Yes, the plan was to write monthly updates on my challenge. And now it’s March, so we’ll go with quarterly updates instead. In some ways that’s better, as I can mention books that perhaps only warrant a few lines, and would otherwise have been missed.
My 2017 reading began with an unusual (for me) choice: Meera Syal’s The House of Hidden Mothers. I had vaguely remembered that she’d written some sort of memoir, and on searching for it, discovered that she had written a few novels too.
The House of Hidden Mothers is not the kind of story that usually appeals to me (forty-something woman having a crisis about her biological clock? Er…, are there elves in it at least?) but I’m a big fan of Syal’s TV work, and last year’s challenge taught me to get out of my comfort zone.
The story was so much more complex than the blurb suggested, taking in not just Shyama’s story, but that of her daughter, and her parents. It is both a story about successive generations of immigrants, and specifically three generations of women figuring their place in the world and how to manage their relationships. I was impressed with the interwoven plotting, which gave even minor characters a voice and moment to shine. I expected the humour, but Syal was not afraid to explore the desperation and sadness too.
I had pre-ordered Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All, and finished it within a day. An interesting read, which can’t help but veer toward memoir in places. I found it odd to read a history of such recent events – especially having followed a lot of it in real time on Twitter.
At around the same time, I read Achebe’s An Image of Africa. I was less interested in his critique of Conrad (not an author I admired even before I read this), than the companion piece ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’. Some of his more general points about the politics in play could have been describing current ‘Western’ politics. I’m not sure if that’s alarming or depressing.
Continuing the theme of trying new things, in February I listened to the audiobook of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. I’m not generally a fan of audiobooks, but this one is read by the author, and in many ways it was more performance than reading, as he mimicked the voices and accents of the people featured. With popular culture so heavily Americanised, Noah’s book was a salutary reminder that culture and identity intersect to leave us with very different experiences of the same events, history, and ideologies. Plus, he made me laugh so hard I cried.
Final choice for my challenge was Clockwork Phoenix Vol. 5. I bought the ebook a while back (I guess it was on offer) but hadn’t got around to reading it – I tend to lack enthusiasm for short stories. This proved to be a diverse and wonderful collection, in many senses. Even the less enjoyable stories contained ideas that niggled at me for several days. Not only will I come back to this, but I’ll be tracking down the previous volumes to add to the TBR list.
Goodreads tells me I’ve read 19 books so far this year, which is quite slow for me. Winter is knitting time though, and I suspect the reading will pick up as we get into summer. I’m hoping to get my hands on Americanah soon, and still have The Underdogs waiting on the shelf. As always, I welcome recommendations for my reading challenge.