Book Reviews: December 2021

My first uni holiday and the final month of 2021. Wow.

  1. This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor

Rating: 5/5 stars
Favourite quote: “I realised that every healthcare professional — every single doctor, nurse, midwife, pharmacist, physical therapist, and paramedic — need to shout out about the reality of their work so the next time the health secretary lies that doctors are in it for the money, the public will know just how ridiculous that is. Why would any sane person do that job for anything other than the right reasons, because I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I have so much respect for those who work on the front line because, when it came down to it, I certainly couldn’t.”
Read this if you like: Memoirs, dark humour, crude humour

This is Going to Hurt is a compilation of diary entries from a junior-doctor-turned-obstetrician (and later comedy writer), published in response to criticism that people in the healthcare field are only doing it for the money — when the opposite couldn’t be more true. Coated with dark humour, entries are typically short anecdotes ranging from the hilarious to the heartbreaking. 

I listened to this book via audio, but I don’t think I’ll forget its stories anytime soon. This is Going to Hurt is just such an apt title for the book that starts lighthearted with its crude jokes, before bringing you into the realities of working at a hospital with long hours and low pay. 

Moral debates on the author’s personality aside, I thought the book was a great look into the day-to-day of healthcare workers. It’s especially relevant during this COVID-19 pandemic when frontline staff are more overworked than ever. 

  1. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Alternative title: I Love
Rating: 5/5 stars
Favourite quote: “This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”
Read this if you like: Magic realism, many characters, old people, stories within a story

Elsa, a clever but “different” almost-8-year-old, receives a mission from her grandmother — her only friend before she died from cancer. Through delivering apology letters, Elsa learns about who her grandmother was before she became a grandmother. She also spots some similarities between her grandmother’s fantasy “Land of Almost Awake” and the stories in her very own apartment building.

I don’t enjoy many mechanisms in this book — especially the embedded narrative (or “story within a story”) which left me scrambling for the search button) — but this story still won me over. The characters are realistic and loveable, even with all their faults.The book was humourous in some places, and made me shed tears in many others. It’s my 4th time reading this and I still found new things to consider (though that could also be an effect of my selective memory).

Considering this is my favourite book of all time, I think it deserves a longer book review… I might just have to write one soon. Until then, I leave you with this playlist I made, inspired by all the characters.

  1. Funny You Should Ask… Again

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Read this if you like: Fun facts, learning

No Such Thing As A Fish is my favourite podcast of all time. Last year, when the QI Elves announced they had written a book answering some fascinating questions, I snapped it up and loved it. Ditto for this one.

The book was interesting, with its answers never condescending and (usually) always funny. The only qualm I have with this book is that it was a bit much to get through in a single go, but perhaps that has more to do with my incessant need to 100% complete one book before moving on to the next.

  1. Amelia Unabridged

Alternative title: The Whales Swim On
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Favourite quote: “Bathed in a yellow light I thought was only real in movies, I want to believe in stories again. I want to believe everything has a purpose, no matter how terrible. That the fairy tales were right, the stories are true, and at the end of all the muck and despair, light can be found.”
Read this if you like: A story within a story, cheesy stories, narrator’s self-awareness 

Grieving over the loss of her best friend and found family, 18-year-old Amelia Griffin travels to a bookstore. There, she meets the author of her favourite fantasy book series, a reclusive 19-year-old guy with some troubles of his own.

The author got me in the first half of the book with her approachable yet completely sincere writing. In particular, the realistic way she handled grief and loss hit home for me. But she lost me in the next half when the insta-love kicked in. No, making your two characters talk about how they feel connected by a thread/fate/dog does not make your insta-love story any less irritating. They both need a therapist, not a love declaration.

I love when characters are exaggerated, but in the context of this book, it just felt orchestrated and… not funny enough. Perhaps I would have appreciated the characters more if they had been fleshed out beyond their role as calefare. Or if the author had just taken out a few metaphors — not everything has to be compared to something. 

My final gripe with the book: photography is really not that easy or straightforward.

  1. Set Me On Fire: A Poem For Every Feeling

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Favourite quote: “I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite your best efforts you are every second alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in, each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.”
Read this if you like: Poetry? Hell, read this even if you don’t like poetry.

Ella Risbridger compiles some of her favourite poetry in this anthology, categorising them according to various feelings — including “parents”, “hoping”, and “the end of the world”.

I read poetry very occasionally (usually whatever ends up in The New Yorker magazine), but have never specifically sought it out before. And I’ve definitely never read an anthology. But this one stuck out to me, so I brought it home and finished it in three days.

Risbridger is clearly very passionate about poetry, something evident in her footnotes (a welcome addition for a poetry novice like me). She knows poetry can be embarrassing and complicated and bizarre, but she embraces it all anyway, telling readers it doesn’t have to be written by dead white men and certainly doesn’t have to be complicated.


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