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Reading wrap-up - June 2020

June was a bit of a mish-mash. Most of the books from the beginning of the month, whether I liked them or not, didn't make me feel invested emotionnally, so that I felt somehow detached from reading. Then my last two reads reminded me what it felt for words to stir things deep within me.

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness tells about a man, Genly Ai, sent to Gethen to establish first contact with its inhabitants. Gethenians look rather like him, except one startling characteristic - they are gender-fluid.

Ursula K. Le Guin published this novel in 1969. Reading it in 2020, I could only wish more people read it and took a leaf out of it. Through the envoy's eyes, we discover a society whose very structure challenges our own. What would a world be like without any gender stereotypes? How would people interact? At first, I found the story hard to follow because of the enormous amount of world-building that went into it. Le Guin manages to describe everything without breaking the rhythm of her narration, and it took me a bit of time to adjust. However, once I got my bearings, I was completely fascinated and I understood that this was a book I'd re-read regularly. It packs so much reflexions on otherness, patriotism, love, friendship, society, you name it. I underlined tons of passages either for the beauty of the language or to go back later and think about them. I can't resist sharing at least a quote:

"No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year."

A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett

I bought this book second-hand years ago, but had never read it yet. So far I'd only read Terry Pratchett in French and was worried language would be an issue since he's so inventive and witty. Actually, it wasn't, and I think I have Outlander to thank for introducing me to a variety of British accents, which made it a lot easier to hear the characters speak in my head.

It took me some time to understand that this was actually the second tome in a series starting with The Wee Free Men, which introduced Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle. It wasn't that much of a problem either. I did enjoy the writing style. A few pages made me chuckle, some really touched me, but overall it's not a book that will stay with me.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I was very excited to read this one : a fantasy book set in 1920s Mexico, starring a young Cinderella-like woman meeting a Maya god. I was expecting lots of beautiful imagery, and that didn't disappoint. I loved world-building and the blend of mythical elements with an Art Deco background. However, the rest of the book didn't sweep me off my feet. The storyline itself was quite basic, and for someone who never sees things coming I was never surprised by the plot. I almost felt cheated when some tropes started to show, which I won't detail for fear of spoilers. The female lead lack quite a lot of agency - I felt like the story happened to her despite her being described as growing and gaining her independence.

The writing style could have been a little more polished, in my opinion. On a few occasions, a name would have been more appropriate than a simple pronoun, for instance, because the character hadn't been mentioned in a while. The narrator constantly underlined what was happening and how the characters felt when their dialogue already established those things.

All in all, I would recommend this book for its beautiful imagery and the way it weaves Maya culture into a fantasy narrative, but I found its execution a bit lacking, sadly.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish, by Andrus Kivirähk

Oh, how I wanted to love this book. On paper it had everything I love : magical realism, lots of forests, a rich writing style and an intriguing subject.

The Man Who Spoke Snakish takes place in the Estonian forest where we follow Leemet, the last of his kind - he can speak to animals. Leemet lives a quiet life in his small community, but his very existence is threatened. Outside of the forest, villages are growing and German knights and monks bring with them new ways and a new religion.

I was hoping to be enraptured by this story, but the first issue I had was with the writing style. I constantly felt like I was reading a translation - which I was, since I read it in French and it was written in Estonian. But to me, a good translation shouldn't be noticed. For instance, as much as I love Robin Hobb's writing style in English, I think her French translator did a remarkable job. Here, some sentences felt awkward and I couldn't help but wonder whether it came from the original text or the translation.

Then, I never connected to the story. A lot of the time, something or someone appeared at the most convenient moment. Many plot twists felt so random I couldn't really believe what was happening. And, let me warn you, some of them were so gruesome I was often tempted to just abandon the book. There are images that are stuck in my head and I wish I'd never ever read them.

I think my disappointment is proportionate to my excitement when I was gifted this book. I'm happy to see that it appealed to many other readers, and I'm sorry I'm not one of them.

milk and honey, by rupi kaur

After two disappointing novels, I was eager to read something completely different. I discovered rupi kaur's Instagram workshops earlier this year and treated myself to the first two recently. It was absolutely lovely to let go and enjoy a writing workshop without having to organise it for once. The next step was to get one of her books!

milk and honey is a very personal collection of poetry about life and relationships. It touches on difficult topics but also lets the light in. The poet doesn't take precautions - she pours her emotions onto the page, adding delicate line drawings to emphasize her words. I was especially moved by the first and the last parts of this collection, and I'm glad I read something in a genre I almost never consider.

The next poet I'd love to have a book of is Mary Oliver.

Words in Deep Blue, by Cath Crowley

I decided earlier this year that I would re-read one book each month, for plenty of reasons. I have a terrible memory so most of the time if feels like the first time. Plus it saves money. And I have quite a few books on my bookshelves and in my e-reader.

This month I was in the mood for a contemporary. This book was a recommendation from Stefie. I'd absolutely loved the book the first time, and the second time was just as enjoyable.

Words in Deep Blue is a heart-breaking and heart-warming story of grief, love, friendship and books. Rachel and Henry used to be best friends. Actually their friendship was deepening before Rachel moved with her mother and brother and important things were left unsaid with Henry. In the three years they spent apart, life wasn't kind. When Rachel moves back to her hometown, she's not sure how she feels about her friend. Meanwhile Henry is working in his family's second-hand bookshop that is on the verge of closing. Can the very special Letter Library help patch things up with Rachel, and save the bookshop from closing?


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What did you read in June?

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