Donating Books

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to unhaul books. I discussed some general tips on how to declutter your book collection, and also made a section about what to do with the books you’re getting rid of. Selling them or trading them in at your local second hand bookstore is an obvious choice, but if you have a lot of books to unhaul, or books that are not worth the hassle of selling them, donating is a good alternative. After all, your books will be getting a second life!

But!

A while ago, I saw a post on Instagram by Bealeest, who donated books to a thrift store and found out that these books were trashed because (apparently) nobody wanted them. Now, before we all get our pitchforks, I think we do need to realize that, with all the decluttering trends the last couple of years, thrift stores have been pretty much swarmed with a large amount of stuff. Space is limited, and something that no one picks up is just taking up space. As a result, some of the stuff we donate is trashed. Not just in my country, The Netherlands, but in other countries as well. And, unfortunately, this also includes books.

This got me thinking about whether there were better, more responsible ways to donate books. The heartbreak some of us booklovers must feel at the thought of books carelessly trashed aside, it’s very wasteful and not great for the environment. Furthermore, our decluttered items shouldn’t become someone else’s problem to deal with.

The good news is: there are definitely other options! So here’s a list. I’m well aware that options will vary depending on your country, but I hope these tips will inspire you!

Friends, family, neighbors & coworkers
The easiest option is also the one that’s the closest! If you know readers, you could simply ask them if they’re interested in one or several of your books. If you know several people, perhaps you can also change it into a fun social activity, like a book exchange.

Social media
There might be some groups on Facebook, or other social media, where you can put up stuff (including books) for donation. Try to see if there’s one around your area! Some might be related to only books, some might include all sorts of things.

Free little libraries
Over the past years, a lot of free little libraries have sprung up. Places vary from someone’s front yard, public areas (such as train stations, supermarkets, and community centers), and even cafeterias at some people’s work places. They’re a great way to exchange books! The idea is that you take a book and place one back in exchange, but I’m pretty sure there’s no rule in bringing more than one book. It’s also a fun way to discover some gems. Do look around in your area/local community to see where they are.

Schools
Depending on the books you’re trying to donate, schools might be a good option. Lots of schools have (small) libraries, and more often than not, they don’t have the budget to buy a lot of books. Children’s books are obviously a good choice for primary schools, but some high schools/secondary schools might be happy with YA and classics. I’d ask before arriving with your box of books on the doorstep, though.

Prisons
It’s probably not the first place you’ll think of when trying to find a new home for your books, but prisons usually have libraries! Again, give them a call beforehand, but they might be more than happy to take your books.

Refugee Centers/women’s shelters
Depending on the titles and genres you’re trying to donate; some refugee centers are also looking for books. There are of course refugee centers for immigrants, but you could also consider women’s shelters. There are kids in both who might be missing out on books, and I’m sure adults might be interested too.

Charities
There are various charities that take book donations, and either make sure they get to those in need, or sell them and use the proceeds to fund their charity. There might be more charities who would be happy to take your books than you think! It will take up too much space to list them, and they’ll vary for each country, but Google is your friend!

Libraries
Some libraries take donations, depending on the titles and their condition. Like schools, charities, and refugee centers, they don’t have a lot of budget to buy books, so they might be grateful for some of the titles you’re bringing in.

Thrift stores
Despite the example mentioned earlier, some thrift stores might still be happy to get books. I think the wisest course of action is to ask before donating your books, otherwise, they might get trashed.

I’m sure there are some very useful options that I’ve missed. Feel free to share them in the comments!

Review: Hands Up by Stephen Clark

HandsUp_ClarkHands Up
Stephen Clark

Publisher: WiDo Publishing
Publishing year:
 2019
Pages: 272
ISBN: 9781947966208
Language: English
Genre: Crime
Rating: 2.5/5

Note: I’ve received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way. 

