I took part in a readathon last year as a way to increase my book consumption and as a fun way to engage with people about books. It was a huge amount of fun, seeing what the challenges were and picking books to match them before embarking on the madness that is trying to read seven books in seven days when you kind of have other things to be getting on with. For that last readathon, I managed to read five books and I was super proud of myself! This year, I was determined to hit the full seven.
Running from the 8th – 14th January, The Biannual Bibliothon is run by a team of BookTubers twice a year on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. They are: MissSassyKassie, emmmabooks, Kellys BookSpill, Little Red Reader, sierrareads, The Booktube Girl, & Brittni’s Book Find. With the hashtag #winterbibib you could post your progress on the books you were reading, as well as take part in extra challenges and reading sprints.
It all sounds a bit complicated, and a bit heavy when all you want to do is snuggle up with a book and a cup of tea, but actually it feels like fun – and gives you the opportunity to spend more time with that book and tea than you normally would. I even had my husband telling me that I wasn’t allowed to play on my phone any more because I had books to read! That makes a beautiful change. If only I could convince him to try it…
So, what were the challenges for this readathon and what books did I choose?
Well, there was a Group Book: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalo
Throwback Challenge (complete any challenge from a previous bibliothon): On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman
A 2016 Release: Nutshell by Ian McEwan
A BookTuber Recommendation: Fen by Daisy Johnson
Really Excited for a Book You Have Yet to Read: Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Read a Retelling: Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
Read a Diverse Book: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
And how did I do? I read them all, of course! Seven books in seven days. It was careful consideration for the books and the formats of reading that helped me get through, and I did end up switching out one book for the Walt Whitman, as I knew I wouldn’t make it otherwise.
So, here are my mini reviews of the books and how I managed to read them all.
Stalking Jack the Ripper
The first release from James Patterson’s new YA imprint, Stalking Jack the Ripper follows Audrey Rose Wadsworth as she embarks on the very unladylike pursuit of using forensic science to catch the infamous Jack the Ripper.
I decided to listen to this with audiobook. It was a way to balance out my reading time and also keep me entertained on the long drives in the car to and from university. Wonderfully narrated by Nicola Barber, I thought the story was entertaining and several of the characters were fantastic – the arrogant Thomas Cresswell appearing to be a firm favourite with all readers and for good reason. However, I found there was a lot of cliche throughout the story, a huge amount of conjecture and wild speculation about the case and I was disappointed that the author felt she had to change historical facts to fit her story. By all means embellish, but altering entirely just doesn’t sit well with me, especially when I know quite a bit about the Ripper murders.
That being said, it is a huge amount of fun, and there’s a part of me that’s really intrigued to know what happens in the next book.
The first of the two Shakespearean retellings on the list, Nutshell is a version of Hamlet, in which the young man is actually a baby still inside his mother’s womb.
As you can imagine from that description, this book is at turns incredibly clever and incredibly dark. McEwan has this ability to wring tension from individual words in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else. The combination of intellect, Shakespearean wit and pure innocence from the fetal character is beautifully sardonic and endearing. We, like he, are forced to sit back and hear all the details of this murder and the aftermath without being able to do a thing to stop it, and the murderers are given depth and an honesty that is at times chilling.
A novella and short story from a premier Japanese author, Kitchen is a gentle and honest view of grief and love and asks the question, how are we supposed to cope with these emotions?
I’ve had this on my shelf for a very, very long time, and so it made sense to add this to my books to read for the challenge and to just finally read it! It’s a stunning little book, and both tales are full of the precision of Japanese storytelling with the raw emotions of the characters. ‘Kitchen’ itself is a quiet story of loneliness and abandonment in times of grief and how you can try and connect with people and yourself during these times. But it was ‘Moonlight Shadow’, the second and much shorter tale, that really choked me as the character tries to cope with the death of her boyfriend. Heartbreakingly beautiful.
Victor and Eli are developing a thesis on ExtraOrdinary people – people who have suffered and near death experience and come back with unnatural powers. At first it’s just theory, until Victor takes it one step too far. What if they could become EO’s themselves?
I bloody love V.E. Schwab.
For those familiar with her work, a word of caution – this is not YA. As the title suggests, it is deliciously brutal. I absolutely adored the characters, and how Schwab throws the ideas of black and white morality straight out the window. There is no such thing as good guys or bad guys in this book and that’s what makes it so brilliant. It’s violent, sarcastic and fantastic. A I can’t wait to get my hands on the second one.
This is a collection of short stories based around the dark and mysterious fens. Tangled with real life are tales of magical realism and gothic fairy tale that are all strange and chilling.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, and I’m not one for reading many short story collections. It is certainly a lot darker than I thought it would be, but each story is lyrical and full of complex depth. I definitely think I shall come back to this one, as it feels like a book with many layers that need to be peeled away with great care. A very intriguing read that stays with you.
Shylock is My Name
My second Shakespeare retelling, and this is a version of The Merchant of Venice. Following the story of Simon Strulovitch, it combines the classic story with the emergence of Shylock from the play, discussing the complexities of ‘Jewishness’ and fatherhood.
I am still thinking about this book and I am still stunned by it. The craft of combining Shakespeare’s tale with the existentialism of what it means to be a Jew, a man and a father is wild and full of contradictions, and yet is told with such care and detail. There are a few issues: the portrayal of women isn’t as balanced or fair as even Shakespeare managed (in my opinion), and I was often frustrated that the alternative Portia was apparently a devious airhead. There is also a massive leap in Strulovitch’s character that didn’t quite work for me.
But Shylock is My Name does capture the true complexities of the play and the underlying menace of pain and hate throughout is extraordinary.
On the Beach at Night Alone
Ok, I’ll be honest, I was running out of time and really needed a short book to be able to hit my seven books. Whitman’s short collection from the Penguin Little Black Classics was the shortest book I had!
It’s a nice collection of Whitman’s poetry: all very American and all very sea-worthy. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but this was a simple, easy to read collection full of some stunning imagery. No doubt I will come back to it again to feel his positivity and worldliness in poetry.
There we go! Seven books in seven days. There’s another readathon this month focusing on diversity in books, so I’m going to try that one too and expand my reading horizons even further.
Are you going to try a readathon? Are there any books above you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments.