Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Read in March 2016.

As the end of another month draws closer, it is time for a little look back on the books I have read over the last four weeks. My reading year is definitely looking up and I'm happy to say that my slow start doesn't seem to have set the tone for things to come. Variety is most certainly the spice of life, so I have a poetry collection, a handful of novels and some truly wonderful non fiction titles to talk about...

It Shouldn't Have Been Beautiful by Lia Purpura
You know, I think I've already lost count of how many times I've made my way through this truly beautiful collection of poems, but it's safe to say it's a lot. Like a lot, a lot. And they reveal more of themselves every single time, even though they're so spare. Purpura's words are like bare branches reaching towards a blue grey sky in the depths of winter; clear yet spindly lines, simple in their beauty and always bursting with more life than first appearances would suggest, hidden away on the inside. Truly beautiful.    

Quicksand by Steve Toltz
I read and reviewed Quicksand for a blog tour (link!) I was invited to be a part of so I won't talk about it too much here because I'll only be repeating myself. This was actually my very first blog tour and if I hadn't had to finish the book in order to be able to write a fair review, I might still have a couple of hundred pages left to read. I'm glad to have had the push, but I do certainly think it's one to read in small doses because otherwise it may be just a little too much. I have a copy of A Fraction of the Whole on my shelf that I'm planning on starting very soon because I know how loved it is and I'm very curious.

In short, Quicksand is a look at hapless Aldo's misadventures in life through the eyes of his best friend Liam, a struggling writer who has begun to use Aldo as his muse for his next book. It's sad-funny and very heavy on wit, but I think it's one that may be for a fairly specific type of reader, and that's why I'm now particularly curious about how it differs (or of course in fact doesn't differ) from his first novel.  

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
This isn't released until June and it's frustrating because I want to shout from the rooftops about how wonderful it is and implore everyone to buy a copy and read it immediately, but I'll have to bottle it up and save it for nearer the time. But come June, shout from the rooftops I will.

With his mother in the midst of a breakdown, eight year old Leon cares for his baby brother Jake, whom he absolutely adores. When they run out of food, nappies and money and his mother's friend finally sees what has been happening Leon and Jake are put into care. It's not long before there is a family wanting to adopt Jake but not Leon, because Jake is white and Leon is not. This is a story of love, unbearable loss, and how finding home can come when least expected. Also Maureen is my new hero, there's no other word for it.

Like a Mule bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
This brief and quiet, book is an absolute joy. Dr Morayo Da Silva is a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman living in San Francisco. At almost seventy five she is in good health and enjoying trips out in her vintage car and talking to anyone she can strike up a conversation with. She also organises her books according to which characters she believes should be talking to each other, which is genius. When she has a fall however her independence is lost and she must rely on friends for support.

As she is recovering Morayo recounts her story, both past and present, touching on ageing, loss and the relationships we strike up with the people we encounter in daily life. Understated and quietly meandering, we learn a little about Dawud, a charming Palestinian shopkeeper, Sage, a feisty, homeless Grateful Dead devotee, and Antonio, the poet whom Morayo desired more than her ambassador husband. I was left wanting to know more. More about what made them who they are, more about where they want to go and if they're doing okay, thus really it was the perfect length. It allows my own mind to wander and imagine their futures, because like my own, it's unknown. And I wouldn't have it any other way.  

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
Born on a Tuesday is the story of a young boy who is growing up outside of a family unit in northwestern Nigeria, having to navigate a path of violence and deep tragedy from cultural, political and religious conflict. He makes his way to a mosque that provides him with food, shelter and guidance, where his good nature and intelligence is appreciated. When further bloodshed begins in the city around him, his loyalties are tested and he must consider what kind of Muslim, and what kind of man he wants to be. Exploring how people use religion to further their own particular radical agendas and seduce young men into lives of violence and extremism, this is a deeply affecting debut with a brave protagonist reminding us all that terrorism has no place in Islam, and to never lose all hope in humanity.