When rookie cop Ryan Quinn shoots an unarmed black man, it affects the lives of more people than just his own. While Ryan struggles with his guilt and tries to find redemption, the police do their best to cover up their mistake. The victim’s family is not about to let that happen; they want justice and the truth to be out there. When Jade, the victim’s sister, learns that there’s more to the story, she will go to any length to get her revenge. Matters get more complicated, however, when her estranged father Kelly Randolph shows up after being absent for years. After the loss of his son, he’s determined to make up for abandoning his family. However, his crime-filled past might catch up to him in ways he might not expect.

As you’ll gather from the synopsis I just wrote, this book deals with sensitive yet (unfortunately) relevant issues of racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m both European and white, and though racism does exist in my own country, the context is completely different. That said, I definitely appreciated that I learned more about the topic through this book. The way these police shootings especially disrupts the lives of (potential) victims is definitely this book’s strongest point. Though it was described to me as a crime thriller, the story mainly focuses on the domestic and emotional problems that arose as a result of the shooting. The personalities of Jade and the rest of her family were flawed, which made them feel human and realistic as they dealt with their emotions and the loss of their loved one. Even if I found Kelly to be rubbing me the wrong way a bit, expecting brownie points because he claims he’s a changed man. He meant well, I guess, so that’s probably a personal gripe.

Hands Up did not just provide a perspective on the victim’s side, however: Ryan Quinn is misguided due to his (privileged) environment and his initial world views, but he is not actually a bad person. I also appreciated his point on view on what has happened, which made this book rounded and more realistic.

That said, considering this was advertised as a ‘crime thriller’, due to the focus on the domestic drama, there was a lack of real tension. I wouldn’t advertise this as a thriller. It could have been a social commentary. However, though The Black Lives Matter was present in the beginning, it appeared to be moving out of focus in the second part even though justice was eventually served. Police corruption and social divide were present, but I think more could have been done with these issues, especially to raise tension and make the social commentary more profound.

Though above issues weren’t enough to justify my rating, my next issue does. In the second part, there are two characters who are suddenly thrown into a complicated romance. Though it’s clear that one character uses the other to get justice (which I did find initially believable), it was also made clear that the characters do love one another and it made me cringe. I think the author was trying to make two characters from different worlds see each other’s perspective, but I don’t think a romance was the way to go about it. It felt forced, rushed, and undermined the manipulative actions of one of the characters.

Though the prose is easy to read and does a good job of portraying the characters, I also felt the writing to be a bit too clinical; there was a lot of telling rather than showing, which meant that the characters and atmosphere didn’t come across as well as they could have. For some reason, I also noticed that Ryan’s perspective was written in first person, while Jade’s and Kelly’s were both written in third person. I couldn’t quite discern why the author had done this, possibly to create less distance between the reader and the shooter? I personally found it a little jarring.

This review might seem critical, but Hands Up definitely wasn’t a bad book. I appreciated the different perspectives and the insight it offered into the characters whose lives were disrupted. I do feel Clark could have handled the romance plot better and given the social commentary aspects a bit more oomph. I also wouldn’t market this book as a crime thriller — it lacked too much in tension. Instead, the book holds more merit in providing a nuanced view in a controversial issue along with insight in how such events disrupts lives.

2019 Reading Goals: How Am I Doing?

At the start of the year, I’ve made a post about my reading goals for 2019. I figured it’d be nice to share how I’m doing half way through the year. Except it’s already September. Seriously, where does the time go? Still, I do think September is still ‘half way through the year’ enough to make a post like this.

Goal #1: Reduce my physical TBR
On January 2, I was at 69 unread books. My current TBR is… 40, including 3 manga and a light novel I’m supposed to read for a review in a magazine about Japanese popculture. It’s technically lower than 69, but not as low as I’d hoped. This is a bit confrontational, so hopefully I’ll do better the next few months!

