State of the TBR – December 2022

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Looking at last month’s picture, I have done quite well again! Incomings have come in but books have come off the TBR, too. Even though I’ve added five books to the little pile at the end, it’s not as big as last month.

I completed 23 books in November (thanks to my week’s holiday and doing Novellas in November), and am part-way through three more (one my Emma Read and one reading along with Matthew), plus the long-term ongoing Tolkien and Sagas books. I read all my ebook TBR books for November (my picture was wrong last month; I have yet to review two of them), and also got my September ones and all but one of my October ones read or (one) started. I read eight out of the fifteen novellas I put out to choose from and two others (one in from a publisher then read right away, one from the TBR), making a total of ten, and I read three books for AusReading Month (one left to review) and twelve for NonFiction November.

Incomings

Incoming print books. I had some lovely books in this month.

“Mary & Mr Eliot” by Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner is an author copy from the publisher – it’s based on Mary Trevelyan’s manuscript about her friendship with T.S. Eliot which I copy-typed a few years ago to start off the process for Erica to edit and provide commentary on it. Lovely publisher Michael Walmer kindly sent me a review copy of his reprint of Howard Sturgis’ “On the Pottlecomble Cornice” which I promptly reviewed for Novellas in November and the British Library Publishing folk kindly sent me “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season” which of course I have saved to read this month. We had a tea party at Ali’s the other weekend and Meg gave me her copy of Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” while Ali passed me her copy of Elisa Shua Dusapin’s “The Pachinko Parlour”. I went to a Brian Bilston poetry reading run by The Heath Bookshop last week and bought a copy of his latest book, “Days Like These” (a poem for every day of the year!), and finally I received a copy of Nigel Green and Robin Wilson’s “Brutalist Paris” which I had helped crowd-fund. What a lovely variety of ways to receive books!

I won five NetGalley books this month:

“The Silence of the Stands” by Daniel Gray (published November) is about football’s lost season in the lockdowns – whose blog did I see this on?? Alexis Keir writes about returning to St Lucia and tracing his family’s journeys to the UK and New Zealand in “Windward Family” (Feb 2023) and in “Black Girl from Pyongyang” by Monica Macias (Mar 2023) we’ll learn about how the author was transplanted from West Africa to North Korea to be raised, and how she searched for her identity once she’d grown up (that’s going to be a good one for the Stranger than Fiction segment of NonFicNov next year!). “Happy Place” (April 2023) looks like another good novel from Emily Henry, a break-up novel with a big lie to all the friend group and Shauna Robinson’s “Must Love Books” (Feb 2023) pits a young Black woman against the world of publishing.

And I bought three e-books from Amazon in their Black Friday sale:

I always think I have Trevor Noah‘s memoir, “Born a Crime” but I didn’t, until now. John Cooper Clarke is one of the few poets I like and I couldn’t resist his autobiography, “I Wanna Be Yours”, for 99p. And Patrick King’s “Stand Up For Yourself, Set Boundaries and Stop Pleasing Others” might stop me making myself labour over these massive posts (right?!).

So that was 23 read and 15 coming in in November – back in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” by Jimi Famurewa, which is a NetGalley book published in October and is marvellous so far, Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is my readalong with Emma and most entertaining so far, and I’ve finally got to reading Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” with Matthew, so he does a bit of the audio book (with Dave narrating and a musical background) on his walk and I catch up with the book (no Dave’s voice or music) at home.

Coming up

This month, I’m taking part in two challenges: my own Dean Street Press December, of course (see my main post here) and I’ve laid out all the DSP books I have in paperback plus one more modern one on Kindle. I’m looking forward to seeing what I and everyone else can read in the month from this lovely publisher.

And I’ve also decided to do #DiverseDecember to maintain the diversity of my reading, though I don’t have a main post to link to for that. So upcoming are Nova Reid’s “The Good Ally”, Riva Lehrer’s memoir of her life and art living with a disability, “Golem Girl” and Rabina Khan’s essays, “My Hair is Pink Under this Veil”. I have my lovely Christmas stories from the British Library, too, and my great big Larry McMurtry, “The Evening Star”. This isn’t the end of Larry McMurtry Rereading, though, as I only have “Cadillac Jack” left so am going to read that in January.

My NetGalley TBR for December has just two books, but of course I have September to November ones, too:

“Beyond Measure” and “Femina” are older ones I need to get read, “The Racial Code” and “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” are two from October I need to polish off (the latter saved on purpose of course) and Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for Difficult Times” and Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” are published in December.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s one book to finish and 21 to read (ten of them paperback novels and I have a week off over Christmas …), but I’m looking forward to it all!


