Roundups

Recent Reads

It is currently 5am and I am wrapped up in a blanket like some kind of human burrito while I write this. I was a little smug in my last post, what with all the ‘oh, I am so happy and I will blog regularly and things are so good’, so wouldn’t you know that less than a month later I would be in the midst of what I am calling a ‘transitory period of mild-to-moderate mental instability’. So I am struggling but I am coping and, on the plus side, I have been using the time that I usually waste on things like sleeping to read a bunch of really great books. While the world goes up in flames around us, I have fallen in love with Ali Smith and as I panic about my next creative writing assignment, I have been forced to explore some wonderful poetry. I am all for silver linings and escapism these days.


25986827

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur
‘you look at me and cry
everything hurts

I look at you and whisper
but everything can heal’

Split into four sections (The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking and The Healing), this collection is about abuse, survivorship, healing and love. The poems feel deeply personal; Kaur is angry, she is gentle, loving, proud and dissatisfied. The Hurting, with it’s rawness and the detachment that is particular to survivors, that is necessary to let out what would otherwise would destroy us, and The Healing, with a gentle and righteous reminder of the things that we need to teach ourselves in order to survive, were the sections that I personnally loved the most.

Kaur’s writing is short and concise, thoughts and emotions are spilled onto the page and arranged in easily digestible chunks. It feels like poetry for our times, poetry for those who are used to interacting in 140 characters or less. I always feel uncomfortable, or unqualified, when it comes to discussing how technically ‘good’ a poem is but the truth of these poems is in their emotional impact rather than their form. I would suggest you listen to her performing some of these pieces because she reads with an interesting cadence that will impact how you read her words. While I can see why this might not be a collection for everyone, if you need some gentle validation or honey for the soul you will find it here.


28501505The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg
‘These women must be charged with sorcery, witchcraft, reading and sassiness! Their behaviour is INTOLERABLE!’

I want to say actual things about this beautiful graphic novel but mostly I just feel the urge to buy all of the copies and give them to all of the women that I love (which is how my sister ended up with her copy) because it left me feeling so warm and fuzzy and happy inside.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero is a, sort-of, lesbian retelling of The one Thousand and One Nights. The overarching story concerns Cherry and her lover Hero and their attempts to distract a man whose aim is to ‘seduce’ Cherry for a bet. If he wins, his prize will be both Cherry and her husband’s castle, so each night when he visits, Hero uses her stories, stories inspired by folklore and mythology, to keep him distracted from his intended goal.

Themes of sisterhood and feminine power are at the centre of this lovely book and it extols the virtues of female storytelling as a form of solidarity and protest. Greenberg’s own storytelling is compelling, carefully weaving each tale into the larger narrative and providing a sense of cohesion that can so often be lacking in this form.

The artwork is perfect. There is sadness, there is love, there is laughter. I loved it.


23129956

Where the words end and my body begins by Amber Dawn
in the morning     magnolia buds split
their pink lips      I lick
the same raindrop off the tip
of your nose as I’ve licked
for the last six springs’

I rarely buy books based on their cover but this is a spectacularly beautiful cover, so I couldn’t resist. Thankfully, as it turns out, the contents are just as lovely. A collection of glosa poetry, a form which I was completely unfamiliar with, that dialogues with queer and feminist writers, Where the words end  places queer identity at its centre, while exploring themes of survivorship, mental illness, community and relationships. Her poetry feels refreshing, ranging from the poignant to the humorous and playful. Using sensuous and lush language, Dawn creates a rawness that is incredibly engaging.

As a collection this was easy to love and I will be reading more of Amber Dawn’s work.


25631665

Girl meets boy by Ali Smith
‘I got up to get us a drink of water and as I stood in the kitchen in the early morning light… I wondered if everything I saw, if maybe every landscape we casually glanced at, was the outcome of an ecstasy we didn’t even know was happening, a love-act moving at a speed slow and steady enough for us to be deceived into thinking it was just everyday reality.’

Ali Smith makes magical things happen with her words. I read her short story collection Other Stories and other stories at the end of last year, but Girl meets boy is the first of her longer works that I have picked up and she has managed to utterly seduce me. Once again I am struggling to coherently say why I loved this book because I just want to gush about it and make you read it and tell you that it made me happy cry.

