Reading has always been my refuge - holding a book in my hands and turning the pages to new discoveries brings me untold joy. However, since the start of the pandemic I have buried myself in a mountain of books even larger than usual, and there hasn't been a day when I haven't had any reading material. In June alone I read 9 books, using my first month after graduation to get to those that had been sat on my waiting list while I finished my degree. In the absence of any profound thoughts this month, I thought I would use this space to list my ‘Top 10’ from this year.
The Overstory - Richard Powers: I read this way back in January but it was probably the reading highlight of my year. The book is about trees and our relationship with them, following magnificent characters as their love of trees eventually brings them together in a fight to protect them. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough. There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack - Paul Gilroy: a must-read for anyone wishing to understand more about racism in the UK. Although it was published in 1987, much of what Gilroy writes unfortunately remains extremely relevant. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The first book I read after I graduated and one I had been waiting to read did not disappoint. I read it in about 3 sittings and am waiting for an opportune time to read it again. The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah: A WWII book that focuses not on the men on the front lines, but on the women who stayed behind. If you’re feeling blue about being trapped in your home, this one will give you a bit of perspective. I devoured it in 2 days & tears were shed. The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett: I stayed up until 2am reading this book, having started it that evening - this one is a serious page-turner. A moving story of twins separated in young adulthood as one lives as a white-passing woman in California while the other lives as a black woman in the small southern town that they both grew up in. Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick - Zora Neale Hurston: A collection of Hurston’s short stories including eight “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. It goes without saying that Hurston’s writings are full of keen reflections on the racial, gender and class divides that blight American life, but a lot of these stories are also full of humour and sarcasm that had me laughing out loud. Girl, Woman, Other - Bernadine Evaristo: I had been meaning to read this for ages and finally got around to it in September. When I started I wasn’t sure if I would like the poetic layout as I usually prefer prose, but I actually loved it, and thought that the stories of each woman’s life that it details were marvellous. Swan Song - Kelleigh Greenberg-Jepchott: This book made me want to be a New York socialite in the 1970s. It took me a while to get to grips with each character’s story, but once I had looked everyone up once & put faces to names I was completely engrossed. Greenberg-Jephcott’s writing brings Truman Capote and his Swans to life & I now regularly google search images of them all. Out West: Travels Through the American West - Past and Present - Tim Slessor: Written by an adopted Grandpa of mine, this book is both a brilliant historical account of the journeys that have been made ‘out west’ and a fascinating insight into a BBC filmmaker’s travels to the US. Tim’s enthusiasm for this pretty amazing (albeit problematic) period of history is infectious. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott: I had forgotten the joy of re-reading a book, but I was gifted a beautiful copy of Little Women for Christmas and spent the days afterwards holed up in my room reading it. It was my favourite book as a child and though I find ‘Marmee’ and her lectures a bit irritating, it’s still well up there. (Also picturing Timothée Chalamet as Laurie as I read was wonderful).
I could go on, but now for my ‘up next’ list: Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath An American Marriage - Tayari Jones Real Life - Brandon Taylor The Shadow King - Maaza Mengiste Shuggie Bain - Douglas Stuart And for another re-read, Persuasion - Jane Austen, which I must revisit after a recent trip to Lyme Regis and a walk along The Cobb.
I remain open to any and all book suggestions! I hope 2021 is filled with great books & stories for you all, and I patiently await the true stirrings of “CovLit” (not quite the same ring to it as "BrexLit") that Ali Smith has once again preluded with the final novel in her seasonal quartet, Summer. Keep your eyes peeled.