What I Read in February 📚

Hi everyone, I’m here today to talk to
you about all of the books that I’ve read in February. As usual all of the
books I mentioned will be linked in the description box down below if you would
like to go and check those out. First off I’m going to mention the audio book that
I listened to — I actually listened to two but I have one of them in physical form as
well but I want to mention the audio book only one in case I forget it and
that was the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I started listening to this in
December I think, the beginning of December, and then I put it down and got
hooked on re listening to all of the Frieda Klein books (you’ll be pleased I
won’t be talking about those today because I’ve other things to talk about)
but I kind of got distracted by those and then I came back to the Little
Stranger. It seemed to me before I started reading it from the reviews that
I had seen that it was many people’s least favorite book by her and when I
started listening to it, it’s narrated by Simon Vance I think the audio book is
great, I couldn’t really see why it was people’s least favorite because it was
really atmospheric, it was very gothic, it was creepy, it was very slow paced but
then a lot of her books are but it felt very even in its pacing too. However,
having finished it I can see why people don’t love it quite so much I do think
that even though it is eve.nly paced, it drags. The book is about Hundreds Hall
which is an old stately home owned by the Ayres and it’s narrated by someone
called Dr. Faraday who is called to Hundreds Hall because their
servant is unwell and then he gets mixed up in all of their lives. It’s a
commentary on class, really, but the main premise of it is that the house feels
haunted and lots of strange things start to happen, the implication then becomes
maybe he is the person who was haunting it, not physically but what he represents,
so his mother used to work as a servant there too and the Ayres have lost all
of their money and even in Dr. Faraday’s life he is a
private physician but the NHS is coming in and he’s worried that the State
owning health care services will mean that he will earn less money, so there is this
fear amongst the upper classes that they are losing their inheritance, that they
are losing their wealth and they are haunted I guess by the present. I did
enjoy listening to it though I don’t want to be too harsh on it, I will say I
think I enjoyed listening to it more than if I had physically read it because
of the aforementioned dragging and slowness of it — I love a slow book by the way, it’s
just there were some parts that felt really quite stagnant, and I wasn’t sure
if that was deliberate, if she was showing how the hall itself was kind of
stuck in time, but (and I’ll get onto this with another book, too) just because I
think you’re using a literary device to emphasize something doesn’t necessarily
make that a good thing to use, it doesn’t make it a fun thing to read. But because
I listened to it I was able to do other things while I was listening to it, I was
making dinner, I was going for walks and that meant I was less frustrated than if
it had been the only thing that was occupying my attention; I would have wanted
to have sped through it faster I think if I was reading it. Next I read this
short story collection called The Not Dead and the Saved by Kate Clanchy,
which reminds me I had said that I’d started reading that Thing Around Your
Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in January, I’m still reading that I’m not
quite finished so I’ll speak about that next month, but I did finish this one
which is The Not Dead and the Saved. I hadn’t read Kate Clancy’s fiction, before
I’d read her poetry that she had mentored, so she’s the editor of an
anthology called England: Poems from a School, she works with children at Oxford
Spires Academy, mainly children who are refugees or children
of parents who are refugees and she encourages them to express themselves
through poetry and that collection is astounding. I also have her nonfiction
book on my shelf called ‘Some Kids I Taught and what they Taught
Me.’ This was a really refreshing thing to read from her because it was so
different to everything that I had read before, there were some stories I
absolutely loved in this book and there were some that I
just stylistically didn’t get on with as much. I much preferred the realist
contemporary short stories in here that dealt with family, I think that she
writes family in the most complicated and brilliant way. It reminded me of my
feelings for Carys Bray’s writing, it’s just very, very real. There are some
stories that play with historical characters, no not characters, real people
historical figures, so there’s one story about the Bronte sisters, which was very
interesting and playful and intelligent and there was another story about
Katherine Mansfield but I much, much preferred, as I said, the stories that
were set in the now, that dealt with family and one story in particular which
was called Animal, Vegetable, I think is one of the most heartbreaking short
stories I have ever read, it plays with you and tricks you. So it begins “In this
story you have a particular friend you’ve known her for a long time, since
college at least but probably even earlier, maybe you both smoked consulates
out of the window of the sixth form common room, maybe you went to primary
school together, shared a desk a part of a poster paint and obsession with French
plaits” and she gets you to conjure up this person whom you as a reader know, so
