What I read in October.

Hi! Me again.

So it’s the last day of October already. I know everybody says it, but where on earth has the year gone? Where has autumn gone? October was an up and down month for me, with some high and low points, which combined have left my brain well and truly fried.

It is at times like these when I need books the very most. For a number of reasons, I hadn’t actually read any books to completion since the end of August, which is an insane and worrying length of time for me. When October started and things got busier and more intensive in several aspects of my life, books were the familiar friend that kept me level and sane. I managed to finish three books this month, and while I have reviewed one of the three already, I have yet to find time to review the other two. So, until I can I figured I would post a little update instead.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I started this book on a 3 hour long bus journey, after I acted tour guide for my friend Anabelle in Edinburgh for the day. I was getting over a chest infection/ head cold and wanted something comforting that I could get stuck in to. This book did not disappoint.

For those of you who have not heard of this book (review is linked), it is a memoir of sorts, detailing a neurosurgeon coming to terms with his diagnosis of terminal cancer, the relation between patient and doctor, and doctor and patient. It is harrowing, beautiful, metaphysical, poignant, eloquent, heartwrenching, uplifting and oozes life. A must read.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Now, this book is a chunky one, which I actually started in August but only got around to finishing it this month. In a way I am proud that I managed to conquer such a big book, however I am sad the experience is over. This book is tremendous; I find it hard to describe how much I loved it. It has landed itself in a new and updated list of my favourite books of all time, and Steinbeck has cemented his place in my list of favourite authors. I am going to save my thoughts for a review, however I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it. Stunning.

Autumn by Ali Smith

I was so excited for this book to be released, and I went and bought it for myself as soon as I possibly could, and read it quickly thereafter. I really enjoyed this book. I was lucky enough to get to hear Ali Smith reading some chapters from this book at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August, making the anticipation for its release even greater. I was not disappointed. Again, I am saving my thoughts for my review, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this. While not being my favourite Smith novel, it was still excellent, interpretive, different and comforting to read.

 

What did you guys read in October? Anything you would recommend?

Pip pip!

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Why my book reviews are positive.

I had a thought the other day while browsing through my blog. I considered all of the reviews I have written thus far; all of which I’m pretty proud of. I did notice however, that the majority of my books reviews are overwhelmingly positive. I was concerned that this may make me a less credible book blogger, as it may seem that I am not critical enough to every have anything insightful and possibly on the negative side to say about books. But after consideration, I figured out what it actually means…

I don’t read books I don’t like.

I read recreationally. It is something I have adored doing since I was young, and something I spent my time doing as soon as I knew how. Now, as I am older and my spare time is more valuable, I have no time to read a book I am not enjoying. I don’t waste my time on books that I am not connecting with, because every book I don’t enjoy and subsequently force myself through is time I could have spent finding my new favourite book.

Therefore when I finish a book and review it, and the review is as positive as mine often are, that just means that I really loved it. I will not endure a book that bores me or does not have some element which I enjoy.

I just wanted to let those thoughts in my head out to play. Let me know where you guys stand on the situation.

Pip pip!

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

After maybe a month or so I am finally back with a book review! And what better book review to write then on this book; which may be one of the best books I have read all year.

What makes a virtuous and meaningful life? Paul Kalanithi believed that the answer lay in medicine’s most demanding specialization, neurosurgery. Here are patients at their life’s most critical moment. Here he worked in the most critical place for human identity, the brain. What is it like to do that every day; and what happens when life is catastrophically interrupted?

When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable reflection on the practice of medicine and the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

With a foreword by Dr Abraham Verghese and an epilogue by the author’s wife, Lucy. (Goodreads)

I was on Amazon, ordering books on the reading list for my Health Psychology module at university, and when purchasing one book in particular (On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross), this book came up as a suggested purchase. I had heard of the book previously, as Leena Normington (YouTube: justkissmyfrog) had raved about it, and reading the description I realised that it would take what I was learning in my module on health psychology and provide an intriguing new perspective.

Turns out it did a great deal more than that. This book was a beautiful, raw, heart-breaking book read, and one which exults life and poignant thought.

“Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”  

Dr Paul Kalanithi was an English literature graduate, embarking on a career in medicine and neurosurgery to see if there was a way that philosophy, emotion and metaphysics intersected with the biological truth and with medicine. This book provides fascinating discussion of religion, death, how to live your life, finding your passion, the unpredictability and the mortality of human life, and more.