M Train by Patti Smith
Patti Smith's words, even when she isn't talking about anything more than sitting in a London hotel room watching back to back British crime dramas, just do something to me. They absorb into my blood stream and implore me to reach for a notebook and a camera, and capture something. Capture anything. A moment, a view, a person, a feeling. And hold on to it like I've never held on to anything before. M Train is a little, intoxicating peek into Smith's fascinating mind and dynamic soul, revealing just enough to exude feelings of joy and intense sadness, but at no point does she bare all and appear egotistical. Smith now feels familiar to me and it was as though I were catching up with an old friend I haven't seen for many years, over coffee, of course.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing  
The Lonely City is a meditation on loneliness, looking especially at how it really feels to feel isolated in a big city that is bustling with every kind of person imaginable. It's about how we can use art as a way to express our feelings of loneliness, and to also remind ourselves that we aren't ever entirely alone in feeling the way we do. From the opening few pages I knew I loved this book. Laing has both a powerful and delicate touch with language, capturing feelings so intricately I could feel them as I was reading. I think there's true beauty in how hearing tales of loneliness can, in turn, make us feel that we aren't alone at all. Truly magical and one I will revisit again and again. 

What have you read this month?
Share your favourite read in the comments section below - I'd love to know! 



Monday, 28 March 2016

Please stay forever, I say to the things I know.

'We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother's voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don't go. Don't grow.'

- Patti Smith, M Train, p. 209. 

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist

£30,000 prize • Winner announced May 14th

The annual International Dylan Thomas Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for young writers, aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide and celebrating and nurturing international literary excellence. The Prize seeks to ensure that readers today will have the chance to savour the vitality and sparkle of a new generation of young writers.

The mix of poetry, short stories and novels on the shortlist is incredibly interesting. Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Pond have been on my radar for a little while, and this is all the reminder I need to track down a copy of each. Physical and Disinformation sound intense and stunning, so they're certainly on my to-read list now.

There is a copy of The Year of the Runaways still sitting on my shelf from last year after I bought a bundle of the shortlisted Man Booker titles from The Book People. I had already read A Little Life and Satin Island but I made the mistake of reading the winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings - which is superbly written but was ultimately a bit of a slog for me to get through - before the rest, and I haven't regained the desire to revisit them quite yet. I have a bit of a love/hate thing with the Booker but I will pick up Runaways very soon.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
'Feverish and forthright, Pond is an absorbing chronicle of the pitfalls and pleasures of a solitudinous life told by an unnamed woman living on the cusp of a coastal town. Broken bowls, belligerent cows, swanky aubergines, trembling moonrises and horrifying sunsets, the physical world depicted in these stories is unsettling yet intimately familiar and soon takes on a life of its own. Captivated by the stellar charms of seclusion but restless with desire, the woman’s relationship with her surroundings becomes boundless and increasingly bewildering. Claire-Louise Bennett’s startlingly original first collection slips effortlessly between worlds and is by turns darkly funny and deeply moving.'

The Tusk that did the Damage by Tania James
'A tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger.  

Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labour and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.'

Disinformation by Frances Leviston
'We often credit poetry as a kind of truth-telling, but it can also be an agent and a vessel of disinformation: in the course of making its proofs and confessions, it also seeks to persuade and seduce by any means it can. Leviston uses both sides of poetry's tongue to address one of the key questions of the age: how have we come to know what we think we know? In the title poem, a woman preparing for a child's birthday party suddenly glimpses the invisible screen of false data behind which she lives - and her own complicity in its power. Many of the poems are concerned with ruined or abandoned structures, dismembered and disappearing bodies, constructed and deconstructed identities; behind them lie the false gods who manipulate the streams of information with which we must navigate the contemporary world. Disinformation challenges us to rescue our idea of identity from that mass of glib truth and persistent falsehood - and proposes how we might begin to think of poetry itself as a means to that end.'

Physical by Andrew McMillan
'Raw and urgent, these poems are hymns to the male body – to male friendship and male love – muscular, sometimes shocking, but always deeply moving. We are witness here to an almost religious celebration of the flesh: a flesh vital with the vulnerability of love and loss, to desire and its departure. In an extraordinary blend of McMillan’s own colloquial Yorkshire rhythms with a sinewy, Metaphysical music the poems in this first collection confront what it is to be a man and interrogate the very idea of masculinity. This is poetry where every instance of human connection, from the casual encounter to the intimate relationship, becomes redeemable and revelatory.'

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
'In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow - antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

The Year of the Runaways by Sanjeev Sahota
'The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. 

Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar. Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the chaotic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call. Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, this generous, unforgettable novel is a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.'

Have you read any of these titles?



Thursday, 24 March 2016

Reading This Long Weekend

With rain forecast (surprise, surprise!) I think I'll be spending the long weekend tucked up on the sofa with a book. Maybe even with a blanket and a few biscuits too. It's all excitement at Book Journal HQ, I'm telling you. As for what I'll be reading, well, I've been slowly making my way through M Train by Patti Smith for a little while and I'm now, reluctantly, beginning to near the end. Even when she's simply recounting days spent in hotel rooms watching back to back British crime dramas (remember Cracker, anyone?!) her words just do something to me. They're like a lingering hug from someone who really means something to you. A true wordsmith.