How was your November reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? Are you doing Dean Street December with me?

Novellas in November – catching up with a last few reads

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I seem to have managed to run out of days in November, what with all the challenges I’ve been doing. So here are short reviews of the last few Novellas in November I fitted in this month. I’ve really enjoyed this challenge, as ever – from picking out a grid of possible reads to working my way through them. I got up to ten this month, eight from the grid of possibility, one that I was sent to review and read and reviewed within the month and one that I inexplicably didn’t include on the grid, so not bad going, and it’s been fun reading everyone else’s reviews, too.

Tessa Wardley – “Mindful Thoughts for Runners”

(25 December 2021, from Meg)

A nice little book looking in quite a lot of depth at mindfulness for runners, covering starting running, enjoying different weather, communities, injury time, etc. I particularly liked that the images through the book were really diverse, and there are lots of details of things you can do like not taking the headphones, noticing different kinds of trees and plants and taking note of the feel of the ground beneath your feet. There’s an environmental element, too – treading lightly, reusing water bottles and the like, which was nice, and a useful chapter on approaching running as you age.

Maya Angelou – “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now”

(21 January 2022, from Ali)

A book of essays first published in 1993 without any real explanatory matter around them: there’s an Acknowledgements page which mentions two magazine editors who encouraged Angelou to put down her thoughts, but nothing with each piece. But anyway, they’re good, succinct essays with Angelou’s usual direct style and straight talking, encouraging us to do the right thing and be authentic, in summary. Slotting in gaps in her autobiographies, the collection is notable for having quite a lot about her faith, which I don’t remember as a huge part of those works, including the moment she was brought to humility by reading and re-reading a passage about God’s love. I can only presume this is why the book was marked by Virago “Autobiography/Spirituality” on the back of the book: it’s not the main part of it by any means, though. Funny and moving stories mix with exhortations on various subjects: the pieces are short and easy to read and it was an enjoyable collection: I’m looking forward to reading the other two I have TBR.

Hans Siwik – “Iceland: People, Sagas, Landscapes”

(20 May 2022)

I found out about this book in Paul HalfManHalfBook’s April 2022 roundup, where he listed books recently acquired. Intrigued by the title, I managed to hunt a copy down on Abe Books quite soon afterwards. I don’t know if he’s read it yet as I couldn’t find a review.

After a potted history of Iceland, Sigurdur A. Magnusson, who wrote this and presumably chose/edited the other texts, explains that “

No direct correspondence was sought between the texts and the photographs of this book. Word and image may be said to create fruitful tension that should expand rather than confine the central theme, which is the interplay of man and nature … (Foreword, n.p.)

and indeed if you look for a clear correspondence, you won’t find one. There are some longish selections from 1950s and 1960s translations of the sagas interspersed with blocks of very fine colour plates of photographs of landscape and the odd person. The saga selections include my (and probably everyone’s) favourites: Gudrun being asked which husband she loved best in Laxdaela Saga and Gunnar’s death from Njal’s Saga with other bits from Egil’s Saga and Grettir’s Saga.

One for the Iceland/sagas completist maybe, and it was a bit disappointing that there was no list stating where the photographs were of. But a nice book to while away a few hours with.


So that rounds up my go at Novellas in November. More non-fiction than fiction as usual – Matthew did suggest it should be called “Not-Many-Pages November” as even the official page includes non-fiction (though he concedes Novellas in November is the better name!)

These were Books 8 – 10 for Novellas in November, all three from the original selection of 15. They are also Books 9 – 11 for NonFiction November.

Book reviews – Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark” and Caleb Femi – “Poor”

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Two books read for Novellas in November which detail Black men’s lives in London 55 years apart but with many similarities as well as differences. Of course the men in Sam Selvon’s novel, Selvon himself, have fairly recently arrived in London from Caribbean countries, while poet Caleb Femi was born in Nigeria. South London features heavily in both – Brixton and Peckham, respectively; I don’t know Brixton that well but I lived in Peckham for a year in the mid-1990s, well before the gentrification I’ve been reading about in later novels and at the time of the North Peckham Estate, which Femi records in detail in his poems and photographs. Both men detail simple wishes for safety, companionship, some money, some way to advance in life. Both have friends laughing at friends who wouldn’t know what to do with the women they are chasing if they caught them, and both feature strong, uncompromising women.