Goal #2: Buy fewer books and read what I have
I did read a number of books that have been sitting around on my shelf for a while, but a surprising amount came in regardless. Some were free; either because a friend got rid of them and they had been on my wishlist, or because I got them in a goodie bag or an ARC/proof from work. I’ve been lending both books and manga as well, which doesn’t do wonders for your owned TBR. Still, I did buy books. I did keep a list, so I’ll probably laugh hysterically when calculating how much I’ve spent this year, but all of these were very intentional buys. I especially ended up buying a lot of manga; I’ve discovered The Promised Neverland and Vindland Saga, and I’ve been loyally buying new volumes of Golden Kamuy and Vagabond. Either way; even though I’ve bought books, I did stick to doing so intentionally!

Goal #3: Accept a very loose blogging ‘schedule’
Well, considering I haven’t updated the previous month, I suppose I’ve passed this one with flying colors!

Other goals?
Yes, there were other goals, which I either neglected to mention or thought of later. I’ve already surpassed my GoodReads challenge by a landslide! I hadn’t counted on reading so much manga, which made it significantly easier. It makes the number a bit meaningless, considering it was meant to represent my owned TBR. I refuse to change the number, though. After all, it’s only a number!

I’ve also finished this year’s brick, The Stand by Stephen King. I definitely enjoyed it, even though the ending was a bit of an anticlimax and I didn’t enjoy the religious aspects. The characters were great, though! Which brings me to another goal I had decided on sometime in February:

Read one book by Stephen King every month!
I decided to add this goal because a large chunk of my TBR consisted of Stephen King books, and I wanted to encourage myself to read those too! Thus far, I’ve managed quite well, and I’m happy to say that at least my pile of owned but unread Stephen King books has decreased significantly!

January: Desperation
February: End of Watch
March: Misery
April: Sleeping Beauties
May: The Wind Through the Keyhole
June: Cujo
July: The Outsider
August: The Stand

So far so good, and I have four months left. I have Insomnia, Cell, and On Writing sitting unread on my shelf, so technically I’m one short. I’m very excited about The Institute, however, so I might add that one to my list! I might do a post later this year with what I thought of all the King books I read in 2019.

In the end, some goals haven’t gone as well as I’d hoped so far, but slow progress is still progress! Who knows what the next few months will bring for my reading? For all I know, my TBR will be 0 by the time 2020 rolls around. 😀

Yeah, who am I kidding?

The Brick, and Why I Love Long Books

Some people call them doorstoppers, I call them bricks. These pictured paperbacks are quite hefty, but I’m pretty sure the hardcover editions qualify as murder weapons. They can be intimidating; they are an investment of time and effort, and you’ll also need the willingness to drag them around the country in your bag if you read during commute and don’t use an e-reader. Yes, I’m talking about those heavy, long books of over, say, 1,000 pages. As the year and the GoodReads reading challenge move along, it’s somehow those intimidating, heavy tomes that remain on the shelves.

A shame, because I do love long books!

brick

I love the slow burns, the stories that take their time to built their settings, flesh out their characters, and that slowly create atmosphere. That’s not to say shorter books are not capable of doing so; on the contrary, they can! I have definitely appreciated my fair share of shorter books. But for me personally, I associate long books with making me lose myself in the story, the world, and its characters for a long time. It allows for attachment to the characters, for events to unfold slowly, and for me, that usually contributes to the mood of the story.

That’s not to say there are no pitfalls with long books. They have the potential to be bloated; they can drag, become repetitive. Like any book, they can have massive pacing issues. But, if done well, investing the time and effort is so worth it to me! Of course, some genres might work better for long books than others. I like longer fantasy books, especially if it comes with excellent world building and character depth. It’s why I love GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, for instance.

Then GoodReads happened, which, while a nice website, came with unfortunate side effects. First, there was the GoodReads reading challenge. Though I’m less concerned with the number these days, I did use to pick up the smaller books to complete this challenge. Second, there were all these shiny and interesting books out there that I wanted to read. So, somehow, the hefty tomes fell by the wayside, regardless of whether I had them on my shelf or not. I wanted to read them, but I didn’t get around to them due to their size and other concerns. A damn shame.

