on my bookshelf: what I read over the summer

Reading is probably my favourite thing to do (besides cooking). With all the time in the world over the summer, I have found myself nose-deep in so many different books. My quiet week allowed me to get down to reading the books that have been waiting on me. Some days I was outside in the sun reading in the August breeze. Others I spent inside, in the coolest room I could find, blackberry soda balanced on my knee (get the recipe here) as I absorbed myself in one book or another. I am such a bookworm. With such a passion for reading, I thought it selfish of me to keep all of my favourite books to myself. So, without further ado, here is what’s been on my bookshelf over the summer.

The Binding, Bridget Collins

“Imagine you could erase your grief. Imagine you could forget your pain. Imagine you could hide a secret. Forever.”

From the synopsis

The Binding was recommended to me by a dear friend of mine (also the author of this blog post) and I can truthfully say that it is now one of my favourite books. There aren’t many books that I can say I’ve read in a day, but this book is one of them. Set in both countryside and city, reminiscent of 19th century England, we follow our main character, Emmett, on his journey through a new vocation – “a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice” – Bookbinding. In this alternative universe, books are not to be sold. In this universe, books are kept in vaults, locked away and hidden from prying eyes. This twisted society goes from one extreme to the next, giving people the opportunity to hide their secrets – secrets so dark that they’re best forgotten.

“What people can’t bear to remember. What they can’t live with. We take those memories and put them where they can’t do any more harm.”

The Binding, Bridget Collins – Chapter Five

“What happens if the books burn? Do the people die?”

“No… they remember.”

The Binding, Bridget Collins – Chapter Five

For me, The Binding was an instant “okay, I’m skipping sleep tonight” kind of book. If you’re not gripped from the beginning, then you certainly will be by the end of part one. Because once Emmett discovers a book with his name on it, there’s no going back. We ourselves are thrown into the fire, straight into the centre of the book, the heart of the story. It is here that we discover The Binding is a love story. A love story hidden so deeply within the book; a love story we believe to be best forgotten. Or so we think. The second half of the book leads us through so many plot twists, transforming the central metaphor into something else entirely.

The book in itself is the experience of a memory returning. Once we get to part two, we are reading a rush of recollection – something that has the power to change the whole world. As we read, we get to remember everything along with Emmett. From the beginning of the book, we know nothing. It’s only later on in the story that we find out how Emmett ended up the way he did. Part two is a puzzle, and we find ourselves desperately trying to put all the pieces together as we read, one question running through our mind the entire time:

“Why does Emmett want to forget all of this?”

And then there’s part three. The final section of the book is told to us through the eyes of Lucian, our other main character (introduced to us all the way back in chapter two!). This complete change in perspective gives both characters the power to change the plot. Now, both Emmett and Lucian are working both with and against each other, changing the story completely.

For me, The Binding is a reminder. A reminded not to take what you have for granted, to remember, no matter how hard it might be, no matter how much your heart breaks – remember. For memories are the stuffs of which our souls are made. And no one can take that away from you.

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

“Spanning nearly 100 years of history, Pachinko is an unforgettable story of love, sacrifice, ambition and loyalty told through four generations of one family.”

From the synopsis

Taking place from 1910 to 1989, Pachinko follows the story of Sunja and her family, on their journey from Korea to Japan. Throughout the story, Sunja and her family must battle many hardships: loss of faith, deceit, heartbreak, exile, discrimination. Opening in a deceptively idyllic coastline setting in Korean, we soon find ourselves encompassed in Sunja’s world – street markets, university halls, pachinko parlors, and the criminal underworld of the yakuza.

Pachinko is the untold side of history, written beautifully by Min Jin Lee with the purpose of informing it’s western audience of Japanese-Korean culture. The novel itself reads like a lifelong hymn, intimate and delicately detailed, focusing on the struggles of a Korean family living in Japan. Subjected to racism, stereotypes, and the historical origins of the 20th century Korean experiences in Japan, this book allows rich history to unfold at a pace that is enchantingly peaceful.

The novel’s finest scenes are underpinned with shame and guilt, with every character continually forced by their position as second-class citizens to make the most painful sacrifices, and, consequently, consider the nature of those sacrifices. By the end of the book, I felt both at peace and overcast with grief. This novel will leave your heart scattered and in utter turmoil.

