Books of 2019 – Circe, Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls and a note on Audiobooks

4. Circe by Madeline Miller – 2.5/5

I really wanted to like this book.

It did not help that this book has been hyped quite a bit, and I read many a “Don’t overthink this. Just buy this book NOW.” kind of reviews, which meant I had a certain level of expectation from it.

For me, a 3 means “It’s okay, I liked it”. A 4 is “I loved it and I recommend it.” A 5 means “I loved it and would recommend it to errrrrbody”.

I cannot honestly say I liked this book. I simply did not.

First of all, although the story “moves” it was not gripping at all. I am not one who needs major twists and turns to keep things interesting (my favourite books are the Anne books and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where nothing much really happens plot wise, but it’s all the other wonderful-ness that the author spins around mundane everyday things of life).

But this book just didn’t grab my attention. I kept struggling. I even chucked my 100 page rule (I will abandon a book if it does not interest me even 100 pages into it – life is too short to read things you don’t like). I persevered. But it only got slightly interesting in the last 80 pages or so. I thought that since the author had excellent source material to work with, she might have been able to add more flair and thought to it, but I found that severely lacking. It was a re-telling, yes, and the author was successful in demonstrating a different perspective, but it hasn’t been executed with depth.

The writing felt disjointed at many places. I struggled to gauge why it’s such a bestseller.

This has happened to me in the past with hyped books and it has happened with this book.

5. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5

6. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5

These are the second and third books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – and I admit I’m a bit addicted to them.

The best thing about these books is the interesting observations on the human condition with a sense of (dry but gentle) humour. Nothing too disturbing or shocking happens (there are some dark themes which are explored, but they have been explored with a mature, optimistic hand).

I love the notes on moral dilemmas and the liberty that the author takes with philosophising (and also knowing when to drop it and get on with the plot).

Again, the sub-plots were not anything out of the world, they were very predictable in fact. However, it’s such a pleasure to read these books, and lose yourself in this world.

I have already ordered the next two books in this series and have also got my hands on the first book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by the same author.

I tried to start The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (I have a giant omnibus with all of her major works), but couldn’t get into it. Now thinking of starting Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal which is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan – sounds fun and interesting.

I am also listening to an audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice and find it to be perfectly acceptable background noise while working. Audiobook versions of books I’ve already read would only work for this purpose though, because I don’t pay 100% attention while working (obviously). Since I’d already read it, I knew not to panic when I found Jane going from dancing with Mr. Bingley at one moment to being sick and bed-ridden, while Eliza is “taking turns about the room” with Bingley’s sister a couple of hours later.

Separately, I’m also not counting audiobooks in my “books READ” list. Although they are simply different ways of consuming the same content, they are fundamentally different when it comes to experience. Reading is an active pursuit, i.e. your brain needs to be fully engaged. You can’t really “zone out” and “keep reading” at the same time. Your brain is actively creating images for you. When I’m reading, I can vividly “see” what’s happening in the story. I have a full set developed in my head, and I really see the characters going through their stories, and feel with them. It’s an active form of engagement. Listening to audiobooks is akin to watching television. A lot of the imagining is done for you. Audiobook narrators often bring in a lot of “character” with them. It’s a passive form of engagement.

Both have their own place for me.

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