“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”  

Expected of someone who studied English literature at Stanford University, Kalanithi’s writing is exquisite and insightful. It is hard to imagine somebody being able to possess both a scientific and a philosophical, lyrical and fluid mindset; as I was always of the mind you had one or the other. However Kalanithi writes wonderfully, and evokes such emotion. This book causes you to feel a vast array of emotions, from anger at the fate Paul was handed, to uplifted through his relentless dedication and spirit.

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”   

What I found most interesting about this book, is that which relates to what I’m currently studying at university. In our first health psychology class, we discussed the psychological impact that chronic and terminal illness and, inevitably, death can have on a patient, while also discussing the psychological effects on doctors being surrounded by this all of the time, and how they can become desensitised etc. What is so cruel, but so fascinating about Paul’s story is that he gets to see the story from both sides; having been the – at times desensitised- doctor and the observer of death and suffering, to being the patient. Such a contradiction and conflict in roles gives Kalanithi a fascinating perspective on both sides, and it moved me to tears.

I hope this book review conveys in some shape or form how much I adored this book, how different it is and how important it is. It has filled me with a newfound appreciation for life and reaffirmed the idea of it being fleeting and changeable with the drop of a hat. For someone who loves philosophy and discussing causation and religion, this book provided me with new perspective and new food for thought. It was a stunning and emotional book that I feel will stay with me for a long time to come. May Paul rest in peace and may his book continue to touch people’s lives as it has mine.

“All the idylls of youth: beauty manifest in lakes, mountains, people; richness in experience, conversation, friendships. Nights during a full moon, the light flooded the wilderness, so it was possible to hike without a headlamp. We would hit the trail at two A.M., summiting the nearest peak, Mount Tallac, just before sunrise, the clear, starry night reflected in the flat, still lakes spread below us. Snuggled together in sleeping bags at the peak, nearly ten thousand feet up, we weathered frigid blasts of wind with coffee someone had been thoughtful enough to bring. And then we would sit and watch as the first hint of sunlight, a light tinge of day blue, would leak out of the eastern horizon, slowly erasing the stars. The day sky would spread wide and high, until the first ray of the sun made an appearance. The morning commuters began to animate the distant South Lake Tahoe roads. But craning your head back, you could see the day’s blue darken halfway across the sky, and to the west, the night remained yet unconquered—pitch-black, stars in full glimmer, the full moon still pinned in the sky. To the east, the full light of day beamed toward you; to the west, night reigned with no hint of surrender. No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur.”  

I hope you guys enjoyed this review. And for those of you have followed me for a little while, you’ll know I originally intended to write a book review and have it published every Sunday. However, to alleviate some pressure, I have decided to scrap this idea and write as and when I can.

Take care everybody! Pip pip!

10 bookish facts about me.

This is a rather self indulgent post, however I thought it could be fun!

1/ I am terrible at reading more than one book at a time.

2/ I have to have a cup of tea or coffee on hand if I am reading at home.

3/ I always lose my bookmarks.

4/ The first book I ever read start to finish on my own was a book about Postman Pat when I was in primary 1.

5/ I started reading Harry Potter after the third movie came out (I was 8) and because my mother refused to tell me what happened in the next one.

6/ My mum, older brother and I used to get the Harry Potter books at the midnight releases, and there was an order to who got to read them when. My mum read them first, then my brother, and I got them last. It was torture!

7/ I broke my leg when I was 11 and wasn’t allowed to go outside during lunch or breaks at school, so I stayed inside alone and subsequently finished a book from The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton every day.

8/ I got a book from my secret Santa at work last Christmas and I cried with excitement.

9/ I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks. Dust jackets upset me.

10/ I am a proud Kindle owner, and I love using an ereader every once and a while.

Pip pip!

Acrostic book recommendations.

Hello! How are you? I’m good…yeah, I’m okay thanks.

ANYWAY…

I thought it would be fun to do a book recommendation with a twist today. I am going to give 6 book recommendations, each corresponding with a letter from the word autumn (book title, author name etc.). I don’t know why I felt like doing this, I just thought it may be something more challenging and different.

I’ll give it a go, shall I?