I'll also, undoubtedly, be dipping in and out of The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. This is another title I'm trying to make my way through slowly, inhaling and mulling over every word, every sentiment. An incredibly nuanced part-memoir-part-intense-art-study, this is one of those books that has enveloped me so completely and it's one I already know I'm going to revisit again and again.

What are you going to be reading this weekend?



Tuesday, 22 March 2016

New To The Shelf.

Oh that new book joy, there simply aren't any words to adequately describe it - especially when you find yourself so incredibly excited about every single one. I don't tend to do many 'haul' posts, but I couldn't wait to talk about these books and I've already read a couple of them, so here we go...

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Penguin very kindly sent me a proof copy of this quietly touching novel about a Leon, a nine year old boy, growing up in the early 1980s. When Leon's Mother finds herself unable to cope Leon and Jake, despite Leon's very best efforts, are taken into care. Soon Jake is adopted but Leon isn't. Because Jake is white and Leon is not. A story of love, fierce bonds between siblings, trying to comprehend unbearable loss and how we can find family when we least expect it. Leon and Maureen are my new heroes. This is published in early June and I think it's wonderful.   

Cassava Republic Press are dedicated to building a new body of African writing that links writers across different times and spaces and they believe that contemporary African prose should be rooted in African experience in all its diversity. I, shamefully, do not read as diversely as I should and so these three titles, all published on April 1st, are going to introduce me to new voices and stories I simply need to hear.  

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John 
'In northwestern Nigeria, Dantala lives among a gang of street boys and during an election, the boys are paid by the Small Party to cause trouble. When their attempt to burn down the opposition’s local headquarters ends in disaster, Dantala must run for his life, leaving his best friend behind. He makes his way to a mosque that provides him with food, shelter, and guidance. With his quick aptitude and modest nature, Dantala becomes a favored apprentice to the mosque’s sheikh. Before long, he is faced with a terrible conflict of loyalties, as one of the sheikh’s closest advisors begins to raise his own radical movement. When bloodshed erupts in the city around him, Dantala must decide what kind of Muslim—and what kind of man—he wants to be. Told in Dantala’s na├»ve, searching voice, this astonishing debut explores the ways in which young men are seduced by religious fundamentalism and violence.'
I'm only a few pages in and it's already clear that this is going to be a terribly sad story. Even the dedication is moving 'For the boys who will never be known, and the girls who become numbers - stars without a name'. I think this might be a very brave and important novel.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika 
Picking this up almost as soon as I opened the parcel, I found myself immediately drawn into Morayo's world and I found myself unable to put it down. At almost seventy five, she has retained her zest for life, adores the freedom her vintage car gives her and arranges her books by which characters she believes should be talking to each other. This is a subtle story, quietly meandering as we discover a little about the people, past and present, who have touched Morayo's life, uncovering feelings of deep friendship, loss and ageing.

Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle  
'A compelling crime novel set in contemporary Lagos. Guy Collins, a British hack stumbles by chance into the murky underworld of the city. A woman's body is discarded by the side of a club and Collins is picked up by the police as a potential suspect. After experiencing the unpleasant realities of a Nigerian police cell, he is rescued by Amaka, a Pam Grier-esque Blaxploitation heroine with a saintly streak. As Collins discovers more of the darker aspects of what makes Lagos tick - including the clandestine trade in organs - he also falls slowly for Amaka. Little do they realise how the body parts business is wrapped up in the power and politics of the city.'
I always find myself thinking that I don't read enough crime novels but I never seem to do anything about fixing it, so this is perfect. I also have a feeling my mum might be pinching this one from me very soon, she does love a good crime novel and knows far more about the genre than I do, so I'll be looking forward to hearing what she thinks too. 

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing 
I've already mentioned this title a few times in previous posts, it featured in my Published This Month: March 2016 roundup and has been a book that has seemingly been following me around - I keep seeing it everywhere and I cannot wait to dive in.

Have you added any new books to your shelf recently?



Sunday, 20 March 2016

On My Shelf #2

There's a new bunny in the house, a bunny who can reach places you would think are safe, and as a result my shelves aren't really shelves at all. Instead there are piles of books on all surfaces well out of the way of tiny, incredibly effective bunny teeth. I'm not overly precious about my books, but she seems to have a taste for paper and, well, I'd prefer her to eat her own food.