Set in Inverness, Smith reframes the myth of Iphis in a contemporary setting, exploring gender, sexuality and social inequality. It’s a charming story of two sisters, Imogen and Anthea, and Robin, the boyish girl/girlish boy that Anthea falls in love with.

2016 Year in Review

In terms of global and national politics, of all the dead famous people, of the fact that chrome stopped letting me use the backspace as a ‘back’ button, and of books, this year kind of sucked. Nevertheless, while world was busy falling apart, my own little life has been slowly knitting itself back together in a way that is scary and new and wonderful and very different than I expected; I have been busy finishing my first full year of studying in a long time, (sort-of) going back to work, and turning 30. For the first time in my adult life, I managed a full year where mental illness didn’t completely knock me off my feet, even if  it did come close a few times. Basically life happened and reading took a back seat, along with this blog. I am not sure if any of you are still hanging around, although I hope you are, but I am planning on being more active in the coming year and hopefully you’ll be around for that, too.

This wasn’t wasn’t the worst year that I have ever had with regards to reading (I’m looking at you 2012) but it wasn’t particularly good, either. I managed to read relatively few books, twenty-two in the end, most of which were for university or picked for my book clubs, and nothing made much of a lasting impact. As a result, I don’t have much to talk about. You can see my rather unimpressive 2016 reading list here but I’ll just stick to the best and the worst here in order to avoid simply listing the things that I don’t really want to talk much about.

ceciliaFirst, I need to give an honourable mention to Cecilia by Fanny Burney because it was the most enjoyable experience that I had with a book all year.

Burney has managed to pack a little bit of everything into this one thousand paged, eighteenth century novel. There is romance, drama, tragedy and intrigue, there are hipsters and gossips, ridiculous parties where people literally swing from the ceiling, duels and dramatic breakdowns. Basically, Cecilia is bananas and if you can imagine it then you will probably find it within these pages. However, underlying all of the crazy is a harsh critique of patriarchal hierarchies and Burney exposes the limited control that women in the eighteenth century had over their own lives and destinies.

I read Cecilia as part of the #summerofcecilia read-along, hosted by Laura at Reading in Bed, which definitely made this a much more enjoyable experience, and if you decide to read a gargantuan eighteenth century novel next year, then I recommend that you start with Cecilia and that you take part in one of these read-alongs next year.

 

donn

The only book upon which I bestowed The 5-star Goodreads Rating on this year was The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The story of Richard Papen, a college student newly arrived at a private university in New England, who is thrust into a world of intellectual debate and murder after befriending a tight-knit group of classics majors, this is a beautifully written and atmospheric book. Tartt has that particular talent which allows the construction of exceptionally despicable characters, including a wonderfully unreliable narrator, while still making the reader care enough to continue with the narrative.

The Secret History is a story about friendship and obsession, with a dark and Gothic tone that has stayed with me since February; it is likely that this disquieting atmosphere will continue to haunt and envelope every single grey and rainy day in late Winter.

 

go
I don’t particularly enjoy writing about books that I dislike but it was a slow reading year and there wasn’t much that I loved to talk about, so why not?

The low point of the year was, without a doubt, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. This was a book club read and although I was a little turned off by the rumours surrounding the publication I went in with an open mind. I still disliked it.

Personally, I didn’t find it very well written  (the narrative point of view would frequently jump between characters in a confusing manner), it was horrifically racist, and I had to rely on my memory of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I did enjoy, in case you are wondering, but it has been over a decade since I read it) in order to supplement the lack of characterisation, particularly in relation to Atticus. On the flip side, it did make me think a lot and it felt unfortunately relevant to a lot of conversations that are happening today, so it wasn’t that I didn’t get anything out of it but it certainly doesn’t have enough merit for me to recommend it.

In terms of 2017 and reading I don’t have many goals. I am going to set my goodreads challenge to twelve again because I like feeling like an overachiever and setting the bar low is a good way to do that (I hit 183% of my goal this year). I also want to tackle Tolstoy’s War and Peace as my Dad bought me the world’s heaviest copy and I am looking forward to reading that, probably in the late autumn or winter time.

I hope that 2016 has treated most of you well, at least on a personal level, and that 2017 will be better on all fronts.