Book editors’ note: this year, we’ve decided to write a monthly recap of what we’ve been reading. We hope you find some enjoyable recommendations here. Happy reading!
Ever since, as a child, my family noticed my proclivity to read, I can usually count on being gifted at least one good read for Christmas (and a little money to keep stuffing every house I’ve lived in with books). This year was no different, though not all my favourite January reads have been stocking stuffers!
My Christmas book, with which I started 2021, was gifted to me by my mum, who lovingly remembers that I wrote my IB extended essay on The Handmaid’s Tale and have loved Margaret Atwood’s writing ever since. I spent the first week of January diving into Atwood’s 2000 novel The Blind Assassin, and it was a fantastic one to start the year with. Atwood is a master of imagery, and her use of stories within stories was like nothing I’d read before. Alternating sections of octogenarian Iris Chase’s recollections of her life and family in 20th-century Canada and the eponymous novel that made Iris’ sister famous, The Blind Assassin gradually builds up the whole story of Iris’ life and the events that inspired Laura’s book. The novel earned Atwood the Booker Prize, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it – maybe with a cup of tea and a blanket on a cold afternoon.
Once I’d finished The Blind Assassin, I took it upon me to finally get through two books that I’ve been trying to sit down and properly read for all of 2020. The first is our own Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island, which had me laughing as it took me on a wonderful journey through loads of places in the UK that I have yet to visit, while noting the British idiosyncrasies I’ve noticed myself as an immigrant in this small island. Bryson’s wit is extraordinary, even if not all the jokes have aged equally well. Notes was a delightful holiday read, and Durham’s little cameo made me miss the city that has become a second home in the last three years. If you haven’t read it, I’m afraid my mum is now borrowing my copy, so I can’t lend it to you – but if you need a good laugh and some vicarious sightseeing, don’t hesitate to pick this up!
The other book I was overdue some quality time with is Bernadine Evaristo’s incredible Girl, Woman, Other. I do know I’m rather late to this party, especially since my college book club read this in October. Back in October, I got partway through, but the stress of beginning third-year, essay deadlines, and the November lockdown completely derailed my progress and my loan from the library expired. So, by the time I opened it three weeks ago, I was determined to finish it. I shouldn’t have worried – two chapters in, and I could not put it down. I love multi-perspective stories, particularly when the links between the narrators are slowly revealed. Evaristo’s style was brilliant – Girl, Woman, Other is a masterclass in stream-of-consciousness narration and effective use of unconventional punctuation. In my humble opinion, Evaristo deserved to be the sole winner of the 2019 Booker – and I say this as someone who sang Atwood’s praises a mere paragraph ago!
My last noteworthy January read was inspired by a friend, who tackled this re-reading project before me. I have a huge soft spot for fantasy stories, and I am readily awaiting Netflix’s release of its adaptation of Shadow and Bone. If you’ve never heard of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, and you can bear with a bit of Young Adult, you’re in for a real treat. I re-read the whole trilogy last week, and although you can very clearly see Bardugo’s evolution as a writer between the Shadow and Bone books and her later work (most of which is also set in the Grishaverse!), the premise really does merit the description “Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones meets Lord of the Rings.” And I promise the characters in the later Grishaverse novels are more likeable (though luckily, some favourites from the original trilogy stick around). Bardugo’s novels aren’t afraid to get dark, and sometimes gory, but the characters and worldbuilding are truly worth it. Plus, the Netflix show looks fantastic.
I do hope this small editorial wrap-up has something that tickles your fancy. I know these books made my January far more bearable, and I cannot wait to tackle my February to-be-read list.
Image: Sol Noya Carreno