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Recent Reads #3: Short (but not exactly sweet)

Here are the other three recent reads I wanted to recommend, which aren’t really linked in terms of form or content. The most apparent similarity between them is that they’re short. So that’s what we’re going with.

Sum by David Eagleman paperback cover

Sum
David Eagleman

There’s no evidence that suggests there is an afterlife or what the afterlife looks like if it does exist. So, neuroscientist David Eagleman embraced the infinite potential offered by this unprovable concept and wrote 40 completely different post-death realities.

This teeny book will take you no time at all to read, but it’s full of so many ideas that I refuse to believe anyone can put this down and not feel at least a little astounded. The book also left me feeling creatively inspired, it’s great imagination fuel.

Some of these inventive tales also inspired a great deal of existential dread.

The first tale, “Sum”, presents an afterlife where you relive all your experiences, but they’re categorised, grouped together and then you live them one-by-one. To illustrate what I mean, you sleep for thirty years, read magazines on the toilet for five consecutive months, vomit for seven hours straight, and so on. It’s the kind of story that makes you question how you’re spending your time.

Meanwhile, “Circle of Friends” presents an afterlife populated exclusively by the people you remember. I look at the people I’m fortunate enough to have around me. If this were the world I discovered after my passing, it wouldn’t be so bad. However, never meeting a new person is a sad thought, which was a reminder for me how much I do genuinely like meeting new people.

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Reading

Recent Reads #2: Graphic non-fiction

Continuing from the previous post, here are three more books I’ve read recently that I recommend.

All three of these books are not your typical non-fiction works. They’re closer to graphic novels, but even that’s an inadequate description. You’ll see what I mean…

Seek You hardback cover

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness
Kristen Radtke

Potentially the best thing I’ve read all year. Kristen Radtke’s Seek You is not your typical graphic novel. In fact, graphic novel feels like the completely wrong description. It’s akin to a documentary but recorded in comic form rather than film.

Loneliness is an epidemic not being taken seriously enough. We need connection. We are social creatures, and our natural state is to have community of people around us. But our culture has changed. Now we aspire to live alone, and it’s to the detriment of our health.

This was the book I most needed to read when I was struggling with my own mental health and loneliness back in the early days of summer. It’s also what I desperately wish I could have read in 2018 when I was studying my Master’s and was writing a play about loneliness.

Radtke inserts her own personal narrative alongside scientific research and investigative journalism. She also includes a huge section on the research of Harry Harlow, whose monkey experiments — whilst horrifically unethical — fundamentally changed how we raised young children forever. If I could go back in time and give my younger self an idea for a play, it would be to write a theatrical take on Harlow’s research and how he mistreated both his subjects and the women in his life.

I’ll come back to this book one day. In fact, I suspect I’ll return to this book many more times in the coming years. The feelings it evoked were powerful and the questions it poses to our culture are important.

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Reading

Recent Reads #1: Great science-fiction

In addition to my yearly roundup of favourite reads, I’d like to write semi-regular reading posts like this one when I’ve read a handful of books I’d like to talk about.

Originally, this was an excessively long post covering 10 books. But I’ve dropped discussing The Right to Sex here because I’ve already reviewed it, and I’ve chopped up the other nine across three posts.

For the first three, I’ve decided to group all the science-fiction novels I read together…

The Martian paperback cover with Matt Damon

The Martian
Andy Weir

When a book is described as “hard sci-fi”, I’m immediately put off. Stories with compelling characters are what draw me in, and a plot heavily reliant on talking about real science sounded like a snoozefest to me. But I had been assured that The Martian was a different kind of hard sci-fi, and I’m delighted to say those who recommended the book weren’t wrong. I loved this novel.

The protagonist Mark Watney is a funny, loveable guy with an infectious pragmatic optimism. When we first meet him, he’s alone and stranded on Mars. From the outset, his situation seems impossible to survive and it only gets worse. Describing something as a page-turner is such a tired cliché, but Weir does tension so well that I found myself speeding through the book because I was so eager to see how Watney survived the latest disaster.

I also loved the book from a craft perspective. We get Watney’s first-person POV via the logs that make up most of the book. But we also get a broader view of the narrative thanks to third-person perspectives from the Ares 3 crew and the people at NASA. It’s a style I’m keen to attempt in my own fiction writing.

