bookish

Exit West // Mohsin Hamid

One word continues to come to mind when trying to describe Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and that word is quiet.  Silent.  Subdued.  Subtle.  Its storytelling is understated, but I also found it to be very underwhelming.  I could not have received more recommendations for Exit West, and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype.  While I read this book, I kept hearing a voice in the back of my head saying, “You should be loving this… why aren’t you loving this?” and while trying to summarize my thoughts, I definitely struggled with not writing a rave review.  Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it, or maybe I’m going through a reading slump, but Exit West just didn’t do much for me.


From the jacket:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet- sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed.  They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city.  When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors- doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.  As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice.  Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through…

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.  Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.


“We are all migrants through time.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Exit West is not a “flowery” book by any means, but that’s because it doesn’t need to be.  The story is enough in and of itself.  Hamid writes long, sprawling sentences full of clear, simple language, and there’s beauty in that simplicity.  I picked up Exit West amidst my study of Romantic poetry for class, so Hamid’s style was a breath of fresh air compared to Wordsworth and Coleridge!

The biggest part of Exit West was the magical realism.  I absolutely loved the concept of the doors… but I was not too keen on the execution.  I think Hamid didn’t fully commit to the magic doors concept like he needed to; it seemed like it was an idea he quickly introduced and threw around a little bit without really utilizing it.  (Also, not going to lie, the doors reminded me a bit too much of Monsters, Inc., and I was glad to see Barry thought so too, yet his opinion on it was a bit more extreme than mine!)


“To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West


Overall, I have mixed feelings on Exit West.  It was underwhelming to say the least.  I enjoyed it; I didn’t love it but certainly didn’t hate it, and I’m sure that I’ll pick it up again at some point when I feel clear of any hype or pressure surrounding it.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Minimalist Bookworm

The term “minimalist bookworm” sounds contradictory, I know.  Book lovers these days seem to be defined by the content of their bookcases- the more books we see, the more well-read we assume a person is.  I struggle with this, because as much as I dream about having a library of my own someday, I personally feel overwhelmed by too much stuff, so having a huge collection of novels isn’t exactly my ideal.  I think that’s why I was initially drawn to a more minimalist lifestyle (also because I adore tiny houses!).  The Minimalism Movement has been on trend for a few years now, and I’ve been striving to be more minimalist, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned on my way.

DO keep books you’ll reread.

It’s only natural that you’ll want to revisit some of the books you’ve already read, and it’s hard to justify getting rid of something you’ll eventually come back to.  Keep your favorite books, the ones that interest you, the ones you’ll want to return to someday.

DON’T hang on to books you’ve owned for years but still haven’t read.

If you’ve owned A Game of Thrones since the first season premiered but you still haven’t gotten around to it, I think it’s safe to say you won’t be reading it any time soon!  We all read at different paces, but consider setting an amount of time, anywhere from eight months to five years, after which you will get rid of books you haven’t read yet.

DO save books that have meaning to you.

Still own that battered copy of Charlotte’s Web that your mom used to read to you as a child?  Did you purchase a book as a souvenir of your trip abroad?  These are the ones you might want to save, and that’s okay.  I actually regret donating some of my favorite childhood books, so hang on to sentimental books unless you’re positive you no longer want them.

DON’T own more than one edition of the same book

Of course, there are some exceptions to this one; for example, I own a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I also own the illustrated edition.  I can’t imagine getting rid of one or the other.  However, I think having ten editions of Pride and Prejudice might be a bit extensive (#sorrynotsorry).  You just have to determine what’s right for you.

DO utilize the library.

One of my favorite things about the library is there’s no pressure to like every book you read.  Often, when I buy a book, I feel the need to enjoy it because I’ve spent my hard-earned money on it, but at the library, I’ll pick up just about anything, and if I don’t like I’ll return it, no guilt necessary.  The library is a great resource for quick readers especially, and (bonus!) it’s free, so you really can’t go wrong!

DON’T purchase books just because they’re popular or trendy.

It’s okay, we’ve all done it, but buying a book, especially one you don’t think you’ll like, just because it’s all over Instagram, is probably not the best idea.  Eventually the popularity will fade and you’ll be stuck with a book you don’t actually want to read!  And if you’re not sure whether or not you want to read it, try waiting a few months after the hype has died down and see how you feel about it then.

DO try ebooks and/or audiobooks.

