Book Review: Alone Together

Many thanks to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for providing me with an e-ARC to review this book. I’m a bit late in finishing it, but the book is now available to buy from all your usual retailers!

Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of Covid-19

Non-fiction

Goodreads Synopsis

ALONE TOGETHER: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19 is a collection of essays, poems, and interviews to serve as a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during this stressful time of isolation as well as a historical perspective that will remain relevant for years to come. All contributing authors and business partners are donating their share to The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization that coordinates charitable programs to strengthen the bookselling community.


The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Six months on from the beginning of a global pandemic, it seems a bit early to be reflecting on the experience. Yes, we’ve all experienced a lot in these months, but with second waves springing up across Europe and elsewhere, it feels like the worst is yet to come.

With the publication of Zadie Smith’s Limitations and this, Covid memoirs are now already on the rise. Should we already be writing our experiences of this pandemic when there is so much more to come? Yes and no, I’m not sure of the answer.

I was sceptical about reading Alone Together, a book that combines experiences of the pandemic from 91 authors. I was worried it would be a bit preemptive, and it was to a certain extent, as it only covers the first few months of what is set to be a long-term pandemic. There are natural limitations to this, as it’s an ongoing experience.

However, I was surprised at the volume and diversity of experience this collection of poems, essays, interviews and personal stories manages to convey. It was never going to be an easy book to read – so I read it in small, regulated doses over a month. I enjoyed it more than I thought – and gained a lot from learning about the range of experiences the book shines a light on.


Covid-19 has affected the whole world, but this book reminds us that every experience of the pandemic has been different. “Today we may all be required to wear a mask. But our masks are unequal.” (W. Ralph Eubanks) Which is part of the beauty of the book. It gives voices to the multitude of different experiences of the pandemic and the range of difficulties faced. From caring for loved ones, trying to home-school and overall – just trying to stay sane and afloat in our tumultuous world. It’s a book about every felt aspect of the pandemic – love, loss, grief, comfort, connecting, and moving forward.


Although it is American-centric, as a UK reader, it shines a light onto the experience of Covid-19 from across the pond. It features words from 91 writers that I had never heard of and I found myself Googling authors and adding their books to my TBR list – you could say I learnt a lot about new writers. Alongside every poem, essay or interview is a brief description of the author and their works which I found useful and noteworthy


I found the essays to be the most enjoyable to read. Although only ever a few pages long, I felt it gave a more in-depth view to understanding the person’s experience of the pandemic. They were all beautifully written, as they would be, but deeply insightful.


The entire book is self-reflective by nature and harrowing at times to read – since we are still very much living through it. Although preemptive, readers will gain a lot from reading this. It will become one of those books that are studied when trying to make sense of our current history. Hopefully future historians will realise the diversity at the heart of experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Please note – this post does contain Amazon affiliate links and if you choose to use them, I will earn a small fee but this doesn’t impact my review in anyway.


Book Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Back in June, amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Mater movement, Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black, British author to top the UK book charts. Although I purchased the book a few years ago, I felt like there was no better time to read it than now. This post is a little long but bear with me, because it is an important book with lots to unpack. You can fast forward to the snapshot pros and cons if you wish!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Reni-Eddo Lodge

Bloomsbury, 2017

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The long review

I’m going to start with the content, as I feel this really makes the book excel. Reni Eddo-Lodge takes a thematic approach to frame her argument and the entirety of the book. Essentially, she argues that the types of conversations we have about race in Britain need to drastically change. Instead of just acknowledging racism, white people need to realise the extent of their own unconscious bias and how deeply embedded this is within the parameters of British society.

Eddo-Lodge explores this argument with many different angles, including a brief historical overview of race in Britain, the criminal justice system, and analyzing the weaknesses of traditional feminist and class frameworks. Creating a thematic approach really enables the reader to understand how racism has been so built into our present system and what me must do to de-tangle it.

I particularly enjoyed reading the feminism section as it was truly eye opening and made me realise the limitations of its traditional white origins. Eddo-Lodge argues, “Feminism needs to demand a world in which racist history is acknowledged and accounted for, in which reparations are distributed, in which race is completely deconstructed.” I also really benefited from her explanation of white privilege, “Neutral is white. The default is white” and know that I will use this understanding to frame my own discussions I have with people about race.

Image: Women’s march, 2017, via Wikimedia

I also particularly enjoyed the section exploring race and class and how they are so interlinked. In Britain, the working-class paradigm is often presented within a dominant white framework, excluding people of colour. When importantly, people of colour share these struggles, but also are even more disadvantaged than the white working class, because of the colour of their skin. Someone who is white and working class, is more likely to get an interview for a job, than the same black candidate who applied – and Eddo-Lodge shows this through her use of alarming statistics. Thus, it is essential to include race within working-class discussions and identities because it is so relevant to Britain’s political consensus (Brexit, for example) and widening the debate.

