May Reading Wrap Up

And just like that, we’re approaching the half-way mark for 2018. Mad, exciting, worrying, and ever so slightly terrifying, this year has flown by – which I know I probably say every year, but at least I’m consistent.

Reading wise, May has been my best yet with 5 books devoured. The first of which was particularly monstrous, as I finished the Laini Taylor Trilogy with Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Breathtakingly creative, this series has been one that is as inspiring as it is impressive. There are moments of hilarity as well as heart-wrenching sadness, with characters that are diverse, charming, and well-crafted. Laini Taylor has had be won over as an author since reading Strange the Dreamer last year, and I’m so glad I decided to read this imaginative, fantastical series.

Somewhere during my reading of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I went to an incredible talk by Louise O’Neill, an author who manages to deliver books that punch you in the gut and leave you reeling, wanting to change the world. You can see my review of Asking for It here, a book that I’ve thought about often since finishing, so I knew I had to pick up her latest book The Surface Breaks. A feminist retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, this treasure of a book is one I’d recommend to anyone in their early teens – as I wish I had had it when I was that age. Closer to the original story rather than the Disney version, this tale is of a young girl who is paraded around as a commodity and something to possess rather than an individual with her own voice, her body something to be used and decorated and belonging to the men around her. This is a story of her reclaiming her body and her voice, despite losing it. The Sea Witch is an incredible character, one who I want to have her own story, and never before is it made so painfully clear that the heroine goes from one abusive relationship to the next, her life dictated by the men she tries to love, until she finally wakes up and sees the world for what it is. Buy it for your daughters, nieces and sisters, and especially buy it for your sons, brothers and nephews. A powerful, important book.

After thoroughly enjoying the new Marvel film, I decided to keep that love going by picking up Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. He is such a clever writer, and more and more I find a more suitable title for him is wordsmith. He crafts sentences and stories in a way that sweep you to another place, and definitely makes his mark on these myths – some well-known, and others less so. I honestly could have read this in one sitting, but managed to pace it out with various tube-journeys. Would highly recommend to those who are new to Norse mythology, and even old hands who want to revisit the grand stories told in a different style.

Clearly not over my onslaught of fantasy, after that I delved into Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I’ve seen this book several times over the last few years, and always thought it would be something I’d enjoy (hello, dragons). A very different kind of fantasy book, this one is set in an old-fashioned world and written in a language to reflect this setting. It’s a world of court and dragons, and a girl stuck between the two worlds. Well-told, this was definitely a slow-burner for me but definitely worth the wait.

Then finally, I read ‘The Custard Heart’ and other stories by Dorothy Parker, all wrapped up in the new beautiful Vintage covers. Along with two other tales, ‘The Custard Heart’ was a well-told short story with a strong female lead and interesting side-characters. Each had a loud, boisterous heroine and tackled various themes and topics. Whilst they didn’t have my heart soaring, I did enjoy them as short reads and am glad to have had a taster for Dorothy Parker’s writing style. A great way to finish off the month of May.

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Reading and Social Media

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the affect social media has on my reading, in terms of what books I buy, which books I decide to read next, and which books I write off, be it from bad reviews or a lack of online presence.

To put this into a bit of context, the book I’m currently reading is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – a book that has had so much attention on social media that it would have been impossible for me to have missed it. There are my reasons why I would have normally picked up this book; for one I was at a launch where the UK Publisher announced it last Summer, and the bookshop I used to work at featured it as one of their books of the month. The book is high fantasy, my all-time favourite genre, so of course there are many reasons as to why I may have picked up this book on my own. However, I know without fail that the reason I’m reading it right now is due to all of the attention it has been getting on social media. Readers around the world are picking up this book, adoring it, and immediately going to Twitter and Instagram to announce it to the world. The hype and excitement that has been built has only increased – the book reaching the number 1 bestselling slots in so many charts was really only the beginning. So from all of that attention, along with the nagging of one of my best friends, I went out, bought the book, and decided it was going to be moved to my ‘to be read now‘ pile.

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My experience with choosing to read Children of Blood and Bone isn’t an unusual one, as I’ve come to realise. I am very aware that I will rarely go into a bookshop, pick up a random book, and read it (to clarify, when I say ‘random’, I mean walking around, reading various blurbs, and going with the one that I think I’ll enjoy the most – not just strutting up to any old shelf, blindly selecting a book, and going with it). What I read is normally determined by what I’ve heard about the book, and my main source of information is social media. Yes, my friends play a big part, but even when I think back to something everyone has told me to read (such as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), I was still very much aware of how the book was being received due to online platforms. If I see a negative review on Twitter, Instagram, or even Goodreads about a book I’m planning to read, quite often I’ll push it back on my list of what to read next because of that review. Similarly, if I watch someone talk about books on Youtube and they mention a book I have and gush non-stop about it, I’ll likely bump it up on my list to read it sooner.