Ebooks and audiobooks are great for saving physical shelf space, and (bonus!) they’re often cheaper than paperbacks or hardcovers.  However, if you don’t like reading in either format, don’t force it: reading should be an enjoyable experience, not a frustrating one.

DON’T buy books without reading an excerpt.

For me, the writing style is one of the most important qualities of a book; if I don’t like the writing, chances are I won’t enjoy the story or the characters.  That’s why I always like to read an excerpt or chapter sample of a novel before I purchase it.

DO try a book-buying ban.

Set yourself a period of time in which you refrain from buying any books, and see how it goes.  Not only are bans great for stopping the intake of new books, but they also allow you to get around to the books you own but haven’t read yet.  It’s a win-win!

DON’T let yourself feel stressed or discouraged.

You might notice it’s difficult to strip your shelves at first, and that’s okay!  It’s not for everybody, but don’t let your feelings keep you from making the change.  It’s definitely easiest to do a little bit each day rather than all at once.  Personally, I’ve found that making the strides to be a minimalist bookworm has been challenging but absolutely worth it!

If you’re interested in reading more on minimalism and books, I’d recommend checking out Why I Love to (and Will Always) Buy Books by Cait Flanders, who went through a two-year shopping ban while paying off debt, or 12 Helpful, Practical Steps to Unclutter Your Book Collection by Joshua Becker, a longtime minimalist of ten years (and counting).

Do you have any other tips for anyone seeking to be more minimalist?  Have you tried any of these tips yourself?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

Call Me Zebra // Azareen Van der Vilet Oloomi

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Netgalley for an early review copy of Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vilet Oloomi, which will publish February 6, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.


From the publisher:

Zebra is the last in a line of anarchists, atheists, and autodidacts.  When war came, her family didn’t fight; they took refuge in books.  Now alone and in exile, Zebra leaves New York for Barcelona, retracing the journey she and her father made from Iran to the United States years ago.

Books are Zebra’s only companions- until she meets Ludo.  Their connection is magnetic; their time together fraught.  Zebra overwhelms him with her complex literary theories, her concern with death, and her obsession with history.  He thinks she’s unhinged; she thinks he’s pedantic.  Neither are wrong; neither can let the other go.  They push and pull their way across the Mediterranean, wondering with each turn if their love, or lust, can free Zebra from her past.
 
An adventure tale, a love story, and a paean to the power of language and literature starring a heroine as quirky as Don Quixote, as introspective as Virginia Woolf, as whip-smart as Miranda July, and as spirited as Frances Ha, Call Me Zebra will establish Van der Vliet Oloomi as an author “on the verge of developing a whole new literature movement” (Bustle)


I tried.  I really, really did.  But I just couldn’t do it.

When I saw Call Me Zebra on The Millions’ Great First-Half of 2018 Book Preview, I thought it sounded amazing.  A romance in a European city with a main character who loves literature?  Check, check, and check.  However, this book ended up being extremely disappointing and I stopped reading around a quarter of the way through, which says a lot because I generally like to stick it out and finish every book I read.

I think the main problem for me was how disconnected I felt from the narrative.  Oloomi’s writing style was enough to give me a headache, simply because I found it so difficult to decipher the complicated language she used.  And the thing is, it wasn’t complicated in a beautiful way, like reading eighteenth century literature, but it was complex in the way that it seemed like she was trying too hard to make it sound introspective and quotable, and it came out disorganized and confusing.

Overall, I don’t have much to say other than Call Me Zebra just wasn’t for me.  It’s categorized as “absurdist fiction” in the likes of Camus, Kafka, Vonnegut, etc., so if you’re interested in works by those authors, I’d suggest picking up Oloomi’s Call Me Zebra.  Perhaps I am just not a fan of the genre.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.

On My Nightstand: January 2018

So many books, so little time!  Here’s a look at some of my upcoming reads, which are currently sitting on my nightstand, demanding to be devoured.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s Exit West was one of the most talked-about books last year, so it’s about time I read it!  I’m currently two chapters in and I’m finding it hard to put this one down.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Smith’s newest, Swing Time, has been on my radar since it was first announced, though I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical because it’ll be my first Zadie and I’ve heard it’s not her best.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers is probably the book I’m most excited about on this list!  Not only is the cover absolutely stunning, but so is Bennett’s prose.

