January reads 2017

midnights-childrenMidnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (novel)

Parts of this were great; others were a slog. Normally I like an unlikeable narrator/anti-hero, and a non-linear narrative, but Saleem was such an arrogant dick I couldn’t get on board with him. I think because it felt like Rushdie was using him at times to point out his own cleverness, in a way like, “did you see what I did there? And this parallel over here, did you see that? And here, look, another clever parallel I made between Saleem and India!”. It was incredibly annoying and I need a bit more room to breathe and think than that. There were a lot of interesting ideas and enjoyable sections, but it felt like wading through a lot of annoyance between them.

homegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (novel)

It does live up to the hype. I think I appreciated it more reading it after Midnight’s Children because it was a breeze to read in comparison, and felt less convoluted despite covering more characters and a longer timespan. The ending let it down as it felt like it was shoe-horned in to make a point and end things far too neatly, and didn’t fit with the characters. However, it’s a book that’s definitely worth your time as an interesting, readable, and important novel about how the trauma of slavery to individuals and communities transmits through the generations to the modern day. Full review here.

human-actsHuman Acts by Han Kang (novel, Korean in translation)

Translated by Deborah Smith. This book is stark and brutal, and is about the violence done to the body as a violence to the soul – as the violence of the Gwangju uprising and massacre afflicts the community’s soul. I love the control and simplicity of Han Kang’s writing and the way she uses multiple perspectives and tenses to circle around and show different views of not just the event itself but also its aftermath. I also really appreciated Deborah Smith’s translator’s note & introduction at the beginning. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Vegetarian, but it’s still excellent and I’m impatient for her other work to be translated. Full review here.

the-argonautsThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (non-fiction)

This is a book about the fluidity of the apparent juxtapositions within gender, identity, love, and parenthood, written in a fluid style that moves between memoir and academic analysis. Whilst I did want some of the threads to be developed further by Nelson herself, I enjoyed that it made me do the work and it’s more a collection of thoughts to consider. It’s not often I read a book where the overarching themes are clearer than the specifics, but I liked it. Full review here.

Zines (fiction & non-fiction)

Screenshot 2017-02-01 15.24.31.pngI went to a local zine fair and picked up a bunch of random stuff that varied in production and type of content to try out. A lot were ok, but not great. The best ones took a fully-formed idea and presented it simply but clearly, in a way that used the physical format of a zine, so thought about the medium as well as the message. Or were like the best short stories / flash fiction and were a coherent whole story that’s a fragment that also speaks to a larger/wider whole. A couple annoyed me because they had the potential to be something more. They were the ones about what it was like entering a particular situation as a more privileged outsider, like volunteering at the Calais refugee camp or going to prison for a week, that centred their own voices and experiences rather than the people/issues they were telling you about. Zines are often there to tell your own story, which of course is a valid thing, but I would be more interested in hearing the voices of those who are not normally heard, and the authors using their zines/platforms to elevate those voices rather than just show their own lens. It just felt like an opportunity missed.

Currently reading: The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies, and Blunders on Maps by Edward Brooke-Hitching (non-fiction)

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