What I read in July:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (novel)
I have no idea why this won the Costa overall book of the year in 2015 (a rare thing for a children’s book). The first half of the book is surprisingly slow-paced, and what’s described in the blurb on the back doesn’t happen until half-way through, when things actually get going and become a bit faster-paced and engaging. Whilst the idea of the lie tree itself is interesting, the main themes and images in the book are laboured and repetitive. This leaves no space in the text for you to think and consider ideas so it all just washes past you. I read this for a book club, and someone there said that the book would be better written in the first person (from Faith’s perspective) and if it had started half-way through. Completely agree.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (non-fiction)
I spent most of my month reading this and I’m really glad I did. It’s a history of cancer and cancer treatment, from the first known recorded instances of what we now call cancer, through to modern developments in individualised targeted gene therapy, and includes some of Mukherjee’s experiences with his own patients. It’s written for a non-medic to understand, but never talks down or ignores complex scientific ideas. In this way it’s a book that basically answers the question ‘what is cancer?’ with ‘it’s complicated’, but as thoroughly as possible (it’s a long book with tiny print, but there’s still a lot he had to leave out. He talks a bit about some of the missing topics in an interview in the back of my edition). It’s the kind of book you describe as ‘ambitious’ and reminded me a bit of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari in its attempt at scope. I did find it a little too dense at times, and some parts could have been edited down without losing what it was trying to convey. As it’s quite dense, I’d recommend reading it alongside other books but it’s definitely worth your time if you have even a passing interesting in how medicine progresses (occasionally haphazardly) or in cancer and cancer treatment.
I’ll Sell You a Dog by Juan Pablo Villalobos translated by Rosalind Harvey (novel – Spanish in translation)
I really like Villalobos’ writing style – deceptively simple that can be read purely at surface level as an engaging story but with a layer of social and political satire hidden underneath. It’s effortless. I’m not that familiar with Mexican history, so I’m certain I missed some things, but even so I got a lot from it. It’s funny and smart and deals with class, artistic snobbery, older age, and revolution. Down the Rabbit Hole is still my favourite of Villalobos’ novels, but this one is still worth your time.
Currently reading: August is Women in Translation month (you can follow the hashtag #WITMonth on twitter) so I’m going to mostly read books in translation by women next month. Female authors are translated far less than male authors (seriously, the percentage is about 30% female to 70% male), so the idea is to increase awareness of female authors in translation, find some new books to love, and share them so other people can find them too. Below is my rough TBR for the month (plus a couple of non-WITMonth reads for books clubs) which I’m very excited to get stuck into. I haven’t been reviewing on here lately, but I’m going to try and review most/all of them in full, so watch this space!