Actually managed to get quite a bit of (good and varied) reading done this month.
This was a good short read. It’s a bit overwritten and clunky in places, but an interesting look at a man trying to survive the winter living in a van on a Texas beach, dealing with mental health problems and trying to connect with other people. Full review here.
I’m not really into superhero stuff (especially the all-American, clean-cut type), but this made me want to check out some dark superhero comics. It’s about the people behind the masks, and whether the kind of person who’d put on a costume and fight crime is the sort of person you’d want doing that. It’s also about whether doing something for a good reason, and for a good outcome, is ok if what you’re doing is pretty horrible and definitely not ok. It’s a classic for a reason, dark, and complex. Worth checking out even if, like me, you don’t think superheroes are for you. (I also wrote a post here about where to start with graphic novels).
This is very sweary, brilliant book. It follows Janie from birth to late teens, living in poverty in North Shields and Great Yarmouth with her mum and, later, her little sister Tiny. In some ways it reminded me of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, in that it follows a similar age span of a girl wanting to escape the life she finds herself in. But, aside from more straight-forward language, this book also has so much humour. There are dark things happening, and life is a bit grim, but there’s also a lightness that’s missing from AGIAHFT. Janie is surrounded by strong, though not always ‘right’, women, mostly feckless men, and a strong sense of herself and a library that offers her a different perspective on the world. I saw Kerry Hudson read this month and she’s basically my new author crush now. (She also started the WoMentoring Project).
This is about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s life in high school, told from Backderf’s perspective who was in his class. Backderf uses the word ‘friend’ very loosely – Dahmer didn’t really have any friends, and Backderf and his crowd used Dahmer for fun in a thoughtless teenager sort of way, but he was never part of their group. For me, the most interesting thing was that there was another guy in their class who had similar warning signs (such as cruelty to animals), and was actually Backderf’s first guess when he heard someone he went to school with turned out to be a killer – how someone gets from loner/slightly cruel teenager to serial killer is complex. Even though not a lot happens, and at times Backderf is a bit too simplistic in his own explanations, it’s an interesting read. The artwork didn’t totally grab me, but it suited the subject pretty well.
This is a short novella about the lives of the people on a single street, a spin-off of Smailes’ earlier novel In Search of Adam. What Smailes does really well in this, that so many other novels fail to do, is create different and distinct voices for each person behind the each of the doors. In places it’s funny, in others kind of horrifying; it’s about relationships, family, and the profound and the inconsequential that goes on behind closed doors. A short, quick read that’s worth your time. Full review here.
I read a tiny extract of Didion’s in Into Thin Air and I just loved her writing. Someone recommended this as a good place to start with her work, even though it’s non-fiction. It’s a book about Didion’s struggles with grief and coming to terms with the sudden death of husband while her daughter was in intensive care. The ‘magical thinking’ is about the difference between knowing something rationally, but not believing it emotionally, and trying to find your way between the two. For example, when sorting her husband’s things, she doesn’t throw his shoes away, as he’ll need them when he gets back (and knowing this with certainty). She does a lot of research on grief (which she includes) to try and work out if her reactions are ‘normal’. Some people describe Didion as ‘cool’ and ’emotionless’, perhaps because of this kind of thing, but it read to me like a person trying to figure out how to live in a new reality (and describing her as ‘cool’ as though there is a right way to act in grief kind of proves the some of the point she was making). Her writing is beautiful and I really enjoyed this (as much as you can ‘enjoy’ a book like this).
Probably the longest book I’ve ever read, and full of Murakami weirdness. It’s slow-moving in places but very enjoyable. Full review here.
State of the TBR: 56 books