Reading Wrap Up | May 2019


Hi everyone, I’m here today to talk to
you about all the books I read in May there are 11 of them and there is quite
a wide range here both in terms of the subject matter of the books and my
enjoyment as well so, first off, let’s quickly get these six books out of the
way — I’m not showing this very well — these six books are the Women’s Prize
shortlisted books. I have read the entire shortlist and reviewed it for TOAST
magazine so I’m just going to briefly give you my thoughts here and then if you
want to know more thoughts you can go and read the article which I’ll link in
the description box down below. The first book I read on this year’s shortlist was
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite which is about a woman
called Korede who works on a hospital in Nigeria and her sister Ayoola is a serial
killer; she kills her boyfriends and Korede has been emotionally blackmailed
into helping her sister clean up after these rather violent incidents. This book
is fun, it’s sharp, it’s funny in places but at the same
time I’m looking at the quotes on the back of this book The
Guardian called it “a literary sensation” New York Times called it “a bombshell of
a book, sharp, explosive hilarious” I just… I didn’t get it on that level. For me
I thought this book was, as I said, fun i’ts definitely really accessible, it’s fast
paced, you can get through it so quickly, but I found it quite surface-level in
places and there were many points where I wish she delved into something in more
detail so —for instance — Ayoola has a really strong love for social media — that’s
the way she projects herself to the world and there was so much discussion
to be had between performative self and private self and how she maintains these
two things: this person who kills people and then this person who pretends she
doesn’t kill people, and I really wanted to see more of that and there was
definitely, definitely more room for discussion between that mirroring of
Korede working in hospital and saving people’s lives and Ayoola
killing people… some of that imagery was there I just wanted more from it,
as I said I found it quite surface-level in places… still fun though, it’s
definitely fun. Ordinary People by Diana Evans was the next book that I went to,
this is about two couples in London their love lives
are falling apart. For me this comes down to a matter of personal taste when it
comes to writing style. It’s not what I particularly love in a book but I know
that some people absolutely love it, loads of people absolutely love it in
fact. I would recommend this for fans of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by
John McGregor and I say that because you come to know these characters so well
you know everything about them: their memories, everything that they’re wearing,
what they’re eating, their every single movement and I found that
it, personally, to be too much. Yes, it reflects the mundanity of life, it
reflects what it’s like to know everything about someone… where do
you go from there, if you already know everything about somebody else? What do
you have to talk about anymore? So I totally get why it’s written in the way
that it is written; I’ve heard people call that romantic in a way, and I can
also see that, but it wasn’t personally one of my favorites from the list. Then
we have Milkman by Anna Burns and I’m still not sure what I think of this book
and you may tell that this year’s shortlist for me has been more hit and
miss than previous shortlists. I’ve always never fallen in love with all
of the books but I think with this year it’s more polarized for me; this one sits in
the middle; I’m still not sure how I feel about the writing style. At some
points when I was reading this I thought “this is brilliant” and there were some
points when I was reading this thinking “oh my goodness, life is too short”.
It’s rambling and our main character, the narrator, she is burying her head in 19th
century novels to get away from the 20th century and The Troubles in Ireland
because she doesn’t want to be part of her present. Likewise we as a reader are
burying our heads in her twentieth century novel to get out of our 21st
century, so I like that layering and it’s very stream-of-consciousness. If you
liked A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride then I think you could really
gel with this writing style, as I said I’m still reflecting on it still not
sure but I do admire it and I’m very intrigued by it. Next up on the shortlist
I read The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is a retelling of the Iliad
from the point of view of Briseis who’s been captured by Achilles and is being
constantly sexually assaulted by him. She gets to be our chronicler in a way
that women didn’t get to be a chronicler in these times. I think this is very well
written. I have enjoyed Pat Barker’s books in the past. The thing that
frustrated me and tarred this this whole book for me though is the fact that, as I
see it, this book is about giving that voice to Briseis, she says at one point ‘I
cannot separate myself from Achilles’s narrative, I am tied to it” and this is
about her going forth and finding her own story but I didn’t feel like I got
to know her at all. She tells us about the awful things that are happening to
her and the people around her but I didn’t feel like I got to understand her
wants, her needs, her past, her memories what she wanted from her future… nothing
and part of that I think is because of the distance that’s created between
herself and her narratives through trauma but I don’t think that if that’s
the point that was explored enough and I felt by the end of this book I knew more
about Achilles and that just seems to defeat the entire point. So, yeah, there
are parts of this book that I think are great but I just questioned the way it
delivered its overall message. Then I read Circe by Madeline Miller which
I think is absolutely masterful, I could completely believe that Circe was
narrating this story; it’s like seeing the birth of an omniscient narrator,
she’s definitely god-like, she’s to be feared but also pitied, she’s timeless.
