Top Reads of 2016

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Vivian V.S. America – Katie Coyle

To be totally honest, Vivian V.S. the Apocalypse did not give me all that it’s amazing title led me to hope for. It contained some interesting ideas, but was dominated by trope-ish romance and naval gazing that didn’t really fit the seriousness of its subject matter. I liked it enough that I would read the sequel if the opportunity arose, but I wasn’t desperate about it. Then, in January when I was jobless, broke and in no position to add any more books to my ever-increasing credit card bill, I picked up a copy of Vivian V.S. America at the library.

Oh. My. God.

The sequel contained all the urgency, critical thinking and painful cynicism that I wanted from its predecessor. Coyle’s look into a world turned upside down by a cult places society under a microscope and tears it to shreds. It is a necessary read.

One – Sarah Crossan

Another library find. One is the sort of book that you read in a day and spend at least a week mourning. The story of conjoined twins forced first out into the world and then into separation is one that will curl up inside your heart and take up residence before smashing the thing into a thousand bloody pieces.

It’s totally worth it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is another read for which I have my local library to thank.

In a time of confusion, spiralling hatred and prejudice and an internet that seems like a bottomless pit of spite… I would recommend taking a break to read some Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel full of lessons of which we all need constant reminding – everyone should have access to the same rights and freedoms. You have to stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s scary. People are actually okay… when you finally see them.

Honestly, reading this book is one of the best things you can do for your heart.

Wolf by Wolf AND Blood for Blood – Ryan Graudin

I have never read anything like this duology. In it, Graudin manipulates history, allowing Hitler victory in World War II and the hellish dystopian world dominated by cruelty, violence and wilful ignorance that follows.

She tells the story of the resistance, led by Yael, a young Jewish girl experimented on in a concentration camp and subsequently trained to be Hitler’s assassin.

I ADORE Graudin’s writing. It is immersive, evocative and heart rending. You will not finish this series in one piece.

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My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a famous feminist activist. She has basically dedicated her life to it. That life is the subject of this book and OH MY GOD. I loved it. I loved it so much I couldn’t review it. There is no reducing this book into a 500 (who am I kidding? – 800+) word blog post.

My Life on the Road is like a how-to guide for intersectional feminism and ally-ship. Steinem has spent her entire adult life travelling the world and talking to different women about their experiences and how they intersect with race, gender and economic situation. And once she knows a lady’s problems, she tries to help her solve them.

The whole time I was reading I couldn’t help but hope I have as many stories when I am her age.

(not doing very well so far, but that is a different blog post).

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I am IN LOVE with this woman. Not only did she get sampled in a Beyonce song, became the face of Boots cosmetics (drugstore makeup brand in the UK – seeing her face on bus stops makes me happy every day), wrote the speech that I send to anyone who questions my stance on feminism AND revealed her pregnancy in perhaps my favourite way ever (by NOT revealing it and then casually referencing breast feeding in an interview, way after the kid had been born. The interviewer was like ‘say WHAT now?!’) but she is also – before any of these things – one of the most talented authors writing today.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a book detailing the horrors of the Biafran war told from three perspectives, Ugwu, a houseboy from a small village, Olanna, a middle class Nigerian woman educated in the UK and Richard, a white British man  desperate to tell ‘the true story’ of Africa. It is a book about war, relationships and storytelling – specifically who should be doing it. It is a story of sisterhood and loss.

Just read it.

Sweetbitter – Stephanie Danler

Required reading for your twenties. It’s about that space between girl and womanhood. You know, the one spent waitressing. It’s beautiful.

Lies We Tell Ourselves – Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, this is a story about the integration of the previously all white Jefferson High School. It’s narrated by Sarah Dunbar, one of the few black students, and Linda Hairston, a white girl whose daddy may as well be called Trump.

Sarah’s every school day is a living nightmare. She lives in constant fear of her fellow students who push, spit and scream at her. Linda watches it all, telling herself she doesn’t think that it’s wrong.

They both tell themselves they don’t have any feelings for each other at all.

This is a novel about fighting for your rights and knowing yourself. It’s about hard truths, and the lengths we will go to avoid them. It is a stunning example of YA, and I hope a copy finds its way into school libraries everywhere.

