Mid-Year Reading Review

It’s currently the start of July so I thought it would be a good idea to look back on what I’ve been reading and think about what I want to the read during the rest of the year. So far I’ve read more this year than the previous few (as most people have) partly due to lockdown and partly due to a greater commitment to reading this year. I’ve not only had more time to read but also made more of an active effort to read.

January – June 2020 Stats:

  • Total Read: 18 Books.
  • Listened to 2 audio books.
  • Read 2 e-books.

Top 3 Books Read:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

  • A novel which follows the lives of 12 people, most of whome a women of colour, spanning an entire century and provides a brilliant look at the varied experiences of women of colour.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

  • The novel depicts the everyday sexism experienced by Kim Jiyoung from being a young girl to becoming a housewife and stay-at-home mother.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  • The Night Circus arrives without any warning and disappears as though it was never there to begin with. Visitors marvel at the wonders inside but they know little of the true secrets of the circus.

July – December 2020 Plans:

  • Want to Read: 21 Books.
  • Currently Read: 1 Book.

3 Most Anticipated Reads:

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

  • Ava leaves Dublin to live in Hong Kong and spends her days teaching English to the children in wealthy families. Then she meets Julian, an English banker who can offer her a shortcut to a far more lavish life. Upon Julian’s return to London, however, Ava meets Edith, a Hong Kong-born lawyer who Ava is immediately drawn to. After explaining away Julian as a mere roomate, everything comes crashing together for Ava when Julian announces his return.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

  • This novel follows twin sisters who take vastly different paths in life and end up living in polar worlds where one is white and one is black. One sister lives in the town she grew up in with her black daughter, while the other passes for white and lives with a husband who knows nothing of where she grew up. What will happen when the next generation bring these two sisters back together?

Before the Coffee gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

  • There’s a cafe in Tokyo that has been around for more than 100 years and offers the unique opportunity for its customers to travel back in time. If you could change one thing from the past, what would it be?

Frankissstein: A Love Story

Jeannette Winterson

Jeannette Winterson has written a fascinating reimagination of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ in her most recent novel, Frankissstein. Winterson successfuly brings together romanticism and science through her exploration of current technological advancements and developments in artificial intelligence juxtaposed with speculative chapters of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein and her views, and the views of her peers, regarding life, death and the soul.

The novel begins with Shelley composing Frankenstein, before skipping to the present day and the life of Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor. We read how Ry meets Victor Stein, a mysterious professor who is working on ‘accelerating evolution’ to live forever as a consciousness in a machine, and Ron Lord who is on the road to launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men. The interaction between these three characters, all of whom have vastly different views on life, death, gender and sex allows any reader to maintain any opinion whilst insisting that they question their beliefs on all these issues. For instance, whilst I am thoroughly opposed to Ron Lord’s attitude, I found it enlightening to gain insight into how he perceived the world and why he chose to run a business producing sex dolls.

Winterson beautifully explores some of the problems we may face as a society if we continue on this quest to live forever through technology. For me this was the most interesting aspect of the book because it both highlighted different concerns that I had not previously considered and forced me to confront my instinctual resistence to certain forms of artificial intelligence. In particular, Victor Stein’s obsession with existing without a physical form fascinated me (likely because of my interest in Philosophy and consciousness). The concept of existing simply as a consciousness is an immediately unappealing one to me and so to read about a character whose life’s work centres around this goal was deeply intriguing.

Finally, I would like to praise Winterson’s ability to seamlessly switch between Ry’s 21st Century world and Mary Shelley’s 19th Century one. The way Winterson is able to create two vastly different worlds and successfully draw meaningful parallels between the two is truly incredible. I found myself thoroughly absorbed in each world without ever being thrown when switching from one to other.

This is a novel I would definitely recommend for anyone interested in the questions surrounding artificial intelligence and how it may intersect with issues of sex, gender and how we understand the difference between life and death.

Don’t be Afraid of the Classics

I recently decided to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence and despite wanting to read it for a long time now, this decision has significantly slowed down my reading. It turns out that my motivation to read has taken a serious hit partly because I am intimidated by the prospect of reading a classic novel and partly because part of my brain still believes that the classics are boring.

Now I know that this is not the case and that the classics are fascinating pieces of literature that I am more than capable of reading but I am not a literature student who has been an avid reader of them from a much younger age. Instead, at some point I decided that the classics were difficult (probably from trying to read them too young) and as a result they would be dull to read and I still can’t seem to get past the idea that they just aren’t fun to read (despite being apparently older and wiser now).

A part of my subconscious decides to switch off any motivation to read (one of my favourite pastimes) as soon as I decide to finally take on a classic novel I’ve been meaning to read for years. My brain simply decides that the book isn’t for me and I find it incredibly difficult to bring myself to sit down and read. But I want to change this, and since I can’t be the only one who has this issue, I thought I would post about my plan to change this.

1: I will start small.

I simply want to read one of the classics before the end of the year. This gives me 6 months to finish one book and allows me to take my time over the book, rather than desperately trying to force myself to finish it.

2: I am not going to only commit myself to reading a classic novel.

This means I will be reading a classic novel alongside another book I want to read, and will therefore not decide that any time I want to read I must read a classic and that I cannot read anything else until I have finished it.

3: I will not force myself to read a classic simply because it is a classic.

I often feel like there are great works of literature out there that I should read simply because they are great works of literature, instead of stopping to consider whether they are actually books that I want to read. So I am going to stop putting pressure on myself to have read Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters, and instead focus on reading the books that I find interesting and accepting that I might just prefer contemporary fiction to a classic novel.

Therefore, going foward, if they sound like genuinely interesting and enjoyable reads then try not to be afraid of them. They are not as overwhelming or as difficult as they seem. At the end of the day the classics are just books. They are very good books, but still just books and if you wouldn’t read them if they weren’t classics then don’t worry about reading them. Afterall, I absolutely adore Little Women but The Catcher in the Rye is by far the dullest book I have ever tried to read and I will never go back and finish it.

May/June 2020 Round Up

These past two months have been a slower in terms of reading while I was finishing university so here’s a round up of both May and June.

It’s not about the Burqa

  • Author: Mariam Khan
  • Publisher: 21st February 2019, Picador
  • Summary: An anthology of essays by Muslim women on their experiences relating to faith, sexuality, feminism, racism and various other topics.
  • Rating: 4/5

Motherhood

  • Author: Sheila Hetti
  • Publisher: 7th June, 2018, Henry Holt and Company
  • Summary: A novel exploring what is gained and lost when a woman chooses to become a mother.
  • Rating: 4/5

Frankisstein: A Love Story

  • Author: Jeannette Winterson
  • Publisher: 21st May 2019, Jonathan Cape
  • Summary: Winterson brings together speculative fiction and historical fiction in a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.
  • Rating: 3/5

Little Eyes

  • Author: Samantha Schweblin
  • Publisher: October 2018, Simon and Schuster
  • Summary: A slow burn, psychological thriller in a world filled with kentukis, of which you are either a keeper or a dweller. Would you rather be inside someone elses home or have someone in yours?
  • Rating: 3/5

Books by Black Authors

Given the current protests and conversations around police brutality, the systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement that are taking place across the world right now, I have put together a list of books by black authors, highlighting the voices of black individuals. Some of these I have read and some I have been recommended and wish to read. At the bottom of this post I have also included some relevant links for how you can support black individuals within publishing.

Read:

Queenie (My Review)

  • Author: Candice Carty-Williams
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing
  • Synopsis: Queenie Jenkins is a young Jamaican British woman living in London and trying to cope after a messy break up with her long-term white boyfriend.

Girl, Woman, Other (My Review)

  • Author: Bernardine Evaristo
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Synopsis: Follows the lives of twelve different characters, most of whom are women, most of whom are people of colour.

An American Marriage (My Review)

  • Author: Tayari Jones
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • Synopsis: The novel follows the lives of newly-wed couple, Celestial and Roy, after Roy gets convicted for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit.

My Sister, the Serial Killer (My Review)

  • Author: Oyinkan Braithwait
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Synopsis: Korede is forced to confront her personal morals and examine where her loyalties lie when her sister, Ayoola, who has killed her last three boyfriends, begins to show an interest in her friend and colleague, Tade.

The Colour Purple

  • Author: Alice Walker
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Synopsis: The novel follows the life of a young African American woman in early twentieth century Georgia

To Be Read:

The Hate U Give

  • Author: Angie Thomas
  • Publisher: Balzer and Bray
  • Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is forced to deal with the consequences of race and class when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend by a police officer.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race

  • Author: Reni Eddo Lodge
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
  • Synopsis: Eddo-Lodge explores issues around race in Great Britain from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism to the inextricable link between class and race.

Americanah

  • Author: Chimamanda Nygozi Adiche
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
  • Synopsis: Americanah tells the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university.

Helpful Links and Resources

UK Black Writers’ Forum list of Black bookshops, publishers & outlets:

https://ukblackwritersforum.wordpress.com/black-book-shopspublishers/

Crisis Funding for Inclusive Publishers Crowdfunder:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/inclusive-indies

Normal People (BBC)

I, like many others at the moment, have spent the past two weeks watching the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s brilliant novel, Normal People, and you should too. Since I have already written a review of the book (which you can find here), this post will focus more on how well I felt it translated to the screen, rather than my general thoughts on the story and characters.

