it. By that I mean I read it slowly in order to remember as much of it as possible, to understand it, to add the knowledge to my minds’ library that I can use at a later date if the day ever comes when this knowledge will be useful. And I guess it’s not that strange that my reading is different for the two forms of writing – since I also read them for different reasons.

   I read fiction to be entertained, to experience different world views and different lived experiences, to be inspired by beautiful writing and to be spellbound by stories, words, magic. But I read nonfiction to broaden my horizons, to learn about things I didn’t know about before, to go deeper into areas I’ve only tiptoed on, to get a richer understanding of our world, to see the differences and the similarities between cultures, people, places, species. Sometimes the reasons overlap, some books cross the borders, do multiple things, and challenge my perceptions of these two “genres” of writing. But as a general observation, I have a slower reading pace when I’m reading nonfiction (memoirs not included, since they don’t seem to follow the same pace).

Which is why I was okay with not reading as many nonfiction books as fiction in the entirety of the year, because then I’d have to read a lot less in total, and another one of my goals was to read 70 books this year. I’m closing in on it, with only 4 books left to reach it. Which should be fairly easy to do before the last day of December.

Another goal that I was hoping to make real progress with was to read more translated books. Although this year has been a definite improvement, and the amount of books I’ve read this year from non-English authors have been at least half of the books I’ve read, the countries are not as diverse as I would like them to be. The majority of the translated books I’ve read are from Japan, which isn’t something I necessarily want to change as I want to become closely familiar with Japanese literature as a whole. But I feel I’ve still only dipped my toe into the other countries in Asia, not to talk of the entire continent of Africa and South America. I can only keep trying to find new authors and new titles from around the world to keep widening my net within literature.

One of my smaller goals was to reread two books that weren’t my two most reread books (The Little Prince and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). This goal I have definitely surpassed. I reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in January, followed by The Order of the Phoenix late in the summer. I also reread both Winnie the Pooh books this autumn. All of the rereading I did was a lot of fun and I hope to keep revisiting old favourites in upcoming years.

Lastly I made a goal to annotate more in my books. I wanted to interact more with my books when I’m reading, not to be afraid of writing in them, putting pencil to paper and leave a mark of my having been there. One thing I have noticed though is that underlining is almost as passive as not doing any annotating at all – which is to say, underlining is only useful to remember specific quotes or sections. But it doesn’t show any of your reactions to what is said in the text. You can’t tell whether the underlinings were something that angered you, made you happy, inspired you, or made you want to hit the author in the face. I guess I just realised that underlining isn’t enough for me, because if I reread a book I’ve annotated years from now I won’t know what those underlinings (or sticky note marks) mean or meant to the me back then, then they won’t serve much of a purpose and it’ll only annoy me with cluttering the text.

   I also seem to have become used to underlining so that I almost do it passively now, barely reflecting on the text because I have underlined it I don’t have to remember it. This discussion is a bit simplified, and only my experience on it, but basically I’ve realised I want to keep pushing myself to read more critically and with more awareness, and one way to do this is to annotate. In the form of marginalia. This is what I’m trying to move towards now. I’m not planning to start filling all of the books I read in scribbles, but that I at least have a pencil at hand so that when the thought strikes I’ll be able to jot it down.

So these were a few of the things I learned from my goals for this year, how I did and how some of them were discarded early on while others are still in progress. For next year I’m planning to cut back and simplify a bit more, also because of the goal I had to read what I want, not what I think I should – kind of fits into that. I’ll talk more about the goals for the upcoming year in a future post, later in the month.

If you had any goals for your reading in 2016, I’d love to hear how they went, if you changed them or forgot about them or even actively decided to throw it all out the window. Does reading goals work for you? And do you have any plans for your reading in 2017 already brewing?

Until next time, happy reading!