Sometimes reading is a beautiful and necessary distraction. Other times it is the opposite, twisting your head towards what you don’t want to think about but know you must. Occasionally it poses as the first, waiting until the perfect moment - usually just as you edge across the line of no return - before revealing itself to be the second.
We moved house on February 1st, and I spent the four weeks that followed catching up on everything I had neglected in the post-Christmas/pre-move frenzy that had been January. Writing. People. I booked and attended the eye test I was due. Travelled to and from London; saw Hamilton, the Cursed Child, Julian Barnes, Alvvays. Full of distractions.
I’d have neglected to think, I’m sure, had it not been for the books I picked up and returned to throughout the month.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
I love Julian Barnes’ writing. The Sense of an Ending is one of my favourite novels, and his latest did not disappoint. I rushed out to grab it on publication day, and later in the month got to see him interviewed by Hermione Lee at an author event at the Royal Institution. The Only Story is a succinct and unconventional exploration of time and memory and love, so if that’s the sort of thing you’re into I’d heartily recommend.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
The lovely people at Penguin very kindly sent me a proof of Donal Ryan’s new novel, and it was one of the best things I read that month. The book delicately and sensitively connects the narratives of three men - a Syrian refugee, a heartbroken care-worker, and a man grappling with the admission of something for which he feels he cannot be forgiven. It’s a lot to pack into such a tiny novel, but the heaviness is rewarded with an ultimately uplifting sentiment. Out on March 22nd.
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
This dreamy collection of personal essays muses on adolescence and identity and existence and so much more. Documenting the particular heart and mind of its author, Too Much and Not the Mood offers a precious window into the experiences of a young woman and first-generation immigrant in the 21st century. Durga Chew Bose seamlessly weaves poetic meditations with pop-culture references, with an overarching nostalgia and romanticism. And I can’t not mention that stunning cover.
Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh
Eat Up! is a refreshing and infectious manifesto on food and eating. Tackling everything from diet culture and health fads to the relationship between food and class, it’s an invitation for readers to rediscover a joy in filling their bodies with deliciousness. With personal stories of Ruby and her girlfriend, thorough research, a few recipes, and a dozen or so ‘YES!’ moments, this book is a total revelation.
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Masquerading as a literary biography of French writer Gustave Flaubert, Flaubert’s Parrot experiments with the form of the novel and twists it into something entirely new; the reader merely gathers what the fictitious author scatters of himself. I don’t know whether the text paints an accurate picture of Flaubert (having only read a translation of Madame Bovary at university), but it was wonderful, nonetheless.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
I sought out this book as some kind of further reading to The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, which I read (and loved) in January. In many ways, it served its purpose; Quatro writes of an unhappily married woman caught between faith and infidelity, and so I got the feminine dissatisfaction I was searching for, just little more. I really enjoyed her writing though, so may hunt down a copy of her short story collection, I Want to Show You More.
Mythos by Stephen Fry
This was the audiobook that got me too and from work for most of this month. The deciding factor in this Audible purchase was of course the narration by the author, whose voice - since the Potter audiobooks - is an endlessly comforting companion. Mythos sees Stephen Fry breathe new life into classic Greek mythology, but it’s his awareness of the contemporary reader that make this an incredibly engaging, funny, and informative listen.