I bought “The Housing Lark” in November 2021 after it was mentioned on Ten Million Hardbacks’ blog; out of the eight print books purchased that month, I’ve read two so far, but that is only still a year ago. “Poor” came in Bookish Beck’s parcel-before-last in December 2021 and I’ve actually read four out of the ten making up the pile I gathered before Christmas that year!

Sam Selvon – “The Housing Lark”

(04 November 2021)

Is so life was, you had to take chances, and one day your luck might turn. And if you yourself ain’t have anything to offer, it good to stick with fellars like Harry, and Alfy and Syl and the rest of the boys. All of we can’t be blight, Bat think, out of six seven fellars, one bound to be lucky, something good bound to happen to one of we. Bat ain’t care who it happen to, as long as he around to share in the good fortune. (p. 34)

I can’t remember if the characters in this short novel appeared in “The Lonely Londoners” but we’re back in familiar territory with a disparate group of men struggling to survive in a mainly unfriendly and difficult post-war London. We open with Battersby regarding his rented room, hoping the lamps on the wallpaper might issue a genie, wishing for simple things, food, company, money. The plot revolves around the resolve of a group of friends to club together to buy a house – the only way they can see of getting secure accommodation and their own agency.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to make Battersby the treasurer, as the money seems to fritter itself away … He does run a coach trip to Hampton Court which gives us a hilarious interlude as the participants eat and laugh their way around, observed with some alarm by their White counterparts, and of course it’s the women, Battersby’s sister Jean, her room-mate Mathilda and Teena, unfortunate enough to be married to one of the men, who take the scheme in hand and make it work. Written in dialect like “The Lonely Londoners”, like that novel, too, it’s both funny and tragic, the characters making the best of their situation, destitution only one step away.

Interestingly, it has a very modern comment to make about education:

‘I must say you boys surprise me with your historical knowledge. It’s a bit mixed up, I think, but it’s English history.’ ‘We don’t know any other kind. That’s all they used to teach we in school.’ ‘That’s because OUR PEOPLE ain’t have no history. But what I wonder is, when we have, you think they going to learn the children that in the English schools?’ (pp. 100-101).

A touching and lively novel and an important record of first-generation immigrants’ lives.

Caleb Femi – “Poor”

(11 December 2021 – from Bookish Beck)

This will not be enough for them

so they’ll force us to put it into words

& we will say: When hipsters take selfies

on the corners where our

friends died, the rent goes up. (“On Magic / Violence”, p. 39)

I have read more poetry this year than I have for a long time; I still favour the very clear and direct and I got a bit lost in the allusions in this one (I was mainly OK with the language and dialect terms) but could see my way through a good proportion of them. I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the word as most of them are very hard-hitting and full of pain and distress, but it’s an important and strongly beautiful collection of both words and images.

With poems about the concrete landscape and the miles of walkways connecting the spaces of the North Peckham Estate, the poetry is going to be unyielding and strong, but there’s a lot of feeling, emotion and care in the book, from the unconventional signs of spring (young boys play on the grass, people get the new trainers) to the moving eulogies for Damilola Taylor, Mark Duggan and the Grenfell Tower residents. It’s worth looking at the notes, which explain which poems are memorialising which lost people.

There’s anger and understanding of anger, with some very powerful poems about the “riots”/uprisings and their meanings, and there’s bewilderment at the start of the gentrification which has now hit the South London suburb (I have most notably read about this in “Yinka, Where is your Huzband?“). The images of people and tower blocks work perfectly with the poems, couplets and prose pieces and the work is technically complex and adept, pulling at the heartstrings, raising a smile, documenting how it feels to feel you are every Black man who is shown mistreated on the TV. I hope this reached a variety of audiences, including those people who are portrayed in it and will see themselves in a poetry book published by a mainstream publisher, for once. Rebecca’s review which originally attracted me to the book is here.


These were Books 6 and 7 for Novellas in November, both from the original selection of 15.

Book review – Mariama Ba (trans. Modupé Bodé-Thomas) – “So Long a Letter”

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A last review from my holiday last week: I read this one on the plane on the way home (I like to have a print book to hand for flights in case I’m told to turn my Kindle off, although in fact I was very absorbed in Jonathan Coe’s “Bournville” as we landed in Birmingham!).

I received this book in my Birmingham BookCrossers’ Not So Secret Santa parcel last December from the lovely Sam (alongside a Christmas book I read on Christmas Day and another book I haven’t read yet). It would have fallen under the Novellas in Translation themed week for Novellas in November had I reviewed it last week but I’m not really doing the themed weeks so it’s all OK!

