Winter 2020: reading wrap up

Anyone else want their money back on 2020? We only have ourselves to blame really, saying it’ll be the “roaring twenties” again when we brought in the new decade. Well, we got it… there’s a global pandemic, the economy is crashing, and you can’t even go to the pub. It’s like a Fitzgerald novel, only with less glamour and more anxiety from 24/7 news … careful what you wish for.

Confession time: I hit a serious reading slump during all of this.

Life seemed to turn upside down overnight, and I could not find the concentration to read. I always feel a little bit less myself when I’m not reading, and as much as I wanted to escape into a book, I just couldn’t for weeks. I hardly read at all in March.

Now April is nearly over, I’m starting to get used to the new normal and read more again.

Instead of focussing on the negative and all the reading time I lost during my slump, this seemed like a good time to remind myself of all the wonderful books I read before the world went mad (innocent times).

You might be saying, isn’t the end of April a bit late to post a winter wrap-up?

Yes. Yes it is. But time is moving weirdly right now, go with it. And it seemed a fitting topic for my return to book blogging after weeks of radio silence during this mad time.

So here it is. My winter *pre-lockdown* reading wrap up:

January

Invisible Women: data bias in a world designed for men, Caroline Criado Perez

This one set the bar high for the rest of the year! A captivating and infuriating read. Whether you recognise your own experiences or learn to understand a point of view beyond your own, this is a book to empower and educate you. Invisible Women should be essential reading.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The First Time Lauren Pailing Died, Alyson Rudd

This one came as such a surprise to me. I’d not heard of it before I was given it as a gift, but once I started reading it, I could not put it down! A would-be coming of age story, disrupted with a slippery timeline and broken memories. It tells the story of Lauren who wakes up in a new reality each time she dies, dealing with themes such as grief, identity and the most human of questions: what if?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Airhead: the imperfect art of making news, Emily Maitlis

Airhead reads like a series of anecdotes, looking back on the events Emily Maitlis has reported on, and the people she has interviewed as a BBC journalist. Maitlis writes with humanity and surprising humour, as she documents the chaos behind the picture-perfect product we watch on our TV screens. A very entertaining read.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Crudo, Olivia Laing

Crudo is as strange as it is powerful. Olivia Laing writes beautifully and with visceral emotion in this perceptive view of our society today. A world where we’re constantly surrounded by bad news stories and each one seems to bring us closer to the brink of collapse. I can’t say I was completely gripped by this one – I think the strangeness of it can make it hard to connect to sometimes – but Laing’s masterful use of language made it an enjoyable and thought provoking read. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Power, Naomi Alderman

Such a chilling read. The day of the girls has arrived in Alderman’s dystopia. The young women discover they have electricity running through their bodies, giving them the power to hurt and control, and overthrow men as the dominant gender. A clever gender role swap, that criticises the human weakness for power. Showing that while power and the abuse of it exists in society, there can be no gender equality.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

She is Fierce, Ana Sampson (ed.)

Ever noticed how poetry anthologies are mostly full of male authors with the odd Carol Ann Duffy thrown in? She Is Fierce gives voice to the women’s poetry that has been silenced too long. The book is organised by themes, gathering women’s thoughts through the ages and from a wide range of backgrounds, on topics from Love and Friendship to Protest and Resistance. Brave, bold and beautiful writing: a great introduction to feminist poetry.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

February

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

A tragic love story entwined with critiques on racial discourse and the American justice system. It tells the story of Celestial and Roy, a young black couple who are building a life together in Atlanta, when Roy is wrongfully accused of a crime and sentenced to twelve years in prison. Whilst he’s incarcerated, the narrative is told through letters, which document the characters growing apart in the stories they choose to write and the silences lapsed between letters. Tayari Jones is a brilliant storyteller, writing with sensitivity and complexity.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

How We Disappeared, Jing Jing Lee

Wow did this book break my heart. Set in Singapore, How We Disappeared tells the story of Wang Di, a woman who was abducted during the Japanese occupation in World War II and forced into sexual slavery. The book uses multiple narrators and shifting timelines to tell its story – my one criticism, I was slightly more engaged in one narrator than the other – but this hasn’t stopped this book from becoming one of my favourite and most memorable books of the year so far.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hashtag Authentic, Sara Tasker

I was given this after starting my #bookstagram page. With helpful tips and gorgeous pictures that are as cosy and inviting as the author’s Instagram feed – @me_and_orla – this was a lovely book to curl up with on winter evenings.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Five: the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold

In a society where being female and poor in the city was synonymous with “streetwalker”, history has remembered the Five – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane – as prostitutes killed by Jack the Ripper. This is largely thanks to the media and police of the time, whose investigations were as much about whether the women deserved their fate as it was finding their killer. Brilliantly researched and sensitively written, Rubenhold looks beyond the sensationalist headlines and writes these women back into history.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

This one had a lot of hype surrounding it. Detailing the rise and fall of a 70s rock band, it is written like an interview transcript with multiple characters speaking. I wasn’t convinced at first: I thought the structure would make it hard to get to know the characters, especially with so many fighting for attention. But after a few pages, I was hooked. The result is kaleidoscopic: multiple perspectives on what happened between the band members felt very organic, because of course there is more than one side to every story. A fun book with a dark edge.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March

The Blank Wall, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

The Blank Wall tells the story of Lucia. An “ordinary” housewife who gets wrapped up in a murder mystery and goes to extraordinary lengths to protect her children. This book is full of suspense and paranoia, and questions the domestic role of women in a world being rapidly changed by war. This was a re-printed classic, published by Persephone Books who specialise in rediscovering forgotten women’s writing. I quite simply, loved it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Yes, really. It was just the one book in March after a jam-packed January and February.

I might have lost momentum along the way but can’t say this hasn’t been a great year of reading so far. I have chosen some amazing books; there has not been one book I haven’t enjoyed.

Now Spring is well and truly here and the coronavirus pandemic keeps us indoors, I’ll keep focusing on how much I love the books I’m reading and not just how many I can read.

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