My shelves have never been organised in a particular way (sorry - I can hear the shocked gasps from here!) and so which ever numbers came up, it was always going to be a bit of a mixed bag. I asked some friends for two numbers, one to indicate a shelf and the second to indicate a book on that shelf and these are the corresponding books...

The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger [Shelf One, Book Six]
'Tom Berry has always been a loner, a man content to live out his days in the wilderness with just enough ammunition and kerosene to last out the winter. A single father, he has raised his children with the same quiet and absolute dedication he brings to his forestry business, but now he's discovering that might not have been enough.

When his son, Curtis, on the brink of adulthood, disappears after a tragic accident, it falls to Tom, the hunter, to track him down. Whether he can truly reach Curtis is another matter.'

It's been just over a year since I read this and although the details have faded from my mind, I still perfectly recall how beautifully Leipciger captured and described the beautiful Canadian landscape. It was almost as though the location was a fully fledged character all of its own. Although there is a 'tragic accident' this isn't a crime novel, instead it's an exploration of a fractured family. 

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley [Shelf Five, Book Five]
'If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney - that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is. I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn't stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget...

When I see books being described as 'a triumph' I'm never quite sure what that means. It really could mean anything or nothing but triumph seems to fit how I feel about The Loney perfectly. When it was described to me as a Gothic novel I have to admit I was a bit skeptical, hoping that there weren't going to be a lot of typical motifs thrown in there. There are. So much so that the novel is almost fueled by them. And yet it works perfectly. Best enjoyed on a wet & windy Sunday afternoon, but utterly brilliant any time. It deserves all the praise it has been receiving, and I don't say that lightly. 

The Boat by Nam Le [Shelf Three, Book Nine]
'A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.

Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, The Boat is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.' 

It's no secret that I adore short story collections, and it very quickly became apparent to me that they are very difficult to get right. There are a few stunning stories in this collection, and I mean stunning. The first story in particular stands out. The rest were okay, but lacked the spark and the heart that would have made them brilliant. For me the moments of brilliance far outweighed any disappointment and it's definitely almost time for a reread.

Junky by William S. Burroughs [Shelf Nine, Book Fourteen]
'Burroughs' first novel, a largely autobiographical account of the constant cycle of drug dependency, cures and relapses, remains the most unflinching, unsentimental account of addiction ever written. Through junk neighbourhoods in New York, New Orleans and Mexico City, through time spent kicking, time spent dealing and time rolling drunks for money, through junk sickness and a sanatorium, Junky is a field report (by a writer trained in anthropology at Harvard) from the American post-war drug underground. A cult classic, it has influenced generations of writers with its raw, sparse and unapologetic tone.'

Widely acknowledged as Burroughs' most accessible novel and the only one I've read so far, Junky certainly does not hold back in any way. The straightforward prose really emphasises some of the imagery that still rattles around the back of my mind and pops out every time I think of Beat literature. 

Happiness is a Chemical in the Brain by Lucia Perillo [Shelf Eight, Book Twenty Seven]
'Populating a small town in the Pacific Northwest, the characters in Lucia Perillo’s story collection all resist giving the world what it expects of them and are surprised when the world comes roaring back. Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain is a sharp-edged, witty testament to the ambivalence of emotions, the way they pull in directions that often cancel one another out or twist their subjects into knots. In lyrical prose, Perillo draws on her training as a naturalist and a poet to map the terrain of the comic and the tragic, asking how we draw the boundaries between these two zones. What’s funny, what’s heartbreaking, and who gets to decide?'

This is another example of a short story collection with a few moments of absolute brilliance nestled between stories that are good. And good isn't bad. There's nothing wrong with good. It's a cohesive and well written collection, giving the reader a small insight into the characters without ever giving away too much. It's better than I'm making it sound, I promise!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes [Shelf Twelve, Book Thirteen]
'The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…

1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times. Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies. But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’ survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again…

I read this towards the end of last year and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. I think it's because it had so much potential that, for me, it didn't quite reach. I was hoping for something darker, something that would really surprise me, but that isn't what this novel is. It's probably my own fault for thinking it would be something it's not and then feeling underwhelmed. There's a bit of everything packed into it, and I think it lacked the detail it needed in order to be a fully rounded piece. And the romance was naff. 

Have you read any of these before? 
And here are some numbers if you'd like to write an 'on my shelf' post: 1+7, 3+10, 5+1.