Please Judge a Book by its Cover

Why a book cover can make me buy a book.

We all know the phrase ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’ and for most things in life this is true. But not for books.

Book designers labour over the appearance of a book, whether it means sprayed edges, the title font or an image. To completely disregard that time and effort would undermine the work all the staff in design and production do.

Book covers are important.

I love beautiful books. A beautiful book cover draws me in and prompts me to pick up the book. If a book cover is nice then it makes me want to own the books, plus a book cover can tell you so many things about a book.

Nine times out of ten, a book cover can tell me if a book is something I might want to read. There are trends in book cover design just as there are in the stories that are being published, which means that new books may have covers that mirror similar books that have seen success.

And more than anything else, I like owning beautiful books.

Maybe it’s a horrible consumerist ideology that’s infected my brain, maybe it’s a a performative need to show off how much I read. I think it’s just that I really love books.

Books make me happy and having a huge bookcase of beautiful books makes me even happier.

So because of all the hard work publishing people put into book covers, and because I love owning beautiful books, I will continue to judge a book by its cover.

And you should too.

Reading Goals: Take 2

An update on my current reading goal and how it’s changed my thoughts on them.

The Past:

I had managed to read 50 books during 2020 and I wanted to achieve the same in 2021, despite key changes in my life, including full-time work and a part-time MA, leaving me far busier than I had been in 2020.

To track my reading I use Storygraph, which I wrote a previous blog post on here. I set my official goal at 45 books but in my mind I still wanted to read 50.

I wanted to challenged myself to read as much as possible this year so I decided to set a high goal for myself even if I didn’t meet it.

Why not? It’s not as though there’d be any real consequences from not meeting my goal.

The Present:

I am 2 books behind my goal. And I am frustrated.

I desperately want to meet that goal of 45 (50) books this year but I just don’t think I can.

I am working, studying and I have chronic health issues so I just don’t have as much time to read anymore. And that’s fine.

I don’t need an arbitrary number hanging over my head, creating another item on my to-do list.

Reading is one of my favourite hobbies, so why am I turning it into a goal-driven task? I am putting more pressure on myself for not doing something that I enjoy because I am so busy with everything else.

Sometimes I just want to watch TV because I am knackered and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So screw the reading goals!

The Future:

….Sort of.

I am going to try to forget about how many books I’ve read but I am also going to keep tracking what I read.

I really like being able to look back on the types of books I’ve over a year and when I read more or less. I like being able to see trends in genres I read or whether I like long or short books (it’s actually medium for anyone wondering).

But I am going to let go of the pressure to read as much as possible and to always be reading more.

It doesn’t matter if I read 20 books in a year of 50 books in a year. What matters is that I enjoy reading.

So screw reading goals! (but also add me on Storygraph: my_literary_life)

Weekly Reading: 21/3/21

We interrupt your usual weekly posting with an unexpected reading slump.

Unfortunately, this has been a disappointing week when it comes to reading, I haven’t made it through a single book. I’ve hit a wall this week and my brain just won’t focus, not on a book, not on an audiobook, not even on a newsletter.

It’s been incredibly frustrating and I’ve really missed being able to sit down with a book but I’m trying to accept that my brain just needs a break. I’ve been busy, and a little stressed, so if that means my brain needs to rest then so be it. And hopefuly, I’ll be back to reading asap!

In the meantime, I’m hoping to throw myself into other things, currently it’s baking. And I’m still getting my literary fix through booktube, The Bookseller and bookstagram so I’m fully up to date on all the latest news and can still read plenty of reviews.

I hope to return to your usual weekly viewing next week, happy reading!

My Favourite Irish Authors

Happy St Patrick’s Day! I thought today would be a perfect opportunity to highlight some of my favourite Irish authors, some of whom I’ve probably already mentioned before.

After the Silence by Louise O’Neill

By now I’m sure I’ve mentioned Louise O’Neill’s work numerous times, but there was no way I could put together a list of titles by Irish authors and not include her. Although I would recommend any of her novels, I’ve chosen to include After the Silence in this list, as her most recent release.

