Well, I made the whole 24 hours (more-or-less… I had a little accidental nap around the 4pm mark—which was about 15 hours in—and woke up with my face squashing The Strangler Vine, which is unfortunate; before that, it had been easily one of the most beautiful books on my shelf), so I have a little bit more to say about what I read:
1) Finished The Strangler Vine, which I continued to really enjoy. I think that the reviews and blurb calling it a ‘romp’ were a bit inaccurate; to me, it seemed almost more of a bildungsroman, with the quality of the character development far outstripping the niceties of the plot—but more of that in my proper review and discussion, which will be up shortly.
2) Also, I finally read The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean, which has been on my TBR since it was released when I was, oh, eleven or twelve, maybe? Honestly, I really didn’t enjoy it much. I don’t want to write a proper review, since I’m aware of the fact that I read it after I’d been reading for twenty hours straight and my perspective might have been skewed as a result. A quick summary, though: Haoyou is a twelve-year-old boy living in a poor Chinese family when China was ruled by the Kublai Khan. After his father dies, he leaves town with a circus troupe and rides kites for the benefit of the crowds.
I will say that I think it was hampered by the first person narrative. McCaughrean discusses a lot of important things that I think should be discussed in children’s literature: child abuse, domestic violence, gender dynamics. I even think that she discusses them in the kind of way that is appropriate when trying to talk about these things with children. It’s the kind of book that I can see a worthy, Guardian-reading, lentil-cooking parent reading with a child, and working through the issues; it’s very much a book-club kind of book. However, reading it alone, without having a structure with which to ask those questions, is a less satisfying experience. It’s clear to an adult reading the book that many aspects of the cultural set-up in ancient China are troubling to modern eyes, and it’s also clear that McCaughrean is not condoning these things in any way. The problem is that Haoyou is such an accurately-realised product of those times: as a working-class, uneducated boy, growing up in an environment when women were property and children were a nuisance, he unconsciously echoes those attitudes and values constantly. The dismissive way he speaks of and corrects his cousin, Mipeng, even though she is a grown woman and he is a twelve-year-old boy, is very telling. It also doesn’t seem that he ever entirely learns that this is an unacceptable way to think about women, even though other characters occasionally demonstrate other attitudes.
The same goes for the financial and emotional abuse perpetrated on Haoyou and his mother throughout the novel by the family patriarch: although these issues are slightly resolved in the closing two or three pages of the novel, there isn’t really sufficient closure, given that this book is aimed at children and some quite serious issues have been raised. Haoyou’s lack of education and the ingrained customs of his family may well account for his unquestioning nature and acceptance of the world around him, but it also makes him an unsatisfying narrator. I wanted to see more character development in him.
Well, that was my readathon! I think I read about 1200 pages in 24 hours. Not bad, really, and overall I very much enjoyed the experience. However, if I am to do it again, I’d like to convince a crazy friend or two to embark on it with me in the flesh. I realised, about 14 hours in, that I was mostly doing the readathon to distract myself from the fact that I was lonely and bored on a Saturday, with nothing to do except go (voluntarily) into work. Doing something as solitary as reading (even with all the wonderful online support) to distract myself from the fact that I am by myself is actually a good way for me to make myself feel more lonely, not less. I would happily participate again, but I would want to have a friend with me some of the time to remind me of all the excellent IRL friends I have. I know a lot of people are very happy with internet friends, and I’m not knocking that at all, but sometimes I need people to be in the flesh, in my living room, drinking tea and arguing loudly about metaphor. This, I think, is a useful thing to learn.
Also, next time I would definitely plan in advance. I would allow myself 24 hours off the diet and prepare delicious baked goods in advance in case of tiredness. Even more of a reason to make it a readathon party, I guess!
(&, briefly, a footnote re: ‘#colourmyshelf’ and the BookCon debacle)
On an entirely different note, I’m aware of the issues that have sprung up around BookCon the past week or so. (If you aren’t, I suggest starting with this excellent post by BookRiot, and then following their coverage of it so far). One of the things that struck me was the comment that we, as readers, also need to demand fiction by authors of all creeds and colours—otherwise profit-driven publishers will have no reason to publish books by people of colour. Reading the coverage made me think about my reading habits. I went through my ‘read’ and ‘to-read’ lists on Goodreads with a fine toothcomb, and was surprised and upset to find that there are only a few books on there by non-white authors. I had no idea that I was part of the problem. With this in mind, I’ve bumped the few books that were on my to-read list a lot closer to the top (I have wanted to read Persepolis for years, for example, and never got round to it). I’m also on the hunt for good #colourmyshelf recommendations. I had a look on twitter but all the recommendations I could find were for steampunk, which is really not my genre at all. Any suggestions? Now that I’m aware of the problem, I can take a (small) step towards fixing it.