Midweek on Fleek #12 (Books I like that you might too)
Your aim for 2019 is to power through fifty whole books, which - given that last year you barely managed twelve - is ridiculous.
But hold on a bestseller-flicking minute.. What if you devoted every hour, second and moment normally reserved for drowning in social media quicksand to a few lovely chapters? What if you pied off Netflix and leapt on the reading wagon in every precious spare second?
The fifty-book year might not even be that hard.
Shit. Maybe the dream IS real. Maybe they’ll let you leave the Slow Readers Group and you can throw out your Slow Readers Group mouse-mat and you’ll start chairing Richard and Judy’s Book Club.
Anyway, let’s catch up on December 31st to see how those big dreams are coming along..
4 things you could read in a week
1) Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
…In the meantime, Why be Happy When you Could be Normal is short enough to squeeze into your quickfire reading schedule. It’s semi-autobiographical, funny and sad.
Jeanette Winterson’s adoptive mother told her daughter she believed the devil had led her to the wrong crib.
This book actually manages to use scraps of poetry and half-formed sentences in a way that doesn’t feel exasperatingly pretentious.
It just feels hurried, painful and emotional; like a quickly blurted confession of a desolate childhood.
Smoggy Manchester coughs and splutters from this book with a kind of grim splendour, as Mrs Winterson’s despair at her daughter’s sexuality boils over onto the pages with scissor-sharp insults, the glare of a midnight flashlight and Bible verses yelled up a chilly staircase.
2) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This is a manifesto. It’s super easy to read but may result in arguments with closed-minded family members when left on the kitchen table.
Since it was one of the most talked-about books of 2017, it’s ideal to race through if you haven’t yet. (100% didn’t mean that pun, it’s just a short book.)
There are probably (slash definitely) all kinds of sumptuous novels by British writers-of-colour which should have woken me up to these issues sooner and more poetically (and Why I’m.. is an excellent jolt of inspo to go looking for such books) but if you haven’t read much that specifically covered systemic racism in the UK, this one bullet-points it clearly.
From the erasure of black history in schools, to the white-girl party that is much of ‘feminism’, to the terrifying, bigoted attitudes of police officers. Ones we knew existed but hadn’t necessarily come across written down, in the officers’ own (mis-spelled, grammatically questionable, slightly deranged) words.
Until Reni-Eddo-Lodge showed them to us.
Basically she’s bored of conversations with white people that repeatedly excuse, dilute or refuse racism entirely.
Us white folks just need to simmer down and read it.
3) Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
This is basically Morocco through the eyes of a four year old.
It’s adorably, hilariously and intelligently written with the matter-of-fact, inquisitive voice of a child whose favourite word is roof-rack, so I for one was listening.
An enigmatic hippie mum (who according to the book’s description should really not have been played by Kate Winslet) takes her kids on a glamorous whirlwind North African gap-year.
The brilliance is not knowing (or particularly caring) who the mother is, why she’s there or which street juggler she’s currently banging.
It’s more just a bunch of cardamom-scented anecdotes, painstakingly coloured-in and splashed with wide-eyed childhood wonder.
Plucky little narrator finger-paints us a wobbly masterpiece: There are hungry-eyed thieves cackling beneath their headscarves, lost splinters of purple amethyst, daydreamed fathers, begging adventures and pet chickens.
It’s exactly the ramshackle collection of thoughts that make up early memories. Less corner-shop Chewits though, more freshly-picked oranges at the souk.
Disclaimer: it’s not even hideous or remotely kinky.
4) The Hours by Michael Cunningham
OK, first read Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf.
Done it? OK now read The Hours.
OH GOD IT’S SO GOOD.
It’s three days in the lives of three women.
One is Virginia Woolf; on the precipice between genius and desolation. One is Clarissa, a 1990s answer to the famous Mrs Dalloway, buying flowers for her BFF who’s dying from AIDS.
The third is an apparently unrelated forties housewife who slinks away from motherhood to read her copy of Woolf’s novel.
A lot like the book it’s inspired by, The Hours is a stream of consciousness packed with details which illuminate a pleasant middle class day-to-day, tinged with sadness.
If you’ve read Mrs Dalloway, you’ll start to see parallels which give you a lurking sense of dread that keeps the pages turning.
It’s beautiful, gloomy, sunlit and satisfying.
Really good women characters written by a man too. Well done Michael Cunningham.
So there we go guys, it’s time for me to get in bed. This has been fun.
Signing off in my towelling dressing gown,
Gwyneth Paltrow xoxo