Two years ago, in the second half of 2017, I really wanted to read IT by Stephen King, my GoodReads reading challenge and my TBR amount be damned. The book’s title might as well refer to the size of the book rather than the monster. And though the book has some scenes that make me wonder what Stephen King had been smoking while writing it (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about), it also reminded me why I loved those atmospheric slow burns so much. I looked at the other bricks on my shelves, waiting for the moment I would finally pick them up but were somehow repeatedly passed over.

Now, I usually don’t like reading challenges; I’m a mood reader and I feel they restrict my reading too much. Yet, I did decide on annual reading challenge: from that point on, I’m going to read at least one long book of 1,000+ pages a year. Genre and author don’t matter, as long as it’s 1,000 pages or more and isn’t a collection of short stories. I named this challenge ‘The Brick’, because that’s how I personally refer to these large books. This way, it felt more like an encouragement rather than a restriction!

My brick of 2018 was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, also started in the second half of the year. Because even the paperback version is a murder weapon, I exclusively read this one at home and it took me a few months to finish it. That said, I loved it. Awesome characters, an intricate revenge plot… and probably a ton of stuff I’ve missed on my first read.

This year, I’ll be reading another book by Stephen King: The Stand. I’ve just started, so I have months to finish it. The fact that I went for another King novel is a coincidence; the amount of books that qualify for my personal ‘The Brick’ label standing around on my shelves weren’t as high as I thought, and I’m trying to get through the backlog of my owned books by Stephen King this year. Finally, considering this book is so well loved by fans of the author, I’m quite curious to see what all the fuss is about.

I’m not sure which book I’ll read next year for The Brick. Like I said, it doesn’t look like I have other books on my shelves right now that qualify. I don’t like buying books for the sake thereof — I want to be genuinely interested in reading it. Maybe I’ll have to adjust the qualifications or skip the challenge altogether (which would be fine), but who knows what will have found its way on my TBR by next year!

How do you feel about long books? Do you love them, or do you not have the patience for them? Any long books that you love? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

prioryoftheorangetree_shannonThe Priory of the Orange Tree
Samantha Shannon

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publishing year: 2019
Pages: 830
ISBN: 9781408883440
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

Alright, before we get to the actual review, can I be shallow for a moment and say that I absolutely love this cover? Kudos to illustrator Ivan Belikov!

The East and the West have been divided for ages. In order to protect her country in the West, Queen Sabran must conceive an heir. However, she refuses to marry while assassins get closer and closer to getting her reign cut short. Her lady-in-waiting Ead does her best to protect her, but she must make sure her forbidden magic or her true heritage is not discovered. In the East, Tané has been training to be a dragon rider all her life, but she’s forced to make choices that might have some horrible consequences. Meanwhile, a draconic evil is awakening — can both East and West work together to prevent the destruction of the world?

Magic, dragons, and an evil force threatening the world. Yes, this behemoth of 830 pages is definitely epic fantasy. The Priory of the Orange Tree includes a lot of lore and world building, and this book definitely takes its time to set the stage. It’s quite a slow burn, but mysteries and origins get slowly unraveled as we move through the plot. I really enjoyed that the two kinds of dragons, and the related magic, balance each other out like a yin yang. I also enjoyed the backstory of The Priory Ead was part of, and how that tied in to Sabran’s family history.

Speaking of Ead and Sabran; I’m usually not big on romance, but wow, this was an extremely well written one and definitely among the book’s highlights! Both characters had a lot of chemistry, and the way their relationship developed, as well was the challenges they faced, was realistic. This, along with the aforementioned lore and world building, also made Ead’s POV the most interesting. From the synopsis, I had expected Sabran to be a POV character as well, but she wasn’t. Nonetheless, I do feel this romance was handled amazingly.

