Books read: July and August 2018

Posted on September 02, 2018 under Books

I was silent on my blog in the month of August because I was working on my dissertation, which is now finished and handed in. That means I’m officially done my Master’s! Anyway, I’m back with one of my favourite types of posts: a book roundup.

I read my thirtieth book in July, thus making my yearly goal less than 60% of the way through the year. Now I’d officially like to match last year’s count of 51 books, though of course if I could get to an even 52 – one per week – I’d be especially thrilled. (Okay, secretly my stretch goal is 60, so let’s say somewhere between 52 and 60 by December 31.) I read 11 books in July and August, bringing my total count to 36 so far.

Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! by Kurt Vonnegut

I have now read nine of Vonnegut’s fourteen novels, so I’m making pretty good progress at getting through his catalogue. I also have a good idea of where different things fall in my personal ranking, and while Slaughterhouse-Five, Mother Night, and Bluebeard still remain my top three, Slapstick is certainly a wonderful demonstration of everything I love about Vonnegut’s writing. Nobody does absurdism better, but Vonnegut manages to retain such an urgent sense of humanity. Slapstick centers on twins Wilbur and Eliza, who were born with a birth defect and who, together, have a singular genius mind. Throughout their lives, they are isolated in various ways – due to their appearances and intellect; through literal exile; thanks to a flu that causes the apocalypse. This novel is much more sentimental than Vonnegut’s work usually is, though I suppose that’s not surprising given that the introduction is about his sister’s death. I will say that this probably isn’t a fantastic entry point for those unfamiliar with Vonnegut’s work, but I certainly enjoyed it. I might even like it better than his best-known absurdist work, Breakfast of Champions.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

I genuinely thought this was going to be a good book and now I’m happy that I only paid a few bucks for it on the Kindle store. Reading this novel, I could clearly picture Albom congratulating himself on producing heavy-handed saccharine drivel masquerading as something heartfelt and inspirational. It’s as though he crammed every sad thing he could think of into one story: war, car accidents, infertility, unresolved parental tensions, children dying… and yet all of it is surface-level, there only to impress upon the reader how profound this book is without ever truly engaging with any of these themes. All of the “deep” “inspiring” “beautiful” life lessons are delivered via dialogue; the reader is not left any room for personal interpretation or revelation but simply force-fed sappy tripe. The section on war was at first promising, but instead of concluding that war is destructive and violent and life-ruining, Albom ended up with a watery version of “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”, a sentiment that was passé by the end of WWI. Throw in advocating for forgiving rapists and child abusers and you’ve got a book that certainly sets my own political consciousness on edge. Regardless, though, I think this is a poorly-written, clumsy novel and I have no idea how it has managed to capture so much attention.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Longtime readers will know that historical fiction pre-1900 isn’t a genre that I dabble in frequently. The era of Napoleon’s reign is very far outside of my fictional interests. But for Jeanette Winterson, I can make an exception – especially if the book includes a lesbian romance. Winterson’s writing is exquisitely atmospheric, and she packs in the most gorgeous magical realism. (You may know that while I stay even further away from high fantasy than historical fiction, I am very into magical realism.) It’s a rumination on the human effects of war and the strength of love, and above all a very evocative tale about the ability of passion to both create and destroy.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

Academically, I have always been interested in the study of popular culture. (My undergrad was basically in pop culture studies, and my graduate work has focused primarily on reality television.) Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays so beautifully illuminate why: because popular culture tells us so much about the quotidian, about the personal, about how mass-produced art touches us in profound ways. Abdurraqib does not simply write about music or sports; he writes about being Black and Muslim in America, about love, about loss, about growing up. Pop culture is how he, like so many of us, makes sense of the world and his position in it. He mediates his complex thoughts, his heartbreaks and victories, through pop culture, or perhaps it’s the other way around. It’s no surprise that he’s a poet, though his lyrical prose remains clear and insightful. He just has such a masterful command of language, and so it’s not only a joy to read his thoughts on Fall Out Boy or Serena Williams, it is delightful to marvel at his technical ability. Though he grapples with many unpleasant truths – about premature deaths, about police brutality, about the insidiousness of racism and Islamophobia in their many forms – there is something life-affirming about his writing. He searches for the good while remaining aware of the presence of the bad. It’s exactly the collection of essays that needed to be written in this hellish Trumpian era, and that demands to be felt deeply when we are close to losing hope.

