Although I’m studying English at university, up until the middle of January and into February this year, I wasn’t reading that much. It is not that I didn’t enjoy reading, but I had lost my groove. Yes I was still reading, but I wasn’t in love with the process of turning the pages and immersing myself in a new world. For me, reading is sometimes one of those things I feel like I should be doing. As I’ve always loved studying literature, theory and language for most/if not all of my academic career, if I wasn’t diving right in to a ‘classic’, I felt like a bad English student.
But during this third lockdown, (yes, I can’t believe we have to stipulate which one!), I have fallen back in love with books. Mostly, the joy of fiction – the escapism, entering an author’s world and consequently seeing yours from a totally different perspective. I joined GoodReads at the beginning of this year and set myself a reading goal for this year. I aim to read 50 books in 2021, including those I have to read for my degree. I wanted to push myself to read not only more, but a wider range of literature – from different periods, styles, nationalities and points of view (that are different from my own). I have currently read 20 books so far this year, so I am ahead of schedule, but for me it is more about recording what I’ve read and my thoughts on it, so I can look back at the end of the year and reflect. I therefore wanted to round up my favourite reads so far this year (in no particular order) and share some recommendations. I hope this list inspires you to pick up a book and start reading!
1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
As soon as bookshops were reopen in England, I rushed to Waterstones to grab myself a copy as I had heard nothing but good things about this book. I can confirm those people were not wrong! I finished this book in less than a week, and LOVED it. Miller has a MA in Classics from Brown University, and is a high-school Latin, Greek and Shakespeare teacher. The novel is a retelling of The Iliad but with a few extra and different details. Miller’s own classical background helps to give the book important grounding, but having never read The Iliad, or studied much Greek or Latin myself, she brilliantly provides enough mythological detail for avid Greek lovers and people reading this story on its own.
The novel is set in Greece, in the age of heroes. “Patrocolus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.”
This romance adventure was engaging from the first page, with Miller’s great balance of classical details and poetical descriptions, I would highly recommend this book to anyone searching for a good story.
2. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
I haven’t read an Ishiguro book yet that I don’t like. It was Ishiguro’s first novel since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and it doesn’t disappoint. The novel tells the story of Klara, an artificial friend (AF) who has outstanding observational qualities. It follows her journey from wanting to be chosen in the store, to finding a family and dealing with the complexities that it brings.
“Klara and the Sun imagines what the future of artificial intelligence and genetic-engineering could entail in this incredibly suspenseful novel which presents a myriad of ethical dilemmas without providing answers or solutions.”Jack Edwards
Ishiguro’s ambiguous, familiar yet surprising dystopian style is unmatched in my opinion. At first it seems like it just another story about AI, but it unfolds in more complex and intriguing ways which leave the reader questioning foundational ‘human’ principles in a whole new way.
3. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir was part of my required reading for one of my university modules, and if it hadn’t of been for that I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up. But it is wonderfully done and well worth a read. Whilst it is autobiographical, it deals with themes of sexuality, loss, identity and coming-of-age. Alison’s father, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve. Learning about the background of graphic novels helped me to appreciate the construction of the panels (individual frames) and the text. The narrative isn’t constructed in a direct, chronological, purposeful way – but instead we work our way into the centre of the novel and back out again. It is a labyrinthine form which cleverly reflects the maze of Alison’s life. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick, yet interesting read, and is after something a little different.
4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
This book was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is simply a linguistic adventure. It is about a 15-year old boy called Alex, who is a droog-member and serves out ‘ultra-violence’. His narration tells of his experiences with the state authorities intent on ‘reforming’ him. I don’t want to explain much of the plot as the power of the story lies in the shocking nature of the events that occur and the language that Burgess uses. The narration uses an inventive slang (which is a mixture between Russian and British), and echoes the violent intensity of the novel. The book includes a glossary for the new words used, so that you can decipher the meaning. But after a little while you begin to fill in the blanks yourself. A Clockwork Orange is frightening and transgressive, and Kubrick’s film adaptation was banned in the UK in 1973 and only returned in 2000. Whilst this black dystopian novella is fascinating, I would suggest that it isn’t for everyone. It comes with trigger warnings of violence: sexual, physical and psychological.
5. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
Beautiful. Simple. Powerful and Wise. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. It is about friendship, kindness, love and much more. Whilst there isn’t much of a narrative thread (although in the audio book there is), it is impossible not to like this book. It’s made up entirely of charming illustrations, great handwriting, beautiful sentences and jokes about cake. It is a book for everyone, from 5 to 80 year olds. Go and grab yourself a copy, you won’t regret it!