I've joined a virtual writing group developed by my friend Saleem and I'm quite enjoying it. 2012 has been marked by a feeling of disengagement and detachment and being connected to friends in far away countries has been very helpful for me. We were discussing the books that we read in 2012 that we liked a lot and I adapted my response for the blog to share with you all - faithful readers.
I like Goodreads (a social network for readers and writers) because it fits the "librarian inside" of me... I can sort the books I've read by categories, analyze trends, keep track, and challenge myself. I'm in a challenge this year to read 43 books. Last year I only managed 25 - an all time low for me but also a symptom of a pretty unhealthy year - spending hours on social media feeling lonely and unattached from the world and being strung along in a pretty unfulfilling relationship. It seemed like a marker of unhealthiness... I could only process short things online and my attention span was getting shorter and shorter.
And this year, I notice that I started out with very easy to digest books (which coincides with me leaving my job at the UN and coming to terms with the fact that I didn't have a full time job or attend school full time for the first time since I was 18 years old.) So as my mental health got steadier, I notice that my reading got deeper. And then I re-approached it as a pleasurable activity again.
But I also like knowing what my friends are reading. I miss my book club from Washington DC and in my sad little Asia expat life, I find that no one here reads. They may have read 50 Shades of Grey or the latest UN communique but who is reading anything else? I'm not even sure how to go about finding other readers because I'm sure they are here.
So my Goodreads feed has my bookish friends in it. I can comment and discuss with my friend Celeste and her husband in Ireland about the latest Booker winners, I was following a War and Peace reading club with another Irish friend, an Italian friend has plunged into obscure Polish novels and now I'm intrigued, a virtual friend from Germany reviews feminist novels for her grad school, and a friend from South Carolina is always reading funny things and writing great reviews. My DC bookclub friends were on it for a while but they seem to have disbanded so I guess they are not reading either. So for me, Goodreads helps me keep in touch with literature in this shallow bubble in Bangkok.
So - no big thundering novels from 2012's infant terribles this year but the books that I liked that I read in 2012 include:
Jeanette Wintersen: Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?
(loved Oranges are Not the Only Fruit and the Passion... I want to re-read them now)
William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise (I quite love William Boyd - I've been hooked since the Ice Cream War)
Marguerite Duras: The Lover (beautiful and tiny and exquisite) plus I read it while going down the Mekong..
Hillary Mantel's: Wolf Hall (a book I had schlepped along to probably 12 countries before I just plunged in and then I couldn't stop)
Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. I had a snit for a few years where I didn't want to read Indian novels by Feminist writers because it seemed like such a cliche. Instead I wanted to read books by old white men -prferebly English. I do still love the way of writing that the old masters from the turn of the century have but I'm starting to open back up my mind again and not be judged by what people think about what I read.
I love the humor and humanity of Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri novels aboul Laos in the 70s. I love Henning Mankell's dreary and resigned Kurt Wallendar. I like the funny and dry Inspector Van Wetteren from Hakan Nesser's books. I like a good psychological thriller like Eric Ambler's books. And I like the sensation of being drawn into a book, being unable to put it down and caring so much about the characters.
This year, I can chart my emotional healing through the novels I've read. I started out with adolescent literature - the Hunger Games. It allowed me to accept the angry adolescent inside - its not fair! why does it happen to me? I'm helpless! and then I slowly turned to the mystery genre - I'm solving problems, I'm in an odd situation but I have to make the most of it, and the soothing repetitiveness of my favorite detectives - Kurt, Dr. Siri, Inspector VV... and now, I'm back: Into Tudor England with Anne Boleyn, Going through the crazy Soviet regime of The Master and Margarita, into Kerala where women are not free to have the lovers they want and seek help from the God of Small Things, in McCarthyite Asheville North Carolina longing for Frida Kahlo in Kingsolver's Lacuna, and now discovering the elegant and intriguing expat world of Mavis Gallant (thanks to my friend Saleem). It feels good to plunge back into books again and turn my back on Facebook and Gawker and re-experience what it feels like to lose myself in another world.