26 Oct 2014

Books I Read On My Year Off

As an English Literature student I read a lot. Though I have little control on the books that I do read. Having to make your way through up to five set novels a week has a way of leaving you with little time to knock off the books on your every growing 'to read' list. So if anything positive came out of me falling ill at the end of last year, and having to take the best of the academic year off, was being left with the time and freedom to read books of my choosing. So what does an English student read on her time off? Lots of Young Adult fantasy, apparently (that somehow always gets left off the curriculum). That, along with Young Adult non-fantasy, Classics that don't fit into any of my modules and even some non-English literature. These are some of my favourites I read in that time:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“I fear oblivion. I fear it like the proverbial blind man who's afraid of the dark.” 

(contains moderate spoilers)

It took until the beginning of this year to finally pick this book up. I had been a John Green fan for a while but had (foolishly) been putting this one off due to the mixed reviews I'd been hearing. But once the trailer for the movie was released I knew I'd want to read it before the film was out. In case there's anyone still left on the internet unaware; The Fault in Our Stars centres on the love story of two teen cancer patients. This format of course has been done many times before, but never in the beautifully profound way portrayed by John Green. Concerning itself with existentialism it explores a love, and a life, that is aware of its boundaries, and its place in a universe that has none. This book made me laugh, and made me cry, and I haven't stopped thinking about is since.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” 

One of those books that everyone's supposed to read, so I did. To Kill a Mockingbird manages to be an intellectual conversation on human nature and convention whilst simultaneously telling a story that keeps you up all night in anticipation of how it will unfold, along with including a selection of lovably unforgettable characters. Told from a prospective of childhood naivety and development you're transported back to a simpler period of human life, but in the not so simple setting of the American south in the 1930s - where racial tension is rife, and being observed and questioned by 6 year old Scout. This novel calls out social conventions, prejudice and small town hospitality, and beckons us to question if the real villains of the story are who we'd first expect.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

“The universe is seeming really huge right now. I need something to hold on to.” 

Written in a poetic format, abundant with captivating metaphors and allegory, We Were Liars is an impressive Young Adult novel that enthrals readers of any age. Prepare to be sat in awe and dotted with goosebumps as glimpses of the final conclusion start to elegantly and tragically unravel throughout the chapters. We Were Liars is emotionally affecting, shocking and beautifully written. There is a circulated rule to not speak of the plot of this book, so that readers can go into it without any prior knowledge. So all I will say is that this novel now sits up with my all time favourite books, and as long as you have an open mind and a poetic core you'll likely love this book as much as I do.

The World in the Evening by Christopher Isherwood

"The lie of the novelists is a sin because it encourages the belief that you can treat human beings as characters; that you can fully know and possess them . ." 

Isherwood, in my opinion, is a highly underrated writer. This book itself has only 28 reviews on Goodreads, which in itself is a slight tragedy. Isherwood has a knack for writing about standard life and circumstance (he often draws upon his own life experiences) in an intriguing manner, and for portraying vibrant and involving characters. His books also often serve as an insight to homosexuality in the society of  Isherwood's time period. This book, following the similar format of his others, is no exception to these traits.  Set in the 40s, The World in the Evening centres around the character Stephen who, after finding his wife with another man, goes to visit his aunt in a small quaker community in Pennsylvania. Upon his visit he proceeds to break his leg, leaving him bed ridden and with ample time to reflect over his life, along with all the regrets that go with it. Isherwood writes impressively, depicting life for what it is; sometimes hilarious, often tragic, intermittently beautiful. 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.” 

Superbly written and highly imaginative Young Adult fantasy, displaying a unique take on the 'angels and demons' set up. Follow naturally blue haired Karou as she discovers why she never quite felt at home in the human world. I've already written a review on this lovely book which you can find here.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself can.” 

(contains moderate spoilers)

Protagonist Cassandra - a teen girl living in an old, previously abandoned castle with her family in 1930s England - not only 'captured the castle', but also my full attention and involvement. Written as her diary, I was fully engaged in her life through her entries; growing to love and laugh at her eccentric family, being in constant anticipation of the twists and turns of her developing love life and finding myself living vicariously through the depictions of her gothic-bohemian lifestyle. Refreshingly written in comparison to current teen based fiction (not a convention or happy ending in sight) with insight to the time period and motifs borrowed from rural Gothic fiction. I found myself so firmly captured by this book and the enchanting way the story was portrayed that I read it as slowly as I was able, in fear of it inevitably coming to an end and leaving me withdrawn. This book will be with me for a long while.

So, has anyone read any of these books and have opinions on them? Let me know below :)


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