I remember one specific chapter of this book. I remember turning the page, bursting into tears, throwing the book down, and running from the room.

Pachinko tore me apart. We as readers can never experience that same anguish as our characters. There are parts of this book that really wrench at the gut and make you think HARD about your life and how lucky you are to be living it. Pachinko put me in my place, made me realise just how much I take for granted, and sparked a fire inside of me. A fire burning because of something I never knew about and therefore never realised I needed to be angry about. It was only after reading this book that I questioned why I hadn’t been learning about this before? I came to realise that I knew nothing about the World Wars, at least nothing outside of what happened to the country I live in.

I suppose it is as they say: history is written by the victors.

Pachinko is such a powerful story and it moved me deeply. The characters determination to endure is vivid and evocative. Min Jin Lee’s book Pachinko has got to go on your bookshelf too – as both a masterpiece and a tribute to the people that history seems intent on forgetting.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

“Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever.”

From the synopsis

I’d like to say that I was able to read this book in a day, and honestly I could not put it down, but modern classics is a stem of literature I’m slower at reading, and it took me a while to grasp this story as a whole. To me, this book is astounding (in more ways than one) and it’s language is just… I’ll give you a couple of extracts:

“If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones, then spit us out reborn.”

The Secret History, Donna Tartt – Chapter One

“Trees are schizophrenic now and beginning to lose control, enraged by the shock of their fiery new colours. Someone – was it van Gogh? – said that orange is the colour of insanity. Beauty is terror. We want to be devoured by it, to hide ourselves in that fire which refines us.”

The Secret History, Donna Tartt – Chapter One

The Secret History follows the college years of Richard as we (the reader) solve the mystery of Bunny’s death (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler). For me, The Secret History is the definition of ‘dark academia’ – wealthy students at an elite college exploring sex and murder through classic literature. A wonder of literature itself, the story unfolds with a sense of meticulously constructed whimsy, throwing the reader straight into its crux – the climax of the characters situation.

Not dissimilar to a detective story, The Secret History unveils the events leading up to Bunny’s death, through a story commonly described as “the thinking person’s thriller”.

This book brings us wholeheartedly into the minds and intellect of our characters, enveloping us in a way that, against all judgement, we as readers don’t really question their actions. So immersed in the characters themselves, we hardly flinch by the time we reach Bunny’s murder, having already surpassed many other disturbing ongoing themes. But the end of the book really had me stumped. Everything had happened all at once by that point and I was left questioning everything I had just read, one single realisation at the forefront of my brain:

“Wait… is Richard dead?”

DISCLAIMER: The question directly above is not explicitly stated at any point in the book or taken from any reviews/articles that I have read about the book. It is an interpretation of the ending from my own theories and understanding, therefore I have not deemed it to be a spoiler. Don’t worry! I haven’t just spilled the secrets of the entire book!

The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn

“What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one – and nothing – is what it seems.”

From the synopsis

I’m reading this book currently. Started it yesterday. Read it for four hours solid. I’m now half way through. Yeah, this book is a good one.

Written in snappy sentences and short chapters, The Woman in the Window tells the story of Anna and her supposedly unfortunate situation. Suffering from agoraphobia, she’s been stuck at home from almost 11 months, nurturing a severe alcohol addiction and stumbling through life on a muddled up medication schedule. Living alone in a five-story brownstone building, Anna watches the goings-on of her neighborhood from the safety of her windows. Things soon take a turn for the worst, as Anna witnesses the murder of the latest addition to the residency. Or does she?

We as readers are left to solve this mystery as we read, initially siding with Anna. But where will the story take us?

Throughout the novel, Anna slowly stitches together her past – the trauma leading up to her current situation. Whilst all of this occurs, we are asking ourselves a multitude of different questions concerning things from Anna’s sanity, to her existence as a whole.

As I say, I’m currently reading this book, and am thoroughly anxious to continue reading and solve the mystery.

Atomic Habits, James Clear

“People think when you want to change your life, you need to think big. But world-renowned habits expert James Clear has discovered another way. He knows that real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions – doing two push-ups a day, waking up five minutes earlier, or reading just one more page. He calls them atomic habits.”