After the Silence takes place on a small Irish island, twenty years after the unsolved murder of Nessa Crowley. A documentary team arrive to investigate the mystery around her death and everyone struggles to keep the past in the past.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

If you hadn’t heard of Naoise Dolan before, then you probably have now. Her breakout novel, Exciting Times, was recently longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and it’s easy to see why. Exciting Times is modern love story, filled with social commentary and written with a razor sharp wit.

Ava is a young TEFL teacher in Hong Kong and is torn between her relationship with emotionally distant Julian and Edith, who listens but makes her feel too much. Will she be able to move beyond seeing relationships as a power game? See my full review here.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney experienced an overwhelming amount of success last year, after the popularity of the BBC adaptation of her novel, Normal People. However, you may have missed her earlier novel, Conversations with Friends. It is a highly intelligent novel about to ex-girlfriends who become entangled with a wealthy married couple. If you love Normal People, then definitely check this out.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

The queen of Irish fiction, Marian Keyes, has a wealth a work to pick from, but it’s her most recent novel that I’ve chosen to include. I listened to the audiobook of Grown Ups last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. Keyes manages to tackle hugely important issues, such as eating disorders, whilst maintaining a light-hearted feel to her book.

Let me know who your favourite authors and titles are, I’m always looking for more recommendations! And follow this blog for updates every time I post.

Weekly Reading: 14th March 2021

We’ve reached the end of another week which means it’s time for another review of my weekly reading. This has been a good week for reading as I read 2 excellent books, several newsletters and a textbook for my MA.

This week there was no doubt about what would take the top spot:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo!

This book was a birthday gift which turned out to be just what I needed this week.  The book is written in narrative verse which makes it both beatiful and easy-to-read. It is told from the perspective of Xiomara, a 15-year-old girl dealing with her family conflict by writing slam poetry.

This is beautiful story that takes on what it is to be a teenager with no control, trying to figure out who you are whilst you are forced into the wrong box.

This Week’s Runner Up….Memorial by Bryan Washington

This week I’ve also read Memorial by Bryan Washington. I read it to write a reader report for a freelance literary reader position that I’ve applied for. This means I read this very attentively, really considering my thoughts and feelings as I’m reading. I have a much better understanding of my opinion of the book after reading this way so I hope to approach books like this more often.

Honourable Mention: Leena Norm’s Newsletter

I recently signed up to Lenna Norm’s weekly newsletter and I’ve been really enjoying it. She’s worked in publishing and makes content about the industry and books, so subscribing to her newsletter has been a real joy. Check out her youtube channel here and her instagram here

I hope you enjoyed having a look at my weekly reading, follow my blog to get updates every time I post.

2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist

The 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has just been announced and it includes some incredibles books. I thought I would run through which ones I’ve read (and my thoughts), which are on my tbr and which ones have been brought to my attention.

Read:

  • Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

I first read Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. It follows Ava, a, Irish 22 year old TEFL teacher in Hong Kong, as she meets Julian, an English banker who likes to spend money on her. Then Julian goes to London and Ava meets Edith, who actually listens to her. Ava’s two worlds collide when Julian announces his return to Hong Kong. I found this novel strongly reminiscient of Sally Rooney’s work and thoroughly enjoyed it. Read my full review here.

  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I absolutely adored The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett when I read it last year. The novel spans 5 decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, following the lives of twin sisters, and their daughters, who take very different paths in life. This novel explores issues of race, sexuality, identity and the controversial topic of passing. I would definitely recommend this book and I am thrilled it has been nominated. See my fully review here.

My To Be Read:

The following titles are the nominations that I want to prioritise reading. I’m hoping to read at least a couple of them before the shortlist is announced on April 28th. Ideally I would read them all, but even I know that’s probably too ambitious.

  • Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby has been on my radar for a while now, having seen a lot of positive things about it. It deals with issues of sexuality, gender and forming an unconventional family. Read all about on the Women’s Prize for Ficiton website.

  • Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

I can’t count how many times I’ve almost bought this book and it’s not quite made the cut. I definitely regret that now. Small Pleasures is set in 1957, following reporter Jean Swinney as she attempts to unravel the truth behind a claim of a virgin birth. Find out more here.

  • Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Whenever I’m on the Waterstones website (which is too often), Burnt Sugar is a common recommendation. But for a reason I can’t explain, I was never compelled to read it, even after it was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. However, I have decided to listen to the universe and accept that this is a book I should read. It is described as a poison love story between mothers and daughters, find out why here.

  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I was vaguely aware of this title before the longlist announcement but I hadn’t taken the time to find out more about it. Now that I’ve looked into it more, it’s definitely on my tbr list. It’s a story of immigration, the opioid crisis and life in modern America. Read about it here.

  • Luster by Raven Leilani

I’ll hold my hands up to not knowing about this book until the longlist came out and it was all over twitter. However, after reading the blurb I knew I wanted to read it (plus the cover is gorgeous). It follows Edie, as she is thrust into a world of white suburbia and the life of a family with an adopted black daughter. The full description can be found here.

Undecided:

The below titles on the longlist are ones I haven’t made up my mind about yet. That’s not to say that I won’t read them or I don’t think they are worthy of a nomination. I simply haven’t been pushed to read them yet, whereas the ones mentioned above I know I want to read.

  • Because of You by Dawn French
  • Consent by Annabel Lyon
  • How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps her House by Cherie Jones
  • No One is Talking about This by Patricia Lockwood
  • Nothing but Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon
  • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
  • Summer by Ali Smith
  • The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig
  • Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

Let me know your thoughts on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. Are there any you aren’t impressed by? Or any titles you wish had made the cut?

And keep an eye out for the shortlist announcement on April 28th.

Favourite Female Authors

Happy International Women’s Day! In honour of today I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite female authors and their books that I’ve loved. Let me know some of your recommendations for incredible female authors.

1: Roxane Gay

You cannot put together a list of inspiring female authors and fail to include Roxane Gay. She is a notable feminist and has written some incredible books, including Bad Feminist, Hunger and Difficult Women. Spanning a variety of genres, she is at the heart of my feminist reading and I cannot recommend her enough. To find out more about her, check out her website here or follow her on twitter at @rgay

2: Louise O’Neill

Louise O’Neill is possibly my all time favourite author. She writes incredible, dark feminist fiction, tackling some brutal topics, such as domestic and sexual abuse, in her novels. I have read every single one of books and I have loved all of them. Her most recent novel is After the Silence, which recently won Crime Fiction Books of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2020. You can follow O’Neill on twitter at @oneillo.

3: Maggie O’Farrell

I would be shocked if you haven’t heard of Maggie O’Farrell after her recent success with her novel Hamnet winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year. However, if you have missed her then you should immediately go out and buy one of her books. I’ve read 3 of her books so far and I’m yet to be disappointed. If I could recommend only one, then it would have to be her memoir, I am, I am, I am, Seventeen Brushes with Death. Follow this link to find out more about her work.

4: Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett is the author of The Vanishing Half and The Mothers, the former of which was a #1 New York bestseller. Bennett is an intelligent author who writes beautiful novels that navigate various experiences of what it is to be black in America. Find out more here.

5: Jung Chang

Jung Chang is an impressive non-fiction author who writes about Chinese history. She is most well-known for her debut work, Wild Swans, and her biography Mao: The Unknown Story. She has more recently come out with a book entitled Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister. Chang is a highly intelligent historian, providing detailed accounts of the roles women have played in Chinese history, for better or worse. If you are a fan of non-fiction or history, you should definitely have a look at her work. You can find out more here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, let me know who your favourite female authors are.

Audiobooks Count and this is why.

Whether listening to an audiobook counts as reading is a big point of contention within the book community. I wanted to throw in my 2 pence as someone who has days when I rely on audiobooks.

