A collection of spoiler-free reviews of the books and articles I read. I read a lot, and particularly enjoy 20th century history, graphic novels and graphic memoirs, contemporary literary fiction and the occasional bit of fantasy and horror.
I also share a list of the books I abandon without finishing, although I try not to be too negative. Books I hate might well be books other people love, and there’s enough hate on the internet without me adding to the pile.
2019 was the year I fell back in love with reading. I used to read a lot as a child, but I fell out of the habit of reading fiction while I was at university. While studying and spending all day everyday reading and writing, the last thing I wanted to do at night was pick up another book and read some more. Between 2010 when I started keeping a log of my books and the start of this year I read 63 books. This is a figure I have almost matched book for book in the twelve months of 2019.
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Secret Commonwealth since I finished the last page of La Belle Sauvage two years ago. I love the original His Dark Materials trilogy, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage, and The Secret Commonwealth was really good too. It’s much darker than I expected, and between some of the themes and scenes as well as the swearing it’s really not a children’s book (although publishers still bill it as one). My only criticisms are that I think it could have been shorter. I don’t mind long books, but some of the scenes involving the Magisterium introduced lots of new peripheral characters (perhaps they will become more central to the plot in book three) and made the pace drag a little. There were also a couple of encounters that felt improbable even for the HDM world, for example the scene in Prague when Lyra has just arrived by train and is drawn into a strange encounter involving an alchemist. My final issue is Malcolm’s romantic interest in Lyra. It seems unnecessary and a little bit shoehorned in as it doesn’t contribute to the story all that much.
As someone who loves to read, I own surprisingly few books. Part of this is practical. I love physical paper books but they take up space and when you live in an apartment space is at a premium. Another part of it is financial; new books are expensive (I don’t see Amazon as an option). The third reason though is the most important reason for me, and that is that I find by ‘owning’ a book I have paid full price for, I feel compelled to complete it cover to cover and then hang on to it even if I don’t like it. I have wasted months of good reading time trying to force myself through books I don’t enjoy, half a page at a time. The reason I have read fifty books and counting this year is because I have almost exclusively been reading library books. They’re ‘mine’ for four weeks at a time, and if I don’t like something, I simply return it unread. It’s been liberating.