‘Read what you enjoy.’ It’s a phrase that we’ve all probably heard before in our lives, and have maybe even said to some people. You might tell someone who has different tastes in books to you to just ‘read what you enjoy’, end of conversation. If someone isn’t feeling the particular book they’re attempting to read, you might suggest putting it down in favour of reading something ‘you enjoy’. But sometimes the most important books are the ones that not everyone will ‘enjoy’. In the typical sense of the word, I ‘enjoy’ books that are easy to read and are a bit exciting and adventurous, but that I can read to escape reality and experience new worlds. Should that mean that I shouldn’t read the more confronting, powerful novels just because they won’t be easy reads or something merely created for entertainment value?
One of the most important questions readers have to ask themselves is this: What is the purpose of reading? Why do you read? Is it to escape your own reality, or to pass the time? Is it to experience things that might not be possible in your own life? Do you like to learn about people who are different to you in a multitude of ways? Or do you read to educate yourself?
These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself over the years, and I’ve found that my answers vary slightly each time. When I first started reading, I purely read for pleasure. I wasn’t interested in reading about anything confronting or something that might challenge me. I just ‘read what I enjoyed’. But as the years have passed and my tastes have inevitably changed, I find that while I still do read books that are just purely for enjoyment, I also love reading novels that force me to confront the unsettling or ugly parts of humanity, as well as the struggles that people have to deal with internally.
For me, these types of novels aren’t always enjoyable. They’re confronting and often challenging, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them or think they shouldn’t be read. Therein lies the problem with just ‘reading what you enjoy’. Only reading enjoyable novels would be like only watching what you liked on TV and avoiding any news programs. It’s important to make sure reading never becomes a chore or something you don’t like, but at the same time, it’s equally important to read the novels that are important sometimes discomforting. It should, however, be noted that reading confronting novels are different from putting yourself at risk by reading triggering materials—and different people are triggered by different things—but we shouldn’t stick with reading what we ‘enjoy’ 110% of the time. If we were so restrictive with our reading, we would never learn anything, never experience new stories, and never grow as people.
So when I review novels, it’s often difficult to know how to rate it if it’s an important and confronting book, but not one that was ‘enjoyable’ per se. Which raises the question about the effectiveness of the star-rating system, and how different readers rate in different ways. However, I like to rate the books I read in terms of enjoyment and importance, as well as a range of other factors, and even if I don’t enjoy a book enough to recommend it as something that everyone should read, I might push certain books because of their importance or timeliness.
Recent Important Reads
This is the highly anticipated second novel from the Aussie author, Krystal Sutherland. I absolutely adored her debut novel, Our Chemical Hearts, and so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of her latest release. However, it was a very different read to what I was expecting. It did take me a little while to get into it and I found it difficult to connect to the characters in the beginning, but I found it to be an important novel that dealt with a range of issues. At its core is Esther, is teenage girl with a long list of fears who has to learn to face them, one at a time, and realise that everyone dies regardless of whether they live in fear or not.
A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares weaves conversations about mental illness, suicide, domestic violence and addiction with those of YouTube and pop culture to create a novel that is both dark and humorous. The fantastical elements included gave this novel a unique and quirky feel, and the existence of ghosts, curses and Death as a character are never fully explained, rather left open for the reader to decide upon the reliability of their presence. But my favourite aspect of this novel was the inclusion of teens living with mental illness, and I found the messages of learning to live with your fear to be one that made A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares a memorable read.
Thanks to Penguin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
I wasn’t expecting to love this novel as much as I did, but it was one of the most moving books I’ve read in the last few months. I didn’t know an awful lot about Exchange of Heart before I launched into it, but I loved finding that the protagonist was dealing with a lot since the death of his younger sister, including panic attacks and a voice inside his head known as The Coyote. This is a story filled with tragedy, grief and friendship, and I loved following Munro on his journey to recovery.
I was pleased to find that there was a diverse range of characters and the way in which the author wrote about those with disabilities and mental illnesses was done with sensitivity and candour. While this wasn’t an enjoyable read, due to the confronting nature of what Munro is now dealing with and his tragic backstory, it’s definitely one of importance. Heartwarming yet gritty, Exchange of Heart is a novel not to be missed.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
This novel had been one on my radar for a while, but when it won the Readings Young Adult Book Prize in Australia, I knew I had to push it to the top of my TBR. The Bone Sparrow was a book that desperately needed to be written, and it’s so powerful and timely. But it wasn’t enjoyable. The reality of the refugee crisis in Australia and the way these people are treated made me feel physically sick, and the confronting nature of these very real situations meant that this wasn’t a book I could breeze through. It was a hard read, but not one that anyone should shy away from.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was to have children as narrators. I felt that this definitely made this book lighter than what it could have been with adult narrators, as these children didn’t comprehend every situation that took place or the possibility that they might never escape where they are. But even though it was written from the perspective of children, it didn’t make this book any less of a confronting read. In fact, it made it more so. The Bone Sparrow is rather slow-paced, but it’s one that I urge every reader to pick up at some stage in their lives.
Like with Zana Frallion’s debut YA novel, The Ones That Disappeared was equally confronting and upsetting. This story places the focus on human trafficking, which sadly, still occurs today. Even though this novel follows the lives of fictional characters, knowing that people will have been through similar situations shook me to my core, making this one a frightening yet necessary read. The journey that Esra, Miran and Isa went on were heart-breaking and confronting, yet the bravery and hope that these children portrayed was truly inspiring.
The Ones That Disappeared is a novel that sheds light on an issue that we don’t see enough of in the media—an issue that’s often forgotten about by so many people. While this book is a confronting survivalist story, at its heart are the tales of three children who are desperate for freedom and dream of a better future. This isn’t a book that you’re meant to enjoy. It’s frightening and upsetting and bleak, but it’s so, so important. Just read it.
Thanks to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned? Do you think it’s necessary to read important books, even though they may not be enjoyable, or what you usually read? What’s the most powerful novel you’ve read all year? I’d love to know!