This I think would be a safe bet for betting on who is going to win this year’s
prize because it… it makes you feel relaxed; you know that you’re in safe
hands when you’re reading this book because you trust Madeline Miller. She
paces it so well it’s brilliant. It’s about Circe — I don’t
think I said that before — another Greek myth retelling so I really enjoyed that one. But my favourite from this year’s list is An American marriage by Tayari Jones. This
is about Celestial and Roy and their relationship.
Roy is arrested being accused wrongly of raping a woman. He’s sent to jail. It
mirrors James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk but the
characters in this book make different decisions than the characters in James
Baldwin’s book while keeping the premise and the framework of the story the same,
to show how little has changed in the racist society that we live in,
especially the justice system — “justice system”; I’m going to use air quotes
there. I thought this book was intentionally messy and heartbreaking
and raw and wonderful. It’s part prose and then part epistolary. I really
enjoyed it so I don’t know who’s going to win out of
these two but I really hope it’s one of these guys, but we will wait and see. I
will link my review down below that I wrote for TOAST magazine summing up my
thoughts on the six books. Everyone who comments (on that article) will be put into a
giveaway to win a copy of next month’s book club book. Also, next Wednesday which
is Wednesday the 5th of June is the evening of the prize ceremony. I’ll be
there so I’ll be on Instagram talking about that and then later that evening
at midnight I’ll be on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about all of the shortlisted
books and talking about the winner, so if you want to tune into that, please do, you can
listen to it on the radio, stream it online, it’ll also be on the BBC Sounds podcasts
app place afterwards if you’re not up at midnight — which I’m normally not — I think
I’m going to have to have a disco nap between the Women’s Prize and doing the
radio show otherwise I will not be speaking coherently at all.
All right, so we have a few other books and I’m going to whiz through these because
apart from one of them there’s only one I really loved and the other ones I just…
you know when you read a book and it’s okay and it’s not that negative and it’s
not that brilliant, and therefore you don’t have heaps and heaps to say about
it? That’s how I feel about these books so let’s just go through them
and talk about them quickly. This one I really didn’t gel with at all so I DNFd it.
This book this is Tentacle by Rita Indiana; it’s published by & Other
Stories. This book was just a question of there are so many things going on and I
just didn’t see myself falling in love with it and as I said before life is too
short. I’d also just finished reading all of
these Somerset Maugham books I needed to read for judging and also just finished
reading all of the Women’s Prize shortlist so I was eager to pick up
books I really wanted to get to. This is what I really wanted to get to but after
the first 30 pages — and it’s a very short book, it’s under 200 pages — yeah, I just
thought no. This is about lgbtq+ topics which is why I picked it up;
it’s about climate change and time travel. It’s set in a dystopian world… there is everything going on in this tiny little book and I just
found it chaotic and not in a great way, so it was not for me. I was also buddy
reading it with the two Laurens and Jean, none of whom were really loving it
either so it wasn’t as if they’d finished it and gone “you must stick with
it because it gets brilliant!” So, yes, I’m putting it down.
Maybe I’ll pick it up again at another point but I’m not really sure. Then I
read The Water Cure by Sophie McIntosh this is about a family who live on an
island who don’t really know what’s happened to the rest of the world.
