One Year

One year ago today, I started Hannah and Her Books on a complete whim.  I’d been toying around with the idea of starting a book blog for a while.  I had a “booklr” the summer between my freshmen and sophomore years of high school, but that only lasted a few months before I grew tired of re-blogging and re-posting.  Then, at the beginning of my senior year, I opened up a WordPress for the first time, reviewing Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (my favorite novel to this day) and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt before deleting the blog permanently.  Though I loved being a part of the online book community, I felt too much pressure to commit to a regular blogging schedule, especially during the college application season.

Now, I’ve been running this blog for exactly a year, and I’m proud of the commitment I’ve made, but mostly I’m just happy to be here and thankful to all of the bookish friends I’ve made.  I like to think of this blog as my little reading journal, as a place where I can document my reading experiences while giving myself the freedom to get a little personal sometimes.  When I look back to the person I was a year ago, it’s interesting to see the ways in which I’ve changed (and stayed the same) since then, and especially how that’s affected my reading.  Starting this blog just a few weeks after starting college, and beginning to study English literature analytically, has been so formative for my reading experience.  Not only that, but I truly love interacting with everyone in this community.  It’s crazy to have my own piece of this insane online book world.  Thank you to everyone who has followed me on this journey and made me feel so welcome; here’s to another great year!

xx,
Hannah

Mohsin Hamid: October 3, 2018

Mohsin Hamid, the author of Exit West, came to my hometown last week for a book discussion and signing.  When I first read the book back in February, I enjoyed it but I wasn’t the biggest fan; I felt like it was missing something.  However, after hearing Hamid speak about Exit West, his latest novel, I developed a greater appreciation for the work and the way in which it deals with such difficult topics like immigration and first love.

Hamid began the night by speaking about his childhood and the identity crisis he faced growing up.  He was born in Pakistan and spoke Urdu before he was one year old.  When Hamid was around three years old, he moved to California where his father attended Stanford graduate school.  Living in the grad school housing, Hamid was surrounded by children of all different nationalities, yet he was essentially censured for speaking “funny,” as he didn’t know English yet.  After a neighbor criticized him for speaking Urdu, Hamid did not speak for a month, and afterward, he only spoke American English.  A few years later, his family moved back to Pakistan, and he had to relearn Urdu, which he had no memory of despite it being his first language.  Though English was Hamid’s second language, he acknowledged it as his best, as the language he writes in.

This identity crisis allowed Hamid to understand how difficult it is to “categorize” people.  Even still, we place so much emphasis on defining someone by clunky terms like black or white, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian.  Hamid shared his belief that the only thing that matters is love- who we love, what we love, and how we express our love.

Having lived in Pakistan, California, New York, and London, Hamid stressed migration as both a global and a personal experience.  He emphasized that “we are all migrants through time,” a quote from his novel Exit West, that everyone comes from somewhere, and that no one is native to a place.  Hamid spoke personally about his experiences moving around from country to country, saying that if he had to choose a central “home,” he wouldn’t fit in anywhere, and he wouldn’t know where to choose.  Though he was born in Pakistan, he spent much of his early childhood in the United States, and eventually moved on to school in England, all very formative periods in his life.

Beyond a physical migration from place to place, Hamid also mentioned a sort of figurative migration, through technology.  He claimed that collectively, we have become obsessed with sending our consciousness from place to place online.  In this sense, the infamous doors of Exit West, said by many to be a magical realism device, can also be thought of metaphorically.  Hamid himself compared the doors to our cell phone screens, both ominous black rectangles leading to someplace new and different.  Hearing him speak about Exit West in this way was eye-opening, and now I see the book in a whole new light.

The last thing Hamid spoke about, and perhaps the concept that will stay with me the most, is what happens when we read.  We sit alone with our thoughts, lost in our own mind, and yet we are sitting with the author’s thoughts as well… and so who are we in that moment?  Are we truly ourselves, or are we some type of hybrid, a mixture of our thoughts and the author’s?  Hamid definitely left me with a lot to think about.

What did you think of Exit West?  How would you define migration?  Let’s chat!

xx,
Hannah

Strand Book Store, New York

A New York City staple, Strand Book Store is the hot spot for all bookworms, tourists and locals alike.  Boasting eighteen miles of books, The Strand is one of the biggest bookstores in the city, and once you step inside, it feels like an entirely different world, completely free from the calamity of the streets and the stresses of everyday life.

I visited The Strand not once but twice during my visit to New York.  First, Monday afternoon, around four o’clock, when I walked over from the Flatiron District with the two interns I worked with all summer.  We browsed the front tables, recommending books to one another, and explored the Rare Book Room before delving into the stacks on our own.  (Afterwards, we got pizza, so it was basically the perfect New York afternoon.)  I found three books on the bargain carts in the fiction section and quickly snatched them up for myself- Less, Eileen, and The Art of Fielding.

