Catch up: Dystopian reading, themed months and lists

I have learned a useful lesson since the beginning of September: themed reading months are not for me.

To catch up – you didn’t imagine it, I did promise a month of reading and blogging about dystopian books, and then posted absolutely nothing else on the subject. It happened.

I did read within my theme, and only within my theme – not quite as I’d planned it, but I did. For some reason though, every time I sat down to write about the reading, I wasn’t sure how much I had to say. But here we are – I’ve got a cup of tea, time spare and I’ll just power through.

They weren’t all strictly within September, but I did make my way through five dystopian books. Three of these were rereads, which is why I got to that number at all – rereads always go faster than first time reads. I’ve been making a real effort this year to read more new literature and do less re-reading, but I was just in that kind of mood. I was also feeling like I’d put a bit of pressure on myself to read as many books as possible in the month, and then remembered that a month isn’t actually that long. Oops.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. In order, lets have a chat about the books I read before a little round up of my thoughts about the genre in general.

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

The Stone Gods

One thing, straight up: I adored this book. It is beautiful, lyrical, poetic, sad, achingly sad and deliciously hopeful. Its genre is a pretty fluid thing, but dystopian is certainly one that applies. On the other hand, this did take me a while to read, simply because I was soaking up Winterson’s language as slowly as I could. First reads are important to me, and one thing that the attempt at a themed month reminded me is that I can’t actually force myself to set a certain pace when I’m reading a book. Some things I want to power through in one sitting, others are slow burners and I want to take my time wandering through them more slowly. You don’t get a second chance to read a book for the first time.

This also took me longer than I anticipated based on its length, because I don’t always do well with fractured narratives, which this has. And, let’s be clear – does really well. I started with this because I knew I would enjoy it, being by Winterson – I always love her writing. It didn’t turn out to be as ‘easy’ a read as I thought it might, and that’s a good thing.

Re-read: The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

the hunger games trilogy

I recently bought my own copies of these books, having previously read borrowed editions and ebook copies. The above are the editions I decided on. I haven’t always been fond of these designs, but I was swung. I would have got the black editions with the simple Mockingjay images on the front, but all of the ones currently out have a printed badge on the front referring to the film Mockingjay Part 2, which of course comes out in November. I think these have a closer connection to the sense of being out of control that events often have in the books, which to an extent I think the black covers don’t really allude to.

Anyway – aside from my tangential thoughts on the covers, I really enjoyed rereading these. They are among the books I reread reasonably regularly, but I particularly wanted to refresh these in my memory before he last film comes out. The trailer for the final film looks promising – particularly that glimpse we had of the lizard mutts and Tigris. However good the film is though, I love the honesty of these books. Collins never forces any of her heroes to be more than they’re capable of – she grounds us firmly in the reality of personal consequences for people who go through traumatic things. It’s also the thing that puts me on board with the ending of the books (Spoilers beyond this point – if you haven’t read the books, skip to the next paragraph!). I am completely happy with Katniss and Gale not being together, because while he is not damaged in the same way as the others, he also didn’t go through the same thing – Gale was never put in the games, he willingly joined a war. Gale is not damaged by these things the same Katniss is, and he’s not willing or able to consider how she is affected by it. He is, it turns out, of a similar mold to Coin when she suggests a retributive Hunger Games – he considers any means legitimised by their enemy’s atrocities. He is willing to inflict the same things that have happened to his loved ones on others – even knowing the effects it had on them (relevant not just to Katniss, but also to his father and his plan to conquer the Nut in District 2). After what she’s experienced, Katniss does end up with the right person – she ends up with the one who doesn’t have to fight and try to understand her scars, because he has his own the bear. Gale is the one who carries on like the heroes of most narratives in a similar vein, and while it works for him, he finds a place in the new order they establish, it does alienate him from the people who cannot recover the same way, through no fault of their own.

And the final book I at least started in September, even if I didn’t finish it within the month…

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

This book took me ages to read, for reasons I can’t really pin down. It’s a very difficult book to describe, and I feel like any attempts to do so would do it a disservice. I picked it up at the recommendation of my favourite BookTuber, Jen Campbell, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m still figuring out how I feel about this book to be honest, but it is really good. The cover is beautiful, as was the hardback edition. I have the one pictured above, but there are actually two covers available – the above, depicting Peter and foiled in silver, and another foiled in gold which shows his wife Bea.

I won’t be writing up full-length reviews of these books simply because my thoughts on them simply aren’t settled enough to articulate them in that form. This post is my way of keeping to my new years resolution to write about every new book I read this year on this blog.

I have been thinking a lot about ways to keep this blog populated with posts even when I’m not reading much – as is happening at the moment, because my book hangover from The Book of Strange New Things has prevented me from committing completely to anything else so far. I’m hoping that a recent purchase will help me with this.

literary listography

Literary Listography: My Reading Life in Lists is just what it sounds like. As you can see, the cover is gorgeous, and the inside is equally so. My intention is to use this as a springboard for ideas with more generic posts about books that aren’t specifically reviews.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments and I’ll be back soon with other posts!

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