Some of what I’ve been reading this year in no particular order:
Tennis Lessons (Susannah Dickey – Doubleday): Equal parts funny and poignant, it chronicles a young misfit’s coming-of-age. The voice is razor sharp, as are the wry observations about navigating the often impossible social mores of young-adulthood.
Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin – Penguin): I got sent a free box of books by Penguin as part of a school reading project so I swiped this. Just started, but so far very impressed. The opening chapter has one of the best descriptions of a first sexual encounter (and ensuing guilt and confusion) that I’ve read. I didn’t know too much about James Baldwin before, but after looking him up it seems I’ve been missing out!
A Ghost In The Throat (Doireann Ní Ghríofa – Tramp Press): A real wonder of a book. Perhaps best classified as ‘auto-fiction’, it fuses memoirs on motherhood with an academic study charting the life of the forgotten poet, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonail. The prose is both striking in its invention and in its honesty. There are a number of themes explored that made this book a compulsive read – but the two that really stood out for me were the toll motherhood takes on the body and how easily women are brushed out of history.
Handiwork (Sara Baume – Tramp Press): I read slowly these days, in moments snatched between work and childcare and writing and everything else, but I read this in a day. It’s a lovely little meditation on the need to create – a need many might regard as superfluous. The book is replete with pictures of the titular handiwork (as well as some great descriptions of birds!) and is really part artefact in itself.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey – Penguin): I didn’t not like it …but I think my expectations were warped by the seminal importance of the film. It struck me very much as a book of its time, but perhaps hasn’t carried so well into 2020. The voice of The Chief was great in places but a little hit-and-miss. Nurse Ratched was an undoubted masterpiece villain though.
Dissolution (C.J Sansom – Viking): Historical fiction not usually my bag, but I did enjoy this. Thought it struck the right balance between building the world and keeping the narrative moving. The plot was engaging, the voice of Shardlake (as a man loyal to Cromwell but who is also becoming ever-more conflicted about the whole Reformation enterprise) is authentic, and I learned a lot about the dissolutions of the monasteries.
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain – Penguin): Re-read this after reading in my twenties. Still enjoyed it, but for different reasons this time – I found the descriptions of life on the Mississippi fascinating. Final section is a bit weaker – so still prefer Tom Sawyer I reckon!
Saffron Jack (Rishi Dastidar – Nine Arches): a narrative poem which gives and alternative response to Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. A skilful and enjoyable rebuttal to Kipling’s more jingoistic nonsense.
Some Kids I Taught And What They Taught Me (Kate Clanchy – Picador): A really good non-fiction account of a writer’s time teaching poetry in a range of comprehensive schools in the U.K. A must read for anyone interested in the current state of education in the U.K.
Death In The Andes (Mario Vargos Llosa – Faber): A detective is sent from Piura to the Andes to investigate some missing workers working on a mountain road. Part whodunnit, part meditation on the cultural divides which underpin modern Peru. Moments of brilliance, but the indigenous Andeans were overly atavised for my liking.