How The Martian came to be is also an interesting story. From giving chapters away for free via his website to serialising the novel on Amazon to eventually signing a book deal and making the bestsellers list.

I’m making no commitments, but serialising a novel is on my checklist of things to do.

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Reading

There is no right to sex, but we should talk about the politics of desire

Paperback cover of The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan

Sex, which we think of as the most private of acts, is in reality a public thing. The roles we play, the emotions we feel, who gives, who takes, who demands, who serves, who wants, who is wanted, who benefits, who suffers: the rules for all this were set long before we entered the world.

The above quote is taken from the introduction to Amia Srinivasan’s essay collection The Right to Sex, and it summarises why we all need to talk about sex. There’s a lot going unsaid that needs saying, and it’s not just a discussion between intimate partners — it’s a public conversation with societal implications.

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Reading

Books I’ve read in 2022 (so far)

Collage of all 10 book covers featured in blog post

Considering we’re more than a third of the way through the year, I’ve not read nearly as many books as I would have liked.

But I thought I’d do a roundup of all the books I have read so far this year and share some quick thoughts.

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Reading

Thoughts and quotes from Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You?”

Hardback cover of Sally Rooney's "Beautiful World, Where Are You?"

Last week, I finished Sally Rooney’s third novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? I can’t say I loved it like I did Normal People — one of my favourite books of 2020 — but I still enjoyed this follow-up.

Rooney can transform even the most mundane of human interactions into engaging prose, whilst also making her characters feel like real people with frustrating but compelling flaws.  

However, it wasn’t the relationships that most gripped me in this book, it was the emails protagonists Alice and Eileen exchanged every other chapter. Their emails are treated like the modern-day equivalent of letters that they are, and within them the two women discuss politics, religion, societal issues, among other things.

Whilst character interactions outside of these emails also pose interesting questions, I felt the real meat of the novel was in these emails.

So I decided to pull out 5 key points, with quotes, and share them here.

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Reading

10 thoughts on “All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

Paperback cover of Charlie Jane Anders' novel All the Birds in the Sky.

Earlier this month, I re-read All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, which I enjoyed so much more on a second reading. I’ve wanted to talk more about it since, however, I’ve never really gelled with any book review approach I’ve previously taken.

An idea then came to me: what if I wrote my thoughts as a listicle? In my newsletter, I list 10 things I want to share from the past two weeks — mimicking Austin Kleon’s newsletter. So I thought I’d try using the same structure for a book review.

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Reading

Reading goals (2022)

Outline of a bookshelf in the page of a journal. Shelves outlined in sharpie, books outlined in a black pen, the space above the books shaded in with a pencil.

The above image is a bookshelf I drew in my journal last year, filled with the books I want to get through in 2022. It’s by no means a rigid reading list, and there are books I missed that I really want to read.

No matter how many times I design a reading plan, I can never stick to it. But regardless of how different my year in books may look by year’s end, my actual reading goal differs from the challenge I’ve set myself every other year.

Ordinarily, much like many booklovers, my reading goal is a set number of books to read within 12 months that I declare on Goodreads. This number is mostly arbitrary, high enough to push me to read if I get behind but low enough that I always hit my target. It’s never really been a challenge, and I’ve been content with that.

However, this year, I decided a challenge was necessary to achieve one specific reading goal I always set myself but never manage to complete.

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Reading

We All Hear Stories in the Dark: “a modern day Arabian Nights, mixed up with playing a game”

Paperback set for Robert Shearman’s We All Hear Stories in the Dark

In Robert Shearman’s three-tome short story collection We All Hear Stories in the Dark, an idea is proposed: you can read every work of literature ever published in three weeks — but you have to read them in the right order. An absurdist idea, for sure, but it builds the foundation of an interesting premise.

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Reading

My favourite books of 2021

Collage of book covers for 12 of the listed 20 books in this post.

I read 45 books this year and started a 46th on Christmas Day. Out of all those books, there was not a single one I’d call a bad read. Thus, narrowing down a list of favourites from this year wasn’t easy.

In the end, after much deliberation, I settled on the 20 listed below. So here are my favourite reads of 2021, listed in the order that I read them: