January/February 2019 Reads
Hello, 2019! I hit the ground running with books, books books (and how’s my own book going? The novel I’m meant to be writing? Uh… let’s not talk about that). I hit the ground running with my reading this year, and have finished 48 books so far. Although, to be fair, this includes 7 Point Horror books I read for the teen horror podcast I co-host, Teenage Scream. So far this year I’ve mostly been reading fiction, though I did also read some brilliant translated graphic novels, some stunning poetry and a couple of great and unusual non-fiction books.
Here are the 15 best pieces of procrastination I’ve read so far this year:
What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, Sohaila Abdulali – Vital reading. It’s hard to say you ‘like’ a book like this, as it’s a brutal and difficult read. It’s a great mix of personal and anecdotal stories with larger issues of rape, particularly the difficulty in balancing the life-shattering seriousness of rape with the fact that people can (and do) go on to live rich and joyful lives after rape. This book is worthy of close reading and discussion, and should be assigned reading for older teenagers in schools.
The Dollmaker, Nina Allan – This one’s not out yet, so you’ll need to wait until April to read it, but it’s worth the wait. I knew it was going to be something special when I realised it was a hardback proof (publishers don’t often do this). This is a dreamy, strange, beautifully rambling book, and I read it all in one sitting.
The Other Woman, Sophia Blackwell – Just when I thought I couldn’t love Sophia Blackwell’s poetry more, she produces this absolute glory.
Waves, Ingrid Chabbert & Carole Maurel (illustrations) – An absolutely beautiful book. I highly recommend this for anyone suffering miscarriage or fertility problems. It doesn’t hold back from pain or provide easy answers, but it does show a way through. Even if you don’t connect with it on a personal level, the artwork is beautiful – the technique of dropping out the colour and then gradually bringing it back in again is simple and clever.
A Hurry of English, Mary Jean Chan – I bought this after I read at a British Library event with Mary Jean Chan to celebrate the 40th birthday of LGBT+ bookshop Gay’s the Word. Chan’s reading was incredible and I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. Apparently she has a full collection out this year, which I eagerly await.
Ill Will, Dan Chaon – I devoured this book over two nights, totally absorbed in its lush prose and bleak, gothic world. I couldn’t even tell you what it’s about, really, but it’s dark and challenging and layered, and I loved it.
The Collector, John Fowles – Second time I’ve read this, and it was even better on the re-read. Strangely enough, in my memory there was only Miranda’s narration; I’d forgotten Frederick entirely. And I suppose that’s why he’s such a sinister character: the embodiment of the banality of evil.
All the Little Children, Jo Furniss – I don’t usually like post-apocalyptic fiction. That whole thing about a bunch of survivors banding together, navigating a wasteland, running from zombies, probably some of them die, have to save a moppet, blah blah. No thanks. But this book got to me. Maybe it was the voice – it was funny, wry and literary. Maybe the main character, who I found believable and sympathetic (and a badass, not in an unrealistic Lara Croft/Wonder Woman way, but in the way of real women, who try their best but have emotions and make mistakes).
We Sold Our Souls, Grady Hendrix – This was much better than it has any right to be. Most of the time it’s a funny, silly, gory rollick through the underground heavy metal scene – but it also addresses serious themes and at the end is genuinely uplifting. It was exactly what I didn’t know I wanted to read. It’s told from the point of view of two women who work really damn hard, but never get anywhere because they’re surrounded by idiot men who ruin it all (I know some of you can relate). I loved Kris Pulaski from the very first scene, and almost didn’t care what happened in the rest of the book because I’d happily read about her doing pretty much anything. This book didn’t change my life or make me think deeply about anything, but I enjoyed it. A lot.
Mrs Caliban, Rachel Ingalls – If The Shape of Water was stranger, darker and beastlier.
A Sea of Love, Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (illustrator) – The most ridiculously cute graphic novel I’ve read in a long time (although ‘read’ might be the wrong word as it’s entirely wordless). I love an old person romance – like the start of Up, except no one dies. Actually there’s quite an Up vibe through this whole thing. I don’t want to say more in case it spoils the story, but it’s sweet and cute and made me laugh out loud more than once. If you’re having a bad day, this will sort you right out.
Captive Audience: On Love and Reality TV, Lucas Mann – I always feel differently about books when I read them on work trips. The trips are always to do readings or teach workshops, and they involve a brief bustle of public-facing activity surrounded by hours of solitude (on the train/plane, having dinner, in a hotel room) during which I read. At those times, the voices in books speak to me in familiar tones; I feel like I’ve spent time with the author, like they’ve accompanied me on the trip. Because of this, it’s difficult for me to assess this book objectively – is it actually a good book, or did I just love it? Or does my love of it make it a good book regardless? Anyway, I made 48 bookmarks in this, so I obviously did enjoy it.
Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata – A strange, yet strangely compelling character study. I read this in one sitting and I think that’s the best way to read it – immerse yourself in Keiko’s world and let the convenience store absorb you.
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, Daniel Mallory Ortberg – This book was the definition of writer envy for me. Every story is absolutely killer and I wish I’d written them all, particularly the Little Mermaid retelling. I read it in one go on the train from London to Glasgow, and what a beautiful and surreal journey that turned out to be. I’m excited for Ortberg’s next book.
Bonfire, Krysten Ritter – I’ll admit it, I expected this to be another lightweight celebrity novel, probably ghostwritten and only published because they’re famous. But this was a real surprise: absorbing, pitch-black and beautifully written. I’d be surprised if film rights haven’t already been sold – with Ritter in the lead role, I hope.
We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology, various – Bit of a cheat, maybe, as I have a story in here. But it’s a great and glorious collection, spanning the spectrum of LGBTQ+ experience.
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What are the best books you’ve read recently?