Mariama Ba (trans. Modupé Bodé-Thomas) – “So Long a Letter”

(16 December 2021, from Sam)

Waiting! But waiting for what? I was not divorced … I was abandoned; a fluttering leaf that no hand dares to pick up, as my grandmother would have said. (p. 56)

I don’t think I’ve read a book set in Senegal yet, though I might be wrong, and I’m very glad I’ve read this classic of women’s writing. It was originally written in French and Ba obviously has a quite different attitude to colonialism that people who came after her, as her (apparently fairly autobiographical) main character loves her French-administered school and relishes the education she receives there. I’ll note I’m not being clever and percptive about attitudes to colonialism here: as this is an edition published in the Heinemann African Writers Series, there’s an excellent and fairly academic introduction. Kenneth Harrow also points out this is an early example of African feminist writing and I can really see that in the deep commitment to female friendship that is shown throughout the novel.

We meet Ramatouolaye at her husband’s funeral. She’s writing it all in a letter to her best friend, and we get the immediate present first, all the rituals and family stuff going on, all rooted in her Muslim faith. Unobtrusive footnotes help us through the details, as there’s a lot about payments, clothing, etc., but underlying it all is the fact that now she is widowed, she’s going to have to tread carefully to retain her own agency and life. Added to all the confusion is that there’s a second, much younger, wife involved – and this also happened to her friend, although in that case, it was down to manipulation by her mother in law and she has walked out of her marriage, all the way to America. We learn these details gradually, but we’re basically shown very cleverly two different ways that a woman can get into this kind of situation and react to it. Always, their strong friendship binds them and keeps them going.

Ramatouolaye must negotiate several suitors and these are very amusing points in the book where she gives at lesat two of them what for and engages in interesting political discussions with the last She also has a neighbour who is able to predict the future and also has very strong opinions on the right thing to do. She acts as a kind of Greek chorus, not always welcome, but another strong female figure. Added to these figures is her grandmother, whose precepts and advice she remembers more and more as she travels through her own life.

Ramatouolaye must also negotiate the changes in her children’s lives as they grow and push the boundaries, from the older children smoking to the youngest boy playing football in the street, a risky business, and then one of her daughters finds herself in the oldest predicament of all. Will she do the right thing or the kindest thing? We leave the book on a positive note, a reunion with her dearest friend on the cards. What a lovely book, funny and perceptive and empowering and so much packed into under 200 pages. Highly recommended.


This was Book 4 for Novellas in November.

Book review – Vikram Seth – “From Heaven Lake”

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Another read covering two of my November challenges, Novellas in November, because it’s under 200 p long (and yes, non-fiction is allowed there!) and NonFiction November, because it’s a true travel narrative. I bought this one in April this year when my friend Jen alerted a few of us that there were lots of Virago Women Travellers books in the window of the Moseley Oxfam Books – I bought a load of them (haul post here) but of course the shop had Other Books, too, and Other Books were bought. I love Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” of course (though don’t seem to have read it since I started book blogging), and have read other fiction, but this one was new to me.

Vikram Seth – “From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet”

(6 April 2022, Oxfam Books, Moseley)

I convince myself that to exit from Tibet will be just as valid as to fly out from Shanghai. I am to discover that I am wrong. (p. 35)

In the early 1980s, when Seth was studying in China, he decided to return home to India for the summer overland, hitchhiking in lorries through Sinkiang and Tibet to Nepal, travelling through the Himalayas, even. His journey was uncomfortable, awkward, sometimes a bit alarming but always entertaining, and he makes it so here. This edition starts with an introduction written seven years after his trip to China had ended, where he decries the public clampdown and horror of Tiananmen Square.

As he travels, we meet his companions, the lorry drivers and other passengers, and he also discourses on the differences and similarities he sees between India and China, which is very interesting, given the context of 40 years ago. Both stifle innovation and both have slow governmental bureaucracy, often with one department not knowing what the others are doing: I feel like innovation is there more in both countries now, but still with repressive and complicated regimes.

There are some lovely asides, too, for example of course he meets lots of people who speak different languages, and can often manage to communicate with the Uighur minority – sadly so much in the news now – in Urdu as they are a Muslim population, but he comes across all sorts of barriers and language difficulties. But as he says, and as a language-learner at the moment, I can see this is true, …

those who don’t know a language properly are often most expressive in it. I remember an Italian friend who once asked me whether I planned to go by road or ‘by the fluvial way’. (p. 169)

So a lovely read with beautiful descriptions of people and places, where we’re alongside him all the way, discomfort and all, and rejoice with him when he finally makes it home!


This was Book 3 for Nonfiction November and Book 3 for Novellas in November.

