[Normal blogging service might still take a while to resume, but I forgot I’d written this post a while back and not posted it, so enjoy…]
The rules are:
- Tag Ally @ Ally Writes Things so she can see your recommendations!
- Give at least one recommendation for each of the prompts below
- If you don’t have a recommendation, talk about a book you want to read
- Tag some friends! [I think everyone I know has already been tagged.]
And now for the books! (NB. I’m deliberately focusing mostly on books I didn’t read in the last few years to introduce some new recommendations to the blog). Thanks to Emily @ Literary Elephant for tagging me in this.
A Book About Friendship
Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty (2004), about her friendship with the poet and writer Lucy Grealy, is the best book about friendship I’ve ever read, and it also takes in artistic struggle, depression and disability at the same time.
A Translated Book
One of my favourite books when I was an older teenager was Jostein Gaarder’s The Ringmaster’s Daughter (2002), translated from the Norwegian. Gaarder is best-known for his earlier novel Sophie’s World, still pitched to teenagers as a ‘Western philosophy 101’, but I think this strange novel about an intensely obsessive storyteller is actually his masterpiece. It’s also very much an adult rather than a YA book.
A Diverse Romance
I don’t read a lot of romance but I thought the YA novel When Dimple Met Rishi (2017) by Sandhya Menon was cute, fun, and challenged a lot of assumptions about arranged marriages. Also, I adore the cover. It apparently has all sorts of sequels now!
A Fast-Paced Book
The Sterkarm Handshake (1998) by Susan Price (plus its sequel A Sterkarm Kiss (2003)) is an incredibly gripping time-travel story set in the sixteenth-century Scottish Borders and deserves to be much, much more famous than it is.
A Nonfiction Other Than a Memoir
I loved Manjit Kumar’s Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality (2007); there are quite a few books now that aim to be follow-ups to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, but I think Kumar offers something different. Rather than simply explaining some of the key scientific concepts that underlie quantum physics, he shows us how they were worked out, with both Einstein and Bohr offering each other baffling thought experiments to try to prove that their own instincts were right.
An Underrated Memoir
I’m not sure exactly how to define ‘underrated’, but Alys Fowler’s Hidden Nature (2017) never seems to have got the attention it deserves. I think it’s one of the very few memoirs I’ve read that manages to successfully fuse nature-writing with a voyage of personal discovery (bigger hitters, like Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, didn’t quite work for me). Fowler cleverly intertwines her experience of coming to terms with her lesbianism with her exploration of Birmingham’s canals in an inflatable kayak.
A Book With Fewer Than 10,000 Ratings on Goodreads
Well, After Such Kindness (2012) by Gaynor Arnold only has 174 ratings on Goodreads at the time of writing, which is such a shame, because it’s an incredible, devastating book that might actually have been published a little too soon (I can see it having real resonance now that sexual assault and abuse are much more in the forefront of fiction). It considers the relationship between Charles Dodgson – better known as Lewis Carroll – and Alice Liddell, whom he infamously photographed as a child in various states of undress – although the characters take fictional aliases to remove them from the real historical figures. The story does not develop in the way one might expect, but it’s deeply thoughtful about the ways that society, both now and in the nineteenth century, enables abuse. My review (with spoilers) is here.
A Book With An LGBTQ+ Protagonist
I’ve written about this one more recently but I still think that Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil (2018) has been very unfairly overlooked. It follows a teenage boy from a Nigerian family growing up in DC who realises he’s gay, and is written in an energetically literary style that verges on the experimental in the most brilliant way.
A Book By A Trans or Non-Binary Author
This is technically a book with a non-binary editor rather than a book by a non-binary author, but I loved the science fiction anthology New Suns (2019), edited by Nisi Shawl, who identifies as non-binary.
A Book With More Than 500 Pages
I am getting a bit tired of finding books so I’m going to be lazy and say that if you haven’t read George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872) already then just get on it.
A Short Story Collection
Ted Chiang is my favourite short story writer, and I think Exhalation (2019) is his best collection; it contains the best time travel short story I’ve ever read, plus brilliant reflections on all sorts of familiar science fiction themes such as sentient AI and parallel selves, always taking these tropes in completely different directions. His ‘Story Notes’ are a thing of beauty in themselves.
A Book You Want Everyone to Read
I would love fantasy writer Robin McKinley’s work to be better known in the UK, and it’s hard for me to choose a favourite of her novels. I also don’t think that any single one of her novels would appeal to everyone, but you’ll probably find something you like given how wide-ranging her fiction is. Some of my favourites are: Sunshine (2003); The Hero and the Crown (1984); Deerskin (1993); and Rose Daughter (1997).