How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS by David France

It is only natural that the LGBTQ community and movement have changed so much since the early days. But it’s also a bit sad that so much history has been forgotten, AIDS only a footnote to so many. This can’t necessarily be attributed to wilful ignorance; of course, the disease decimated a generation of gay men, so many of them incredibly young, and many stories died along with them. This book obviously deals with the unthinkable magnitude of loss; the complicity of the government and scientific community in ignoring, commodifying, and amplifying the crisis; the brutal homophobic rhetoric that the crisis engendered. But it’s also a hopeful book, because it shows us what activism can do. No, HIV/AIDS should not be thought of as something of the past, but it is undeniably true that thanks to the tireless work of scientists and activists – many of whom, it must be recognized, were gay people with AIDS – the life expectancy and quality of life for those with HIV/AIDS have improved dramatically since the early days of the crisis. And so in such a dark and horrible time, I think this book is a necessary reminder of what we can accomplish through meaningful grassroots activism, and that marginalized communities absolutely can advocate for themselves to create change. This book deals with an expansive and emotional topic, and it demands delicate treatment: it must be both meticulously-researched and deeply compassionate. David France, a gay journalist who was involved in early AIDS activism and who personally knew many of the key players, is the perfect author. His writing is packed with information but so engaging, and his ability to personalize the stories of the people who tamed the disease is incredible. This book contains so much humanity within its 515 pages. It’s an important, stunningly-written history.

France directed a 2012 documentary of the same name, which is also great (though far narrower in scope). I also highly recommend the short documentary When AIDS Was Funny, about the Reagan administration’s deafening silence on the crisis as it claimed thousands of bodies.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

I’ve enjoyed Koul’s Twitter presence and longform content for several years now, and her book is just as funny as I would have expected. Her essays (mostly) center around womanhood and being the first-generation Canadian daughter of Indian immigrants, and her exploration of the complexity of her family dynamics is wonderful. I just wanted there to be a bit more of a wow factor than I found – though perhaps that’s because I read it immediately following two incredible, substantive, emotionally-powerful non-fiction books. I’d still totally recommend this – it’s just not as good as, say, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple, predictable, and repetitive life, but when she witnesses an accident on her way home from work, everything changes and she is forced to confront her loneliness (and her childhood trauma). Eleanor is a hilarious character, with the running gag of the novel being that she is quick to chastise others for their poor social skills even though she is the one behaving in an unusual way. I don’t often come across novels set in Glasgow, and the friendliness and warmth of the supporting characters is very much in line with my experience of Scottish people. (By the way, I have done some calculations and determined that, given that Eleanor lives in the West End and there is only one Tesco Extra in the West End, the book must be referring to the Maryhill Tesco where I did all my shopping.) I think Eleanor’s various eccentricities require a slight suspension of disbelief, and the big reveal at the end was (mostly) easy to piece together – though there is a substantial twist which is then bizarrely not fully explored. It’s a very enjoyable read which strikes a good balance between dark and fluffy, but it’s not without its flaws.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Roy and Celestial have only been married for a year and a half when Roy is convicted of a crime that he did not commit. At first, they try to make their marriage work while he is in prison – but as time goes on, they grow apart, up-and-coming artist Celestial’s cerebral world so far removed from Roy’s reality. But when Roy’s conviction is overturned, he wants to return to their marriage, though Celestial has moved on. Though I wished at times that the book explored the political aspect of the story, Jones’ portrayal of the human cost of racialized unjust incarceration was poignant and believable. All sides were sympathetic, the conclusion realistic and satisfying.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I picked this up thanks to Elena‘s recommendation, and I’m very glad I did! This novel follows four generations of a Korean family who are displaced to Japan. It spans the better part of the 20th century, and it is clearly meticulously-researched. Above all, this is a novel about the strength and importance of family, particularly in the face of challenges (discrimination, immigration, war, loss). The writing is beautiful; Lee’s ability to capture a particular setting – whether urban or rural, the 1930s or 1980s – is wonderful. I loved the characters; each was distinct and sympathetic though flawed. I think the book tends a bit towards melodrama in certain areas, and I wished that some of the characters’ storylines hadn’t been tied up as an afterthought. But I think that this is an ambitious and beautifully-written book which so evocatively portrays the struggles and triumphs of a single family in a fraught sociopolitical climate.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