It gave me vibes of The Village; it also reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood,
especially Oryx and Crake, it has that dystopian post-apocalyptic feel to it
where women are blamed for the terrible things that go on in the world
and in most cultures around the world there is some kind of myth that blames
women for death — that’s something that I explored in my short story Aunt Libby’s
Coffin Hotel in ‘The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night.’ So I do
find that kind of folklore and mythology fascinating, it’s also linked with
Victorian ideas about hysteria and water cures and the links between women and
water and witchcraft, so it has all of the ingredients for a book that I would
really love but it is so so very depressing and I wanted more hope… that
may be besides the point of the book but it was just the spiraling effect of what
women have been taught to internalize and inflict on each other… maybe it’s
just a bit too bit too much because it is a very good reflection and obviously
a hyperbolized version of what goes on in our world today but because of that
and because I feel at the moment in many areas of the world we are going
backwards when we’re talking about women’s bodies and ownership of women’s
bodies that this maybe hit too much of a nerve. So in the sense that
makes it good but I as I said wanted a bit more hope. Next I read Ponti by
Sharlene Teo which is one I’ve been meaning to get you for ages,
it’s set across three different time periods, the first one is about a woman
who’s been recruited to be in this budget horror show Ponti, which then gets
a bit of a cult following, then we follow her daughter who is trying to scare
people at school by talking about her mother and how she’s been in this
horrible film and she can do all of these things but she’s overcompensating
because her mother is severely depressed at home and doesn’t get out of bed and
has become almost like a monster to her, and then in the future we see the point
of view of the young girl’s best friend when she’s older who is doing the
publicity for a remake of the film of Ponti. I really did feel for the young
girl Szu and her mother as well, Amisa, and it was really interesting that also
her best friend it’s called Circe and that tied in with ideas of witchcraft
and linking in with reading Circe by Madeline Miller I think the imagery
there is really quite strong. The book overall, despite being very well written,
I felt I was always waiting for something to happen and it kept on
reaching for that something and then it never really got there. Again, maybe
that is the point in that we’re always waiting for something to happen, for the
next big break to happen, which is definitely what Amisa is waiting for
because she thinks that something amazing is going to happen in her career
and she’s done all these things, she’s done these films, but then she just finds
out that no one wants to hire her anymore,
and I think that is the point of this book; that we’re waiting for that big
plot twist in our lives and often we just never get there. I question whether
that itself makes a book good, though, but I do see the point that the author was
making. I then read this non-fiction book which is called The Death of the Gods by
Carl Miller: The New Global Power Grab. This is one of those non-fiction books
that I felt tried to do way too many things in a short period of time and
then ultimately you just never feel like you get to the crux of anything. It’s a
discussion on power and the internet and hackers. I particularly found the
internet and hacking bit really fascinating; I didn’t realise you could
hack a computer using the light sensors in a Morse code kind of way so I did learn some fascinating things from this
book but I didn’t think it was that well-written I have to say, so not one I
would particularly recommend. However to end on a high, this is Doreen by Barbara
Noble. I picked it up a couple of days ago. This is a Persephone book;
I love Persephone; they are cozy reads, reissued editions of classics that have
been forgotten. This is about a young girl called Doreen who was evacuated
during the Second World War. Her mum really doesn’t want to get her
out of London, she’s going to miss her but she ends up going and she falls in love
with the family that she is sent to. It’s about class, it is about what family
means, it’s about where we belong and our responsibilities to our parents and I
felt the same way about this book I think I felt reading Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden when I was 11. I thought it was just absolutely charming. Is it the best
book I’ve ever read? No. Was it exactly what I needed at that moment in time? Yes. Plus there was a plot twist somewhere between the middle and the end that I
just didn’t see coming and I couldn’t put this book down and I stayed up late
to read it and that hasn’t happened for a while, apart from out of obligation
that I need to finish a book for work. So I have a soft spot in my
heart for this book. So, as I said, lots of mixed reactions to books this
month. Let me know if you have read any of these. I’ll link my TOAST
review down below. If you’d like to listen to BBC Radio 5 Live next
Wednesday at midnight that would be lovely.
Let’s have a chat in the comments section down below, let me know what you
have been reading, what you’ve been up to I hope you have a great week and I will
speak to you very soon. Lots of bookish love. Bye! x

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