Book review – Huda Fahmy – “Huda F Are You?”

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I found out about Huda Fahmy’s brilliant cartoons on her Facebook “Yes I’m Hot in This” page and I read her first book of cartoons, “Yes, I’m Hot in This” a couple of years ago. Last year, she published her first graphic novel – I would probably call this autofiction, as she admits it’s somewhat based on her life but not totally, so it comes under the fiction heading and still gives a compelling picture of life as a young Muslim hijabi girl in North America. I pulled this short book off the shelf to read for Novellas in November, as it has under 200 pages. I don’t often read graphic novels as I find I skim through them too quickly, comments on that in the review. But it was great, and Matthew just read it, too!

Huda Fahmy – “Huda F Are You?

(6 December 2021)

Instead of the usual quotation at the top of this review, I’m going to add a photo of one of the pages, as there’s not really enough text to quote. It gives a good impression of what the book looks like, and also the moving quality of Fahmy’s work – with just a few lines, we see the fear and worry on her mum’s face as she travels to the US with her new husband:

This coming-of-age novel is lovely – heartbreaking but funny and very instructive if you want to know what life for Fahmy and her character was like. I loved getting to know her family (including her mysterious sister, drawn see-through with dotted outlines!) and the disparate friends she gathers around her as she starts to make sense of high school. We see Huda going to Halaqa (as she describes it, like Bible Study), and being able to learn more about her heritage and to improve her Arabic, and also meeting the cool and inspirational Sister Amal, who pops up from time to time through the text, and we see her finally start to push back at the racism that’s becoming rife at school – complete with profiling and abuse from teachers, alongside her friends.

Matthew really enjoyed this one, too – he chuckled at some pages but found it sad, too, and in many ways a typical high-school coming-of-age novel. We do root for Huda and I will definitely buy more of Fahmy’s work (I’m aware I’ve missed one of her books and will pick it up soon)


This was Book 2 for Novellas in November.

Book review – Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garimara – “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence”

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I’m very pleased to have read this one so early in the month because it neatly covers the three reading challenges I’m doing this month: AusReading Month, Nonfiction November and Novellas in November. As well as coming in at around 130 pages and being a true story, most importantly it fits in with my theme of reading books set around social justice and Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. Bill from The Australian Legend kindly sent it to me in January, along with two others of the books pictured here, and I’m very grateful that he’s helped me to access these books on an important part of Britain’s colonial history and wrongdoings.

Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garimara – “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence”

(13 January 2022, from Bill)

The fence cut through the country from south to north. It was a typical response by the white people to a problems of their own making. Building a fence to keep the rabbits out proved to be a futile attempt by the government of the day. For the three runaways, the fence was a symbol of love, home and security. (p. 109)

What a punch in the guts this book is to read. I had a good idea of the taking of land from Aboriginal peoples by White invaders and of the treatment meted out to the people who had lived on this land for millennia, but I don’t think I was fully aware that, like in Canada, an “Indigenous School” system was used to practise cultural genocide. Here, we learn of the system created to remove mixed-heritage, part-Aboriginal children from their families and “re-educate” them to basically provide labour for the people who stole their land. While the story of Molly, Daisy and Gracie dates from the 1940s, the author of this book, Molly’s daughter, lost her sister to this system a decade or so later, too.

The book is so well-done, with an introduction telling us how the author came to put the information down from her mum and aunt’s narratives and work out time scales for the Western reader while acknowledging the different ways Aboriginal Peoples have recorded time. Then it gives the the context in a couple of chapters which cover things right from when White invaders first came along the western coast of Australia, some more decent than others, none really decent. In fact, the first chapter with the idyllic and simple life of people living in harmony with their land, with its casual use of Indigenous language terms (there is a glossary in this book) reminded me strongly of the first sections of “Roots“. Then we get up to date with the founding of the settlement at Jigalong government depot, the birth of first Molly and then her cousins Daisy and Gracie, each with a White father, and their experiences with their families before being ripped away and shipped down to a school 1,600 km away.

It’s not long before they escape and make their way back home, which forms the majority of the narrative, raised in bush craft and the ability to survive but with the intelligence and resourcefulness to put this into practice. Good people are met along the way, give them food and clothes, then report them to the authorities, sometimes “for their own good,” and they realise they can trust nobody until they get back to their own people. The round-up of what they did next at the end is still stomach-churning – Molly in particular ended up losing one of her daughters in a similar situation once again.

