I can’t believe we are at the beginning of August and already writing about what we read in July, it seems both a blink of an eye ago and another lifetime ago that the lockdown began and 2020 became Very Odd Indeed.
I have found myself particularly busy this month, and in an odd half-world between getting back to ‘normal’ and adhering to pandemic rules. I am still afflicted with the inability to settle to books as normal, but am gradually getting back into the habit of reading regularly again, though I think it will take some time to get back to my usual pace. I was hoping for some sunny afternoons in the cool green depths of the garden with a book, but July weather has been disappointing and unreliable.
What books have you been enjoying this month?
The Willoughby team have been reading a diverse range of titles, so if you’re stuck for inspiration read on.
Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem
Lara Maiklem has a particularly evocative way of writing, you feel as though you are travelling with her as she tells of the rain in the air and the dank smells rising from the sediment below her feet. The history of London’s people is told through the objects forgotten, dropped or disposed of in it’s river, and somehow it is the most mundane of these that give the sense of time slipping away- the pins, the pipe stems and the pottery shards with fingerprints of their long-dead creators immortalised.
I’ve found myself thinking about this book a lot, and spending a little more time looking carefully at the pebbles and sand beneath my feet any time I’m somewhere tidal.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
I have just finished Bernadine Evaristo’s Man Booker-winning novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ and I loved it! It centres itself on the stories of black and brown womxn and a non-binary character, and their complex, non-homogenous experiences as black and mixed-race people living in the UK.
The book takes as a jumping off point the opening night of playwright Amma’s new black feminist production ‘The Last Amazon of Dahomey’, showcasing at The National Theatre. We move from Amma to character after character with each chapter. Evaristo manages to thread multiple narrative strands together seamlessly and with the lightest of touches. The scope of its overarching themes of identity, race, class, gender, and sexuality are explored in truthful, powerful ways. Her observations are nuanced and each voice so profoundly unique, so that the characters are a delight to be acquainted with. If the themes sound too heavy a read though, you’d be mistaken. Humour underscores much of the prose, zipping it along with surprising ease. It feels at once both enormous and microcosmic in scale, sometimes slice-of-life in style, other times more profound and rooted.
Evaristo’s style is pacy and the dialogue is sharp as a knife. I’d recommend this to anyone who appreciates skilful and sensitive character development and the exploration of society and self in all their tricky, joyful, and vibrant idiosyncrasies.
Dear Child by Romy Hausman
Lena has just escaped after being imprisoned for four months. She thought her captor was dead but once Lena leaves hospital she starts receiving letters in the post that could only have come from him.
Also, why does everyone keep calling her Lena? That is not her name.
I found this concept original and satisfying. It was quite a dark read but the writing was atmospheric and immersive and it was told from various points of view, including the voice of a child. I thoroughly recommend if you’re looking for a new psychological thriller.
Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini
I’ve been reading Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini. I thoroughly enjoyed her enlightening debut, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. It was unlike anything I had read before and it’s really nice to have some hard scientific evidence up your sleeve when you’re arguing with a chauvinist! In both books, the science is discussed in a comprehensive, easily digestible way and Angela has such a compelling writing style that you never find yourself getting bogged down. I’d definitely recommend both books to anyone interested!
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This is not my usual type of book, but after a few weeks of ‘meh’ crime books I thought I would try something completely different.
It follows 9 year old Liesel, living with a foster family in 1939 Nazi Germany, and tells the story of her friends and neighbours on Himmel Street. I wasn’t sure I was going to get on with this book when I started…mostly as it is narrated by ‘death’. It seemed a bit strange to start with, and did take me a few chapters, but I ended up completely engrossed with it and even thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
After being sat on my TBR pile for over 10 years, I finally got around to reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. It took me pretty much the whole of July as I have been finding it hard to concentrate for long spells of reading and at over 500 pages, it was enough to keep me busy!
Spanning nearly 30 years, Smith weaves a vivid tapestry of complex family relationships, multi-generational immigrant experiences and emotional entanglements veering wildly from love to hate and back again. There were parts of the book that I found hard going, mainly because I wasn’t as interested in the characters (particularly the long sections dedicated to Iqbal and Archie), but there was enough depth and time spent with characters such as Irie, Magid and Millat to see me through these. For me this is a book that I would have loved to study as part of an English course. There are so many sub texts and themes to explore that I can imagine some great essays being written unpicking them!
I’m glad that I finally picked White Teeth up, it deserves its place among the Modern Classics.
The Great Passage by Shion Miura
This book is about characters who work in a fictional publishing house, more specifically the dictionary department. I really enjoyed this book, it was a nice easy read and the characters are very likeable. It was really interesting to read about the characters figuring out the ways one Japanese word could be translated and sometimes misunderstood in the wrong context. All the characters in this book love language and all of its complexities, which you can’t help but think about too.