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls was the book of the summer in 2016, and for some reason I never got around to it.  I’m still looking forward to this Manson-esque coming-of-age story that Random House reportedly acquired in a seven-figure, multi-book deal (quite a feat for a debut novelist).

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Goon Squad is one that I really don’t know too much about other than it won a Pulitzer, but the publication of Egan’s newest release, Manhattan Beach, has gotten me curious about Goon Squad.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Kavalier and Clay will be my first Chabon, and it’s an absolute behemoth, but it’s his most popular and I’ve heard it’s a good one to start with.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Groff’s Fates and Furies seems like the quintessential love-it-or-hate-it book, but I’m hoping my own reading experience is the former!

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Beatty won the 2016 Man Booker Prize with The Sellout, so it’s been on my to-read list for a while.  As with Goon Squad, I know virtually nothing about it, so I’m anxious to pick it up.

Have you read any of these books?  Which one do you think I should read first?  Let’s chat in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

How Blogging Changed my Reading

I began blogging a little over two months ago, but in that short period of time my reading has undergone some changes.  Since starting Hannah and her Books, I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading more, reading with an analytical eye, and reading diversely, but I’ve also been feeling pressured and stuck.

I read more.

When I started college, my excessive workload forced me to put reading on the back burner.  However, starting this blog has made reading a priority again.  I am always carrying a book, and I make sure to set aside reading time every day, either right after I wake up in the morning, right before I got to bed, or other random times throughout the day such as between classes or during lunch.

I read analytically.

Since I started blogging, I’ve looked deeper into the books I’ve read to really understand what I like and dislike about them.  Reading has become more than just simply absorbing books, but rather taking them apart like a puzzle and examining the pieces and how they work together.

I read diversely.

Blogging has allowed me to discover so many books I never would’ve found without being a part of this online community of bibliophiles.  I’ve stumbled upon so many different novels and authors across a wide variety of genres, and I’ve been picking up books written by POC, like Homegoing and Behold the Dreamers.

I feel pressured.

One of the cons of book blogging is all the pressure that comes along with it.  There is the pressure to read “popular” books, the ones that everyone else is talking about, so that I can stay relevant.  There is the pressure to read new books, even though it means less rereading, which I used to do all the time!  I also feel pressured to read as much as everyone else, even if I don’t have the time; I’m happy if I manage to finish two or three books a month, but others are reading fifteen or twenty.  Lastly, there’s the pressure to write positive (read: dishonest) reviews, because no one likes a Negative Nancy.

I feel stuck.

I feel stuck in the sense that I am always reading books I’ve heard of before.  When I shop for books, either in person or online, I find myself buying books that I recognize, compared to when I was a young girl and I just perused the shelves for a book that looked good.  Not to say there’s anything wrong with that, but I guess I just miss being surprised by a book.

Overall, blogging has been a rewarding experience thus far; it has definitely changed the way I read, perhaps for the better.

xx,
Hannah

Homegoing // Yaa Gyasi

I read Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing during finals week, which was probably a mistake on my part because once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.  It is incredibly powerful and engaging, a heartbreaking family saga with rich characters and an even richer story.  Homegoing takes you on the journey of seven generations, each scarred by fire either literally or figuratively, and with every tale intertwined and connected.


From the back cover:

Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other.  One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle.  The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem.  Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed- and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.


“Evil begets evil.  It grows.  It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”

-Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing


Homegoing may be a novel, but it reads like a collection of fourteen short stories; there are two stories from each generation, alternating back and forth between bloodlines.  I found it a bit difficult to keep track of the descendants at first, and I kept flipping to see the family tree in the beginning of the book, but after a few chapters I got to know the characters and it became easier to tell who was related to who and in what way.  As with any book built this way, I enjoyed some stories more than others; I flew through the chapters of Ness, Abena, H, Yaw, and Marjorie, but I could’ve done without Akua’s and Sonny’s.  However, the ending truly made up for it!  Although I did predict it shortly after I started reading, it was still SO satisfying.  The ending was the happy conclusion the book needed, tying it up with a nice, pretty bow.


“You want to know what weakness is?  Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

-Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing


Homegoing covers about 250 years of both Ghanaian and American history, a tremendous feat for a debut novel.  It hits on most of the important time periods in black history, from the slave trade and the American Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance and modern civil rights movement.  It is not just a family saga but a harrowing story of escape and hardship.

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.