Eddo-Lodge writes with clarity and a wealth of knowledge which makes the book incredibly digestible. Her argument is clear and carried throughout all the chapters, and it’s hard to come away not feeling completely compelled by it and further, questioning everything you have learned about race and the history of this country. It’s a book that undeniably makes you think at every stage and will cause you to re-assess everything about your own identity and attitude towards race.

The book was born from an initial blog post which was given the same title, but the argument remains the same. Eddo-Lodge argues that until we change the way we talk about race, due to the lack of ’emotional disconnect’ fostered from white people, and their refusal to accept structural racism, the types of conversations about race had are simply not worth having. The book was born from this frustration and I can see why she chooses to frame it in this way. In the first instant that the reader lays eyes on the title, they are encouraged to question their own potential bias and misunderstandings about race.

Image: Cover of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s podcast, that can be found via Spotify

The narrative of struggle outlined by Eddo-Lodge is laced with emotion and frustration and this becomes evident with the direct language she uses. It makes the reader unable to hide from the realities that she presents and is in many ways, a good thing. However, I do not think this approach would be preferable to every reader and fear that those who could perhaps benefit from reading this the most, are left out of the conversation. Of course, I understand that she is frustrated about talking to white people about issues they can never understand and how one sided this can be, however, not all white people are like this and I think this polarisation does not benefit the importance of widening the conversation.

Nevertheless, everything is explained in such a clear way, that I completely see why so many people have been drawn to this book and used it as a starting point. It is very accessible but at the same time, full of detail and complexity. Above all, she provides an essential and nuanced framework for discussing race and what it is like to be a person of colour today, but particularity living in Britain. Britain very much needed this book – and everyone could benefit from reading it.

Image: Pixabay

Pros

  • The structure provides a clear overview of Britain’s racial history and the problems faced today within every aspect of society
  • The language and approach is easy to follow, making it an accessible read for everyone
  • It provides an explanation of the best language to use when making these important discussions about race which I found very useful
  • It is a book which will always be relevant – and is framed in a way that is timeless and essential for people to understand how Britain got where it is today
  • It’s short and concise so will not take that long to read
  • It’s bold language and statements will make you challenge everything you know about race and your own privilege – it will make you think, re-assess and make changes

Cons

  • Although I understand the purpose of the title and the reasoning behind it, I don’t necessarily feel it is the best way to get more people to read this book. It is deliberately inflammatory and I can appreciate why, but not everybody will. Some people will just refuse to read the book, based on the title alone
  • Her bold and assertive approach will not be for everyone and may not work for those who perhaps could benefit the most from reading this book

Key quotes

“We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.”

Colour blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.”

Feminism will have won when we have ended poverty.”

Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

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Book Review: Airhead ~ The Imperfect Art of Making News

Image: Deadline

Emily Maitlis is rather topical in the UK at the moment because of her framing of the Dominic Cummings debate on Newsnight. Maitlis opened the current affairs program with,

“…He made those who struggled to keep the rules feel like fools and has allowed many more to assume the can now flout them.

The Prime Minister knows all this but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his back benchers, the dramatic early warning from the polls and a deep national disquiet – Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it…    

(You can see the full opening statement here.) In my opinion, her statement did not break “impartiality” regulations but there we go, some are always bound to think otherwise.

However, funnily enough I was actually reading her book before this started. I’ve always admired Emily Maitlis for her approach to broadcasting and this was largely inspired by her brilliant interview with Prince Andrew during the Epstein scandal last year. As someone who wants to go into journalism, I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Review

Title: Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News

Author: Emily Maitlis, British journalist and presenter of Newsnight

Genre: Non-fiction, biography

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Maitlis’ Airhead is premised as an autobiography of her experience as one of the UK’s leading British broadcasters. In hosting the current affairs program, Newsnight, she is often at the forefront of breaking news. This book documents a range of interviews she has conducted, from President Donald Trump, to the Dalai Lama. Each chapter is structured as a specific interview, or peppered with a particular experience in her career – such as when the BBC got arrested in Cuba, or when she took her twelve year old son to see the Chippendale’s in a Las Vegas strip show.

Although the interviews were interesting to read, I found they were largely driven by pure narrative, and each chapter had the same structure and format. In a sense, it was quite repetitive and lacked substance. Some chapters were better than others, and I did enjoy reading her experience as the interviewer – one that stands out is the interview with former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, days after the Grenfell tower tragedy. Her writing reveals to the reader that indeed, no interview is ever perfect and a lot of the time, due to constraints they are haphazardly glued together in the moment, for the purpose of fulfilling the “breaking news” agenda.