This was the inaugural work book club selection. It’s a very quick read and it makes a compelling spectacle, though it’s not particularly well-written. It was pretty clearly written by a man; the descriptions of the female characters were just… very male-gaze-y, and so many of the female characters are vapid, bitchy, class-conscious gossips. I imagine the movie is a lot better: all the joy is in witnessing extreme opulence, and surely a visual medium has the upper hand there. And you don’t even have to slog through sloppy writing to get to it!

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

This is a very difficult book to write about. It’s allegedly about a college student named Phoebe Lin, who in failing to process her recent trauma joins a cult. It’s narrated by her boyfriend, Will, who has recently left his zealous faith. But really this book is mainly about an emotionally-scarred, hot young woman and the boyfriend who is obsessed with the idea of her. It’s almost disappointing that this was written by a woman, as if men haven’t forced this tired narrative on us enough. The book isn’t all bad; it’s thought-provoking and I really can’t fault Kwon for how well she evoked such a dark, uneasy atmosphere throughout. But the explorations of religion and grief seemed quite surface to me, and there were almost no actual details about the cult. I mean, surely we’re all in it for the probing psychological profile of cult members, the tales of scandal that happen within. (I personally find cults second only to serial killers on the morbid fascination scale, so you know I was waiting for it to get juicy.) Maybe I wanted it to be a book that it just wasn’t. That’s also kind of how I felt about Donna Tartt’s A Little Friend. But this book sort of does a similar thing to that one: its summary is a bait-and-switch. If you accept that and take the book for what it actually is, maybe it’s better. Another Donna Tartt reference: the unrealistically pretentious, sinister small-town college student thing does beg comparison to The Secret History, though it’s certainly not at that level. It’s a strange one. Maybe you should read it and make up your own mind.

I predict my next post will feature quite a few books as well, as I recently started a new job with an hour’s commute each way – prime reading time! I have a big stack waiting for me, too.

Books read: January + February 2018

Posted on March 04, 2018 under Books

I’ve decided to do a book post every two months instead of every quarter, because it can be hard to remember stuff I read three months ago when I’m compiling the posts. Also, I read a lot in the first two months of 2018, and I don’t want to make this post even longer by having to squeeze another month into it!

I need to read 2.5 books each month to make my goal of 30 by the end of the year, and I read 11 in January and February – so I’d say I’m doing pretty well! I definitely don’t expect to stay on this pace the whole year, but I think I can easily read 30.

So, here’s what I read in the first two months of 2018.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This book tells the story of the Lees, a mixed-race family living in Ohio in 1977. Their family is barely hanging together as a unit, and when the middle child, 16-year-old Lydia, is found dead in a lake, the family begins to crumble. I thought the characterization was so rich in this novel; though every character was flawed and made awful, hurtful mistakes, I felt deep sympathy for each of them. I was relieved that Lydia was well-developed through flashbacks, because I hate the trope of a female character dying to further other characters’ emotional development. I could feel how suffocated each character was – whether because of gender roles, racism, or the burden of expectation. I particularly enjoyed the mother, Marilyn, who had dreamed of becoming a doctor before becoming pregnant and giving everything up for a life of housewifery. (Obviously, if you’ve been reading my book posts for some time, you’ll know that this is a general theme that interests me greatly.) Everything I Never Told You grapples with a lot of big themes – racism, patriarchy, homosexuality – but never feels overwrought or like an after school special. It’s powerful, but in a quiet way.