This book was originally published in 1995 and it is horrific that so little is heard about this still (even though a film was made of this story), similarly to the awful Canadian “Indigenous schools”. There was an apology in 2008 and on-going reparations: this Wikipedia article on the Stolen Generations (which I hope is an appropriate link: if someone tells me it isn’t I will of course change it) has quite a lot of detail. Bill’s review of the book also describes the background in more detail and has interesting links and images.


This was Book 1 for AusReading Month, Book 1 for Nonfiction November and Book 1 for Novellas in November.

State of the TBR – November 2022

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Looking at last month’s picture, I have done shockingly badly! Not only have the Three Investigators pile moved back to in front of the books; there’s now a vertical pile of the most recent incomings there, too!

I completed 13 books in October, and am part-way through four more. I read none of my ebook TBR books for October, but did get three of my September ones read and I’m going to make a real effort to keep going and clear them properly. I read some of my print TBR books, including two of my three review books from publishers, I gave up on “The View from the Corner Shop” because it was just too detailed.

Incomings

I talked about my 22 incoming print books in a separate post this month and have managed not to acquire any more since!

I won six NetGalley books this month:

Jonathan Coe’s “Bournville” (published Nov) is a family saga set in the suburb a few miles from me. Alba Donati’s “Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop” (Nov) is the tale of a bookshop founded in a tiny town in lockdown. “The Racial Code: Tales of Resistance and Survival” by Nicola Rollock (Oct) investigates race and racism in Britain today. Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for these Difficult Times” (Dec) is a set of short stories set around immigrants and immigration which I imagine I saw on someone else’s blog, but where? Ore Agbaje-Williams’ “The Three of Us” (May 2023) is a novel taking place in one day as a marriage and a best friendship collapse. Colin Grant’s “I’m Black so you don’t Have to Be” (Jan 2023) is a memoir told through a range of intergenerational stories.

I also bought three e-books from Amazon:

Dayo Forster’s “Reading the Ceiling” was another one I think I saw on a blog. It’s a first novel set in Africa and the UK which looks at three directions a young woman’s life could go on. Dipo Faloyin’s “Africa is not a Country” looks at stereotypes and how to break them, and Jane Linfoot’s “A Winter Warmer at the Little Cornish Kitchen” is a bit of fun in a series I’ve read from before to read in December.

So that was 13 read and 31 coming in in October – still going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Black Victorians” which is a NetGalley book from September and Jessie M.E. Saxby’s “Rock Bound”. Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is Emma and my next readalong after finishing “Square Haunting” (review to come soon). I’m also inching my way through that big Tolkien book.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, I’m taking part in three challenges: NonFiction November, Novellas in November and AusReading Month. I have set aside books for NovNov and AusReading Month and most of the former and all of the latter are nonfiction books, so the reading for NonFicNov will look after itself and I’ll be bombarding you with Monday posts for the themed discussions.

For AusReading Month, hosted by Brona of This Reading Life (introduction and master post here), I’ll be looking at social justice, with four books looking at colonialism and the current and recent experiences of Aboriginal people (an acceptable term to use at the moment, thanks to resources from Brona last AusReading Month). Anita Heiss edited “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”, collecting people’s experiences, Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garmara’s “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” is the true story behind the film of an epic journey made by children (this is also under 200 pages so will fulfil all three of my challenges). Chelsea Watego’s “Another Day in the Colony” looks at the effects of colonialism, as does Claire G. Coleman’s “Lies, Damned Lies,” which is a personal exploration of this.

For Novellas in November, hosted by Cathy 746 Books and Bookish Beck (intro post here), I have laid out 15 books (like last year!) which I don’t expect to get through; 14 of them are non-fiction and all but two are by Global Majority People authors, too, so I’d like to read as many as possible. I won’t list them all here so you won’t get disappointed when I don’t read your favourite!

My NetGalley TBR for November has just four books, but of course I have the September and October ones, too, including the one I won in October, published then. Two you have seen about above, then “Refugee Wales” is a project looking at Syrian people who have settled in Wales, and Hakim Adi (ed.) “Black Voices on Britain” takes original sources into account, although by then I’ll have read about lots of Victorians and Georgians so I wonder if there’s going to be a lot of overlap.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and a big choice to read, but I only really have to read my Australian ones and I’ll cover all my challenges, so only a minimum of eight!


How was your October reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

State of the TBR – December 2021

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It’s time to share the state of my TBR and report on all those November reading challenges. And at the very end of the post, an announcement of my 2022 reading challenge!