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed watching this adaptation and I think this may be because it did not deviate very far from the book. The producers of the show clearly understood the success of the novel and that to change too much when adapting it for the screen would not replicate the same success. Instead the subtlety of the novel translates beautifully into the show which brilliantly tows the line between what should go unsaid and informing the audience of just enough for them to connect with the story.

Another favourite aspect of the TV adaptation of mine was the cinematography. This was a beautifully shot show with incredible images of rural Ireland. I think this greatly contributed to allowing for things to go unsaid because the audience was given enough just from a single shot of Connell and Marianne that there was no need for any words.

An interesting choice in the TV adaptation was to soften the character of Marianne’s mother. In the book, Marianne’s mother is depicted as very cold, distant and unfeeling and while this can also be said for the character in the TV show, there are a few scenes between Marianne and her mother that attempt to humanise her. The first instance of this is a conversation between Marianne and her mother about Dublin, as Marianne is about to head to college there and so her mother is sharing her experiences there.

The second instance is later on in the series and a much more fraught interaction about Marianne’s brother’s aggressive behaviour towards her. Marianne blames her mother for not doing anything to stop him and her mother responds by pointing out that there’s nothing she can do; he’s her child and she can’t just throw him out of the house. This interaction seems to alter our perspective of her by humanising her and presenting her as being as much of a victim and as trapped as Marianne, where the book exclusively presents her from Marianne’s perspective as cold and uncaring.

Finally, I want to mention one particular scene that I thought was brilliant; when Connell is talking to his therapist. This scene was incredible to watch because it was completely stripped back, with very simple shots of Connell explaining how he is coping, or rather not coping, with his depression. At this point I will give credit to Paul Mescal for his beautifully raw performance which is particularly clear in a long close up shot focused on his face as he breaks down attempting to express what he is dealing with. The vulnerability captured in this scene is truly impressive.

I think that anyone who loved the book will definitely love this show as it is a brilliantly made adaptation that gets everything right.

If you like this review please let me know, and follow this blog to receive email updates on future posts.

The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

The night circus arrives without warning, simply appearing where it was not the day before and then disappears without a trace. Erin Morgenstern beautifully captures the magic of such a circus in this incredible fantasy novel.

This was the first fantasy novel I have read in quite a while and I am so glad I did. The novels follows the journey’s of Celia and Marco, both connected to the circus and locked in a fierce competition with each other with the circus as its venue. They have been trained since childhood for this competition but are in no way prepared for the realities of it.

Morgenstern is a magnificent writer who transports the reader to another world where the impossible becomes possible and you can’t help but wish you could be a part of it. This incredible novel is beyond imaginative and will absorb you into a world which is not merely magical but also intensely dark at points.

The harshness of the character of Prospero the Enchanter is as shocking as the character of Tsukiko is mysterious. The dark quality this brings to the novel results in a deeply intriguing story that is made up of twists and turns that are impossible to predict. This is further emphasised by the fluctuation in which characters are at the forefront of the narrative. Where we are introduced to the book through Prospero and Mr A.H- they very naturally become background characters as the book goes on, with our focus instead being on Marco and Celia, and later Widget, Poppet and Bailey. By placing Prospero and Mr A.H- in the background they remain surrounded by a dark quality, they orchestrate this situation and then sit back a watch, making sparing and infrequent appearances but very much remaining separate from it all.

Similarly, one of my favourite aspects of the book was how my interest in each of the story lines fluctuated throughout the novel as I gradually found out more about each of the characters and gained insight into the connection to the circus and the other characters. For me, this was most evident in my opinion of Bailey and the chapters focused on him. When Bailey was first introduced, I found his chapters fairly uninteresting and slightly disappointed when they interrupted other story lines I wanted to read more about. However, as the novel continues, and Bailey grows closer to Poppet and Widget , I became fair more intrigued by him and grew to enjoy his perspective on the circus as an outsider.

Another interesting thing to note about the book is Morgenstern’s choice to interweave short descriptions of you, the reader, walking through the circus with the main narrative. This is an interesting way of immersing the reader in the circus, providing information not directly relevant to the story but equally fascinating in a way that serves to more successfully create an image of the circus in your mind. It also aligns beautifully with the narrative arcs throughout the book with your journey through the circus mirroring the start, middle and conclusion of the story, with you leaving the circus as the book draws to a close.

Overall, this is a beautifully written novel and Morgenstern creates an incredible world that everyone should spend time in.

