April brought with it some wonderful books and amongst other things, the perfect weather for getting lost in a book for hours outside (and still looking ghostly pale afterwards). There were some important reads, some anger inducing ones, others filled with cheer and even a lil audio number. You’d think that so much extra free time would mean getting through more books but especially nearer the beginning of the month, I was finding it far harder to concentrate. Because of this, I hope people aren’t putting too much pressure on themselves to be reading even more. Sometimes I see it becoming far less about the enjoyment of a good read and instead turning into a competition where people (mainly in the instagram comment section) feel personally offended by the number of books someone else is getting through. I would imagine this will end up making both those who feel they are reading a lot and those who feel they are not reading enough, unable to share their book piles and thoughts. And what good is that. Social media has managed to make almost everything into a competition but I hope everyone can at least find their own non-judgmental and fun space to share their love of books with others. Enough of my lockdown thoughts though, let’s get on to the good bit.
The first book I read in April is part of the Vintage collection of feminism short editions, this one being Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I haven’t read any of De Beauvior’s work before, but already knew a fair bit about her from other more recent feminist texts and the many, many references made to her and her writing. I think this is a lovely little collection that gives a little bit of insight into some great but often quite inaccessible works. Although I don’t think that to be an impassioned, educated, understanding and inclusive feminist requires reading all the classic literature (and I don’t think anyone should feel they have to) which are often not the easiest of reads, I did find it interesting how current much of the writing still is. And most importantly, it certainly provides more fuel for my own outrage around both the way things were and what still needs to change. I don’t think I’ll be reading the full version anytime soon, but on the other hand, the extracts from The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf which I read last year, really piqued my interests. Even though I understand the ways in which the patriarchy has moved to other means, our looks, to hold us back, seeing the scale of the problem and how difficult it is to get out of your system even with the knowledge laid out completely on paper, certainly left me needing to take a moment just to take it all in and grasp it. I feel at the stage we’re in, The Beauty Myth and what we can learn from it is even more important now than when it was written and I am anxious to get my hands on the full version. So basically, I’d recommend The Beauty Myth more so to everyone, but if ya like a lot of classic feminist lit these are a lovely little set to add to your collection, with plenty that can still be gained from reading them.
Next up, one of my favourite non-fiction writers, Yuval Noah Harari with his 2nd book, Homo Deus. A follow-up to the wonderful Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which was helpful in me realising what I’m passionate about and want to study. In Homo Deus, Harari now tackles the future of humanity, if there is much of one at all (I see ya climate change) and identifies the key challenges we have overcome and what we’ll likely move to next if we carry on the same trajectory. Harari somehow manages to make his books amazingly readable while containing such a vast amount of knowledge, a lot of which although sometimes surprisingly simple can be very difficult to wrap our heads around. It’s easier to go into the book as if starting afresh, try to put all your own biases and things we’ve been led to think of as facts to the side but even in the book he’ll explain why that’s so difficult and really just rather impossible. It can all be a bit much and it definitely goes deep but sometimes we gotta get over the difficulty and uncomfortableness of it all because as a whole, we as human beings have to decide what direction we’re gonna go in, and crucially, what values and morals are most important to take with us. It’s a shame we can’t have Harari as a big man in the sky guiding us but his books will definitely help open minds and if you’re anything like me, make you wonder and worry about what the hell we’re gonna do.
After two pretty hardcore reads, I finally got stuck into something a bit more lighthearted, Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare. Now this was a lovely book with a really fun and entertaining premise. It centres around two characters who end up sharing a flat, more specifically the same bed, but due to work schedules they never actually meet. It’s very funny and filled with some really great romance and not nearly as cringey as you might imagine a book with such a plot to be. It also has multiple intriguing subplots which lead to explorations into the more difficult parts of romantic love, family bonds and surprisingly, the justice system. It’s definitely a binge read with lots to look forward to and a nice distraction, I’d be surprised if it didn’t leave a reader with some more warmth inside and maybe even a lil bit of a craving for love. Beth’s newest book The Switch sounds just as fun if not more and she’s already had her 3rd book announced, The Roadtrip, coming in 2021. So seems i’m not the only one loving her writing. It’s always wonderful to find an author you love and have loads more books to look forward to.
And now for my favourite, The Most of Nora Ephron which brought the most joy imaginable and left me feeling far from isolated. A chunky collection of Nora’s work; from her journalism, screenplays, fiction, blogging and more, it’s all in there. Filled to the brim with laughs and maybe some cries, I just can’t recommend Ephron’s writing enough. Containing some of my favourite essays, that will stick with me for a long time, Ephron is a comforting friend to everyone who reads her and she can’t be held back from tackling every possible topic, no matter how embarrassing or difficult. I know I’ve just finished this 576 pager but my god I’m already looking for more, I’ve ordered her semi autobiographical fiction, Heartburn, of which the first chapter is included in this book. There’s always so much to learn, I almost feel like I’ll need to start taking notes. I adore every bit of her writing. I’m obsessed. I’ve no doubt you will be too and that’s if you aren’t already.
This month I spiced things up with my first audio book, Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. And boy is it a good one. Gladwell is up there with Yuval Noah Harari and Jon Ronson being men I trust and admire (and I can confirm such men are few and far between). The book starts and ends with the story of Sandra Bland, a horrific, frustrating and upsetting instance of an interaction with a stranger gone wrong. Gladwell takes us through spies working as double agents, Chamberlain meeting Hitler, the Amanda Knox case and much more to show why we all misjudge strangers. Even the people who’s job it is to judge others. Like the rest of Gladwell’s work it’s completely fascinating, filled with interesting questions and examples which I’m sure will lead to much discussion and debate. I think it might be my new favourite book of his. There’s no end to the intrigue Gladwell has and you can’t possibly read this book without being left with a whole lot of curiosity.
The last book I read this month, which I confess I actually finished a few days into May but I cannot wait a month to write about it so here it is. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargave, was beautiful from start to finish (and not just because of those endpapers). Set in a time and place very far from our own, she manages to draw you in and take away the unknown quicker than I could’ve imagined. I was sucked right into the time, one of mass hysteria building up to the 1621 Vardø witch trials, which were the first major witch trials in that area and by far the worst, drawing you into the true story on which the fiction is based around. The talent required to make you feel so close to the characters is immense and will leave you wishing you could do something while it all starts to unravel. It’s a story that sticks, it left me feeling a bit lost and wanting back in to see what comes next for the women of Vardø. It’s a frustrating story to be told, especially with all the hindsight we have. It gave me so many opposing feelings, mainly a lot of outrage, but at least that gives some hope that such tragedies of history will not be repeated.
I’ve seen a Marian Keyes quote circulating recently from when The Guardian asked her for the book she’s most ashamed not to have read, and like Keyes, the whole concept of something that you “should read” does my head in. Read for your own pleasure, unless it’s for studying no one should ever feel they have to read something. And considering May is going to be filled with exciting book releases, I’m sure there will be something for everyone to want (I’d double underline if I could) to read. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch When Harry Met Sally and happy cry over the amazing woman Ephron was and all the wonderful things she gave us.