I went back for round two with my family on Saturday night, after dinner, when the store was much more crowded.  I’d been to The Strand only once before, about a year ago, when I was in awe of and distracted by the sheer amount of books piled the space.  During this trip I found that I was able to get past the “oh my God I’m in The Strand” feeling and I could actually browse a bit easier, without feeling like a tourist.

Unlike other bookstores in the city, which are smaller with less-anonymous browsing, Strand Book Store is the perfect place to “get lost in the stacks,” as they say.  Visit this one if you’re looking to spend an entire afternoon browsing, in a place that feels so separate from the city.

Strand Book Store
828 Broadway
New York, New York 10003

On My Nightstand: August 2018

As a full-time student, I rarely have time for reading during the fall and spring semesters, so I always try to read as much as possible during the summer.  My unread pile is endlessly growing so I’m really trying to hold back when it comes to buying books, but I was lucky enough to come across hardcovers of The Sport of Kings, Moonglow, and Commonwealth for just five bucks each, and I just couldn’t refuse!  Here are all the books I got in July that I’m hoping to get to this month before classes start up again.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This one is absolutely massive, but with its hefty size comes even more praise.  It was shortlisted for the 2017 Women’s Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer the same year, but I hadn’t really heard of it until a few months ago when I was caught up in all the Women’s Prize talk.  It’s an American epic seemingly about horse-racing, but really about racism, power, and justice, and it’s my favorite type of book: a chunker that follows multiple perspectives over a period of time.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

I haven’t read any Chabon (yet!), but I’ve been dying to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay since I got it back in January.  It’s categorized as literary fiction but it’s based on stories Chabon’s grandfather told him while on his deathbed, so I’ve heard it reads like a memoir, which I love.  This seems like the kind of book you’d want to lose yourself in on a snuggly December morning, so I think I might hold off for a while, or at least until I get around to Kavalier and Clay.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I’ve been meaning to read Patchett’s latest since it came out two years ago, when I read the first chapter and was immediately sucked in.  The opening sentence hooked me: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.”  How could you not want to read further?

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

I have to be honest, I wasn’t planning on reading The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.  As I followed along with the 2018 Women’s Prize, for which this book was shortlisted, I read a lot of reviews but was never intrigued enough to want to pick it up myself, especially since I’m not crazy about historical fiction.  Then I came across an ARC at work and I couldn’t walk away without it!  It reminds me of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which I checked out of the library ages ago and didn’t end up finishing, so hopefully I’ll have better luck with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson

Every time I read an excerpt from Tonight I’m Someone Else, I’m absolutely blown away.  I’ve watched so many livestreams of her readings on Instagram (thanks @belletrist!), and heard enough praise from Emma Roberts that I finally caved and bought myself a copy.  Also, I’m interning for Hodson’s agent this summer, which means this was basically a work expense (or, at least that’s what I told myself).  I’m planning on losing myself in Tonight I’m Someone Else while traveling to New York later this month, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Have you read any of these titles?  What reads are you planning on getting to this month?  Let me know!

xx,
Hannah

My Love-Hate Relationship with Literary Awards

I’ve enjoyed following along with literary awards and book prizes since I first ventured into young adult fiction and learned about the Printz Award.  I’d read a few books that had either won or been honored, like Looking for Alaska by John Green and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and I enjoyed those so I sought out more Printz-recognized reads.  I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, which remain my two favorite young adult books to this day.  Even the few young adult books I’ve read as a college student have been Printz honorees, like We Are Okay by Nina LaCour and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  That’s not to say I haven’t read my fair share of YA books unrelated to the Printz, but I always viewed the award as providing me a great list of novels to choose from.  Today, as a nineteen year old who doesn’t read much YA anymore, I view the Printz winner as the young adult book that I absolutely must read this year- if I’m only going to read one, it should be that one.

As I started to move into reading adult fiction, I noticed that almost all of the books recommended to me had been recognized by a different set of awards: the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the National Book Award for Fiction.  Naturally, I started to follow along with these awards, and the longer I followed them, the more I thought about them: their importance, their meaning, etc.  I generally love literary awards, because they’re fun and they’re a great way to discover new books, but, like anything else, they certainly have their con’s.

I love the excitement, the conversation, and the discovery.

It sounds cheesy, but awards are exciting!  Most awards release a longlist and a shortlist before announcing the winner, so it’s fun to follow along with the “countdown” and see if my favorite makes it to the “next round.”  Awards create a lot of buzz and get everyone talking about the books they feature.  I see a lot of bloggers and YouTubers reading the entire longlist/shortlist and sharing reviews on each one, and a lot of them like to share their predictions as well, either predictions for who will make it on the longlist, or their prediction for who will win.  In this sense, they are also a great way to discover books, especially through awards for specific categories like PEN America’s Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction.  I love to watch the National Book Foundation’s annual 5 Under 35, which showcases five exceptional debut novelists under the age of 35.  I’ve found a lot of my favorite books through awards.  There’s nothing better than a list!

