New year, better hopes.
Every book blogger and their mothers already wrote their closing introspective bookish thoughts for 2015 three weeks ago. I am, as I am growing wont to be, pathetically tardy. I’m not just talking about this blog, the updates for which has always been erratic ever since I started. I’m growing tardy and lazy for every aspect of life: work, hobbies, self-improvement, etc.
Overall, 2015 was not a good year for me. 2015 was a year of failures, missteps, blunders, and inertia on my part. There were a lot of personal failures and what was frustrating is how nearly all my failures had to do with myself and my own stupidity rather than lack of opportunities. I let opportunities slip by or simply sabotaged them.
I even failed books, my one true love and the one constant in my life. On an average year, I can read fifty books. In 2015, I read exactly twenty.
It hurts. It really, really hurts because I don’t like myself the way I am now. During my teenage and early college years, I brimmed with confidence and contentment. Who wouldn’t be proud to be the way I was then? Ambitious, hungry to learn, bright, hard-working, diligent, well-liked, and productive. The way I am now? Replace all the adjectives in the previous sentence with their antonyms. I don’t want to type them myself; it makes me cringe.
In 2011, the onset of my mental disorders charged and I’ve been limping and turtling ever since. I hesitate to call my journey the “road to recovery” as relapses occur very often; always vicious and inexplicably worse every time. 2015 was filled with tearful rock-bottom moments. I reached points (not just one point, but several points) where I thought to myself: ‘I’m tired. In the mornings I am chased by anxiety; I get so worried nothing gets done. The other half of the day I am veiled by depression; I get so lethargic nothing gets done. I’m ashamed of my ineptitude. And I’m so, so tired. I’m ready to go. Please just take me. I’m ready to go’
So far 2016 has been kinder and gentler to me. I may not be in the ideal place but those dark thoughts haven’t caught me yet. I can only hope 2016 will be kind and gentle to me all year-round, and in return I will try to actively improve for the better. To return to that someone I can be proud of. I will try my best.
You know, all the therapists I’ve seen have advised me to “be kind to myself.” It’s funny, but almost five years later I still don’t know what being kind to yourself means. I just know, through trial and error, what it does not entail. Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean just relaxing. Being kind to yourself doesn’t just mean leisure. Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean fun. Being kind to yourself means being productive too. Being kind to yourself means learning as well.
Perhaps being kind to yourself entails finding that elusive balance between work and play, between striving and breathing. Perhaps this year I have to try harder but not succumb to anger and shame for the millionth time when I fail. Alternate pushing hard and pulling back. Maybe. I will try my best.
For those of you who survived my spoiled angst, I won’t cheat you of the second half of this post’s title. Here are the five books that gave me much-needed shots of joy, immersed me in a better world, made me more knowledgeable, made me think, and reflected my own experiences in far superior writing than I can ever attempt. The books are ranked in order from the ones I loved most. Full-length reviews are linked.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Thanks to The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro transformed from “author I must read simply because he’s so well-regarded rather than for my own personal preference” to “omg he speaks to me—one of my favorite authors—must have all his books!!!” By pure literary merits, Ishiguro is excellent. His prose is limpid and elegant and creates a final effect that is fluidly effortless despite his novels clearly being a towering achievement of planning and outlining.
But what made The Remains of the Day truly special was how I emotionally connected to it. Being an analytical person, I sometimes forget that the best books are the ones where the author reflects back your life and flaws so honestly and yet so beautifully. Stevens is me, from our shared lofty goal of furthering “the progress of humanity” to the hurtful reality that what we’ve done was simply waste years of our lives.
It was pure heartbreak watching Stevens break down crying, saying that he no longer has “a great deal more left to give.” And it was pure relief to hear someone comfort Stevens, advising him not to look back in regret all the time; one needs to look forward too. Ishiguro may as well be talking to me. How does an author commit this wizardy?
2. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
I simply couldn’t wait to read another Ishiguro so in December I picked up one of his early novels: An Artist of the Floating World. Before the halfway point I knew this was my second favorite book of 2015. Ishiguro’s prose is as faultless as it was in The Remains of the Day. Whilst I didn’t emotionally latch on like a barnacle to An Artist of the Floating World the way I did The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World made me think more. In An Artist of the Floating World, Ishiguro explored hypocrisy, tensions between the young and the old, change vs fatalism, what makes a person evil and how “evil” people view themselves.
I am working on a full-length review of An Artist of the Floating World, so I can squawk more about this novel. A mini endorsement doesn’t cut it.
3. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
The first two novels on this list are character studies and Revolutionary Road is no different. Can Frank Wheeler simply be words on a page? He must be a living, breathing human carrying on with life somewhere. A talker, a charmer, full of artistic pretensions and wannabe intellectualism. Sad and pathetic, but isn’t that human? Who hasn’t met a Frank Wheeler in their lives? You laugh and cringe and nod at Frank’s familiarity.
On the surface, Revolutionary Road is about the Wheelers’ disintegrating marriage. Thematically, the novel is an indictment of American suburbia. But to me, Rev Road is a masterful character study of Frank Wheeler above all.
4. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
The only non-fiction book on this list. Half the Sky’s first half is a description of all manner of unspeakable human rights abuses towards women and its other half is a passionate call-to-arms for us to help combat these problems. Half the Sky is an emotional text, it is not meant to be studied. It shocks, disgusts, and angers. Some people may cry foul at such a manipulative method of writing about human rights abuses, but Kristof and WuDunn’s voice always felt genuine. I believed that they cared about their subject matter and I was driven to want to make some small contribution to the cause. Happily, Kristof and WuDunn included a list of non-corrupt charities doing excellent work for women worldwide.
5. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
The most fun book I’ve read in 2015. Almost too fun to be considered a classic, a word usually associated with stuffiness. Jamaica Inn’s ingredients? A spunky damsel, a menacing antagonist, a charming horse thief, an albino monk, rainswept and windswept moors, a murder mystery, and a lush, gothic prose. Who doesn’t want to curl up with that?
Jamaica Inn is not a perfect book. The characters feel like caricatures sometimes and the ending has unfortunate implications, but more than any other book this year, Jamaica Inn engulfed me into another, better, happier world whilst I was reading it.