Is it possible not to have a good year for books? Thankfully, I don’t think this has happened to me yet, so here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most in 2018.
I have read more non-fiction than ever this year, partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist in March and April which I hope to do again in 2019. To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell won the official prize and was also our shadow panel winner – it’s a fun, informative and pretty terrifying book about transhumanism. , Yet while transhumanists are trying to avoid death at all costs, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix explores the practical side of dying and what a “good” death can look like from her work as a palliative care consultant and this was a stand-out title for me this year. Another book I would happily press into the hands of everyone I meet is The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken which is an eye-opening account of the inner workings of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. And Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar is a book I am still thinking about regularly months after I finished it mostly because the stories of extreme do-gooders are actually more unsettling than uplifting in many cases. Continue reading
I’m back from a month-long blogging break after moving house this month. Thankfully, everything has gone smoothly and I managed to fit in some reading (albeit at a much slower pace than normal) with non-fiction being the order of the day in the run up to Christmas.
Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth won this year’s Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award earlier this month and documents Weymouth’s 2,000 mile journey by canoe along the Yukon river through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea in a highly original and ecologically aware travel memoir. The remotest areas of the world tend to be where the effects of climate change, globalisation and industrial fishing are felt most keenly and the far north-west of North America is no exception. Local communities relying on King salmon (also known as chinook) for their livelihoods now face huge uncertainty with rapidly dwindling numbers of fish now spawning there. Fishing quotas might not sound like the most fascinating topic but the lyrical descriptions of the landscape alongside tales of the people he meets along the way, help put the worrying statistics into context. I doubt I would have come across ‘Kings of the Yukon if it hadn’t been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award and I hope that the extra exposure from winning the prize will see Weymouth’s audience expand much further. Continue reading
I will be taking a short break from blogging in December while I sort out moving to my new flat but I have been to two great book events this month to take my mind off some of the stress. Rebecca at Bookish Beck has been on a roll winning free tickets on Twitter recently and after our trip to see Wise Children at the theatre last month, we went to see Barbara Kingsolver in conversation with Samira Ahmed at the Royal Festival Hall in London a couple of weeks ago where we also met up with Laura from our Wellcome Book Prize shadow panel. Continue reading
By coincidence, I have recently read two collections of short fiction by two of my favourite authors which bring together stories united around specific themes. ‘Property’ is Lionel Shriver’s first collection of short stories which all address the title’s literal definition in relation to real estate and also in a more figurative sense as ownership and possession. Ten shorter pieces many of which have previously been published in magazines are bookended by two novellas ‘The Standing Chandelier’ about the dynamics of Weston Babansky’s 20+ year friendship with Jillian Frisk and her unusual choice of wedding gift when he marries his girlfriend Paige and ‘The Subletter’ written in 1999 about an American journalist living in Belfast during the Troubles who has territorial struggles of her own. Continue reading
‘Little’ by Edward Carey is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who founded the famous waxwork museum in London that bears her name. Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761 and orphaned as a young child, she is employed by Swiss wax sculptor, Doctor Curtius, who makes anatomical models in his studio and names his young apprentice ‘Little’ on account of her small stature. When Curtius’ financial difficulties finally catch up with him, they move to Paris where they take rooms with widow Charlotte Picot who helps transform the business and set up popular exhibitions displaying wax replicas of the heads of noblemen and famous murderers. She banishes Marie to work in the kitchen out of jealousy but following a surprise visit by Princess Elisabeth, the youngest sister of King Louis XVI, Marie is invited to become her wax modelling tutor at the Palace of Versailles. However, with revolution on the horizon, nobody associated with the Royal Family is safe from the threat of the guillotine. Continue reading
The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced last month. While ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Washington Black’ by Esi Edugyan appeared to be the favourites to win among bloggers I follow, ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns triumphed in the end. I’m undecided about whether or not to read it. There has been a lot of focus on the experimental prose style and the question of its “readability” with its unnamed characters and paragraphs without breaks. However, when chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said “I spend my time reading articles in the Journal of Philosophy so by my standards this is not too hard”, I wasn’t sure he really succeeded in selling it to a wider audience. On the other hand, it should be noted that the actual sales figures since Burns’ win tell a different story and it will be interesting to see how it is critically received in the long term. Do let me know what you think of ‘Milkman’ if you have read it. Continue reading
I went to see ‘Wise Children’ at the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo last week after Rebecca of bookishbeck won a pair of tickets and very kindly offered her spare one to me. I also managed to track down a copy of the book from the library and read it this week. ‘Wise Children’ is Angela Carter’s final novel published in 1991 a year before her death and the stage adaptation is Emma Rice’s first project with her new theatre company (also called Wise Children) since leaving her role as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2016.
Dora and Nora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of one of the great Shakespearean actors, Sir Melchior Hazard, whose twin brother Peregrine is believed to be dead. As Dora and Nora celebrate their 75th birthday towards the end of the 20th century, Melchior is about to turn 100 (and possibly Peregrine too…). The story is narrated by Dora who looks back on the sisters’ humble beginnings in south London brought up by the eccentric Grandma Chance and their career as a double act as chorus girls in the weird and wonderful world of Hollywood, theatre and music hall variety shows. Continue reading