I read 26 books in November, which was probably an all-time record, at least since I lived alone in London in the 1990s (one was for Shiny New Books and one for my other blog, so haven’t appeared on here yet). It was down to a) doing Novellas in November, so 15 of the books were under 200 pages, b) not having a huge work schedule so time to read in the daytime, and c) having the Terrible Cold which gave me 2 weeks of milling around feeling a bit rubbish and not spending time running. I’m thrilled to report I’ve taken a total of 23 books off the TBR for my TBR project 2021-22 (one DNF, the others read) so I only have 62/85 left to read (this may be a bit wonky: I will reassess when they’ve gone down a bit more) and am ahead of target (in fact a month ahead of target). I read 16 titles (two in one volume) for Novellas in November and really enjoyed doing that project, and 15 for Nonfiction November, as well as doing all five NonFicNov prompts (one to come out on Friday), and two for AusReading Month. Phew! I read four of my planned NetGalley reads for the month, I didn’t get round to “Unleash the Girls” and didn’t finish “Carefree Black Girls” (it was a valuable read for the author’s experiences but so rooted in a cultural milieu of American contemporary and older TV programmes and musicians etc. that I was having to look up more than I read).

Incomings

Some incomings first. So many incomings. From the woman who doesn’t buy books in Oct/Nov/Dec in case other people buy them for her (to be fair, only one of these was on my wishlist …

In print incomings, first of all I saw mention of Sam Selvon’s “The Housing Lark”, a sequel to his marvellous “Lonely Londoners” on Ten Million Hardbacks’ blog and had to order it, and at the same time, there was mention in “Saga Land” of Kari Gislason’s own book about his search for his Icelandic father, “The Promise of Iceland”, so an order went off to Hive. Then, I went to Oxfam Books to buy presents for a Not So Secret Santa recipient and found they had some brand new social justice type books I couldn’t leave behind – “Rife” ed Nikesh Shukla, which is a 2019 collection of memoir pieces by young people, Kehinde Andrews’ “The New Age of Empire” about the effect of empire around the world, “This is Why I Resist: Don’t Define my Black Identity” by Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu which is a rallying call for anti-racism, and Remi Adekoya’s look at multi-heritage people and their place and experience in the UK, “Biracial Britain”. Then I saw mention of Amrit Wilson’s “Finding a Voice” on The Market Gardener Reader’s My Year in Nonfiction post and realised this classic of oral history / sociology with Asian women in Britain had been updated, and Lenny Henry has edited “Black British Lives Matter” with essays by leading Black British writers, so that was a must-buy, too (more ordering from Hive).

In ebooks, first of all I was so lucky to be sent two lovely D.E. Stevenson novels by Dean Street Press, “Five Windows” and “The Fair Miss Fortune”. They’re out very early next year so I’ll be reading them soon. Then I got a bit tempted by Kindle offers and picked all these up for 99p each – Elizabeth Acevado’s “The Poet X”, a coming of age story told in free verse about a young woman of Dominican descent in New York, Farhad J. Dadyburjor’s “The Other Man” about a closeted gay man in Mumbai dealing with a doomed arranged marriage, British Malaysian comedian Phil Wang’s memoir, “Sidesplitter” and Elise Downing’s run around the British coast in “Coasting”.

I got a bit excited on NetGalley this month: as well as winning several books I’d requested a while ago, I went a-clicking on the main website (I do try not to do this!). Kodo Nishimura’s “Ths Monk Wears Heels” is an inspiring book by a Japanese monk who featured on Queer Eye (out Feb); Christine Barlow’s “Heartcross Castle” is a Christmas reawd about a woman inheriting a crumbling castle (Dec); Janet Pywell’s “Someone Else’s Dream” has the heroine having to take over the cafe her (soon ex-) girlfriend dreamed of running, and finding support in the community (end Nov; reading now); Emily Kerr’s “Meet Me Under the Northern Lights” is a Christmas novel (Dec); Shellee Marie’s “Influenced Love” has an online influencer finding that world is not all it’s made out to be (Feb); Monica Ali has a new one out, “Love Marriage” is apparently a gripping tale of what happens when people from two cultures try to blend their families (Feb); Kasim Ali’s “Good Intentions” has a similar theme (Mar); Daphne Palasi Andreades’ “Brown Girls” is another New York coming of age novel and a love letter to women of colour everywhere (Jan); and Celia Laskey’s “Under the Rainbow” has a group of LGBTQIA activists descend on a US town that has been declared the homophobia capital of the US (Dec).

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Tristan Gooley’s “How to Read Water”, which is about different forms of water, their clues and patterns, apparently not prioritising the organic over the inorganic in talking about things around the water that help shape it. I’m not very far in yet but it’s very interesting. I’ve also started the NetGalley read “Someone Else’s Dream”, which is pretty enticing so far.