There are positives and negatives of this kind of approach to reading. On the negative side of things, it does mean that maybe I’ll miss out on a book I would like, simply because I’ve seen other people dislike it. I do feel a sort of nostalgia when I think back to how I picked my books when I was younger, walking into a bookshop and drifting around, selecting two or three books all of which I’d never heard of before. Sometimes this would work out fantastically, and sometimes it would be a disaster, but I’d still read a wide selection of books that I probably wouldn’t pick up now.

Yet equally, there have been plenty of times recently where I’ve picked up books that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for social media. Take Eleanor Oliphant, a book I really wouldn’t glance at twice, except there was so much press and positivity around this one title, not to mention the sometimes melodramatic proclamations of adoration, that I had to pick it up just to see what the fuss was about; and I couldn’t be happier that I did. There’s also another recent read of mine, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, which I mainly liked the look of because of the cover, but I’d heard so many things about it that I decided to read it sooner rather than later. Whilst reading is a solitary sort of activity, social media creates a community of readers who can gush to each other to their heart’s content. Whilst working in a bookshop, I was never at a loss for who to talk to about the books I was reading, and even though I still work in a book-focussed environment, the presence of the online community is a great one to have. Sure, you may have similar tastes with someone, but there’s nothing like finishing a book and finding someone else who has also finished, just so you can scream about how it ended, be it good or bad, and have a discussion.

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Reading is considered a more traditional sort of hobby, and despite the upsurge of technology-related reading products, there’s nothing quite as organic as cracking open a fresh, physical book and turning it’s pages. Still, this doesn’t mean that technology doesn’t have a place within the realm of books. Clearly, social media is now one of the main ways we market a book and get the attention of potential readers. Social media, no matter what you think of it, is a powerful tool, and one that we are starting to utilise in so many ways. As much as I am an advocate for the physical book, I cannot deny that ebooks and audiobooks and the like have brought in a whole different group of people to reading – and what could possibly be bad about bringing books into someone’s life? The same, I feel, is with social media. Sure, there are negatives, but the positives far outweigh them, and I for one am grateful that no matter what, someone out there has a book recommendation for me that, 9 times out of 10, I’ll end up loving.

March Reading Wrap Up

So March came and went, completely passing me by. One day I think of a nice review to write on this blog, and the next thing I know it’s April 4th and I need to do a wrap up of all the books I read last month.

For the first time, I actually set a TBR (to be read) list last month – normally I don’t like having them, as I quite like having the freedom to um and ah over what I’ll read next with no plans in mind. However, I thoroughly enjoyed having one. It’s great to look back and see what changed, as of course a TBR isn’t a set, permanent fixture that can’t be moved around a little. It’s also nice to have something to work towards, whether you’re determined to achieve something or just see how much you can read in one month. So, the books I had hoped to read, of course anticipating I wouldn’t read them all, were:

 

 

 

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel
  4. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and/or Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof

I did indeed pick up Orlando first, and boy what a book that was. I have to say that I was excited as well as cautious to read dear Virginia, but I can say that I did like it. Whilst I took a long time reading it, I definitely could appreciate the quality of the writing and I found the plot, as mad as it was, incredible interesting. The fact that Woolf was challenging gender norms all those years ago is incredible to me, seeing as I feel the world is only really starting to have an open conversation about gender being fluid. As an introduction to her work, I thought it a fantastic one.

At the beginning of the year I stated that I’d like to read more non-fiction, so before facing the mammoth of a book that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, I decided to read Eat, Sweat, Play. I loved this book so much that I wrote a blog about it on my other site (you can read it here). I’ve been getting back into exercise over the last couple of months, and this book truly spurred me on. Discussing women in sport, it covers everything from how we talk to young girls about sport to how we advise women about exercise during pregnancy. It’s the kind of book that will definitely stay with me for many years to come, and I know that if I ever have daughters one day I will use this book like my bible to make sure I encourage them to enjoy sport in every way possible.

Next up, I decided I’d pick up the beast that is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, but as it is such a heavy (and pretty) book I knew I didn’t want to carry it in my bag or read it on the tube. That’s why I picked up one of the new Penguin Vintage minis, and the one I read was called The Breakthrough by Daphne du Maurier. Despite it being my designated tube read, I ended up making time one evening to finish it just because I was enjoying it so much. Whilst I may not have enjoyed it had it been 200 pages long, this short story was perfect for me – the writing style was beautiful yet precise, the characters seemingly fleshed out in a few mere sentences, and a plot fast paced enough to keep me hooked without feeling dazed. It has certainly convinced me to pick up some more of her writing, so I’m definitely going to read more of these Vintage minis in the near future.

