I have had a great reading year so far, some of my favourite books are listed below.
THE SHAPELESS UNEASE
Have you ever read a book and the writing speaks to something within you, on a different level to just reading a book and engaging with the characters in the story?
I read Samantha Harvey’s books (all of them) and it ignites something within me that – despite enjoying most books I read – rarely happens in other books. Her books inspire me to be a better writer, to be a better reader, to think about my contribution to this world. Her books are life-changing for me.
This book (The Shapeless Unease) – while being non-fiction – draws together the things I love about Harvey’s writing the most. It has intellectual depth, asks insightful and pertinent questions about living now, about losing something which is vital to living (sleep); asks what does it mean to ‘live’ whilst battling with her body to try and get sleep back. It also highlights the prisons of our own minds when there is no ability to refresh, to shut down, what do we say to ourselves over and over. In many ways this book is terrifying. It has so much emotional honesty and the scenes that highlight a powerlessness that she experiences when asking for help are some of the most vibrant, real and relatable that I have read.
Her writing is perfect. It has a precision that very few writers possess. Every sentence feels slaved over, loved, and perfectly articulates the despair of living without sleep.
This is a slight book – less than 200 pages, it is on audible and Harvey reads it herself. You do not have had to suffer sleep-deprivation to read this book and take so much away from reading it.
This really is a fast paced book that I could not put down. A group of women gather while the men are away to discuss their future.
It talks to rape culture, about powerlessness, about decisions women make that impact their families, communities and society as a whole. They have 3 choices and they deliberate over this in some of the most tense, intense and beautiful ways.
Women talking is an observation of what it is to be a woman. It is narrated by a man, August, who is invited to take minutes, this in itself is hugely impactful. For them, this is a way of capturing the seriousness of what has happened to them within their community and also trying to translate their suffering in a way that others may understand. The women have been silenced, and this is them talking.
A book in which it is better to read without knowing too much about it. It draws you in from the first page and doesn’t let go. It’s one I really want to read again.
MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON
Elizabeth Strout gives every sentence such loving detail, truly – I don’t write like this, I wish I could.
We meet Lucy in a hospital bed where her Mum visits her, the story starts slowly here, in all the not-said between mother and daughter and then builds and builds until the whole is an exploration of trauma, what living through trauma looks like and how it affects every aspect of a life.
I don’t want to give too much away here, but it is a short novel that packs a stunning and thought-provoking punch. I loved this (& would highly recommend the Laura Linney audio performance too).
Oh my God, what a book.
Read this book; just read it.
Vyry is the most incredible, joyful, strong woman – the book follows her through slavery, love, disaster and faith (in oneself and in humanity).
I LOVED this book SO SO much. I cannot write a good summary of this because there is so much to this book, stunningly lyrical, beautifully paced, and set within a horrific truth that is as pertinent today as it was at the time.
You will not regret the time spent with this book. It will reward me for the rest of my life.
VERTIGO & GHOST
This is a poetry in two parts, both work separately and seamlessly together. This is a collection that explores myth and motherhood, violence and love and the violence of love.
I found it profoundly moving in parts and exceptionally clever. I love the use of movement in poetry and this has it in spades.
SOMETHING BRIGHT THEN HOLES
I am such a Maggie Nelson Fan-Girl. I find so much to unpick in her books – all of them.
I love the way this collection holds a narrative of recovery. What happens in the ‘after’ once something is over: a trial, a relationship and caring for a friend after a life-changing accident.
Everything about this collection reaches to the stillness of ‘after’, the reflection and the hope of a recovery without any promise that may occur. There was something deeply moving, expertly crafted and I found there were many depths in this collection (which feels more like a novel in verse than a poetry collection – it has the Maggie Nelson stamp of being very difficult to define).
It has resounded within me long after I completed it.
Talking to your child about something that you, yourself, find difficult to understand? Processing something with your child that is important to you, but through the discussion highlights the untold, unresolved things in you that are difficult to put words to?
This graphic novel explores parenting, race, colour, politics all within conversations – the best ones (in my opinion) are between mother and son.
It is painfully relevant, beautifully executed and highlights the many ways mothering is a constant state of processing, re-engaging, discussing and returning to the same discussions with your child, so that they do not feel alone in a world that appears to actively dislike them.
I loved this, it spoke to me in so many ways. It has everything a memoir should have, but the scenes between mother and child are outstanding.
GIRLS AND BOYS
When they met at an airport, it was love at first sight. But in time, everything collapsed. As an unnamed but unforgettable woman muses on her life—from meeting to marriage and parenthood—her recollections inexorably build to a devastating truth. In this shattering performance, Carey Mulligan, captivates audiences with playwright Dennis Kelly’s harrowing ruminations on family, ambition, gender, and violence. An acclaimed Off-Broadway play, the gut-wrenching world of Girls & Boys now thrives as an Audible Theatre production.
If you do not have audible I recommend the written play too. I cheated with the above synopsis, but I couldn’t find a way to capture this audio performance.
It stopped me in my tracks – literally – from half-way it was the most intense and extraordinary performance, I listened with my head in my hands, completely captivated and horrified. I urge EVERYONE to listen to this – 2 hours of your time well spent and raising an awareness of something that more people should know.
KNOW MY NAME
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on Buzzfeed, where it instantly went viral – viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now Chanel Miller reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words.
The power of words. The blurb covers it beautifully, this book is about speaking out and finding a way to be heard. How, when you have nothing else, you still have your words, your thoughts: you.
It is heartbreaking, deeply upsetting and yet holds a beauty in fighting back for your right to live life your way, to reclaim something taken without choice or consent.
Chanel Miller holds as much poise in herself as she does in her writing.
All women should read this book. There is much to learn from it and much to do to change the world in which our children inherit. This book deserves every accolade and I hope it reaches the women it needs to. It reached me and I am very grateful for it and Chanel Miller’s courage to write it.
LAST DAYS AT HOT SLIT
I loved how this collection of Andrea Dworkin’s work – which I haven’t read before – comes together fluidly and timelessly. Written through the 80’s and 90’s her work is still just as relevant today as it was in its time, even more so now. I asked myself over and over again – why has nothing changed?
Radical feminism, incredible experimental prose, strong, bold and important exploration into what it is like to live in a misogynistic society. I found so much comfort and wisdom in this book – I wish I had read it sooner.
What books have made your 2020 so far? Have you found a new author or a new genre? I’d love to know, so please feel free to comment in the box below.
I’ve used Amazon’s feature where you can preview the books above, but should you wish to, you can buy all these books on www.hive.co.uk or at your local independent bookshop.
What will the second half of 2020 bring? I dread to think – but here’s hoping to some more outstanding books.