A book is just a fictionalised world imagined by a stranger and then regurgitated into letters and spaces and paragraphs. Through the anxieties, stresses and daydreams that no doubt consume every writer, they somehow manage to empty suitcases of feeling and personal anecdotes into each character and every storyline. Sometimes it resonates with the reader on an indescribable level and sometimes it passes them by. It's why I love to read.
According to Goodreads I read 27 books this year, 8934 pages. I was aiming for 50 books (I managed over 40 last year), but life got in the way. I travelled for two months, I worked full time, I moved to the city, I travelled interstate, I worked weekends, I studied my Masters, I got a boyfriend. You know, life.
But there are three standout books of my 2016, three books that affected both the way that I saw and understood the world, and in the way that I now see and understand people.
1. A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara (published: 2015)
It is not often that literature paints the intimacies and struggles between a group of men so magnificently, if at all. A Little Life buried its way into my heart and I followed the story with more determination than I have with any other novel.
The abuse and physical suffering that one character experiences is graphic and relentless. His pain is believable, and it seems as though you're right there beside him, except you're entirely ill-equipped to help him. This book will break you, and it won't do the honour of stitching you back up again.
A Little Life painfully reminds you that people all over the world are experiencing horrific things and, unlike most narratives, it won't always be okay in the end.
"You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
2. The Riders - Tim Winton (published: 1994)
This has quickly become my favourite Tim Winton novel (move over, Cloudstreet). I think it’s because the protagonist traverses the European landscape in cities that I am familiar with, all the while longing for the sandy shores and deep blue seas of Australia that only Winton can articulate with such dignity.
I read this book in a day because the storyline was addictive and Winton's descriptions vivid. His writing is an excellent reminder of the sheer beauty of the natural world that surrounds us, no matter where we are.
“She wondered if you could love someone too much. If you could it wasn't fair. People didn't have a chance. Love was all you had in the end. It was like sleep, like clean water. When you fell off the world there was still love because love made the world. That's what she believed. That's how it was.”
3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Murakami (published: 1994)
This may not be my favourite Murakami, but it was the first of his I read this year. I didn’t know much about this Japanese author or his style, I just knew that he was someone I should read. To say it surprised me is an understatement. I read so much fiction (set in real, existing places and experienced by real and believable people) that I forget that as a writer, you have the power to fabricate completely impossible phenomena in a world that is also, equally impossible. Your characters can fly, they can interact with other dimensions, they can control their dreams and speak to animals. I had forgotten the joy in reading literature that is quirky and obscure. Salvador Dali-esque if I may.
If you're going to attempt to read this book, let me warn you that nothing will make sense and nothing is linear. Relax and enjoy it for all its obscurities.
“I'd be smiling and chatting away, and my mind would be floating around somewhere else, like a balloon with a broken string.”
Other books I read this year and would recommend are: The Boat by Nam Le, Kakfa on the Shore by Murakami and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.