I ended up finished three books in March, even though I spent most of it reading Orlando and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. I finished the latter a couple of days ago, so technically that has to come under my April Wrap Up. Still, I’m happy with what I read in March, and can happily say that I’m reading Obsidio now, which was number 5 on my TBR list.

For April, I’m planning to have a mini sci-fi and fantasy-a-thon, as it feels like I haven’t read any for a long ol while. The books I have in a pile by my bed, ready for this month, are:

  1. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristof
  2. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  3. Dreams of Gods and Monstersby Laini Taylor
  4. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  5. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Again, there is no chance that I’ll be able to read all of these in April (unless I have an absolutely incredible month), but I’m so excited to read all of them at some point. As I said, I’m reading Obsidio now (and of course loving it), but I think I’ll have to read the Adeyemi next due to all the incredible press that it has had, and unbelievably positive reviews. High fantasy that has everyone on social media going wild and a fantasy book that finally has a majority non-white cast and a book that’s said to be like Black Panther? Sign. Me. Up.

February Reading Wrap Up and March TBR

Whilst January seemed to drag, like an unwanted, uninvited guest who just won’t leave your house despite your many hints, February was gone in a flash. One second I was celebrating the fact that I’d made it through January, and the next I’m wondering why it’s March and snowing.

Despite the very short month, I managed to fit in some brilliant books – and, quite aptly, started off with Winter by Ali Smith. I have to say, I’m never sure whether I really like Ali Smith or if I’m just confused by her writing – and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s both. I far preferred Winter to Autumn, and I’ve started to get used to her style. Usually I tend to prefer great plots, but with Ali Smith’s books I have to leave that view point behind and just let her lead the way. There are time jumps, narrative changes, and almost no plot to speak of – instead you have these incredible characters, beautiful writing that flits between prose and a more poetical style, and insight into the world around us. Definitely the kind of writing that you would savour and read slowly, as a fast-paced read is not what you’re signing up for with Ali Smith – or, at least, that’s how I feel when I read her books.

Then, I had the delight of reading the short story collection by Jen Campbell, The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night. The way this author’s mind works is unbelievable, and the stories that she creates are as beautiful and charming as they are mad. With darker elements mixed in with the magical, this collection dipped into so  many different subjects, like love, deceit, relationships, friendship, and more. Each story was so vastly different from the next, but they all contained that thread of the fantastical. Not quite magic, but more of a suspense of disbelief, as the collection takes you on an adventure you won’t want to end.

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If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I ended the month reading the most wonderful, charming, heartbreaking, uplifting, beautiful tale of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I’m linking in my review of it here, just because I needed a whole post just to work through my feelings about this book. I can honestly say that it’s by far the best book I’ve read in 2018, and even though we’re only in March, this book will definitely stay with me for years to come.

As this is a very short recap of the three marvellous books I enjoyed in February, I wanted to talk a bit about my plans for March. With International Women’s Day coming up, I thought for March I wanted to make sure that I only read books by women. Though, as I say this, when I look back at what I’ve already read this year, everything I’ve read apart from the short poetry collection by William Blake has been written by a woman. Still, I’m going to continue this trend for March.

Whilst I don’t expect to get through all of these, as well as half anticipating that I’ll change my mind for what I’m going to read, these are the books I hope to pick up in March.

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  3. Eat, Sweat, Play by Anna Kessel
  4. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and/or Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
  5. Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Ok, so the last one is half written by a man, but I’ve been looking forward to the finale of this trilogy for what feels like years. Jay Kristoff can stay.

Hopefully by the time April swings around, the weather will have improved and be warmer (one can only dream) so that I won’t have to read either curled up in a thousand blankets or on the tube whilst wearing gloves. Honestly, it’s so hard to turn a page with gloves on. Anyway, here’s to March and reading words written by wonderful women.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while – or even if you’ve read one or two posts – will know that I love fantasy. The adventure, the different worlds, wonderful characters that have been imagined – but, above all, one of the main reasons I love fantasy is because I can read it so quickly. Not because the writing is easy to skim over or that i can rush through without needing to savour – the opposite, actually. Usually it’s the fantasy genre that has me hooked, has me reading late into the night, vowing to just read one more chapter, or even setting aside hours (or even a whole day) just so I can read it. The thrill, the excitement, the cliffhangers…those are things that I’ve usually only really felt with fantasy.