From the synopsis

You’ve probably heard of this book before. And downright so. Atomic Habits is a book that I make use of all the time. It’s probably a book that I’ll keep using forever.

Atomic Habits teaches us that we need to change our systems, in order to change ourselves. James Clear, through biology, psychology, and neuroscience, helps us to understand that //we do not rise to the level of our goals. We fall to the level of our systems//.

I fully recommend this book if you are trying to:

  • Make time for new habits
  • Overcome a lack of motivation and willpower
  • Design your environment to make success easier
  • Get back on track when you fall off course

This book really helped me to reshape my thinking. The severe change in environment for me, over the past year, from school everyday to working for myself, has been an extremely difficult one and I faced periods of depression and severe uncertainty. I got this book for my birthday and, honestly, it really helped me to centre myself once again, and now hear I am! I set up a small business all by myself. This book really is one of the most influential books I have ever read, and I 100% recommend it to you.

My favourite quote:

“You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself. Your identity is not set in stone. You have a choice in every moment. You can choose the identity you want to reinforce today with the habits you choose today.”

Atomic Habits, James Clear – Chapter Two

At the Mercy of the Sea, Lisa Clayton

“This is the story of a voyage – a voyage of personal inspiration and discovery, of the triumph of human will against the elements and, above all, of one woman’s extraordinary courage and endurance against overwhelming odds.”

From the synopsis

If you have read my previous post about holidaying at home, you’ll know that for a long time it has been an aspiration of mine to travel across the globe, some way or another. And it still is – I just plan to sail instead of fly. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with sailing, ever since I was a child (mainly because I would always decide to go swimming first and then get cold sat in my wetsuit – bad idea). Sailing is a much talked about sport in my family, and I won’t be the first member to sail across the seas. Hearing all of my families amazing stories has made me want to continue further and see the world as sustainably as I can – by sailing boat. I have always dreamed of travelling, and my latest obsession for the past year or so has been to buy a boat and sail away forever (I was studying for my A-levels at that time and this seemed like a much easier and preferable solution to my study problems). But, a year later, I’m still on a roll with the idea. I am going to sail the world.

But… I have no idea how to sail. At least not an ocean-going vessel. So, obviously, I scrolled the internet for a few days trying to find different resources that would teach me (oh, the methods they embed into your brain at school). Obviously, reading about how to sail is only going to get me so far, but with our current situation, it’s not going to be possible for me to practice learning how to sail right now. So, naturally, I went back to the books.

At the Mercy of the Sea was the first book to catch my eye, mainly because I had never heard of Lisa Clayton before. If you don’t know, Lisa Clayton is the first British woman to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. She impressively sailed 31,000 miles in 286 consecutive days at sea, having cap-sized (overturned) twice! She managed all of this despite a forefront of sexual discrimination, and an initial lack of funds and sponsorship.

This book is composed of a series of journal-like entries, recapping tales of Lisa’s time at sea and the struggles that lead up to her voyage. Reading this book really gives the reader an insight of what life at sea is like, precautions that should be taken, as well as dangers that arrive from unpredictable seas. Some chapters are very long, whilst others are only one sentence or two. From reading this, you can get a sense of the emotions that are going through a lone sailors head, and the drastic reality of sailing (heads up, it’s not all sunsets and wind in your hair).

This just about finishes my summer’s reading. Whilst I have read other books over the summer as well, I felt it would be more interesting for you guys to receive more in-depth reviews of my favourite reads. I hope that you’re now feeling inspired to go and read one of these books, or something else entirely! I wanted to write about the books I had read because, for me, reading is something that really defines slow and simple living. Whilst reading a book, I can be solely present with the story, simply sitting and taking in the words on the page.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these books or are now planning on reading them! I look forward to hearing from you soon! I’m planning on sharing more of my reads on my Instagram @rhythmandgreen so if you’re interested and not already following us, then please feel free to give us a follow (shameless self-promo haha!)

I wish you all a blessed rest of the day, and happy reading!

With kindness,

Katherine x

One thought on “on my bookshelf: what I read over the summer

  1. Pingback: seasonal living activities to do this autumn | rhythm and green

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