Tuesday, 6 July 2021

My Year Of Reading 2021 - April to June

So in my last post (which was a whole three months ago - I'm a terrible blogger) I talked about how ice challenged myself to read only books by authors from non-white backgrounds this year, in an effort to widen my understanding and perspective. Here's an update on the books I've been reading since then. It's been a tricky few months so my motivation for reading has been low, but I've kept trying.

'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' by Sara Collins

I mentioned last time that I was almost finished with this book but not quite. I also mentioned it was a slow burner, which is part of the reason I hadn't finished it sooner. Parts of the novel were really interesting and gripping, other times I would put it down and not really feel motivated to pick it up again for a few days. It was very cleverly written though, and gave me some insight into the treatment of slaves in the Caribbean and of black people in Britain in the nineteenth century. It was maybe just too dark for my tastes, as it tells the story of a black servant (formerly a slave and the lines are very blurred) who is on trial for the murder of the couple she worked for in London.

'This Lovely City' by Louise Hare

I really loved this one. Set in London in the postwar era, it is primarily a love story between Jamaican immigrant Lawrie and mixed-race Londoner Evie. It is darker than I'd expected though, as much of the plot revolves around an apparent child murder (slight spoiler there but it happens early on so I'm surprised there is no mention of it in the blurb, especially given the sensitive subject matter). It is very gently handled though, and isn't dwelt on to a distressing degree. There are lots of twists in the story and I really engaged with the two main characters, it's definitely a book I would reread.

'We, The Survivors' by Tash Aw

I spotted this in our local little free library and thought it sounded interesting so picked it up. Unfortunately after two books that could be quite bleak at times, a story about a murderer from a Malaysian fishing village is possibly not what I needed. That said, it did give me an insight into a society and culture I knew very little about, and addressed issues around the treatment and exploitation of immigrant workers very well. The murder isn't dwelt on hugely, but the thing I struggled most with was how slowly and ponderously the story was told. There were also some points in the plot which were left unresolved which confused me a little. This book will definitely be someone's cup of tea, just not mine.

'Stronger' by Poorna Bell

This was won in a giveaway and I confess I thought it would be about mental strength. It's not. It's about physical strength, fitness, body image and everything related to that area. Mental health does come into it but only in relation to how exercise benefits it. It was definitely an interesting read, especially in its exploration of how race and colour affects attitudes to women in fitness, but I may write a longer blog post about it at some point as it gave me Many Thoughts which I don't have time to go into here. A good read for anyone interested in physical fitness in women and girls.

'Homegoing' by Yaa Gyasi

Another one that's not quite finished, this time because the last two books took me longer than I'd hoped. I'm looking forward to doing a proper write up of this one though because it's a good one!

This time around I've started to widen my reading to include a more diverse range of authors and genres, but once again I'd love to hear any recommendations you have!

Monday, 12 April 2021

My Year of Reading 2021 - January to March

Well, as I said in my last post, I'm struggling to think of things to write about for various reasons. But one thing I can write about is books - although I seem to end up writing mostly about children's books. So this year I thought I'd talk about my own reading, particularly as I'm doing something a bit different.

Last year I think a lot of people like me (white, left-leaning, probably a bit sheltered) started to really consider our own biases in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, it's embarrassing that it took this long to start having conversations about what anti-racism looks like, and how we all need to be aware of the effects of racism. And I'm still figuring out what changes I need to make in light of these conversations.

As you might have guessed, the main way I learn is through reading. I like to think my reading matter is already fairly diverse - I definitely don't focus solely on white authors - but I thought this would be a good opportunity to focus on more diverse voices, so I decided that in 2021 I would exclusively read books by authors of colour (sorry if that's the wrong term to use, please tell me if there's a better term). As I've mentioned before I'm a slow reader, so my goal is 20 books across the year. Here's what I've read in the first quarter ...

'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith 

I really wanted to like this novel. I'd heard lots about it, and knew it was highly acclaimed. But to be honest I really struggled. I just couldn't engage with many of the characters, and the broad scope of the novel made it hard to follow all the threads. Some storylines just felt superfluous, and I felt like the character I was most interested in - Clara - ended up sidelined. I could tell it was very skillfully written, but I didn't feel compelled to keep reading. I stuck with it to the end, which was just really strange, but was quite relieved to get it finished to be honest.