Women and Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

This was a Christmas present from my friend Hayley, who clearly knows me well! This book comprises two essays based on lectures given by Mary Beard, a professor of Classics. She draws on ancient examples of men silencing and suppressing women in order to argue that, well… we maybe haven’t come as far as we’d like to believe. Women are still being silenced, our power undercut. Beard writes clearly and powerfully (heh), and the book is a quick, fiery, and enjoyable read. After reading quite a lot of popular feminist texts that are almost apologetic (and seem to always make #NotAllMen-type concessions), it’s refreshing to read one that is so unabashedly angry. However, for something subtitled “a manifesto”, I was hoping for just a little more in the way of a call to arms or action plan. Overall, two great essays executed well, though.

All The Pretty Little Horses by Mira Grant

Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series is one of my favourites ever – they’re political thrillers set in a world ravaged by zombies, and each novel gets progressively more twisty and insane (in the best possible way). All The Pretty Little Horses is a prequel novella, set in the early days of the apocalypse. It follows the parents of our Newsflesh protagonists as they establish themselves as survivalist heroes in the terrifying new world. I was glad to get some of their backstory as they’re fairly two-dimensional in the main series, but ultimately it just wasn’t the most exciting read. Their children Georgia and Shaun make for much more compelling characters.

NW by Zadie Smith

This should have been right up my alley – I absolutely love multiple narrative strands and perspectives when done properly, and Zadie Smith’s first novel White Teeth was one of my favourite reads of 2017. I still really enjoyed Smith’s writing in this novel – her dialogue is excellent and her narration is always a bit cheeky, which I love. But not all of the characters are on equal footing – the character whose perspective starts the novel was off-putting and not very interesting. And the end was pretty anticlimactic. I can’t deny that Smith’s prose is wonderful, but this just didn’t have the same emotional impact as White Teeth. I’m really glad I didn’t start with NW, because I might not have felt compelled to pick up any of her other work.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

The premise for this book is absolutely delicious! It’s billed as a retelling of Snow White, with the improbably-named Boy Novak as our protagonist. It’s 1953, and Boy flees from her abusive father, settling in a small town in Massachusetts. She marries into a wealthy family – and it seems that she loves her husband’s charming, precocious daughter, Snow, more than her husband. But when Boy gives birth to her own daughter, Bird, it becomes clear that her husband is black, passing as white, and suddenly Boy can’t stand Snow. It’s a fascinating idea and I can’t fault Oyeyemi’s writing. However, the marketing is a bit off; this isn’t really a fairytale retelling. And there’s a twist at the end that’s just… very insensitive and tasteless, really. I won’t spoil it, but if you’re interested many Goodreads reviewers go over it.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

I’ve been trying to get my hands on Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, for literal years, but it’s never in stock at my local independent bookstore or at Chapters. I decided to settle for The Muse on my most recent Chapters trip, and I’m damn glad I did. This book was tailor-made for me, really: it involves multiple intersecting narratives and art-related deception and intrigue. One narrative follows Trinidad-born Odelle Bastien in 1967 London. Odelle has recently started administrative work at a prestigious art gallery, and coincidentally meets a man at a party who possesses a mysterious painting which sets Odelle’s boss, the enigmatic Marjorie Quick, on edge. The secondary narrative, of course, is that of the painting – a painting which has come to be under secret, dangerous circumstances in 1936 Spain, during the early days of the Spanish Civil War. This novel is exciting the whole way through – and though its twists aren’t fully-concealed (I did figure them out), it’s complex and fully-realized.

