As every year, I am surprised that the year is already half way over. I have had a pretty bad reading year so far but not doing this tag felt too sad.
Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2021
By far the two best books I read were by authors whose previous books I also five-starred (I am sure there is a lesson here that I will, as always, forget as soon as I post this). Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain is near perfect: its structure is clever, his use of repetition makes it easy to follow without becoming boring, and his research is impeccable. The Sacklers are the worst though – it took me a while to settle on a least favourite Sackler but I think I got there in the end (It’s Richard). Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is just a perfect book, no word is wasted, no idea left unexplored. I so wish for it to win the Women’s Prize.
I had such hopes for this month – but my reading was erratic at best and I have not finished a single fantasy book – even though I planned to prioritize them.
Books I read in May:
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: 4 out of 5 stars
Favourite of the Month:
The best book I finished was definitely Detransition, Baby – I adored many things about it and I am a bit miffed that it didn’t make the Women’s Prize shortlist. I loved its exploration of gender and motherhood, Reese is such a wonderfully realized character that made my heart hurt – it is not perfectly structured and sometimes a bit too sprawling for me, but what an excellent, excellent cast of characters.
I finished three books, all of them fiction written by women.
What I should be getting to next:
I do not even know how to get my reading mojo back – and I will be going back to work in two weeks and my tiny reading time will probably disappear completely. The only thing I reliably get to is audiobook listening, so I will probably be switching near completely to that format.
One thing I do know, however, and that is that I will be reading Brood by Jackie Polzin with the possibly most chaotic group chat I will ever be part of. I am excited! (and the audiobook is only about 5 hours long, so I should manage to actually read the book in June.)
Apparently I will now forever only finish two books a month. I exaggerate but it does feel this way.
Books I read in April:
Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Eat The Mouth That Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza: 4 out of 5 stars
Favourite of the Month:
Before the Twitter Thing, I would probably have said Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing – but that was a very unpleasant experience and I cannot divorce my feelings from that. I thought Eat The Mouth that Feeds You was an excellent collection, let down by a couple of stories that didn’t work for me.
I read two books, both by women. One non-fiction title and short story collection.
What I should be getting to next:
I should focus on the books I am already reading an try to finally finish one of the eleven (!) books I am in the middle of. May is Wyrd and Wonder though and I am planning on prioritizing fantasy accordingly. I also hope to make some progress in the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlisted books I am planning on reading. Let’s hope my reading pace picks up!
The shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was just announced and I briefly wanted to share my thoughts. I haven’t read all that many books of the longlist (worst reading slump plus a lot less time) but I still love following along. I correctly guessed four out of the six shortlisted books, so I am pleased with that:
Here are the six shortlisted books:
I am particularly excited to see Piranesi by Susanna Clarke on this list which I thought was excellent and timely in its depiction of loneliness. I am also happy to see both The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi on the list, as I have heard good things about both of them. I am planning on at least trying to read those two. I am currently in the middle of No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood which I expected to love but am not enjoying at all so far. I have no interest in reading How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones although I have heard good things – but it is also apparently bleak and I cannot deal with bleak in my fiction right now. I am not sure if I will read Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller which I expected to see on the list – the reviews have been mixed and I enjoyed but didn’t love her earlier book Swimming Lessons.
Overall, I am happy with the shortlist. I would have loved to see Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters of the shortlist – I find its discussion on motherhood nuanced and very very resonating. I am also sad that Luster isn’t the book of the crop of “disaster women” books that made the list but I also did not think it was as strong as it could have been. But I feel that this year’s longlist was overall very strong and it must have been near impossible to narrow it down to six books. The resulting shortlist is varied in style and genre (or at least as varied in genre as literary fiction prizes get) and author identity. I would bet that either Transcendent Kingdom or The Vanishing Half will win but for myself, I am definitely #TeamPiranesi.
I am both excited and not excited. There are many books I am very thrilled to see on the list and quite a few I either hadn’t heard of or have no interest in reading. As I said before, I will not even attempt to read the longlist this year (which is probably a good thing as I am in a very bad reading slump) – but I do hope to get to some of these. I only correctly predicted three books which hopefully means that this will be a lot better than last year.
Here are the books, in alphabetical order by title:
Because of You by Dawn French I had heard of Dawn French but not of this book but I do like the inclusion. This deals with motherhood and grief and by the looks of it racism. Will I read this? Probably not. I do not think I am in the right head space to read about still birth.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi This was already shortlisted for the Booker Prize – as such it was already on my radar. I forgot to include this one to my predictions and kicked myself basically the moment I posted them. This also focuses motherhood – but in what sounds a really interesting way. Will I read this? Maybe – the reviews are all over and I will probably wait until more people in my WP group chat have read it.