Normal People

Sally Rooney

I’ll start this review by saying that I know I am very behind the times with this book, having not read it about a year or two ago when it first came to the forefront of the book world, but better later than never is a saying for a reason and it is definitely the case here. With the BBC adaptation coming out I decided to finally read Rooney’s normal people before watching it and I am thrilled that I did.

One of my favourite parts of this book was the interplay of the two perspectives. The shifts between Marianne and Connell are not balanced, alternating chapters, which is very interesting to read, primarily because it means we often get both their interpretations of the same events. I found this particularly interesting when Connell ends things with Marianne towards the end of sixth form and how we find out about it from Marianne’s perspective, adding to how abrupt it seems and how little clarity there is over why he chose to do it.

The way in which Rooney is able to convey the nuance and subtlety behind Connell and Marianne’s actions is truly impressive writing. The balance she strikes between concrete words and actions and what goes left unsaid is beautifully struck in a a way that gives just enough insight into the characters of Connell and Marianne but still leaves an air of mystery around their relationship that shows even their limited understanding of their feelings for one another.

This subtlety gave me an appreciation for the notion of love as something to desire and experience rather than something to achieve that runs throughout the novel. The love between Marianne and Connell is never addressed as being long term, it is very much just what they’re experiencing at the time.

I will say, however, that I’m unsure whether or not I like this book but that maybe that’s the point. I think this is a brilliant novel but I can’t claim to have loved it or that it is a favourite of mine. However, I think it is one of the most intelligently written novels I’ve come across that provides an intriguing perspective on love and relationships between young people.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of the BBC adaptation or click follow to receive email alerts.

April 2020 Round Up

The one upside to being in lockdown, if there even is one, is that I’ve had plenty of time to read this month.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

  • Author: Cho Nam-Joo
  • Publisher: 14th October 2016, Minumsa
  • Summary: The novel depicts the everyday sexism experienced by Kim Jiyoung from being a young girl to becoming a housewife and stay-at-home mother.
  • Rating: 5/5

Girl, Woman, Other

  • Author: Bernardine Evaristo
  • Publisher: 1998, Vintage
  • Summary: Follows the lives of twelve different characters, most of whom are women, most of whom are people of colour.
  • Rating: 5/5

Queenie

  • Author: Candice Carty-Williams
  • Publisher: 19th March 2019, Orion Publishing
  • Summary: Queenie Jenkins is a young Jamaican British woman living in London and trying to cope after a messy break up with her long-term white boyfriend.
  • Rating: 4/5

The Night Circus

  • Author: Erin Morgenstern
  • Publisher:2012, Vintage
  • Summary: The Night Circus arrives without any warning and disappears as though it was never there to begin with. Visitors marvel at the wonders inside but they know little of the true secrets of the circus.
  • Rating: 5/5

Normal People (Novel)

  • Author: Sally Rooney
  • Publisher: August 2018, Faber and Faber
  • Summary: Marianne and Connell try to maintain their relationship in the face of class differences whilst transition from high school to university.
  • Rating: 4/5

Normal People (BBC TV Adaptation)

  • Network: BBC One
  • Original Novel: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • Synopsis: See above summary.
  • Rating: 4/5

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

  • Author: Matthew Walker
  • Publisher: 3rd October 2017, Penguin Random House
  • Summary: A popular science book about the science behind why we sleep.
  • Rating: 3/5

Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for my reviews of Normal People and The Night Circus over the next week, or follow the blog to receive email alerts!

Why we Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Matthew Walker

I recently listened to this book as an audio book and it was fascinating, not just because of what I found out behind the science behind sleep but because of how much I found out we still don’t know about sleep. Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology and director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California and so he is more than qualified to write this book.

At the start of the book, Walker tells the reader that they are more than welcome to pick and choose the chapters they read and when they read them, and I would definitely recommend this approach to the book. As an individual without any scientific background beyond GCSE level, I found that attempting to read the book cover to cover was slightly overwhelming and instead much preferred to dip in and out of the book. This was also one of the reasons why I chose to listen to it as an audio book, because I remained more engaged in a topic I am less well versed in than if I had been reading it.

The book is divided into four sections, each made up of four or five chapters, covering everything from why we sleep the amount we do, the impact jet lag has on our sleep and how sleeping pills work. This means that Walker successfully interweaves his advice for healthier sleep habits with the science of why we sleep.

A favourite chapter of mine was about how we sleep and why we need to sleep for the recommended 8-9 hours a night. The chapter explores the differences between REM and non-REM sleep, and compares how our sleep patterns differ across different species and why this is the case. I also particularly enjoyed finding out about how sleeping pills work and why they may not be the solution to insomnia that they are often thought of.