For a literature student, it has to be said that I don’t do a lot of reading.
Okay, that’s a lie. I do a lot of reading, but hardly any of it is for pleasure. Besides, the nature of my degree (an American Studies one as opposed to an English one) means that I can pick and choose a lot of my course content based around the ‘American’ part of my ‘American Literature’ degree title, rather than the ‘Literature’ part, and thus have spent nearly three years mainly avoiding literature in favour of history, film, policy and culture modules. I openly admit that I have lost my love of literature a little.
Teenage Emma would be so disappointed in me: my old book reviews blog was my pride and joy, giving me a sense of purpose when I felt I didn’t have one (for this reason, I keep the pages up: deleting it, however much it hurts me to look back at it, would be even more painful). Teenage Emma was meticulous in planning what to read, making lists on Goodreads and creating filing systems to organise her thorough reviews by author surname, book name, and date. I was going through my old Goodreads for the first time in a year or so, when I realised how out-of-date it was. My meticulous nature meant I MUST update it instantly, falling back down the rabbit hole of obsessive filing and listing. It was in doing this, picking through synopses of books I had once declared I wanted to read, that I realised a couple of things.
Firstly, I miss reading. And I don’t mean academic, skimming-for-the-purpose reading. I mean embracing a fantastical world and a whole host of characters to love and hate and pity and project onto yourself and those around you. I miss the anticipation and fear and anger that spills off the pages. I miss the reflection, the period of drawing up thoughts into a review. A part of me misses the filing, too.
Secondly, there are so many things I was so desperate to read, but never got around to. Some of them – a slew of young adult fantasy series with plucky young female protagonists – I acknowledge now I will probably not read. But some – deep tomes of fantasy and modern classics and dark thrillers – I realise I want to read now more than ever. And worse, I’m pretty sure I own most of them in my shockingly large mini-library of books, currently housed in boxes behind my father’s sofa: I never found time to unbox them after a house move, as it ran too close to my departure for America.
The awakening reader within me cannot wait to get back to my dad’s apartment and see the treasures that wait for me in those cardboard boxes. Being unable to access the books themselves has just made me scan Goodreads further, thinking about which of those poor unloved tomes I will finally blow the dust away from and treat myself to a read of. Bearing in mind the amount of academic reading I regularly run away from, I am certain that I no longer have the time to plough through two-plus books a week like 15-year-old me could. However, I wanted to set myself a (public) goal that, when I get back to England – or even before if it happens to be one of the handful of books I have with me here in California – I will complete these ten books that I have been meaning to read for years. Maybe you’ll even see me revert to my old ways and get a few reviews in. I wouldn’t count your chickens just yet, though.
1. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Ever since I first read The Kite Runner just over three years ago now, I promised myself I would read more from Khaled Hosseini. And the Mountains Echoed, at the time his most recent work, found its way onto my shelf quickly, and has remained there ever since.
2. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith [J.K. Rowling]
Since the last time I considered reading this, it has been re-imagined on TV in the form of BBC One series ‘Strike’, starring Tom Burke. I’d love to watch the series, but refuse to do so until I’ve finally made my venture into the books.
3. Cell by Stephen King
Cell is one of many Stephen King novels I have started, but am yet to finish; to be perfectly honest it is not the one I was most eager to complete. However, this apocalyptic horror, which sees cell phone signal interference alter the minds of those using phones, may be the most interesting to attempt to complete looking through a modern lens.
4. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
This one is mainly to indulge my inner fifteen-year-old. When I was literally fifteen, and in hospital recovering from surgery, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was my saviour. I told myself that, if Rowell ever did care to write a spin-off using the ‘fanfiction’ of the fantasy world she had created in the earlier book, I would read it in a heartbeat. Little did I know that a couple of years later, she would. By the time I finally got my hands on a copy, I was slowing down in my reading-and-reviewing train, so I would love to finally start this and complete fifteen-year-old Emma’s wishes.
5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Talking of Teenage Emma, this is the chance to rectify one of her wrongs. Wuthering Heights was one of my A Level English Literature texts, and yet I never got around to finishing it. I have to say that what I have read of it is by no means my favourite classic, but I can feel the weight of my Sixth Form English teacher’s disappointment hovering over me.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Another book that is now receiving a new lease of life on screen, The Handmaid’s Tale was also supposed to be a part of my A2 English Literature, however I avoided it as I had already decided to write about another dystopian (a comparison of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s wonderful, underrated We). Seeing the popularity of the television series is just making me regret not bothering to read it in school, so this one is perhaps a bit of a guilt trip choice too.
7. The Martian by Andy Weir
Unlike The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Handmaid’s Tale, in the case of The Martian I caved and watched its 2015 Ridley Scott film adaptation first. And while I really enjoyed the film, I’m constantly hearing that the book is better, so it must be time to finally judge.
8. Blaming the Victim: How Global Journalism Fails Those in Poverty by Jairo Lugo-Ocando
My most recent book acquisition comes from senior media lecturer Jairo Lugo-Ocando. When I saw this on offer at UCLA’s campus store, I couldn’t resist. This book not only speaks to my personal interests, but potentially to concepts which should be in the interests of all in this day and age.
9. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
There’s not much to this one, other than I feel like a bad writer for having not read Syd Field! I’ve heard many call this book a must-read, and if I’m being honest, I am out of practice in script right now, so this feels much-needed.
10. Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color ed. by Christopher Soto
I picked this poetry anthology up in The Castro in San Francisco: I couldn’t leave without something important to remind me of the trip. And this collection really is important: Soto’s online journal collaboration with Lambda Literary Foundation, Nepantla, marked the first major literary anthology for queer poets of colour in the U.S. This anthology, edited by Soto, claims to act as a ‘survey’ of works by queer poets of colour, from long-established names to recent breakthroughs.
Honourable Mention: American Snake Pit: Hope, Grit, And Resilience in the Wake of Willowbrook by Dan Tomasulo
This deep dive into the stories of those with disabilities in the wake of the 1987 closure of the infamous Willowbrook State School in New York is quite possibly the most fascinating-sounding book on this list. However, it comes in as an honourable mention due to the fact it is a currently-assigned academic text, which I need to have finished in the next two weeks, so I don’t feel it really counts towards the recreational reading count. However, I thought it was too good not to get a mention.
There we have it. 10 (+1) books that I will make it my mission to complete before 2020 is upon us. Do you fancy reading any of these yourself? Have you already – what did you think? Would you like me to do a review of any of the books? Drop me a comment and let me know! Maybe we can (re)discover a love of book reading and reviewing together.