In the last couple of months I’ve had some really great luck with a couple of different books that I wasn’t sure about and it got me thinking about other books in the past that really surprised me. So today we’re talking about those—some are newer reads, some are older but they all surprised me in one way or another.
Embers by Sandor Márai
This was the book that really got me thinking about this whole post. I picked it up on a complete whim last week. I’d been looking for more books to add to my Eurovisionathon TBR when I saw this one—it takes place in Austria-Hungary and the author was from there too. Even though Hungary isn’t part of Eurovision, I really wanted to read this one anyway and I’m glad I did. On paper, this isn’t the kind of book I’d typically enjoy—it’s a sort of day in the life, long stream of consciousness sort of thing for a while but it really sucked me in. At first, I was reading because the writing was beautiful. Márai’s style kind of reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but without any magical realism. I don’t know why my brain made that connection, but it did. After a while, I was reading because I was genuinely interested by the characters and was desperate to know how they’d gotten to this point in their lives and what had happened to change their relationship so drastically. I was completely in love with the book by the end, and I think it’s actually made its way onto my favourites list. It’s such a quiet, unassuming book but I’m still in such awe of it.
SPQR by Mary Beard
I know I’ve been talking a lot lately about SPQR, but I was genuinely just so impressed by it that I want to keep talking about it. I bought it last November and read it this month and I was genuinely shocked by how much I ended up loving it. I’m not a history book reader—I think history is fascinating, but I tend to watch things about it or through reading fictional accounts rather than thick history books. But I’d read Mary Beard’s essay on Women and Power and I really enjoyed how that was written so I thought I’d give this a go. This is genuinely one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read—it was informative and thorough, but interesting and accessible at the same time. As soon as I finished this one I ordered two more of Mary Beard’s books and I think she has real potential to become a favourite author of mine. Just going to apologise here for the amount you’re all about to be forced to hear about this book, and probably her others too.
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
This one is from last year, so we’re going back a little now. I had wanted to talk about this one at length at the time in a post similar to this but I ran out of time and couldn’t think of any other books to talk about then. This was hands down the biggest surprise of last year for me. I’d tried reading this a few times but never made it past more than five pages. I was very much considering giving up and unhauling it when I decided to give it one last go. This had been a favourite book of my mum’s—she’d picked out a bunch of favourites for me about a year or two before she got sick for Christmas, and this was one of the last ones I’d had left to try. Again, I got completely drawn in by the lyrical writing style and suddenly I was spending hours thinking about this book between reading it. There’s just something about the atmosphere in this book that really makes you fee like you’re living in that village in Wales alongside this family. Embers is the first thing I’ve read since that makes me feel anything like it.
Cicada by Shaun Tan
Now for something completely different…I present to you, Cicada! I know what you’re thinking—what a cute, interesting cover for a picture book. This book CRUSHED my soul. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that made me feel so defeated but also so completely impressed. This was the first thing from Shaun Tan I ever read and it’s made me obsessed with his work. I actually just recently bought another two books of his so that I can keep going with my collection of his stuff, but I still have quite a bit to still pick up including a copy of this one. What I think surprised me the most about this one was the range of emotions I felt in such a short period of time just from the art. Tan is a master of getting you to feel things without even having to say anything. If you haven’t looked into any of his work before, I highly recommend you do because he’s really an incredible artist and writer.
And those are the ones of my list. What books have surprised you lately? Which have stuck with you?