Before reading this I thought it would focus more on the ins and outs of news making and the philosophies of journalism itself. By this, I mean who does news making aim to please, the morals and ethics of breaking news reporting, and how instant reporting via social media has undergone a revolution in recent years. Also, the impact that breaking news has on history making and our conception of events. These are all things Maitlis has been in the thick of over the years, and I was therefore, surprised they weren’t really discussed. Perhaps I expected too much?

Maitlis integrates some of this ever so slightly, but only in the final chapter,

“A huge amount of thought goes into what we do. Interpreting moments of history whilst they are still unfolding is both deeply rewarding and endlessly challenging. Television news is messy. It gets things wrong. It is imperfect – sometimes laughably so – and sometimes you just nail it.”

Emily Maitlis, Airhead

I felt that she had saved the best until last – this reflection on the art of making news should have framed the entire book, and she could have gone deeper into this and been more selective with the amount of interviews included.

The book is marketed as an “autobiography” but it certainly doesn’t read like one, we don’t receive details of her early life, childhood, or how she got into journalism, just snapshots of favourite moments in her career that when reading, feels more like a diary entry. Don’t get me wrong, the interviews were interesting and funny at times, but I found the book lacked depth she could easily convey, considering her remarkable career.

There’s a lot to be said about news making and the ethics of broadcasting, and Maitlis is one of the best people to discuss it, but it’s a shame she didn’t make this more of a feature, perhaps she is saving it for another title!

All in all, this is an interesting book and a worthwhile read for anyone that is interested in broadcast journalism and wants to read about it from her perspective. But don’t expect too much from the sub title, “the imperfect art of making news” as this isn’t given the attention it deserves.

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Book Review: The Bullet Journal Method

I’ve dabbled with the bullet journal over the years, only to abandon it in the past as I’ve ended up finding it too time consuming. However, upon reading this book, I have realised that is exactly the opposite of what bullet journaling should be. With more time on my hands, and spending more time journaling in general, I decided to read the official guide to learn more about it.

What is the Bullet Journal method?

The Bullet Journal method was conceived by designer, Ryder Carroll, when he was searching for a more productive means to manage his life. It is a type of journaling which aims in the most simplest forms, to give space for your tasks, thoughts, and anything else in-between. In being a “bullet” journal, it provides a fast means to note down everything in your head. Using a specific set of symbols the user can have all their to-dos, thoughts, events and ideas in one place. In using an Index system, the user can easily find information from any month of the year.

It describes itself as a type of “mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system” and stresses the importance of the physical act of writing in our digital age, to achieve a sense of mental clarity. It is not meant to be complicated, time consuming or “pretty” (despite what you find on a quick social media search using “#bulletjournal” or “#bujo”) but a practical accompaniment to dealing with the strains of modern day life.

This book, “The Bullet Journal Method: Track Your Past, Order Your Present, Plan Your Future” is the official guide, written by its founder, Ryder Carroll. In true bujo style, I will conduct the review in brief bullet points so you can get a sense of what it contains.

Title: The Bullet Journal Method

Author: Ryder Carroll

Genre: Non-fiction, guide

My rating: ★★★★

The Review

  • This book is a ‘how to’ guide for setting up a bullet journal. It covers the origins of the method, why it’s different from other productivity methods, and gives step by step instructions on how to create your own.
  • Within the step by step instructions are snippets of commentary on the philosophies of life and the importance of mindfulness. Carroll believes this type of journaling and the act of writing things down is a type of mindfulness in itself.
  • The book stresses the importance of practicing mindfulness throughout – in framing it as a necessity for coping with the modern world and detoxing from social media.
  • It contains diagrams and illustrations on setting up a bullet journal and examples of monthly, weekly and daily “spreads” (a.k.a the pages of your journal).
  • These are incredibly useful as sometimes the text is quite bogged down in detail, it is handy to have pictures to see what the pages are supposed to be set up like.
  • It is very informative and takes you through step by step. For anyone thinking wanting to start a bullet journal, I would definitely suggest reading this cover to cover.
  • I left feeling a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information in the book, but I think its a guide you can flip back to again and again as you go along. I will definitely be re-reading certain sections.
  • I really appreciated the background on the creation of the bullet journal, as it made me understand its purpose.
  • As for the method itself – I have always seen the value in writing things down as it makes my mind feel more at ease – but this method is important as it stresses journaling in its most minimalist form. (where it can be most useful to de-clutter your mind)
  • A very good guide to understanding and learning about the practice of bullet journaling, the history of its conception and why it is important in the digital age.
  • It is a tad pricey in physical form, if you have a Kindle I’d suggest buying a digital edition, which will only cost you £3.99 in the UK!