'Queenie' by Candice Carty-Williams

I got on better with this book - it's very, very readable, partly because of its use of instant messaging to break up the text and partly because the main plot is compelling, and the characters are likeable and I rooted for them. But my goodness this book needs a content warning of some kind. It's very explicit, with some scenes uncomfortably close to abuse.  It did make me more aware of how black women's bodies are fetishised, though. There was a bit of a nod to BLM but it felt a bit disjointed from the rest of the novel, although maybe I missed the point. Overall I did enjoy it, even if some parts had to be hastily skimmed over.

'Small Island' by Andrea Levy

I loved this novel. It took a while to get going, and some parts dragged more than others, but it's a wonderful story with fascinating and engaging characters. I learnt a lot about the experience of the first Windrush generation and the role of West Indian servicemen in World War II, as well as life in mid-century Jamaica. The twist at the end felt like it came completely out of the blue, although maybe I just missed the signs, and was summed up a bit hastily, but I could understand why the story went that way. This is a novel I can see myself rereading in future, which is rare for me.

'Rose, Interrupted' by Patrice Lawrence

This one is a bit different to the rest as it's a YA novel but I often enjoy the change of pace that MG/YA novels provide. This one is less about race than the other novels, but it has a lot to say about the challenge of finding an identity after escaping an oppressive environment, as it focuses on the lives of a brother and sister who have left a strict religious sect. I found it a really compelling read, and it taught me what fairy kei means! It's also a really good exploration of consent, boundaries, relationships and online abuse.

'The Confessions of Frannie Langton' by Sara Collins

I won't write much about this yet as I didn't finish it in March, but what I will say is that it's very much a slow burner ...

I'm aware that my reading list so far is dominated by black British authors. I am planning to read books by authors of other backgrounds, it just happens that these are the books I already had! If you have any recommendations I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Where From Here?

 A lot has changed in the last six months.

That may come as a surprise to some, as we live in the eternal Groundhog Day of the pandemic, with the same routines of socially distanced walks, checking daily stats and panicking mildly when that little shield pops up in the notifications bar. But for me, there has been a lot change.

I am now fully and officially a School Mum. Boy Child, a Preschooler no more, has started school - then stopped it again - then started it a little bit (more on that in a moment). And suddenly I'll never take a child to a play group again, which for me is a big deal. My social life had revolved around play groups for eight years, now even the one I volunteer at hasn't been able to meet for almost a year. When it does finally meet again I won't have a little helper/saboteur with me which is hard to get my head around. And Boy Child himself has transformed into someone who can read and write, which makes my heart swell with pride but does unfortunately mean he's definitely not a baby any more. Sigh.

Is have also hung up my SAHM hat as I have started working at a school part time. Hence Boy Child going back into school, as I am a critical worker the children can go to school when I'm working. Going back to employment after such a long time felt scary at first and all the changes that the latest lockdown has brought means that I still haven't found my new rhythm. It's been a big change and I still haven't worked out how to fit everything in.

Which brings me to this blog. I've been very quiet on here. Part of this is time - how anyone has been able to keep writing while juggling involuntary home schooling and/or work is beyond me. It's not just a time issue though, my head is so full I can't think of anything coherent to write. Hence this rambling blog post.

And then there's the issue of what to write about. As my children get older I'm very conscious of the risk of oversharing, and now I work in education I need to think about my own digital footprint. I'm still figuring this out as I do enjoy blogging but need to think carefully about how to do it in a safe and respectful way. Many of my posts over the last year or so have been book-related as that feels safe, but it's not the only thing this blog is meant to be about. I did consider rebranding, or even shutting down the blog entirely, but in a moment of technological incompetence I ended up renewing my domain name for two years, so I kind of feel like I need to make it worthwhile!!

So if I'm quiet for a while, it's because I'm still trying to work out where I take this blog. And I'm still trying to figure out where to take myself. And we're living in a bizarre disaster movie that is far more mundane than I expected but still not great for creativity. Any or all of those things.