Happy New Year!
I wanted to start off the new year with a brief recap of my favourite books read last year. It’s always difficult to chose which I enjoyed the most, but 2017 had a few clear winners.
Overall, 2017 was an extremely busy year. And it was also an important year since it was my first full year living in England. I worked two jobs, one in London and one in Amersham before opening a small online second hand bookstore and focusing more on my writing. I started volunteering at the local museum working with the collection and helping to run children’s activities and an after school art club.
In February my sister visited the UK followed by my parents in May. In August my boyfriend Daniel had his first trip to Canada when we came to stay with my family for a few days before shooting down to Las Vegas at the beginning of September. And now we’re back in Canada for two weeks for Christmas and New Years. In between we’ve travelled around the southeast of England visiting the Isle of Wight on two occasions, Brighton, Saint Albans to visit the cathedral, and many many trips into London and long drives through the English countryside. It’s just as dreamy as it sounds.
It’s been a busy year but there was still plenty of opportunity to cozy up with a hot cup of tea and a new book. Out of all the books I read this year (seventeen in total, including a couple short stories/novellas and plays) I would name It by Stephen King (1986) as my obvious favourite. When my parents visited in May we took them around London and I was excited to show my mom the gigantic Waterstones at Piccadilly Circus. While we were here my mom bought me a handful of ‘must read’ books with Stephen King’s It being among them. And thank goodness for that! As I mentioned in my previous post, this was a book I previously avoided due to the slightly daunting length. At over 1300 pages it’s not only intimidating… but heavy. I admit that after spending a few hours of binge reading I would have to take the occasional break to give my poor wrists a rest from holding it up.
But it was so. Worth it.
It took me about 200 pages of Stephen King’s coming of age masterpiece to realise I was in the midst of one of my new favourite books. It isn’t just about a shapeshifting dimensional being that takes the shape of a clown (even if Pennywise/Robert Gray is my new favourite King antagonist). The story’s focus is on the blossoming and beautiful friendship between a group of outcast friends set against the backdrop of the bizarre and frightening history of the town of Derry. The meat of King’s novel and what contributes to it’s impressive length is the very detailed accounts of the dark events that surround the fictional Maine town throughout it’s disturbing history. Could It have been written without these complicated details? Yes. But the history of Derry, Maine creates a level of immersion I had never experienced in a horror novel (if horror is even the appropriate genre to put this book in). So while the the story, which takes place over two periods of time, follows the general theme of good (the ‘Losers’) vs. evil (Pennywise, the bullies), it is set against the backdrop of a town with a history so evil and so detailed that King turns a small town drama into a massive epic spanning hundreds of years. As much as I enjoyed the film remake that came out this fall, nothing can come close to how incredible the novel is. Huuuuuge recommendation!
Another standout book that I read in 2017 was a biography written by Yeonmi Park, a former resident of North Korea titled In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (2015). I discovered this book completely at random while browsing non-fiction books on the library e-book app Libby. Human rights issues have been documented in North Korea but its obvious that things are much worse than we are currently aware. And since North Korea and the United States have been dominating the news regarding missile tests and petty Twitter feuds, the world almost seems to forget that there are real humans suffering behind the scenes.
So when I quickly read over the synopsis for In Order to Live I was intrigued. I can’t remember what book I was originally trying to find because it really didn’t matter anymore. Yeonmi, who isn’t much younger than I, grew up and escaped the most reclusive country in the world. I needed to know her entire story.
It only took me a couple days to read through her book and I quickly learned a number of things not only about North Korea but about their neighbours China and South Korea. I don’t want to spoil anything because I think this is an important book that I encourage others to read, but what I found most appalling was the level of brainwashing of school aged children through the schooling they received in North Korea. The brainwashing was so intense that Yeonmi discussed how difficult it was for her to turn it off after leaving that world behind her. I also learned about the horrors of the human sex trade in China and how North Koreans escaping over the border to China (for what they believe will be a better life) are often taken advantage of by human trafficking rings.
But one of the most upsetting aspects of Yeonmi’s journey was her arrival in South Korea, which was her main goal from the beginning. Despite her ‘freedom’ Yeonmi was back to living in poverty with her accent and past being ridiculed by her peers. Yeonmi’s story, despite the hardships, does have an interesting and somewhat happy ending and I truly hope she’s able to feel comfortable and loved wherever she is currently living. I recommend reading this book to understand the human aspect of the issue of North Korea, one that certain governments and news outlets seem to be ignoring entirely.
A third ( and very short) book I enjoyed reading this year that I wanted to ramble a bit about is Oscar Wilde’s 1887 short story The Canterville Ghost. As a side note, I absolutely love The Picture of Dorian Gray and read it during a course I took at Brock University for my undergraduate degree. I’m disappointed in myself for taking so long to read anymore of Oscar Wilde’s work. So near the end of this year I started with The Canterville Ghost and moved on to a couple of his plays, The Importance of Being Ernest (hilarious!) and Salome (a bit strange, but enjoyable). But The Canterville Ghost was probably the most memorable of the three.
I don’t know if The Canterville Ghost is supposed to be as funny as I found it but it was absolutely not what I expected. The story involves an American family that moves into a historic home in England which happens to have a resident ghost. Wilde plays on a number of American stereotypes, including an obsession with ‘products’ and other material things. The family also appears to find the house’s ghost to be bothersome… and almost boring. Like they would rather do literally anything else with their day than pay any attention at all to him. The ghost, who has had a successful reign as frightening presence in the home, is desperate to scare this new family. It’s a hilarious back and forth resulting in the ghost having a breakdown after being a victim of torment by the family’s youngest members.
The Canterville Ghost’s self awareness is what makes it so wonderful. I’ve never read anything else like it and I didn’t realise how much I needed it in my life until I stumbled upon it. Since it’s such a quick and fun read I definitely recommend it to anyone who has a spare half hour, but especially for anyone who has read every haunted house story they can get their hands on (like me!). It was especially funny since I had just read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill a few months before and liked to imagine the ghost from that story having the same issue with the protagonist as the Canterville ghost had with his new American housemates. After three Oscar Wilde works at the end of 2017 I will certainly be reading through more of his plays in 2018. And thanks to the wonderful world of e-books short stories, novellas, and plays are a little easier to get a hold of.
For a list of the other books I read in 2017, visit my Goodreads for my Year in Books!