A: And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

One of Maya’s gorgeous poetry collections. 54 pages of powerful poems, which will leave you feeling inspired, and give you a new strength and motivation you didn’t know you could muster.

U: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

I have only read about a chapter of this book, but would like to revisit (and hopefully finish) this story, as it sounds exactly like something I’d enjoy. It is a parallel story to another book, about Harold Fry, an elderly man who goes on a journey to see someone he hasn’t heard from in over 20 years.

T: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Do I need to explain this one?

U: Love Letters of Great Men by Ursula Doyle

Compiling love letters of men throughout history, such as Beethoven, Oscar Wilde and Charles Darwin, Ursula Doyle balances background story and historical information with snippets of the thoughts of some of the most prolific and important figures in both the literary canon and other areas. A great book to dip in and out of.

M: We Don’t Know What We’re Doing by Thomas Morris

For fans of contemporary, for fans of short stories, for fans of non cliché, realistic portrayals of characters, and for those who aren’t afraid of books referencing sex.

N: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I met Patrick Ness when I was about 13 at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and I got my copy of this book signed, then subsequently whizzed through it. For fans of YA fiction, or of dystopian/ verging on apocalyptic fiction, this is a really interesting and mysterious concept for a book. I don’t want to spoil the plot, however I would really recommend this, as it is very intelligent and smartly done.

There we go! 6 recommendations. I hope you guys enjoyed this. Toodle pip!

 

Help! I don’t have time to read!

A common argument that I hear as to why people don’t read books, which is fair enough. Nobody needs to justify to me why they don’t read or why they do; but I do find myself using the excuse that I don’t have time to sit down and read my book, when I know in fact that I do.

I live a busy life (or at least to me it seems busy), I am a full time 3rd year undergrad student, I work part time, I volunteer, and if I want to entertain the notion of having a social life of any sort that doesn’t leave me much time in a week to do other things, such as reading.

HOWEVER…while I have failed at following my own advice recently, as the start of semester is always very chaotic, I normally have a couple of things that I try and do or remember in order to keep reading in my life and to create time for it.

1/ Always have a book at hand.

This may seem obvious, but it is a very crucial tip and one that you would be surprised at the difference it makes. If you consider the amount of time that you spend out and about, and then the proportion of that time that you don’t necessarily have anything else to do; for example your morning commute to work on the bus, waiting for a friend to meet you for coffee, lunch breaks, in the waiting room at the dentist, gaps between classes etc…. if you add up those precious moments, those minutes turn into hours and those hours turn into lots of reading time! Therefore, if you always have a book, ereader or phone in your handbag, pocket, the drawer of your desk at work, your car, your locker at school…you could get so much reading done in those random moments where you may just be sitting refreshing your twitter app on your phone!

2/ Designated times.

This is a newer one, which I’ve found quite useful recently, whereby I have certain times that I use as reading time. These times are usually hour long periods in the evening, where I abandon the phone and abandon everything else, and pick up my book and read. Having that goal in my mind of reading for at least an hour a day means I’m incorporating reading into my routine, and working everything else around it. That way, I work harder before or after said hour, or do everything else I’ve got to do, as I know I need to be done in order to have my hour reading. During said hour, I tend to turn my phone off or put it onto flight mode, I then read and do just that! Having a designated time can be very effective; whether it be that you always read before bed, with your coffee in the morning, at the gym or after your post university snooze (my life).

3/ If you don’t have time, you don’t have time.

There will always be times where you will be extremely busy, or things will be hectic enough to convince you that reading is not one of your top priorities and that it will have to wait. And sometimes this is true. For me, the past few weeks and the upcoming weeks will be extremely busy, and my reading will and will HAVE to pay the price, as unfortunate as that may be. What is important about that idea though, is that it is completely okay. Being forced out of business to take a break from reading doesn’t mean you love it any less. And…once you’ve done everything you need to do, or things calm down and you find you DO have time, you will reach for that book and feel all the more at home after said break.

Hope you guys enjoyed this post! As you can guess from the topic, I have not felt I have had much time to read recently, and so I have been reading the same book for a couple of weeks. It will be a while before I can get a book review up, however I will still be posting as regularly as university and everything else will allow. I hope you all understand.

Also, I reached 60 followers this week, and I’m so happy and grateful for every single one.

Pip pip!