The first month of 2020 may have passed in a weird haze, but I did pick up some great books along the way. I read 9 in all, making a solid start towards my annual goal of 100. Here are some brief thoughts on each of them, with links to full reviews in case you’d like to know more.
- The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This collection was a mixed bag, the poems oscillating between the clumsily blatant and the impenetrably obscure. When Duffy strikes the sweet spot between the two, there’s no denying her ability to pack a punch. The highlights here were the poems that explored the loss of her mother.
- The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Full review to come for BookBrowse next month!
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is a heartfelt, moving, and refreshingly vibrant distillation of contemporary womanhood at the intersection of culture, race, class, sexuality, and identity. Evaristo gives voice to those who are routinely told they are, indeed, ‘Other’, celebrating the diversity of contemporary British society, and the resilience it takes to face the daily prejudices of ingrained racism. The structure and character trajectory become a little repetitive, but there’s so much warmth and wisdom to be imparted.
- Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A very interesting look at the ingrained social prejudices that cause communities to close ranks during times of conflict. There was much to admire here, but I was left feeling lukewarm due to mis-marketing pushing a needless thriller-esque framing, and the use of a few too many perspectives, which left several tangential threads unresolved.
- Mythologica by Steve Kershaw & Victoria Topping
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This encyclopaedia serves as a condensed, handy reference point on key figures and events from Ancient Greek mythology. The highlight is undoubtedly Topping’s stunning artwork, with each of the 50 figures covered receiving a full-page portrait that cleverly draws on iconography from their respective stories.
- Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Highly metaphorical and elusive in approach, this startlingly singular novel about a woman born of the earth with remarkable healing powers can be interpreted in a number of ways. To me it speaks about the cost of intimacy, wilful blindness and the folly of trying to change those we love, the vilification of female bodies and power, and a desire for women to shape their own futures. Rainsford’s prose is visceral and earthy, creating a compellingly dark, ethereal tone that kept me gripped throughout.
- Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This journal-esque memoir translated from the Italian chronicles Cognetti’s voyage in the Himalayas, as he seeks to escape the rush of everyday life, and explore the remote landscapes and cultures under increasing threat of erasure from outside forces. It has a gentle quality, evoking a reverence for the natural world, and though I enjoyed my time with it, I felt it lacked a little bit of punch.
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] In stunning prose, Vuong explores a complex web of themes, including cultural identity, sexuality, the inheritance of shame, the lingering effects of war throughout immigrant families, toxic masculinity, drug addiction, and the healing power of love and acceptance when society has repeatedly deemed you ‘other’. It’s a lot to tackle in one book, but Vuong pulls it off with a rawness and a poignancy that is to be greatly admired.
- Tear Tracks by Malka Ann Older
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A quieter, more contemplative take on a first contact sci-fi narrative, Older asks us to consider why we suffer in silence, and what truly constitutes power. It’s short and highly readable, but lacks a proper denouement, and feels a little heavy-handed at times.
There we have it! This was a pretty solid start to my reading year. My favourite pick of the month was Follow Me To Ground, but I was also thrilled to discover Victoria Topping’s artwork via Mythologica. What was your favourite read in January?