Which brings me to the other POV characters. One of them is the aforementioned Tané, and though she is definitely integral to the story, I felt some plot threads (such as her fellow students, along with a rivalry that was set up) were left hanging. I also would have liked to know more about the Eastern dragons; only one got enough so-called screentime, but she didn’t have a lot of character. I did like that Tané had a lot of character growth throughout her arc, though.

The other POV characters were both male: Doctor Roos and Loth. I did like both of these characters, but their involvement in the story fell a bit short. Roos didn’t add much to the story other than providing information, and Loth seemed like a character that got moved around to wherever he needed to be for the story. I would have liked more build-up, especially because he was initially stuck in a kingdom that provided a really interesting and tense situation for him, that also could have shed more light on a problem I’ll mention below. I felt that these two characters and their roles could have been fleshed out more.

I also would have liked more of the ‘evil’, Western dragons. Though they were supposedly a massive threat, they were also absent for most of the story. They had taken over a kingdom, yet that kingdom doesn’t really do anything until the end. Only one of these dragons makes a few appearances, but this character didn’t really bring a sense of a lingering threat or even a real presence. For that matter, The Big Bad lacked presence as well. A part of this issue could have been fixed with pacing, and perhaps spending more time on parts that were glossed over. Giving the Western dragons more of a presence could have given this book a lot more urgency, which would have built more a threatening situation. Now? Most of the threat the characters faced stem from politics. And political intrigue is fine, very interesting even, but it meant that the dragons themselves, the supposed Big Threat, felt a bit lacklustre.

Another issue is the ending. The whole book builds towards this epic Big Bad. Though I already mentioned that this Big Bad lacked presence, I felt that the final showdown was resolved a bit too easily and neatly. There were no great sacrifices, it didn’t even take a lot of time, and there was no real emotional pay-off after the Big Bad had been slain. It appeared, and then it died, more or less.

All my problems kind of signify that Shannon hasn’t used her 800 pages as efficiently as she could have, which is a real shame for an epic fantasy story like this. Though I do not mind a slow burn, this book can feel a bit bloated at times, while on other occasions I felt some interesting parts were glossed over.

Yet, despite all that I’ve said, I have given The Priory of the Orange Tree 4 stars. Objectively, perhaps I should have given it a lower rating, because the story and setting do have issues. However, I did enjoy this epic fantasy a lot. Ead was an amazing protagonist, I loved the romance (which did have an emotional pay-off!), and the world building was incredibly fascinating. Though this book isn’t perfect and could be considered a bit slow, this is still worth a read if you like fantasy, dragons, and badass female characters.

Ten Unpopular Bookish Opinions

I saw this going around earlier this month. I might be late with joining the bandwagon, but I wanted to spread out my posts a bit, so that’s why I’m posting up my list only now. Without further ado, here are ten of my own unpopular bookish opinions!

We’re not entitled to Winds of Winter and GRRM has no obligation to finish it ASAP. 
Yes, I get it. We’ve been waiting for years. The last book, A Dance With Dragons, has been published in 2011. The disappointing final season of Game of Thrones doesn’t help (or any season after the fourth, in my opinion), so all we can do is pin our final hopes for a decent resolution on George R.R. Martin himself. But the GoT finale is not only proof that rushing things is not a good idea, but he’s also not obligated to lock himself in his room until he has finished Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. He’s not a writing slave. If he wants to work on other projects, he’s entitled to do so. If he wants to twiddle his thumbs, he’s also entitled to do so. Writing is a creative process, and if you know anything about writing, you should know that it’s not a good idea to force it. Now, you’re perfectly allowed to be frustrated with GRRM and even drop his work like a hot brick. That’s up to you. But don’t harass him about the fact that he’s old and that he might die before finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s just rude. In fact, don’t harass him at all. To quote Neil Gaiman: writers are not your bitch.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is not my thing. 
I kind of feel like I should be hiding in a bunker — if you like fantasy, then surely, you must like Discworld! Now, I don’t hate those books and they definitely weren’t bad. I’ve read The Colour of Magic and Mort. I appreciate the humurous social commentary and they were entertaining enough. Just not entirely my thing. So I’m not going to read the rest, and that’s alright.