Coming up next

I’ve got quite the variety in paper books to get read this month. Two Christmas novels (Sophie Pembroke’s “The Wedding on Mistletoe Island” and Jenny Colgan’s “An Island Christmas”, both parts of series and hopefully that won’t matter) that have lingered since last year and a Christmas bird book originally given to Matthew which is languishing on the TBR, Stephen Moss’ “The Twelve Birds of Christmas”. Then there’s my last Anne Tyler, “Redhead by the Side of the Road”, which is a really short one, another volume of Maya Angelou, “A Song Flung up to Heaven”, one last British Library Women Writers book, Winifred Boggs’ “Sally on the Rocks” (women fight over a man in a village), and then as we’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing this year, Craig Revel Horwood’s “In Strictest Confidence” felt appropriate to pick up!

I will also have a few NetGalley and other books on the go. I think I’ll just keep the Kindle on the go for downstairs reading this month and get these read and hopefully a few more.

So I have a good few of my November acquisitions on here, plus “The Arctic Curry Club” by Dani Redd (more light Christmas novel reading), Matthew finally has a space for Richard Osman’s “The Man Who Died Twice” in his audiobook schedule coming up so I’ll read the equivalent of an hour’s worth of audio a day on that at some point, and then I have those lovely D.E. Stevensons.

One last, very important thing … my 2022 Reading Challenge!

I’ve chosen my reading challenge for 2022 (this year it was Anne Tyler, last year Paul Magrs, before that, Iris Murdoch (again)) … and it is … Larry McMurtry. Click on the link for details and how to take part. Fancy joining me?


How was your November reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? And thank you for bearing with me while I posted and posted and posted – it should be a bit quieter in December!

Book review – V. S. Naipaul – “Miguel Street”

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I’ve done it! I’ve read all except two of the books I laid out to read at the start of Novellas in November (the Querying With Nuance one and the Maya Angelou) and I added one extra from my NetGalley books. The Mrs Oliphant came in at two books and so somehow (I’ve just re-counted) I’ve got to 16 novellas read in the month!

I bought this book in Oxfam Books in September this year. It’s one of the old Heinemann Caribbean Writers Series with the angular fish on it and I have to admit that I’ve got a hankering to collect them now …

V. S. Naipaul – “Miguel Street”

(08 September 2021)

One of the miracles of life in Miguel Street was that no one starved. If you sit down at a table with pencil and paper and try to work it out, you will find it impossible. But I lived in Miguel Street, and can assure you that no one starved. Perhaps they did go hungry, but you never heard about it. (p. 86)

This 1959 novel (in the Introduction, Laban Erapu makes it clear that it should be considered a novel, or a novelised memoir, rather than a book of short stories or connected sketches, and there are repeated notes that pull each character’s chapter together, such as their fate being noticed in the papers) is set in Trinidad around World War Two, in a poor street that might even look like a slum to a passer-by, where the houses and their inhabitants are bound together by their physical place and their place in life. Any attempt to make a better living or make something of yourself will fail and bring you back down to the level, whether that’s trying to pass exams to study medicine or running a brothel or taxi service while the Americans are on the island. Tinkering with cars that aren’t wrong in the first place is the way the narrator’s uncle tries to improve his life, equally hopelessly. But within their station, the inhabitants are happy (as long as they don’t get mixed up with dodgy women or violent men), sitting chatting about cricket and gossiping about the neighbours.

The narrator goes from boy to man during the book, and by the end he’s seen his main adult friend, Hat, go through something of a journey and is preparing to go on his own journey, as Naipaul of course also did. The book reminded me very much of C.L.R. James’ “Minty Alley“, also of course set in a bustling but poor street in Trinidad, but a decade or so earlier, with the same striving for betterment and the same downfall coming in when you get involved in romantic relationships. They’re both lively and fun but with moments of wrenching sadness, found here in the loss of a daughter or the deflation of a man who thinks he’s funny until he’s openly mocked by the whole street. In this first novel of Naipaul, we see the character tropes, even some of the characters (the Mystic Masseur makes a brief appearance) in a quick and engaging read that guarantees engagement and enjoyment.

I never knew a man who enjoyed life as much as Hat did. He did nothing new of spectacular – in fact, he did practically the same things every day – but he always enjoyed what he did. And every now and then he managed to give a fantastic twist to some very ordinary thing. (p. 156)


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 21/85 – 64 to go! It was Book 16 in my Novellas in November reads.

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