Re-learning to love literature

united-kingdomSo, one of my interests that I don’t talk about nearly often enough is reading. And that’s probably because I don’t do it nearly often enough. It’s hard to believe now that just over a decade ago (a truly terrifying thought in and of itself), I graduated with a BA in English Literature. I used to love reading; there was nothing I loved more than sitting down in a comfy chair and losing myself in a good book for hours at a time. But since graduation, I just haven’t been able to focus on anything long enough to actually see it through to the end. Of course there have been exceptions, but as an example, I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Haruki Murakami about the Tokyo metro gas attack since mid-2017, and I’ve still not finished it. But fairly recently, that’s all changed – and it all happened sort of by accident.

In March last year, just before we the first lockdown happened, a friend and I from work were talking about how it might be a nice idea to start a book club. We had just finished making preparations and for the first club meeting and announced which book we would be reading when it was announced that we would all be working from home for the foreseeable future. It looked like that would be the end of the road, but in the end, I’m glad we persevered. We have a small but reliable group of people who show up every month and we’ve had some really great discussions – it was just like old times, it’s really reignited my love of reading, and today I thought I’d share some thoughts about a selection of the books we’ve read at our book club over the course of the past year.

71FXfPs-iyLWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This is a book that’s been recommended to me numerous times, I’ve even picked it up a couple of times while browsing the shelves at Waterstones. But it took a democratic vote to finally make me pick it up, and I’m glad I did. The story is compelling, and some of the sentences in this made me stop and put the book down just to spend some extra time appreciating how beautifully constructed they were. It’s a real work of literary craftsmanship. There isn’t a whole lot I can say about it without giving away spoilers. Although a lot of it presents quite a romanticised view of the American South in the 1950s and 60s, the plot is compelling and keeps you guessing right up until the final word. It earned every single one of those five stars I gave when I reviewed it on Goodreads – which, I could sum up with one sentence: ‘It reads like a love letter to humanity as a member of the animal kingdom, peppered with local charm and historical tragedy.’

0520198_the-midnight-library_625The Midnight Library by Matt Haig ⭐️⭐️⭐️ The astute among you will already have noticed that this review isn’t quite as favorable as the last one. Please, don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book. I found it very readable, I actually read it over two days – which is an unbelievable pace, especially in comparison to that poor, unloved Murakami book on my nightstand. But I’d be lying if I said it had changed my life in any sort of meaningful way. I didn’t feel especially connected to the main character, and the surrounding characters seemed to lack any sort of personality or agency of their own so there was very little to latch onto. The whole idea behind the book was quite novel (if you’ll pardon the pun), there was some originality there, but I think the whole mental health aspect could have been handled better. But then, I’m not exactly an expert myself. I’d recommend it to anyone who wanted to fill a few hours with an enjoyable story!

812SKExc1tLCall Me By Your Name by André Aciman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Well, what can I say about this book? I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen the film – but I didn’t read it until well after the film had come out, so obviously I was picturing Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in the starring roles. There’s a beauty to this book that’s hard to describe. I think, growing up as an LGBTQ+ person, I think we all had a crush that with the benefit of hindsight we realise would have been wholly inappropriate (hello to my GCSE maths teacher, if you’re reading this), and there’s a certain amount of discomfort involved in reading what is essentially the actualisation of such a fantasy. It’s beautifully written, but I don’t think we can look past certain scenes that were just plain weird (two words – ‘the peach’, what the merry hell was that all about?) but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading most of it. To be honest it was quite nice to read a dramatic, somewhat overblown love story featuring people of the same sex. Even though… in hindsight, some aspects are probably a little problematic.

36337550The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Well, speaking of things that keep you guessing, I remember audibly gasping when I reached the denouement of this book. That said, maybe I’m just stupid, but I can’t help but feel that the whole book just… didn’t make sense. It was needlessly confusing – it was like a magic trick, there was so much happening to keep the reader distracted, that you lost sight of what was really important. But if you focus on the core of the book, it kind of falls apart. I still enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong – while all the plates were in the air and spinning, it was honestly impressive to behold and it was fascinating to watch the story develop. Twists and turns all the way, I don’t think there was any way of guessing how it was going to turn out. Plus, I’m a sucker for a period piece… hence the four star rating. It did make me want to read more (or I suppose I should say ‘some’) Agatha Christie, just to really see how this genre should be done.

noughts-crosses-reissue-final-1595497326Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I’ll admit I’m cheating a little bit with this one, because I’d actually read it before. More than once. And seen an incredibly impressive live stage show. So to say I know the story fairly well is something of an understatement. The thing that stuns me about this book is that even though I know what’s going to happen, and how the whole thing pans out – it’s still every bit as heart-wrenching as it was the first time I read it at age twelve or thirteen. I think as I’ve gotten older, the main characters have become somewhat less relatable – there’s a lot of overblown teenage angst (on the cross side mostly frivolous and baseless, less so on the nought side) which can be a little tricky to stomach sometimes, but on the whole I’d recommend this to anybody. But I would say that this book made a real impact on me, while I was part of the target demographic. As an adult it’s a little depressing to look and see that the reflections of our society still hold as true as they did then.

Well! Thank you for following me through all of that – this post ended up being a lot longer than I’d imagined, so thank you for sticking with it all the way to the end. If you’ve read any of these books and disagree with me, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter and Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both). If these reviews made you think of any books you think either me or my book club would enjoy, I’d be more than happy to look into your recommendations! I will say one thing, though, when it’s possible to go back to my favourite secondhand book shop (which some of you may recognise from the cover image of this post), I’m going to need a shopping trolley to get all of the books I’ll buy back home with me! Until next month, take care, and I’ll see you in May. Thanks for reading!

– J.

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