I didn’t manage to surpass my January total of nine books this month, but given that it’s three days shorter and didn’t involve the Christmas holidays, I’m happy with the seven I did get through!
My first February book was Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which I loved. Cromwell is one of the most compelling characters I’ve ever encountered, and Mantel makes you feel like you are living the dramas of Henry VIII’s reign with him. I’m really looking forward to the final part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, but I’m holding off until the release of the paperback version that matches the two I have… Sad, I know!
Next up was Summerwater by Sarah Moss, a strange, dark story of a day in the lives of a group of people staying at a Scottish cabin park during a period of seemingly endless rain. After the last few weeks here, I think we could all identify with them! Despite, or maybe because of, its claustrophobic, tense atmosphere, I loved how Moss was able to move so deftly between the various characters and voices in the story and to entirely inhabit their identities,
Luster by emerging author Raven Leilani was a novel I had seen recommended by Louise O’Neill and others, and I was delighted to finally get hold of a copy. An often darkly comic story of a young black woman negotiating an affair with an older married white man, this was a compelling and eye-opening read. It’s fascinating to see this new generation of young women writers who expose the complexities of race, sex and relationships in a whole new way, and I look forward to reading more of them.
My to-read pile was shrinking rapidly, and having discovered that Vibes and Scribes have a fantastic three-for-€12 section online, my next read was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I was drawn to this both by the fact that I’ve really enjoyed other books by Sittenfeld, and also that it is a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the first ‘grown-up’ book I can ever remember really loving (I read an abridged version when I was about nine!). I’ve read mixed reviews of Eligible, but I really enjoyed it and I thought Sittenfeld captured the themes and atmosphere of the original very well, without remaining absolutely bound by it. I loved the idea of Lady Catherine de Burgh transported to the present day as Gloria Steinem-esque feminist, Kathy de Burgh!
My reading this month was almost all fiction, but I did take a diversion into biography with Jung Chang’s Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Modern China, and it was truly fascinating. Chang tells the stories of the three Soong sisters, originally from Shanghai, who almost incredibly all reached positions of huge influence in China, albeit in very different ways. I’d definitely recommend this one.
Next, I returned to fiction with another from my Vibes and Scribes haul; Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. I chose this one because I loved Alderman’s more recent dystopian novel, The Power, and while this earlier offering tells the story of a world with which I’m completely unfamiliar, that of the Orthodox Jewish community in London, I really enjoyed it. Until I read the book, I hadn’t realised that Alderman herself, like the main character, had grown up as an Orthodox Jew and later left the community, and I can now see the threads that link it to her later writing.
This month, I also finally finished Michael Wood’s epic The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream, which I’d been listening to on audiobook, and which I found a bit of a slog. I really regret not reading the physical book version, as I think it would be easier to manage – Michael Wood has the kind of voice which I found a little too relaxing for an audiobook and my thoughts often wandered off to other things when I was listening!
I’m currently reading Samantha Power’s memoir, The Education of an Idealist, and it is brilliant. Irish-born, Power emigrated to the US with her mother as a child, served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN (among many other roles) and is Joe Biden’s nominee to head up USAID. Having read Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s memoirs relatively recently, it’s really fascinating to get the perspective of another player in their stories – I’ll fill you in a little more next month! I’ve also just started listening to Think Again by Adam Grant on audiobook.
I try to support independent bookshops where possible, especially in the current climate. My local, Midleton Books, is now selling online (if they don’t have what you want, they’ll order it), and I also buy from O’Mahony’s Books and Vibes and Scribes. Not as small or independent as these, but still Irish, Dubray Books also offer an excellent service. Readers from outside Ireland will have their own favourites, no doubt!
With working mainly from home thankfully ending for me on March 1st, I may not get to read as much, but I’m committed to finding some time every day, even if it’s only ten minutes before I go to sleep. Bring it on…