We do not need to ban ‘problematic’ books.
All the shitstorms on various social media (Twitter and BookTube, most often) whenever an author has the audacity to publish a book that contains something ‘problematic’ are very, very toxic. Yelling on social media about how the book shouldn’t be published (harassing the publisher as well as the author) because it contains X is not only not okay, but it also reeks of censorship. I hope I don’t have to explain why this is a very dangerous thing? Moreover, such behaviour also completely ignores any nuance — a book does not have to be politically correct to portray societal issues. The author might be trying for a representation of a certain era/place? A character can change? And even if a portrayal is indeed ‘problematic’ or even a blatant misrepresentation/stereotype, there should be room to discuss these issues in a mature way.  People can gain new insights and, heaven forbid, learn things. What we shouldn’t do? This whole lynch mob mentallity of forbidding publications, condemning people who do buy that book, and shove issues under a rug.

Breaking spines and battering my paperbacks is not book abuse. 
If you want to keep your books as pristine as humanly possible, great, you do you. But don’t act like people who throw their books in their bag, crack their spines, dog-ear their pages, or annotate their books are horrible human beings. In the end, books are simply objects meant to be read, not your pet dog. Borrowed books are another thing entirely, of course, but let people do whatever they want with their own books, okay?

I thought Dune by Frank Herbert was merely ‘alright’. 
I guess I’ll need to find my bunker again, because Dune is hailed as this amazing work of science fiction. Though it has a promising start, with a great setting on a desert planet  (with Sandworms!) and an interesting political climate, it falls flat on its face. The book becomes a slog, with philosophical drivel and a main character that becomes completely unrelatable and unlikable. The political intrique becomes meaningless. Maybe all of that was the point and I didn’t ‘get’ it, but I guess this wasn’t for me.

I can’t stand Jane Austen’s works
As a former English major, this is definitely an unpopular opinion. Her books are treated as ‘feminist’ and must reads. Now, I get that they portray the lives of upperclass women during the Victorian era. With a canon that’s dominated by the white male voice, Jane Austen is something different. But. I’ve tried reading Pride & Prejudice and Emma, and… ugh. They’re boring as Hell and I can’t stand the characters being all prim and proper while discussing marriage options. I’ve DNF’ed both of my attempts. No thanks. 

We do not need every single note scribbled by J.R.R. Tolkien published.
Okay, maybe I’m just salty over The Fall of Arthur, which contained a few pages of a poem that wasn’t even close to being finished, while the remainder of the book consisted of Christopher Tolkien’s ramblings, oh, excuse me, analysis of every single Arthurian-related note his father had written. Perhaps there was a reason that J.R.R. Tolkien had never finished or published it? It reeks of a cash grab, and I’m not inclined to buy any further releases. Just wait, eventually they’ll publish Tolkien’s grocery list and relate it to Hobbit cuisine.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is terrible and definitely not feminist. 
There, I’ve said it. Because this book has Morgaine as the main character, this book is frequently hailed as the feminist Arthurian work. Though I get that it’s one of the first instances of an Arthurian work written from a woman’s perspective, I have to disagree with that statement. Morgaine is elevated by putting other women down, which is not feminist at all. She especially looks down on Gwenhyfar, who is blond and pretty — apparently the Arthurian equivalent of the popular cheerleader girl in high school, and it even comes with love drama because, heaven forbid, Lancelot prefers her over Morgaine. Morgaine bitches about typical medieval female activities that are boring, because she’s not ‘like other women’. The males are cardboard cutouts. The book is also a complete slog to get through. For a story with a main character who bitches about how weaving and embroidery is boring, there are sure a lot of scenes involving these activities.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami was ‘meh’. 
Norwegian Wood appears to be hailed as Murakami’s magnum opus. I’ve read a few books by Murakami, and Norwegian Wood is actually my least favorite. It’s not bad, it’s probably more accessible because it lacks the magical realism in Murakami’s other works, but it just wasn’t anything special for me. I guess it didn’t resonate. I prefer The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