the person that you were imagining will be very individual to whoever happens to
be reading this book because she plays on these little memories, these fragments
that all of us have in some form. So she gets you to create the characters in
this story and then she tells you an event that has happened and then you
have to decide what you are going to say. That makes it sound like a
choose-your-own-adventure type where you have to scribble in the margins, it’s not
like that at all but it highlights the assumptions that
we make not just about people in life but also characters in books, how we all bring our
own lived experiences to the page and it was just great, and then she flips
it and slaps you in the face and so many of these stories did that
where they’re talking about really difficult topics, they’re talking about
disability, they’re talking about race, they’re talking about affairs, they’re
talking about death, she does not shy away from any difficult topic and gets
her characters to say things that are complicated, that aren’t perfect and I
think sometimes we don’t often see characters like that where certain
viewpoints are challenged and then you’re confronted with both that and your
reaction of that as a reader, as well as the other characters reactions in these
storiesm and for that reason I thought that so many of the stories inside here
were brilliant and I would really recommend this book. I just realized it
was getting dark so I’ve turned on the lights the next book that I read it was
The God Child by Nana Oforiatta Ayim. I’m not going to speak about it in
detail here because I read and reviewed it for TOAST, so if you would like to
read my review I will link it down below. When I was speaking about the Little
Stranger I said that there was another book in this wrap-up where an author had
made a deliberate structural or pacing choice, in order to reflect a theme, but
that there was a discussion to be had on whether or not that hindered the book and
was style over substance, and this is the book that I’m talking about because
the author makes some very bold choices when it comes to structure and pacing in
order to reflect the themes of the book itself. So if you would like to read
about that I will link my review in the description box down below and if you
would like to talk to me and the team at TOAST about books that have unusual
structures underneath that article I would love to talk to you about that. I also read Homie by by Danez Smith. I think this is their
fourth collection, they had ‘insert boy, ‘black movie’ ‘don’t call us dead; and
‘homie.’ I thoroughly enjoyed this, so this collection explores friendship and the
joys of friendship and how friendship can save you. It’s also about race and
queerness and being HIV positive. So many of these poems are on a hinge, so they’ll
start off talking about joyous things and they’ll end up talking about something
incredibly hard-hitting and upsetting, and they’re
really exploring how you cannot talk about joy without talking about
depression, without talking about the other side of that coin, and even how
they’re not really the other side of the coin, those two things can be present and
very real in one moment. When Danez was over for the Forward Prize a few years
ago we sat down and recorded a podcast and I’ll link that podcast down below
because we were talking about Homie because they were writing it at that
time and Danez was talking about how difficult it is or how difficult they’d
found it as a poet to feel sincere when talking about joy, and that had been
something that they were battling with as a poet because in art so often we
value despair, especially in poetry, we are more drawn to angst …no, that makes it
sound trivial, that’s not what I mean, but but we are so very often emotionally
connected to very sad things and how critics often dismiss happy poems as
somehow frivolous which of course is bullshit, so we talked about that,
if you would like to listen to that podcast I’ll link it down below. My
favorite poem in here is called ‘Trees!’ and the first few lines are “Y’all. They
look like a slow green explosion, thick as the best fro in the clique,” and I love
that image of trees as people and that poem is so warm, this book is a huge hug,
I mean it has spikes in it too, very, very sharp spikes and they will make you cry
but on the whole this book is a hug and I loved it. I also read
Constellations by Sinead Gleason in February. This is her memoir which is
about body, it’s about pain, it’s about growing up
with a hip that’s arthritic, needing surgery and what is it what it’s like
that duality of life, living and trying to fit in and then to
so be someone who’s going to lots of hospital appointments and then spends a
lot of time away from school and I very much identified with that narrative of
course and it was interesting to read a book where I connected …and I don’t think
I’ve read many books about chronic pain and about disease and illness like that,
and it was reassuring but also I find it quite painful to read, yeah, I mean it’s
complicated isn’t it? I thought the turn of phrase here was so poetic. The
middle sections were more to do with motherhood and I didn’t connect with
those as much but I’m not a mother so that were probably why. I think it was that I
just wanted more of the bit that I personally connected with, which is very
very selfish of me, but we came back to that at the end, and the way that she
writes as well is very reminiscent of Maggie Nelson and made me remember that
I really want to read Heather Christle’s The Crying Book which came out recently.