I hate the subjectivity and the lack of diversity.

Though I only have two dislikes regarding book prizes, they’re big ones.  The first, that they are very subjective as there are different judges every year, so the winner could be different depending on that year’s judging panel.  Not only that, but the judges could have ulterior motives, like picking a winner that benefits a friend/publisher/agent other than picking the best book.  I think I would appreciate the validity of an award-winner more if I knew the same people were picking it year after year.  My second issue is that literary prizes, like most awards, lack diversity, in this case diversity between race, sex, and class.  Historically, wealthy white men have won or been longlisted for more awards than any other group, especially with the Man Booker, and though this has started to change in the past few years, it’s still a huge issue.  (This is part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the Women’s Prize, which was founded in direct opposition of the sexist Man Booker, and only honors writers who identify as women.)

What do you think about literary awards?  What do you like/dislike about them?  What are your favorites to follow along with?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

xx,
Hannah

On My Nightstand: July 2018

July is going to be a pretty busy month for me.  I still have five ARCs to read that come out within the next two months;  I’m also starting my summer internship, which will involve a heavy amount of reading, while still working whatever hours I can grab at my part-time bookselling job.  Long story short, this month’s Nightstand is looking pretty sparse, perhaps in amount but (hopefully) not in value.

There There by Tommy Orange

There There is probably the most buzzed-about books of the summer, and there’s nothing like a little buzz to get me to snatch a copy!  I was fortunate enough to receive a physical ARC through my bookselling job, and I need to get around to it soon.  There aren’t many Native American titles that come to mind other than Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but hopefully Orange’s There There will remedy that.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I’ve had my eye on Lincoln for a while, and when it won the Man Booker my interest in it was pretty much cemented.  Plus, Saunders is coming to my hometown next year, so let’s hope I can get to it before then.  I’m not sure how I’m going to like it, as it sounds pretty experimental, but I’ve heard a lot of glowing reviews and I find the topic of Abraham Lincoln fascinating, so I’m nothing if not curious.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Similarly to Saunders, Ward is also coming to my hometown next year to talk about her highly praised book, Sing, Unburied, Sing.  I’m a sucker for award winners and this novel has certainly been around the circuit, even earning Ward her second (!!) National Book Award for Fiction.  It doesn’t sound like my usual cup of tea, but I read the first chapter in a bookshop and was sucked in immediately!  I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

What books are you planning on reading in July?  Any thoughts on these titles?  Let me know in the comments!

xx,
Hannah

The Heart’s Invisible Furies // John Boyne

I finally did it- I read the book that was everyone’s favorite last year.  And guess what?  I loved every word!  I honestly couldn’t get enough of The Heart’s Invisible Furies.  It was such a roller coaster of emotions; it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile, and it broke my heart, all while becoming my favorite read of the year so far.  I’m always cautious reading crazy-hyped books, but I’m happy I finally caved because this one did not disappoint!


From the back cover:

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery- or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him.  And he never will be.  But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?  Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamorous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.  At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from- and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.


I adore interconnected stories, and the characters of The Heart’s Invisible Furies are so twined together that it actually boggled my mind.  The story begins as Cyril is an unborn baby still in his mother’s womb, and then it continues to follow Cyril throughout his life until he is seventy years old, with chapters peeping in every seven years.  Cyril is surrounded by the same cast of characters for the entirety of the book: his adoptive parents Charles and Maude Avery, his best friend Julian, Julian’s sister Alice, and many more.  In each chapter, Cyril crosses paths with his birth mother, and eventually they grow to have a friendship though neither of them know of their true relation to each other.  Each of their interactions felt like a little tease, and Boyne really got me rooting for them to figure it out!  The story built until their final reconciliation, in which everything finally came full circle.  I’ve never read a more satisfying ending!


“A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.”

-John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


The Heart’s Invisible Furies has a unique narration style; seventy-year-old Cyril narrates the entirety of the story, so reading his younger self was interesting because it came from a wiser, older point of view instead of a naive, adolescent one.  Boyne writes with a unique sense of humor and witty dialogue that made me actually laugh out loud at times.  It’s the kind of dry(ish) humor that not everyone likes or understands, and I think a lot of what made me love this book is that I clicked with Boyne’s sense of humor.  It did take me a second to get used to his style, but once I got into it I absolutely flew through the book.  I read the second half in just a day or two.


“If there is one thing I’ve learned in more than seven decades of life, it’s that the world is a completely fucked-up place.  You never know what’s around the corner and it’s often something unpleasant.”

-John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies


If you haven’t yet read The Heart’s Invisible Furies, I would strongly recommend that you jump on the bandwagon.  It’s an emotional coming-of-age story with brilliantly intertwined characters that you’ll want to hug when you finish.  You won’t be disappointed!

You can find this book on Goodreads and Amazon.