Then, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine came into my life.

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than fine?

There has been a lot of hype around this book, especially from some of my friendship circles. I had wanted to read this book last year, simply because it would have worked with my challenge to read a book that has a character with my name in it. Then, this book completely blew up, winning prizes and adoration from all over the world. I decided to pick it up when I was in a bookstore last month, and last weekend thought it would be a good time to start it.

Honestly? When I started reading it, I wasn’t so sure that I’d like it. I didn’t really like the main character, couldn’t see myself connecting with her, and read the first few chapters very slowly over the course of three days. Then, it hit me. One evening, I decided to read for a bit, only to find that I wanted to keep reading and reading and reading. Soon enough, I was staying up late to read it, and cleared my Sunday of all plans so I could read all day.

Eleanor Oliphant, the character, first comes across as a pretentious, snobby arse, one that no one would like. She’s treated poorly by the people around her, which is the only thing I originally sympathised with. Then, she started talking about her damaging relationship with her mother, snippets of her upbringing, and the negativity she faces from her appearance as she has visible scars. Ever so slowly, I began to sympathise more and more. Her life is regimented; wake up, go to work, eat a meal deal for lunch, wait for work to finish, go home, drink, then sleep and repeat. The loneliness that echoed between the pages was too loud to ignore, and the more you lose yourself in the world of Eleanor Oliphant, the more you feel that suffocating sadness that she seems to perceive as normal, that that was her lot in life.

Eleanor, and the other characters you (and her) are introduced to over the course of the novel begin to steal your heart. I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion, and felt completely swept up in this world. With a deep discussion on mental illness and the effects loneliness can have on a person, never before have I realised how important basic human interaction is. Sure, I have fantasies of reading all day and not leaving my bed, but if I had no one to talk to? That would be crippling in a way I can’t really imagine, something I’ve never before thought about having to go through.

This book is so important, if just to show you how even a little bit of kindness can go such a long way in making someone’s day so much better. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone. Yes, it’s sad, but it also makes you feel so incredibly grateful – at least, that’s what it did for me. It made me grateful for the people in my life, the friends I see frequently, my flatmate, my family, even my dogs (although I’m always grateful when it comes to my dogs). It served as an important reminder about what truly matters in life, and all I want to do is return to the world of Eleanor Oliphant, if just for a few chapters to check in, and hope that she’s doing alright. I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat, so beautifully crafted were Gail Honeyman’s characters, and so great my love for them all.

January Reading Wrap Up

Buckle up kids, it’s the first reading wrap up of 2018. I’ve set myself a target of 45 books on Goodreads, but I’m not planning to get so caught up in numbers this year – instead, I want to connect with the books I read more. I’ve already started writing my mini 2018 book journal to keep track of what I read and what I think as I’m reading it. So far, so good, and I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. For now, a summary of what January brought me.

First up was Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the second book in her trilogy which I am thoroughly enjoying. Since finishing it, I’ve decided to save the third and final instalment for a little bit so that I don’t have the same problem I had last year when reading series in one go, and become bored. I think I enjoyed this sequel more than the first, or at least I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first half of book one. Laini Taylor is an incredible storyteller, and she somehow makes every book seem unique with new ideas and unthought of tales, which makes reading even more enjoyable. If you’re looking for something fantastical, this is the series for you.

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To make sure that I didn’t go from one fantasy to the next and have some variety in what I read, next I picked up Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. I really enjoyed this collection of his poems, and it’s definitely made me want to keep discovering more poets and their different styles. A strange reading experience, as although I’ve never sat down and read any Blake before other than snippets, I wasn’t expecting to know a lot of his works. Yet so many of his poems triggered so many different memories, knowing that I’d heard snippets and refrains of his before now. As someone who feels like they don’t know that much about poetry, I truly enjoyed reading Blake.

Then, my guilty pleasure of the month, Brave by Jennifer L Armentrout. I adored her books as a teenager, which managed to blend fantasy with comedy with the pure fun that exists in teenage literature. Whilst her books are now classed as Young Adult, I’m so glad that they have that element of fun that make reading her books such a delight. It’s interesting to see the development not only of her writing but her ideas, as I’ve noticed the darker themes she has taken on over the years in her work – I, for one, think she does it fantastically well, especially as she still incorporates laughter and lightness in her stories.