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

I’ve never read The Tempest, but I’m familiar enough with the plot that I followed this novel easily. It’s a revenge-plot-within-a-play-within-a-novel. After twelve years in exile, disgraced former theatre director Felix decides to get his revenge on those who wronged him. Felix has spent the past few years teaching Shakespeare to low-security prisoners in smalltown Southern Ontario. (I’m going to assume the town is a standin for Stratford, known for really leaning into the name and doing an annual Shakespeare festival – and also for being Justin Bieber’s hometown.) Felix decides to lure his enemies into the prison under the guise of watching his production of The Tempest, with the idea of executing his revenge plot during the staging of the play. It’s a quick read, very cleverly-adapted. I like the prison setting because it echoes a major theme of the play as well as of Atwood’s own novels. (Often, her characters find themselves literally or metaphorically imprisoned.) It also gives her the opportunity for a bit of social critique regarding the necessity of literacy and theatre programmes in prisons, though it integrates into the plot so well that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. At times, Felix’s explanations of the themes of the play veered into “reading a lecture” territory, but overall it’s a great novel with a lot of payoff. (I was particularly delighted by the careful attention Atwood paid to naming her characters!)

Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve enjoyed Lindy West’s writing for years, and this compilation of personal/feminist essays was no exception. She’s a funny, unapologetic, and incredibly smart woman. I particularly liked the section of the book which focused on online trolling and the impact that’s had on her personally and professionally. The internet has given misogynists very loud voices, and part of patriarchal oppression in 2018 online abuse. (Mary Beard touches on this a lot in Women and Power, too!) A few of the essays were basically just West rehashing arguments she’d had with people with additional commentary, which I didn’t love, but generally it was a very strong book.

Notes on “Camp” by Susan Sontag

I recently discovered that Penguin publishes little volumes of seminal essays by famous writers, which they sell for the bargain price of £1 a piece. So… I bought six! I had been planning on reading “Notes on ‘Camp'” for my dissertation anyway, so this one was a no-brainer. This one actually includes both “Notes on ‘Camp'” and “One Culture and the New Sensibility”. “Notes on ‘Camp'” is obviously the more prominent essay, however, so I’ll focus on that. I really love Sontag’s writing: it’s so sharp without ever becoming jargon-y. Her descriptive language is beautiful, too. Unfortunately I had some major issues with the very premise of her definition of Camp. Namely, she marginalizes and downplays how interconnected Camp is to the formation and performance of LGBTQ identity and, bewilderingly, refers to Camp as “depoliticized – or at least apolitical”. I’ve always thought of Camp as inherently very political by its close association with the LGBTQ community and its resistance to the norms of dominant cultural values. This is still a beautifully-written, seminal essay, but those are some pretty major faults. (Which, it should be noted, later academics have refuted – Moe Meyer’s “Reclaiming the Camp” is notable here.)

Africa’s Tarnished Name by Chinua Achebe

This volume includes four of Achebe’s essays on postcolonial Africa, spanning from 1989 to 2008. The first essay focuses on Nigeria’s political climate; the second is about his experience travelling throughout Africa in the 1980s and the racism he experienced during that time. The last two essays are about the representation of Africa by the Western world. Though he doesn’t cite her, a lot of the issues he writes about mirror Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” He writes so beautifully about colonial impositions of representations of Africa and links artistic representations of the continent (most notably Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) to wider political, cultural, and economic contexts. Achebe’s writing is clear and powerful, and there are so many incredibly potent lines scattered throughout all four essays.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House by Audre Lorde

This book consists of five of Audre Lorde’s essays. The way she writes about harnessing anger at injustice into a productive force is so powerful and inspiring. Though the term intersectionality wasn’t coined until after these essays were written, she is such a strong advocate for perceiving the ways different identities work together. If you’re interested in her work I’d really recommend this one as an excellent starter. One of my favourite lines comes from the essay “Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”: “Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.” Activists are so frequently told to be less emotional and less angry, and it is vital to acknowledge that anger can actually be a great resource in creating change.

And that is it for January and February. I’ll see you in two months for some more reviews!

Books read: October to December 2017

Posted on January 15, 2018 under Books

I read all of this quarter’s books on my Kindle!

I didn’t read too many books in the last quarter of 2017, but luckily I had planned for that eventuality and still made my goal of 50 (with one to spare). Here’s what I read in the last few months of 2017.

RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Shifting Visibility of Drag Culture: The Boundaries of Reality TV, edited by Niall Brennan

My undergraduate degree was basically in pop culture, and now that I’m in film & TV I still find myself much more drawn to mass culture – I seem to always want to write essays about Jurassic Park and reality TV. I just find the exploration of these types of cultural texts so much more compelling than analyses of high culture. The first essay that made me fall in love with the field of Cultural Studies was Janice Radway’s study of female romance novel readers. Her attention to the importance of the transformative function of this supposedly meritless cultural form inspired me and fuelled my interest in the academic study of popular culture. So of course I will always jump at the chance to read a book about a mass cultural phenomenon! This book came out in 2017 and is about an admittedly niche topic, so I was very excited to find that my university’s library had the e-book. As with most anthologies, I found some of the essays more interesting than others, but overall I thought it was full of fascinating insights on the campy, complicated, and often contradictory nature of Drag Race.

First Among Sequels and One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

These are the first two books in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next reboot, which takes place sixteen years after Something Rotten. While the books are undoubtedly still clever, I find that something of the magic of the original series is lost. These two seem a bit more formulaic and lack the same joy. I’ll keep reading them, but the first series was definitely better.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Generally I avoid historical fiction, but Margaret Atwood can make me read anything. Alias Grace is a fictionalized account of the real-life maid Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Toronto who was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper in 1843. Atwood doesn’t change any of the known details about Grace, but she takes creative liberties in fleshing out her story. Whether or not Grace really did kill Nancy Mongtomery and Thomas Kinnear, I don’t know – but Atwood turns Grace into a compelling, sympathetic, and complex character regardless. I’m excited to get to the Netflix series now that I’ve read the novel!

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

I have watched both the documentary Going Clear and Leah Remini’s television exposé on the abuses of Scientology, so when this book came up as a suggestion on my Kindle, I was happy to fork over $1.99. Jenna Miscavige Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, the current leader of Scientology, and was raised in the religion from the age of two. “Harrowing” is about right! As a toddler, Hill saw her parents – who were high-ranking members of the Sea Org – for only a few hours a week, and was raised at what is essentially a cross between boarding school and a work camp. She had to perform hard labour as a small child seven days a week, and was emotionally and psychologically manipulated and abused into adulthood. As someone who has avidly consumed media related to Scientology over the past few years, her story is not unfamiliar to me – but it still gives me goosebumps to think of what so many go through under David Miscavige’s leadership. It’s a comprehensive account of life under Scientology, doubly chilling because of the detailed, extended account of what can only be described as child abuse. Though this book is not very well-written, it’s extremely interesting and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this subject.

Final Girls by Mira Grant

Though I’m not a huge horror/sci fi fan, I still love Mira Grant’s work. She always approaches common tropes from a totally different angle, and this novella is no exception. Dr. Jennifer Webb has developed a virtual reality-based therapy which heals clients by putting them in horror movie simulations. Her star clients are a pair of estranged sisters who grew inseparable after undergoing this therapy and learning to work together as a team. Journalist Esther Hoffmann, whose father’s life was ruined by regression therapy, is invited to write a story on Dr. Webb’s technology, and sets out to thoroughly debunk it. Dr. Webb invites Esther to experience the VR technology herself, and Esther reluctantly agrees. Of course, things go terribly wrong. It’s a thrilling read, a take on zombies, VR, and government conspiracies that I haven’t seen before, and the perfect length. I don’t often read novellas and short stories, but this is a short, adrenaline-filled burst that perfectly complements the premise.

Total books: 51
Fiction: 43
Non-fiction: 8
Books written by women: 30 (and one anthology)
Books written by people of colour: 5
Books written by LGBTQ people: 6
Canadian books: 10

Clearly I gravitate more towards books written by women, but I would like to read more diversely – those numbers aren’t great! I read a lot based on other people’s recommendations, so I’m going to seek out book blogs/YouTube channels run by people of colour and LGBTQ people this year.

As I mentioned earlier, my goal for 2018 is 30 books. This year I’ve already read four, but two were quite short and I know my pace will slow as the semester gets busier. But I think 30 should be doable – and with decent time management I might even manage to read a bit more than that.