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No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay writes beautiful poetry. Reading this book is like listening to your favourite album. You want to hear it over and over again.

Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

Because OBVIOUSLY.

The Sun is Also a Star – Nicola Yoon

A late entry into the list, but an important one. This is such a beautiful book. The Sun is Also a Star is a story about the experience of being from an immigrant family in America.

As in Everything Everything, Yoon’s approach to complicated family relationships is delicate and tonally perfect. Natasha’s family are undocumented immigrants from Jamaica, about to be deported because of her father. The pain of her family is palpable in every line.

Daniel, born in America to Korean parents feels trapped between identities: at home he must be the well behaved future doctor whereas at school he dreams of writing poetry. Yoon uses the tense relationship Daniel has with his brother – a current medical student who wishes to distance himself from his heritage – as a means to explore these dualities.

It is such a clever book. I’ll write a long gushing review about my love for it soon. Suffice to say, Nicola Yoon has solidified her place as one of my favourite authors.

 

So, I think I’m back? I didn’t realise how much I had missed blogging until I started putting this post together. Like everyone else, I have spent the last few days contemplating 2016 – my personal 2016, that is – and feeling…. Pretty disappointed in myself. But, looking back over the year, I found some comfort in the fact that I have read some incredible books. And I have had a really great time writing about them, and discussing them with other bloggers. So even though I don’t have any of the markers of success I would like (and am feeling increasingly unsure of whether I actually want them at all… again, probably the subject of a different post), I think I have done something great for myself this year.

Stories are what’s most important to me, after all.

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Where I am Right Now

Can I be really honest about something?

Lately, blogging has been something of a struggle for me. You may have noticed the drop in posts. Getting involved in bookish Twitter (something I have always been pretty shitty at) is harder than ever.

I’m rarely in the mood to read, let alone write about reading.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There is one thing I am reading a whole bunch of. Even after floating the idea of taking a break from it, it’s all I’ve done all day.

All I can read and think about and care about right now is the news.

Specifically news as it relates to the ‘alt-right’ or the Nazis, to use their proper name – can we please not Voldemort Nazis? You really have to name that shit when you see it.

Yesterday I read about how in the UK (where I live. Where I get to be an adult in a ‘Brexit Britain’ I did not vote for while all the old people who did vote for it die and/or retire – yes, I am bitter), UKIP (our Nazis) voted in a new leader who is exactly the sort of threat the mainstream parties have been afraid of. I have a history of not taking these people seriously. I take them seriously now.

Then this morning I have been reading all about Tom Price, Trump’s anti-abortion (anti-women, anti-poor people, anti-anyone who isn’t a rich white guy, I assume) health secretary.

Side rant: Being anti-abortion is a fundamentally nonsensical position. Abortion exists. It does not stop existing because you make it illegal. What happens when you make it illegal is that then women seek illegal abortions, which leads to them doing things that seriously endanger their health and can even kill them (before Roe V. Wade about 5000 women died in America a year as a result of botched illegal abortions). Also, making abortion illegal really makes no difference to the amount of abortions performed per year. My suggestion to those who consider themselves ‘pro-life’ (although, when you have a stance that in developing countries is the leading cause of maternal mortality, I don’t really know how you can consider yourself that) is to not have abortions. Have all the babies, or none of the sex. And then leave everybody else to get on with their lives, legal abortions and all.

Then. You know. Syria. And the total empathy gap there is toward refugees, wherever they come from. The way that, in the UK right now anyway, we are suspicious of young people who just want to live (live as in NOT DIE, not live as in like, the way I consider ‘wanting to live’ which mostly involves not being a waitress any more) because what if they are lying about being under 18?! I don’t understand how we are somehow as a country guilt-free because the person who died because we won’t help was 19. Or 58. Or freaking 90.

Um. We’re not.

I don’t want to say that in the context of all of this none of this – I’m mean blogging – matters. I don’t want to feel that way. I love doing this. Usually.

This post doesn’t really have a conclusion. I’m not going to stop blogging – honestly I’ve worked too hard on this thing over the past year or so to quit just because I’m going through some weird emotional stuff. It’s just difficult to blog about books when you’re struggling to… you know, actually read any.

You’ll know I’ve hit rock bottom when I start reviewing the news, instead.