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My fourth and final read of the month was my first piece of non-fiction of the year, and what a good one it was. Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny was utterly wonderful, and I’m so glad that I’ve made a pledge to read as much non-fiction as possible this year. Each chapter of Bitch Doctrine felt like a rallying cry, and I wanted to answer every one. I wanted to discuss this book with everyone, and I nearly did. Penny manages to tackle so many different ideas and themes, and not once do you feel like any point they make lacks substance or depth. What I especially appreciated was that this was by no means a ‘white feminist’ book, and instead made such an effort to look at intersectional feminism, and how race, gender, sexual orientation, and more comes into play – and why each of them have feminism in common. Strong arguments, persuasive points, and just brilliant writing – this is definitely a book that I’ll remember.

And those are my January 2018 reads! I’m currently reading my second ever Ali Smith novel, and also have such a huge tower of a TBR pile that I’ve given up being daunted by it. I’m so excited to start all of these wonderful books, and my only concern is that I won’t be able to get to them all this year.

A good problem to have, I think.

2018 Reading Goals

I hadn’t planned to make a post about my goals in terms of reading for 2018, mainly as I only had one or two items on that particular list. But honestly, the more that I think about it, the more goals I keep adding to that particular list. So, as it continues to grow, I want to start talking about some of the things I hope to do more of when it comes to reading. If you follow me on my other blog, alwayslovetowrite, you’ll know that I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions – mainly that I don’t like them because I don’t want to feel stressed or set myself up for failure. Even when the goals are manageable, my brain somehow manages to create a severe pool of anxiety and stress about them, as well as telling me that maybe I’ll fail and what’s the point and, before you know it, I’m ranting online about resolutions.

So, to be clear, these aren’t set goals that I have to hit or my whole life will fall to pieces. These are goals to improve my reading experience, as well as widen it.

Firstly, I want to try to read more non-fiction this year. Whenever I describe my reading tastes, I tend to talk about my fantasy addiction and general love of beautifully written fiction, writing non-fiction off entirely. Yet, so many books that I love are non-fiction. Take Insomniac City for example, one of my all-time favourite reads – it is very clearly non-fiction. I keep having to reevaluate what I value in reading, as I usually say that I love reading because it transports me to another world – yet I forget that non-fiction can do that just as easily as fiction. Sure, it may not be a fantastical world where dragons can talk and pigs can fly, but it is the world of someone else. Bill Hayes took me into his world, into his life in New York and his story of how he met, fell in love with, and built a life with Oliver Sacks, ending with how he lives with the grief over his death. That memoir taught me that real lives are emotive in ways that fictional ones can never hope to be, and that’s something I want to keep reminding myself of.

Not to mention that I want to keep learning. I’m proud that I sound like a complete nerd when I say that I love learning, that I love to build on my knowledge. Reading is one of the ways that I can achieve that, and I just want to keep building and building, as well as renovating when I’m given a new opinion or a different perspective.

This leads me nicely to my next goal – that I want to read more diverse authors. In my previous post, I mentioned that I wanted to read more from POC authors – but I don’t want to stop there. I want to read all kinds of authors, ones from marginalised communities, ones that have to deal with race every single day, ones that are talking openly about gender and rights that I probably don’t think enough about.  I want to be shown different perspectives, to remind myself of everything that’s going on around me and be better informed on how I can actually help to make a difference. I want the things I read to challenge me, in more ways than one. I’m very aware that I’m a cis heterosexual white girl, so it is so important that I don’t forget my privilege and become more aware of the people all around me, and make sure that I help ensure they are heard.

A few friends last year made goals to read as much of, if not all of, a certain author’s work that year. At this moment in time, I would love to do the same – and the author I want to try to read as much from this year is Virginia Woolf. She’s one of those authors that I’ve read a lot from, but don’t think I’ve actually sat down and read one of her books from start to finish. I’ve also bought myself several of her books recently, so now I definitely need to at least attempt this one.

Finally, I want to engage more with what I read in 2018. Quite often I’ll forget what I’ve read and will be unable to recall a thing about something I read the month before. In 2016, I kept a little book journal where I wrote down my thoughts and opinions of the books I read, keeping track of the books somewhere other than Goodreads. I want to write about the things I love most about each book I read, and about why I loved, or really didn’t love, them.

And that is my list of 2018 goals – so far, at least. I’m excited to try to work towards these goals, and I know they’re ones that I can continue to grow upon throughout the years. Whether I end up only having 20% of the books I read this year being non-fiction, or if I only read one diverse author to every white one, it’s still a step in the right direction. I for one hope that it does me a world of good, because I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Hell, my top five books last year included two non-fiction, a POC author, and an author from the LGBTQ+ community. If that isn’t a sign that I should definitely be hunting out more of the same, I don’t know what is.

Let me know if you have any reading goals for 2018, or more importantly if you have any recommendations for books I should read that would help me with mine.