What We’re Reading: Spring Edition
Whether your reading year has started off strong or been slower than you’d like, we’re here to help get you excited about your 2023 TBR. This Spring we’ve asked the team at NWN to tell us about what they’re currently reading, and any upcoming releases they’re excited to get hold of.
I am currently reading The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey for our new Tell Your Story programme in Gateshead. It passed me by at Christmas, when it was adapted for television, but is being used as part of a new programme run by professional writers for adults who have low confidence with reading and writing. It’s a beautiful book that shares its artistic process in a really generous and transparent way, which allows so many access points for readers and is a great starting point for people thinking about the stories they would like to tell.
I’m looking forward to Jacob Polley’s new book of poems, Material Properties (Picador). I really love his book Jackself (2016) with its eerie Northern landscapes and the uncomfortably familiar characters that inhabit them.
I’m reading Don Paterson’s memoir, Toy Fights. Fascinating, joyfully meandering, intimate and witty, the book explores his early life on a council estate in Dundee, his family and, most of all I’m sensing (I’m only a little way in), the depths of his relationship with music. Paterson is as captivating in prose as he is in poetry and this book is alive with language, every sentence a total delight. A book I’m massively looking forward to is Kit Fan’s third collection, The Ink Cloud Reader, published in April by Carcanet.
I’ve started off 2023 strong having read more books than I have in a long long time. I’m currently working my way through What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher and highly recommend it to anyone enjoying The Last of Us TV series. This retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher follows a retired soldier who goes to visit a sick childhood friend but is greeted by a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife. T. Kingfisher’s masterful storytelling brings the house and its surroundings to life in a delightfully eerie way.
There are a few books I am eagerly awaiting but No Edges, published in English by Tilted Axis Press, is very high on my list. This first collection of Swahili fiction in English translation introduces eight East African writers from Tanzania and Kenya as they share tales of sorcerers, Nairobi junkyards, cross-country bus rides, and spaceships that blast prisoners into eternity. I love breaking up my novel reading with short story collections so can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
One of the most chilling novels I’ve read in the last few years is The Body Lies by Jo Baker so I’m delighted to hear that she has a new novel coming in April. The Midnight News, is set during World War Two in the capital and follows twenty year old Charlotte as she negotiates family, work and a ‘dark shadow’ following her life. As a reader of Baker’s novels you expect the unexpected. I’m confident that Baker will take me into the time of the Blitz in new ways. Her earlier novel, Longbourn took us backstage into the world of the servants in Pride and Prejudice, performing an amazing act of imagination, so I know that she’s a writer who can take you anywhere.
I’m currently reading A Life of My Own, a memoir by the historical biographer Claire Tomalin. Tomalin grew up during WWI, lost her husband to a war zone, and raised four children on her own while leading a successful literary career. I’m also dipping into Taste by Stanley Tucci, which is already dog-eared because his childhood memories are interspersed with mouth-watering recipes. This is a book to read standing up in the kitchen while stirring a bubbling pot on the stove. Stock your pantry with Italian food staples before cracking the spine. Otherwise, you may find it unbearable.
I’m looking forward to Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls, which comes out in April. Walls wrote an incredible memoir about her unusual nomadic upbringing in America, The Glass Castle. I can still clearly picture scenes and phrases from that book so I’m sure this one will be just as beautifully written and impactful.
I recently read Eva Rice’s new novel This Could Be Everything. She writes wonderfully comforting books such as her best-known novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, and I was actively seeking a comfort-read whilst going through a stressful house move. This book didn’t disappoint – it’s set in the Notting Hill of the mid—90s, just before it became cool, and is filled with musical references from that time (Michael Hutchence makes a cameo!). It’s a coming-of-age tale infused with grief and ultimately hope. If you remember trying to record Bruno Brookes announcing the top 40 on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll probably like this book.