Consent by Annabel Lyon This is one book I have been on the fence whether I want to read it since I first heard about it. I love books about siblings but I do not deal well with unfairness in books and this sounds very unfair. But look at this cover! Will I read this? I honestly do not know yet.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters I am so excited that the Women’s Prize finally longlisted their first trans woman. This book sounds like it could be incredibly up my alley, with its focus on difficult women, motherhood, and complicated and unconventional relationships. Will I read this? Yeah, absolutely.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan Another one that I nearly predicted and one that I am very excited for. It has been compared to Sally Rooney, who I famously love, and its focus on a difficult woman in a transitional phase of her life is absolutely my catnip. The audiobook narrator is the same as for Conversations With Friends, so I am very pleased. Will I read this? Definitely.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones Another one that I briefly considered adding to my predictions, this sounds like a quintessential WP book, sprawling narrative, different perspectives, social commentary. Will I read this? This is another one that features a dead baby, so no, this will not be a book I am going to read. I am very excited for everybody’s reviews though!
Luster by Raven Leilani This one I correctly predicted! Another book featuring a difficult woman on the crossroad of finding herself, I thought the first half was pitch.perfect and the second half a bit lacklustre. But still, I adored most of the debut and would not have been happy had this not been longlisted. Will I read this? Review here.
No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood This is another one of the books I am thinking of as millenial books on this list. Lockwood’s memoir has been on my TBR for ages and this one, a novel about the internet and being very online, intrigues me to no end. It seems to be a bit of a marmite book and those are always fun to have on longlists. Will I read this? Yes! The snippets I’ve seen, I adored, and this has the potential to be a favourite for me.
Nothing But Blue Sky by Kathleen MacMahon I had heard nothing of this book before its inclusion on the longlist and I always like this! After the death of his wife, a man realises that he maybe did not know her as much as he thought.This seems to be a literary mystery of some kind – and those can be my thing but this sadly doesn’t sound like it. Will I read this? Probably not. As this is written by an Irish author, I can be sure Rachel will get to it as some point and can then tell me whether I would like this or not.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke YES! I am SO happy! I loved this, I want more people to read this, I adore Clarke’s writing. Normally, I do not care about spoilers but with this one, I do think knowing as little as possible (there is a reason the blurb is this vague) actually works in the book’s favour. I need to finally write my review but, wow, this is so good. I am glad the judges included a book that is at least spec-fic adjacent and what a good one to choose! Will I read it? Review to come.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers Another one I had only vaguely heard about, this initially did not interest me at all. A historical novel set in the fifties, featuring a possible virgin birth, a woman falling in love with her friend’s husband, and what sounds like interesting mother/daughter relaionships. Very few of my friends have reviewed this yet, so I am interested to hear more. Will I read this? My first impulse was no, but the more I sit with it, the more intrigued I am.
Summer by Ali Smith Possibly the biggest suprise for me, as I was under the impression that Smith didn’t want her books to be put forward for prizes anymore. Arguably one of the bigger releases on this list and one that comes with the additional hype of being the final in a quartett of books that has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. I am very glad to see this included because I like when authors are at the top of their game which Smith definitely is. Will I read this? No. I read and appreciated Autumn but did not enjoy reading it and have thus not kept up with the series.
The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig I had neither heard of the books nor the author (although a quick Google search reminded me that she signed that obnoxious open letter in support of JK Rowling which makes me unhappy for a variety of reasons) but this does not sound like my type of book at all. I do not often enjoy more crime focused novels and this one sounds too stressful. Will I read this? No, no chance.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett The third book I correctly predicted, as did pretty much everybody I follow. Another book focussing sisters (which I adore!), with a heavy emphasis on commentary on race, this seems to be the one to beat. I have wanted to get to Bennett’s writing for a while, but her debut which is written from the perspective of a chorus of mothers does sound more like my type of thing. I am very pleased to see it on the list though! Will I read it? I got a copy of this book for Christmas, so yes, I will definitely read this.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi This also nearly made my list but for some reason didn’t. I am very happy to see it included. A book dealing with science and faith and sibling relationships that has been near universally been praised by reviews, this is another favourite to win, I am sure. Will I read this? I am not sure yet.
Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller I read Fuller’s sophomore novel a while ago and while I appreciated it, it was not enough of a favourite that I have kept up with her books. That novel also focused siblings (which was my favourite aspect of the book), as does this one. Twins Julius and Jeanie’s lives start to unravel when their mother who they still lived with at 51 dies. I do often love books about siblings but for some reason this one does not particularly speak to me. Will I read this? Maybe.
When the longlist was announced, my first reaction was excitement. This list seems to be a lot more catered towards my tastes than last year’s longlist was. However, the longer I sit with it, the less enthused I am. For one, with only five books written by authors of colour and the vast majority of authors coming from either the US or the UK, this is not as varied as I would have liked it to be. There are also many books that sound similar in themes – which I hope I will be proven wrong about.
However, even if I complain about books being similar, at least it caters to my taste. I will be reading all the books about difficult women and the internet. As always, I am most excited to see what my bookish community makes of these books. This really is my favourite time in the bookish world.