I’ve taken my eye off the ball this quarter because I realised at the start of May that I was unlikely to meet my Goodreads Challenge (104 books in 2017), so hurriedly read a lot of the shorter things cluttering up my TBR pile to get back on track.
Reads meeting the diverse challenge included Americanah, The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, I Am Not Your Negro, The Wages of Sin, and Your Lie in April Vol.1.
I reserved Americanah at the library in January, and finally got my hands on it (figuratively speaking – I reserved the ebook) in April. I’m usually wary of books which get heaped with praise, but I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun last year (actually because she does an interesting thing with the timeline, but I also learned a lot I didn’t know about Nigerian history along the way) and was prepared to be impressed. I was not disappointed. Adichie weaves a decades-long love story through an examination of what it’s like to be black, but not American, in the US, and then what it’s like to return ‘home’ after years in a different culture. Though Ifemelu is the main character, Adichie also shows us part of Obinze’s story, contrasting her experience in the US to his ill-fated visit to the UK. Americanah doesn’t offer a neat resolution to the love story, any more than it offers a neat resolution to the problems of race and post-colonial politics that it raises, leaving these questions for the reader to ponder. It’s a story that has stayed with me since reading it.
The Three-Body Problem was free to read as part of my Kindle Unlimited trial and intriguing enough that I borrowed the sequel, The Dark Forest, from the library. These novels are toward the hard science end of the spectrum, but the characters are engaging, and the plot compelling enough that they never felt like a slog. I preferred the style of translation used by Ken Liu for The Three-Body Problem to that by used by Joel Martinsen in The Dark Forest. The latter frequently interrupted the text with footnotes, which was very distracting. I have the third part of the trilogy reserved, and am curious to see how that plays out, since The Dark Forest seemed to me to tie up any loose ends.
I Am Not Your Negro popped up as an Amazon suggestion after I bought David Olusoga’s Black and British, and I ended up reading it first. It’s an odd little book, as it pulls together a number of texts by James Baldwin, edited together by Raoul Peck, which formed the basis of Peck’s documentary of the same name. While the book reads oddly at times, because it includes excerpts from television interviews which probably work better in the documentary format, it is nonetheless compelling, covering both Baldwin’s own part in the Civil Rights movement, and his interactions with and impressions of key leaders Medgar Evans, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. I think I would have preferred to watch the documentary before reading this though.
I’ve been waiting on The Wages of Sin for a good six months or more, so it was definitely the book I was most excited to read in 2017. A murder mystery set in Victorian Edinburgh, the story follows Sarah Gilchrist, one of the first group of female medical students to study at the university, who faces hostility both from those who oppose women studying medicine, and those who know about her damaged reputation. Kaite Welsh balances the thrill of the murder mystery with a deep exploration of the life of Victorian women, of all classes. The ending is satisfying, and there was a good mix of obvious clues, and red herrings. The secondary characters are well fleshed out, to the extent that I not only ended the novel wanting to know what happens next for Sarah, but for many of the other characters too. Since The Wages of Sin is planned to be the first book in a series, I hope we don’t have to wait too long for more.
Your Lie in April Vol.1 was another of my impulse buys. I don’t read Manga (I prefer my comic books in colour), but I vaguely recognised the title from a Netflix recommendation, and it was ridiculously cheap. I’m giving you the boring details of how it landed in my hands because I loved it, and I’m once again reminded of how easy it is to miss things when we stay in our comfort zones. In fact, I should not love this: it’s in black and white, it has teen protagonists, they spend a fair amount of their time at school, and it’s about performing classical music. I have close to zero interest in these things. But. It’s also honest, and sweet, and funny, and wise, and hopeful, and frankly there are not enough things out there that tick those boxes at the moment. So I loved it, and have ordered the next 2 volumes.
I feel that I should give a honourable mentions to a couple of things which, albeit by white male authors, at least make an effort at fair representation:
Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series (The Palace Job; The Prophecy Con; The Paladin Caper) were another of my Kindle Unlimited reads. Imagine Hustle set in a fantasy world, with a truly diverse cast of characters (by which I mean both race and species). It’s laugh-out-loud-while-coffee-spurts-out-of-your-nose funny, and oh, did I mention, there’s a TALKING WARHAMMER?!
My other mention is Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which came on my radar via the Guardian 100 Greatest Non-fiction books list I’ve mentioned before. Dee Brown tells the story of the American West from the Indian perspective, and it’s a devastating tale of loss, lies, and broken promises.
This next quarter will see a return to Liu Cixin, and to Your Lie in April. I’ll also be reading the David Olusoga book I mentioned before his event at Edinburgh Book Festival. Other likely reads are The Diary of Frida Kahlo and The Underdogs, but as always suggestions are welcomed.