I didn’t think Children of Blood and Bone was the best thing since sliced bread. 
Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate the setting, lore, the themes of oppression, and the character development of Amari. However, it also has a lot of problems. Though I understood where she was coming from initially, I felt that main character Zelie was a wishy-washy character that became annoying at some points, and her romance with Inan was horribly executed. The plot also wasn’t anything to write home about, unfortunately. I won’t be reading the sequel.

And, there we have it, ten unpopular bookish opinions! I could probably make this list even longer if I wanted to, but I thinkt his post has enough text as is. Agree with these? Or disagree? Feel free to discuss in the comments. 🙂

Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

conveniencestorewoman_murataConvenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata

Publisher: Granta Books
Publishing year: 2018
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Pages: 163
ISBN: 9781846276842
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4/5

Keiko is thirty-six years old. She’s never been into a relationship and she has been working at the same dead-end job in a convenience store for eighteen years. She’s happy with her life as it is, but her parents wish she’d just find a ‘real’ job. Her friends also keep pestering her about finding a boyfriend.

This short novel begins with Keiko explaining that she’s always been a strange child. Practical to a fault, as a child she came up with solutions to problems that weren’t exactly accepted by society (such as hitting another child with a shovel to break up fight). As she got older, Keiko realised that it was better to try and act normal. Her job at a convenience store makes this much easier: there is a manual that explains how to behave in different situations, which gives her something to hold on to. However, most people tend to move on towards either a ‘decent’ career or marriage (or both), but Keiko’s life remains in service to the convenience store. Eventually, she notices that, despite her efforts to appear normal, people begin to judge her for not moving on.

Convenience Store Woman is a short novel. The prose is straight to the point and easy to read, and the deadpan and practical way in which it is written makes the book a little quirky. In regards to its themes, however, there is a lot to unpack. Most notable is the theme of conforming to expectations. Japanese culture is quite strict (more so than my own Dutch culture, in any case) in terms of meeting these expectations. Though Keiko has a job to support herself, which should be enough, she still experiences pressure to find a ‘real’ job and a husband even though she’s not interested in doing either. This pressure influences her actions throughout the novel, even though, as a reader, you do get the sense that conforming to these wishes isn’t a good thing for Keiko herself. She obviously gets satisfaction through her work in the convenience store, and she’s good at it, yet there is still pressure to change. When she begins to mention her ‘relationship’ with some freeloading bum to others, people begin to treat her differently. Or rather, it becomes evident that her coworkers weren’t really treating her like a normal person before, yet this new treatment unsettles her.

Another interesting aspect relates to the novel’s portrayal of identity. Keiko has maintained her ‘normal’ appearance by copying the people around her to a certain extend. Considering people tend to behave differently when in different groups, the fluid sense of identity is quite remarkable to think about. Finally, there is the extend to which Keiko’s sense of self relates to her job, which becomes evident throughout the story in various ways.

Convenience Store Woman has some interesting food for thought, but considering it’s a rather short book, it doesn’t delve too deeply into these topics. The freeloading bum that Keiko hooks up with, Shiraha, got on my nerves as well. Though I realize that’s the point of his character, he got a little repetitive with his views on society. Keiko herself is also a rather passive character; practical and not emotional. Though I think it works for this kind of story, it does make the novel a bit quirky, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. That said, if you’re looking for a short read narrating some relevant issues without becoming too heavy, Convenience Store Woman is definitely worth a shot.