In this post I want to share some of my book highlights from the year so far.
Ink by Alice Broadway
In a world where all of a person’s deeds and accomplishments are inked onto her skin for everyone to see, Leora must come to terms not only with her father’s death, but with the shocking truth of who he really was. She begins to question the foundations of her society, to see the shades between right and wrong, and to doubt whom she can really trust. She learns about secrets and truths and how much they can hurt.
I love the richness of this world. There is so much detail about the setting, the customs and the history, all blended neatly into the story, that makes the world feel real. I also appreciate the abundance of female characters, and that every character, even the minor ones, have received enough of the author’s attention to make them complex. The use of fairytales to demonstrate Leora’s shift in view from the black and white images of childhood to the more nuanced picture of adulthood is engaging and effective.
The Part of Me That Isn’t Broken Inside by Kazufumi Shiraishi, translated by Raj Mahtani
This story follows Naoto Matsubara, an employee of a publishing house in Tokyo, in an exploration of his inner life and his relationships with others. The book reveals even the most undesirable qualities of this character without ever flinching. This is what makes the book so raw and so provocative; it shows a real person with all his flaws, and it never once glamourises his reality. It requires a great deal of empathy and compassion on the part of the reader.
The story is often driven more by philosophical musings than by plot, and this is what appealed to me when reading it. I liked the ideas that were presented, though the dialogue could become quite lengthy and off-putting at times. My favourite part was the daikon analogy, which illustrated the idea of seeing others and being selfless in order to find meaning and fulfilment in life. “…devote your entire being to emptying yourself, day after day, so that you may give yourself to others…[this] is the road to achieving your own growth.”
Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman
A collection of essays on storytelling. A must-read for anyone interested in the writing process.
Because this book is a collection, rather than one continuous work, it is easy to dip in and out of, making it ideal when life is busy and you can’t read consistently. I liked that I could pick a different essay each evening and read it in one sitting.
The essays are engaging and you can hear the voice in the writing. When I was reading it, it often felt as though I was listening to the writer speaking to me directly. My favourites of the collection are ‘The Path through the Wood’ and ‘I Must Create a System’.
I like the idea that the wood is the world in which the novel is set in, encompassing all the characters, all the places and all the possibilities, whilst the path through the wood is the plot that the novel follows. The world can have unlimited depth, but the story itself goes from point A to point B and it must stick to the path. I think that’s helpful to remember when writing—I love the creative aspect, the part where I get to imagine all the details of the world, but in order to write a coherent and engaging story, I must find a path that travels through that world rather than just documenting all the details.
‘I Must Create a System’ reminds me that the worlds that I create are my own, and that I need to write them with confidence. When I doubt myself and get bogged down in research for my fictional worlds, I get stuck and find myself unable to write for fear of writing something ‘wrong’. The surest way to unstick myself is to remind myself that this is a world that I have created, and so long as it makes sense, the world works how I want it to. There is no one else to answer to. Google will not provide the answers, only my own thoughts will.
What books have stood out for you so far this year?