I’m very interested in that form of narrative voice ,where you’re jumping
between personal memoir and more academic discussion which
is definitely what this book does. The title of this book ‘Constellations’ is
that because she talks to her children about the constellations in the sky but
really it’s about trying to join the dots between lots of different things in
your life, not just when we’re talking about memories, but also when we’re
talking about illness, when we’re talking about trying to join the dots in perhaps
a more obscure medical condition, you’re trying to form a narrative around the
pain that you live with and there were lots of things that I underlined in
here, such as “illness is an outpost, lunar, arctic, difficult to reach” “a life with
pain is a distracted one, where every thought is always second to the source
of where it hurts” “she recalls that no one —doctors, teachers, her family — ever
asked about what she was going through or how she felt.” I think if you live with
chronic pain, if you have any kind of condition like that, then this is
definitely one that you should pick up if you feel so inclined because I think
that it will resonate with you but obviously I would like to recommend it
more widely than that. My favourite book I read in February is this one, it’s huge,
it is The Other Bennett Sister by Janice Hadlow. I listened to this one on
audiobookm it’s narrated by Kirsty Atherton and it is sublime. This is
Pride and Prejudice but told from the point of view of Mary, who is the middle sister, so I would
say the firs quarter to a third of The Other Bennet Sister is set during Pride and Prejudice and
then the rest of the book is set afterwards and I thought it was
brilliant. Her writing is so seamless, I kept forgetting which bits were hers and
which bits were Austen’s, she never lifts scenes in their entirety and puts them
in the book but you know she has the scene where Lizzie meets mr. Darcy for
instance but you see it from Mary’s point of view, it’s just Lizzie coming
over afterwards being outraged that someone has been so rude to her. She
has studied these characters so much that they live and breathe and the audio
book is brilliant for that reason, too; I mentioned it in a weekly vlog that I did.
I found a clip where the narrator was being Mrs. Bennet and she sounded
exactly like Alison Steadman in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, I will insert a clip
of that vlog here so you can hear it *clip* so as you can see it’s very animated and
it’s told with such a kindness, not only to Austen but to other adaptations.
What’s so wonderful about this book is that you see characters that we already
know and love but from a different perspective and we see different sides
of their character that often conflict with things that we have learned about
them in Austen’s book but it never feels as though Hadlow has changed their
character or has been untrue to the original text. It is as though she’s just
giving it more dimension, and that’s exactly what you want from an adaptation.
I came away from this book absolutely in love with Mr. Collins and is that
anything that any of us thought we would ever say? No I don’t think so, And I don’t
think that he’s a brilliant person, I still think he’s slimy, I still think
that he’s annoying. I think that he is in many ways detestable, but this book just
had so many tender moments where you understood more of his character that it
was just absolutely outstanding, it’s definitely gonna be one of my favorite
books of the year, I already know that. Let’s to be fair to it, there
were a few things that annoyed me but they were so minor, let me
tell you the three I think was three things that bugged me. Lizzie reads a book
at the beginning of the novel where two characters meet each other and
they hate each other, and she says “isn’t it a bore when you read romantic books
and they hate each other because you know that they’re going to end up
together at the end?” and I rolled my eyes at that. There was one moment where I
think it’s Mary says “it was sense and not sensibility that made her act in
such a way” and I didn’t need that Austen joke, and there was also one part where
Mary is saying “perhaps all a woman needs is a room of one’s own” and I also didn’t
need that, either, so there were just some asides that jolted me out of the text
but there were probably other Austen jokes in there there were more
seamlessly woven so that I didn’t get jolted out but those were the moments
where I just thought “too much, too much!” but apart from that I adored it and I
would love to speak to you if you have read it because honestly it owns a very
special place in my heart now. I was going to say and those are all the books
that I read but finally, finally I read this one here which I mentioned briefly
it’s a picture book called This Book Can Read your Mind by Susannah Lloyd and
it’s illustrated by Jacob Grant. This reminded me of BJ Novak’s “this book has
no pictures” which is filled with silly words where it says to the reader “no,
don’t say this thing!” and then of course the adults have to say it because the
word is written down, so in this book the readers are told to imagine something
but not a pink elephant, so of course on the next page there’s a pink elephant,
then you as a reader get told off and the book says okay well definitely don’t
imagine more than one pink elephant and then there are two. It’s definitely a
book that will have young children giggling in the way that BJ Novak’s
book does as well so I’ll link it down below if there are small people in your
life who you think may enjoy that. So those are all the books that I read in
February, as I said I’ll link all of them in the description box down below. I
would love to know if you have read any of these or if you would like to. I hope
you’re having a great week and I’ll speak to you very soon. Lots of bookish love. Bye! x

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