New Writing North: What We’re Reading
Claire Malcolm –
Whilst on lockdown I’ve been up and down with reading, sometimes intensely paging through books and sometimes not having enough concentration. I’m a great fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. They never disappoint on plot, character and observation. The body count is higher than usual in Blue Moon as Reacher sees off two rival Eastern European gangs and helps an old couple out with their health insurance issues. Along the way he romances and gets revenge for a new lady and hangs out with a jazz band. Classic Reacher in all his brilliance.
Ruth Dewhirst –
One of lockdown’s silver linings has been the extra space it’s given me to read, and I’ve enjoyed finally getting round to some of last year’s favourites, particularly Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. I loved the experimental yet incredibly readable writing style, and the way its individual stories and perspectives are woven together to build a powerful picture of womanhood, race, class, sexuality and everything in between. Now more than ever we need to celebrate stories of black women, and I have no hesitation in saying this is my top book of 2020 so far.
For comfort, I’ve been returning to the classics; I recently finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion and think it might be my favourite of her works (though Pride and Prejudice still comes a close second!) I’ve also been making time for poetry, which is something I struggled with in the old pace of life. I’m currently catching up on last month’s climate reading group choice, The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie, and am hugely enjoying it; its moment of isolation feel especially poignant right now, and there are some beautiful linguistic moments. One of its opening poems asks ‘where should we find consolation, / dwelling in the north?’ For now at least, reading is my consolation.
Anna Disley –
I am currently reading The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Set in Italy 1860 it tells the story of a Prince Don Fabrizio, ‘the Leopard’ who is extraordinarily privileged. Revolution and democracy are in the air and the Leopard is determined to preserve his status, his ironic dictum is ‘everything must change so that everything can stay the same’. He will do everything he can to hold onto the power he and his ancestors have long enjoyed, including ally himself with the Revolution. It is a beautifully written book, so psychologically perceptive, sumptuous in its language, and makes you desperate to break out of lockdown and visit Sicily.
Next I am reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, described by Zadie Smith as ‘One of the very greatest American novels of the twentieth century’, and because it’s written by a black woman about a black woman it’s not a widely known as it should be.
Rebecca Wilkie –
I spent the first few weeks of lockdown unable to read very much at all but over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself once again reaching for a book. I devoured American writer, Lily King’s latest novel, Writers & Lovers: the story of aspiring writer Casey, who is navigating grief and disillusionment, as she strives to make her mark as a writer and find her way in a world in which she’s no longer ‘the youngest kind of adult’. Wry, moving and funny, I’ll be recommending this novel to all.
I spent a glorious sun-filled few hours in my yard reading Isabel Greenberg’s graphic novel, Glass Town. It’s based on the intricate imaginative worlds created by the young Brontë siblings and is based on their extensive juvenilia. I was totally absorbed in the rich, tropical worlds of Glass Town, and Gondal and moved by the way these illustrations clashed with the greyer, bleaker real-life experiences of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell.
I’ve always turned to books to help me make sense of the world, so perhaps predictably, I’ve been researching books that will help me better understand the issues underpinning the Black Lives Matters movement and what I can do to help. I’m about to read Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla Saad, which comes recommended by many people.
Will Mackie –
Having been blown away by Chigozie Obioma’s compelling and lyrical first novel, The Fishermen, I’m looking forward to reading An Orchestra of Minorities, published last year. I find Obioma’s natural storytelling gifts completely absorbing – he’ll take the reader in unexpected directions, through comedy, myth and the supernatural. He’s also a wonder in his language use, scattering every page with breathtakingly vivid imagery. Not to go too deeply into my own weird reading habits, but I like to have a few books on the go to read in specific places. So when I’m not enjoying this book in the living room, I’ll be continuing my glacial progress through The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann’s confounding and frustrating epic (bedtime reading); cherishing poems from Nan Shepherd’s In the Cairngorms (kept in my jacket pocket to reach for when walking); and re-reading Janice Galloway’s brilliant memoir All Made Up in a corner of the kitchen.
Grace Keane –
If I was a bookworm before lockdown I am now the Lambton book worm – I read 14 books in May. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, Djinn Patrol on The Purple Line by Deepa Annappara and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett were all completely brilliant; compelling and moving stories that I would sincerely recommend. I also took up running in lockdown (like the rest of the world) and had as my companion the audiobook of Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I don’t read as much non-fiction as I would like to, but the prose is so stunning and it’s a fascinating portrayal of the sexual and emotional lives of three American women, told over eight years.
Next up I’ll be reading either Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid or Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. I’ve been so desperate to read these books I bought the hardbacks, despite the fact that I can’t actually fit hardbacks on my bookshelves. I’m sure they won’t let me down.
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