I am extremely excited to read American author, Curtis Sittenfeld’s forthcoming novel, Romantic Comedy. I loved her previous books including Rodham and American Wife, and this book, which is described as a ‘humorous and subversive tale set in the world of a live TV comedy show,’ looks right up my street. I also have Nikki May’s Wahala on my TBR pile – this is just out in paperback and is soon to be a major BBC series. It’s the story of three mixed-race friends living in London, who begin to question their lives as they enter their thirties.
The book I’m currently reading is one of those novels which makes you sit up and remember just how good writing can be. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (4th Estate) has been on my list for years, and thanks to a bargain find at Barter Books, I’ve finally been able to dive in. And it has NOT disappointed. Wild and rocky Newfoundland, grim weather, quirky characters, and so many sentences I wish I’d written. Pretty sure she’s a genius, actually.
The book I’m looking forward to is one I’ve had my eye on for a while: Move Like Water by Hannah Stowe (Granta). It’s due to come out in May but I’ve just recently got my hands on a proof copy. Hannah trained as a sailor and marine biologist, and her book explores the sea through this lens as well as her artistic eye. She was born and brought up in Pembrokeshire, just along the coast from where much of my own writing is anchored. So, partly out of authorly curiosity, I’m excited to check out this new voice in nature writing; one which I know will have a powerful connection with the sea in a way that feels vivid and, hopefully, familiar.
It’s safe to say that I’m addicted to the adrenaline rush that thriller books offer. Unsurprisingly, my family and friends give my book recommendations one star out of five, but I simply cannot stop myself from spreading the rush.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart is my personal 4.6 stars thriller. I think I finished this book in much less than a day and it is unquestionably a not-so-little gem. It’s a romantic yet violent thriller written in Glaswegian dialect about Protestant Mungo and Catholic James as they endure the brutal and hyper-masculine world of the 1990s. A fishing excursion that turns scary and agonising with so much savagery is an oustanding example of a book that makes you wish you were a character to save and be saved in some way. Usually, I wouldn’t try to read books with dialect since I find it difficult to understand, but for some reason, this one spoke to me and is without a doubt among the toughest yet most fantastic books on my 2023 reading list. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, but it should come with a ‘warning’ sticker on the cover!
I’m currently reading Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura. Translated from Japanese, it’s a modern fairytale about a group of lonely teenagers who find a portal into a magic castle, where they can search for a hidden key to get their wishes granted. So far it’s an intriguing and cosy read, giving Studio Ghibli vibes with its surreal fantasy elements and underlying warmth and tenderness.
I’m excited to get my hands on Elizabeth Acevedo’s upcoming August release, Family Lore, which follows a multigenerational Dominican-American family, some of whom have magical gifts. It kind of sounds like an adult version of Encanto (which I love), and having previously enjoyed Acevedo’s With the Fire on High I trust that this will be great too. I’m also intrigued by R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface, out in May – a satirical thriller about racism and the publishing industry. Kuang’s fantasy novels Babel and The Poppy War have been on my radar for a while, so maybe this year I will finally treat myself to one of her books.
I recently finished a bit of freelance work which meant my reading was dictated by the group – that piece of work has come to an end and so – reading freedom! But what to choose? As usual, I have a big pile of books on my bedside table. I recently finished Luke Kennard’s The Transition, a satirical dystopia that warns against prizing productivity and monetary value above all else. It’s hilarious and slightly terrifying. I’m now reading Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where are You? in the hope that it might rekindle something akin to the nostalgic joy that I found in Normal People years ago. I can’t say it is working yet but I’m going to keep going with it for a bit. On a strange and completely unrelated tangent, I’ve also been thinking a lot about my gut health, which has got me dipping into Tim Spector’s Food for Life and learning about the many advantages of kombucha, kefir and fermented foods. Once I’ve mastered the art of getting them into my diet, I am going to be so smug. After the Rooney, I’ll be looking to the other staff picks to help me decide what to read next (turns out reading freedom can equate to reading overwhelm, who knew?).