I have a chronic illness called Functional Neurological Disorder that can leave me in bed for full days, barely able to process full sentences or open my eyes. As you can imagine, days like these aren’t the best; enter an audiobook. On my worst days my only saving grace can be a good audiobook.

I can’t concentrate on reading or even hold a book sometimes, but I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to watch tv. This leaves no better solution than an audiobook. Audiobooks distracts me from any chronic pain, but require next to no energy from me. I love to read more than anything else, it’s my favourite thing to do, and being able to when I am my most ill means everything. Audiobooks can be the only way for me to pass the time.

When someone says that an audiobook doesn’t count they are taking away something that gets me through my worst health days. They are diminishing what little I can do on and undermining my choice to read in whatever way best suits my needs.

The refusal of some people to recognise audiobooks as reading is a fundamentally ableist belief. It is excluding people by saying that if they struggle to read a physical book they aren’t reading. Telling people with learning disabilities that audiobooks don’t count is nothing but gatekeeping. They may have struggled with reading for years and found audiobooks to be their only option.

An able-bodied person may not realise just how heavy a book can be, but sometimes even a kindle can be too much. I regularly experience a tremor in my hands and holding a book simply isn’t an option, but that doesn’t need to stop me reading.

It should not matter what your personal capabilities are, you can still read if you want to. Audiobooks are just another way for more people to find joy in books and that’s never a bad thing.

The Shelf by Helly Acton: 3.5/5

If you love reality tv and are looking for a fun, easy-read then The Shelf is for you. Told from the perspective of Amy, the book follows 6 women who are dumped on the new reality show ‘The Shelf’ and then compete in different challenges to be named The Keeper (and winner of £1 million) whilst living together in a house for 4 weeks.

Although this book wouldn’t have been my first choice in a bookshop, I got it through a book subscription service and it was the perfect book for a busy week. It was light-hearted, funny and I couldn’t put it down. It was truly as addictive as any good reality tv show is and that is the genius behind it. It is not trying to be anything but fun.

I’ll admit there are a few heavy-handed comments on sexism and less than subtle commentary on the more toxic aspects of reality tv, but it all comes from the right place. You are not being told to give up binging love island or stop talking about love is blind, instead this book fully appreciates the joy those shows can bring you. The Shelf knows that at the end of a long day, vegging on the sofa to some mindless episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians is exactly what you need, it just also shows how quickly things can escalate for those more directly involved in some of the shows being aired.

At the times the book also leaned a bit further into being cheesy than I usually go for, particularly in the final few chapters, but that didn’t surprise me. I knew what I was getting with this book and it definitely delivered.

For me this book was a solid 3.5/5 stars because I enjoyed it and that’s all. Was it one of the best books I’ve ever read? No. But did I have fun reading it? Yes. I couldn’t put this book down, reading it in just a couple of days, and would definitely recommend it.

Defeating a Reading Slump

As 2020 was coming to the end, I was looking back on what I’d read over the year and I noticed a few reading slumps I went through No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get myself to read, no matter the day, no matter the book. As a result, I thought I would post a list of tips for dealing with a reading slump.

1: Don’t force yourself to read.

This is the big one because if you keep telling yourself that you will read adn reluctantly picking up a book it will only make you feel worse for not reading. Instead you’re much better just taking a break and waiting until you want to read again. Giving yourself a break will allow you to miss reading and eventually bring back your desire to read. Sometimes a reading slump is the result of an overloaded brain.

2: Try out different books.

If you’ve hit a wall with a book and can’t seem to make yourself read it just stop trying to. There is no reason you have to finish this book before reading another one. I often find that if I’m stuggling with motivation to read, trying out a slightly shorter book or an easier read. By trying to force my way through a book, you will only reduce any desire to read. So put the book down, find a much easier/shorter read and try that instead.

3: Try out different formats.

If you’re struggling to concentrate on a physical book, maybe try out something different. I particularly like an audiobook in these situations because it lets me do other things. I can keep my brain busy enough to still enjoy some good books without being restless and unable to concentrate. Have a read of my post on audiobooks for why I love them.