I’m slightly early on my ‘What I read in…’ series this month but I wanted to end the month with a blog post about the 28 day writing challenge I have been taking part in so here we are. I have been reading so much this month due to the start of my writing course and what a pleasure it has been. Most of the materials I have read I’m unable to share on here because they are excerpts or specific to my course but I managed to get through some books this month as well so yay me!
I first read Alex Wheatle when I was about 17 and in college and remember loving his ability to accurately depict black people. I read Brixton Rock about a teen living in a children’s home and think it was one of the first books that I remember having a main character that was a person of colour. Representation is important when developing as a reader and something that young black readers struggle to find in literature.
Alex Wheatle spent much of his childhood in a Surrey children’s home and was a witness to the 1981 Brixton riots, living through its precursors and aftermath. He used his experiences of this and a brief time spent in prison after the riots to begin his writing career. I feel this makes him more able to write about the black, urban background as he can use his lived experiences and create accurate portrayals in his writing. Liccle Bit is being described as Wheatle’s first foray in writing YA and I think he does an amazing job. His ability to create real dialogue is his most engaging skill in my opinion as it leads to some strong characters. All the character’s interactions feel very real. While reading it, I imagined so many boys I used to teach engaging heavily with the content of gang participation, lusting after the popular girl in school and not feeling like your family understand you. I would have loved to have used this book in school.
Alex DM-ed me on Twitter after I followed him and a lovely conversation ensued, he is such a awesome person! I have just started his next YA novel, Crongton Nights, which has been shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. I hear that he is writing/has written a third in this series and am pretty excited about this coming out. He was speaking in The Guardian recently about the differences in writing YA dialogue when compared to writing adult fiction. This has inspired me for an upcoming blog post so watch this space.
Also, can we talk about the cover design of Liccle Bit? I love it! It’s so striking and impressive
Goodreads rating: 4 stars
Despite owning two Zadie Smith books, I’m ashamed to say I have never read any of them. I will confess right here and now that I have a vast amounts of book on shelves throughout our house that I have bought but never read. Some women do it with clothes, I do it with books. Ok, I also do it with clothes but I will get round to all of them one day, ok? Stop judging me. So although I had two to choose from at home, I picked up a copy of NW from the library last month and actually read it (I know, I’m weird).
People have described this book, NW, as ‘very Zadie Smith’, which I probably would understand if I read her before but I haven’t so… When I first started this book, I was struck by the way Smith writes, it’s prose but felt like poetry. Example in point:
I am the sole
I am the sole author.
Pencil leaves no mark on magazine pages.
I didn’t quite know what to make of this initially but found myself being lured into the her description of homes, areas and people I felt I had met or seen. It had a feeling of stream of consciousness writing to it, which I don’t know if I was completely comfortable with and often felt like I was searching for an actual plot. But the characters were very relatable and well-defined. I connected to the character, Natalie, nee Keisha, a huge amount, possibly due to her being of Caribbean descent and rather bookish like myself but a lot of her struggles with her ethnicity felt strikingly familiar. Her descriptions of London were also completely real to me having lived in Northeast London most of my life. I actually still struggling with my rating of this book because structurally it was a little jarring but there were so gems of description within it.
Goodreads rating: yet to decide
What is a ‘What I read in…’ without a graphic novel included? Graphic novels are seriously the best. Words and art? Yes please!
This one is a slight cheat because I read this book over a year ago. BUT as volume 2 was released this month, I had to reread it to remind myself of the story. I remember not really being too fussed about it originally but I was obviously fussed enough to preorder the next in the series. Without wanting to give away too much of the premise as I get really annoyed with spoilers, I’ll just say this is a type of alien invasion story that pays no attention to the aliens. Ten years ago, ‘trees’ landed on Earth and this graphic novel outlines the effects on various countries. It is a sci-fi story with an element of mystery. I like the way the story splits its attention to different areas, characters and cultures. I love Jason Howard’s artwork in this novel and get quite irritated when I read comments on Goodreads suggesting his drawings are rushed and mediocre. Art, like literature, is obviously subjective but these people are wrong. Wrong, I tell thee. I enjoyed this so much more the second time round.
Goodreads rating: 4 stars
Volume 2 of Trees begins by letting you know what happened with the cliffhanger at the end of Volume 1. While I feel it was important for the author to attempt to provide more of an understanding about the ‘trees’ while also creating an air of suspense, I was disappointed with the primary focus on a single main character rather than the expanded cast introduced in the first volume. There was some brief expansion on some of other characters but not enough to feel satisfied. I liked the movement and pace more in the first volume. Part of the intrigue of this story is finding out stuff for yourself so I again, I don’t want to go into too much detail but suffice to say, I am feel hooked on the mystery of the ‘trees’. I also think this would be a fantastic Netflix series. You heard it here first folks! I hope that the next volume will go back to its focus on multiple characters and areas and that I don’t have another 18 months to find out.
Goodreads rating: 3 stars (I wish I could leave half stars)
I thought I would include this despite the restrictions in people that will be interested in reading. Non-pregnant people aren’t going to just pick and read this just out of interest. That said, it’s something I read this month so I felt I should share.
When reading this, the editor in me was dismayed to find a multitude of mistakes in this text. There were some weird formatting issues in my copy with paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences as well as quite a few spelling mistakes. Tut tut.
My husband and I were initially anxious about the labour part of having a baby more than having the baby itself. This has probably not been helped by the legions of mothers who are more than willing to regale you with their stories of traumatic births and difficult recoveries. I have no idea what leads parents to want to scare seven kinds of crap out of you when you share your news about being pregnant or tell you that you’ll never sleep again etc.
Anyway, what led me to this book was meeting a lovely woman in the queue to a local day festival, she was very clearly pregnant so we got into the usual mum-to-be conversation. It turned out that this wasn’t her first but rather than taking no time telling me how horrific her labour was, she told me that it was a ‘beautiful and calm experience’ so I obviously thought she was crazy. After further conversation, this woman had convinced me that it was possible to not only enjoy giving birth but also do so with limited medical intervention and/or pain relief by using something called HypnoBirthing. Oh how my friends laughed when I told them about this later.
After much searching for more information, I came across this book by Suzy Ashworth. This guide draws on the HypnoBirthing model developed by Marie Mongan in 1989. Mongan was a hypnotherapist who used her own birth experiences to teach women to have medication-free births in the 1950s and 60s, a time when that was generally unheard of. It may sound hippy-dippy to you guys but Suzy specifically says that there is ‘no vagina whispering’ in her book, which is good to know I suppose. I read the book along with my husband and despite us both being pretty cynical to begin with, Suzy ended up up converting us well enough to purchase her online Calm Birth School Course. So my birth WILL be a calmest birth ever!
Goodreads rating: 4 stars
Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with what I am reading and see me fail miserably at my reading challenge. C’mon, it’ll be fun.