Books · Reviews

Things I’ve Read Lately

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As you may have noticed, I’ve been in a bit of reading slump and for the first time ever I’m significantly behind my reading goal, which is causing me a fair bit of stress. However, I thought I’d share with you the books I have managed to finish, and I’m hoping I get back on track again soon.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000, Fourth Estate)

This was a novel that I’ve heard so much about, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story of cousins Sam Clay and Josef Kavalier who team up to write comics against the backdrop of WW2. Josef is a refugee from Prague to the US, which wasn’t a perspective I’d ever read about, and his desperation to help his family is truly heartbreaking. The novel spans decades and its characters are all incredibly well-developed. It did take me a while to get through, as I wasn’t always compelled to read it, but it’s beautifully written and fans of historical fiction will definitely love it.

Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest (2011, Bloomsbury)

Forrest is a columnist for Elle UK whose writing I always enjoy, so I was keen to read her memoir. Your Voice in My Head is the story of Emma’s life when she was 22 and living in New York, when she realised that she was suffering from mental illness. It charts her journey to getting help; against the backdrop of the breakdown of relationships and the loss of her therapist. It’s a very frank memoir, and anything that breaks down the stereotypes surrounding mental illness is good in my book. I did find that some parts dragged a little, and her constant reference to her boyfriend as her ‘Gypsy Husband’ made me feel a little uncomfortable.

The London Scene by Virginia Woolf (2013, Daunt Books)

I was given this lovely little book by my parents for my 21st and felt like reading it after my move to London was pretty perfect. The London Scene is a selection of essays by Woolf on certain places and people found in the city. She loved London and it really comes through within the pages of this book; and it’s fascinating to see how (in some cases) little things have changed in the years since Woolf was living here.

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The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (2014, Jonathan Cape)

The Almost Nearly Perfect People is an exploration of the Scandinavian countries, unpacking our perceptions of them as being utopias. Booth himself lives in Denmark and so is first-handidly familiar with certain aspects of the Scandinavian character; but this novel throws a really interesting light on the differences between the countries and their accompanying rivalries. The exploration of issues such as integration, especially in the aftermath of the terror attack by Anders Breivik, is well-done. Booth also pops in more eccentric facts too; such as the high number of people who believe that elves exist or areas where bestiality is actually fairly common. The only thing that put me off this slightly, is that Booth can be pretty shallow in the way he speaks about women which, when you’re covering an area that is known for its gender equality, is maybe something to consider.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (2015, Tinder Press)

This is probably my favourite book that I’ve read over the past few months. It’s about Harry Cane, who at the beginning of the novel is in some kind of water treatment facility in the Edwardian era. He is then moved to some kind of mental health treatment village, where he tells his story from in flashback. We discover that he was a fairly-wealthy young man who was married, but who is exiled from society when he is outed as gay and faces blackmail. He joins the early settlements in Canada, and the rest of the novel charts his attempt to make a life so far away from home. It’s beautifully written, the evocations of place and the characters that are encountered are all excellently drawn. It also contains literally all of the feelings; being moving and heartbreaking and funny all at once. I’ll definitely be reading more of Patrick Gale soon.

Bluestockings by Jane Robinson (2009, Penguin)

Bluestockings is a non-fiction exploration of the first women who attended university in the UK. Based on research from first-hand diaries and university records, Robinson puts together a story of how women went from not even being allowed to set foot on university campuses to being awarded degrees. If you’re new feminist scholarship this is a pretty interesting place to start; as it covers a lot of the criticisms women faced generally in trying to take part in public life. The only downside was that Robinson focuses pretty heavily on Oxford and Cambridge Universities, despite the fact that they were amongst the last to grant women the ability to graduate; it would have been nice to hear a little more about the less ‘famous’ universities, that had their act together a bit more.

So that’s it so far. I’m hoping to make some headway with other books soon!

Amy
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