Putting the ideas into practice

Now, I’ve been awkward with this and only started half way through the year but I thought it might be interesting for you to see a few of the pages I’ve done since reading the book. I haven’t followed the symbols strictly, but I will when I start a new notebook. I really recommend the practice if you’re like me and get very overwhelmed with your emotions and thoughts – it can act as a quick form method of writing a diary, as well as increasing your productivity.

I mainly use it to track books that I read and books that I want to read. Although I use the weekly spread quite a lot too. As always, thank you for reading! 🙂

April Wrap Up

Hello! Hope you all had a good month, despite everything that has been going on in the world. It was a month of up and downs for me but one thing is for sure, I definitely was able to enjoy reading.

I’m glad that this month I seem to have re-discovered my love for non-fiction, as well as reading some classics which have been on my TBR for ages. There were a few books I was disappointed with, but on the whole I had some great reads!

What I read this month

Hiroshima John Hersey ★★★★

John Hersey provides a harrowing account of the tragedies of Hiroshima, told through the eyes and ears of those who lived through it. Not one for a light read, but nonetheless an essential one for understanding the past and how it influenced our present world.

Machines Like Me Ian McEwan ★★★☆☆

I had been eagerly awaiting for this to be released in paperback but was left incredibly disappointed. It raises some interesting themes about humanity and the future of AI but it’s delivery was somewhat lacking, and I didn’t think the alternate history added anything to the novel. Interesting, but not the best McEwan out there.

The Flatshare Beth O’Leary ★★★★

This was exactly what I needed to read during lockdown. It is a lighthearted, uplifting and funny story about a woman who opts in to share a flat with a man she never plans to meet. It left me feeling warm and bubbly inside and is a read I’d recommend to anyone!

Call Me By Your Name Andre Aciman ★★★★

A hot and steamy love story I wasn’t quite prepared for, but one I enjoyed all the same. I loved Aciman’s prose and his ability to take you away to endless summer days in the Italian Rivera. I questioned his portrayal of love but nonetheless, think it is a great read and an important one.

The Past Is Present John Markowski ★★★★

This is the first book I read for Reedsy Discovery and I was incredibly impressed. The book was fast paced and driven by excellent character narratives which alternated between the turn of events. A classic page turner. Due to be released on 8th May, you can see my review here.

Why I Write George Orwell ★★★★★

Orwell makes the ongoing case for socialism crystal clear, in this short collection of essays written against the background of rising Fascism across Europe in World War Two. Essential then, but all the more now. An enduring message written with conviction and coherency.

Lonesome Traveler Jack Kerouac ★★★★

Travel writing at its finest – I really needed this bit of escapism. Follow one man as he travels across America, Europe, Morocco and a desolate mountain top. Hard to follow in places but nonetheless, a classic Kerouac featuring beautiful, poetic prose.

The Graduate Charles Webb ★★☆☆☆

Disappointing from start to finish, the characters were inauthentic and the story lacked any depth or coherency. This could have been an interesting novel about post-graduation life, but I felt that the way the novel was written limited its impact. Film is probably better.

What I’m currently reading

The Library of Lost and Found Phaedra Patrick

I picked this up as a bit of light relief from some heavy books I have been reading recently. I’ve seen it around a lot and thought I would give it a go. It is mainly told through the perspective of one woman, Martha, who one day, receives a parcel on the doorstep of a library she works in. The parcel is a book inscribed by her grandmother, who died years before the date it was written in. Martha attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding this book and in the process, rediscovers herself and what it means to really live.

I’m really enjoying this book so far and am close to finishing it. A review will certainly be up soon!

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist, Robert Tressell

This book has been on my to read pile for as long as I can remember, and now in isolation I’ve finally had the chance to read it. Deemed as the favourite book of both George Orwell and Jeremy Corbyn alike, I felt like I had to read it to further broaden my horizons on the necessities of socialism and its origins.

The book is told through a variety of perspectives of men who are overworked and exploited – but who cannot face up to the extent of their own poverty. The main narrator, Owen, is the only one who can see the reality of their poor working conditions and the wider problems. He tries to explain socialism, inequality, wealth redistribution and poverty to his peers – but with little luck. I’ve read around 300 pages so far and am very much enjoying it, I am learning a lot. A review is definitely on the horizon.

What’s on my May TBR?

I’m bound to change my mind if I commit to reading certain titles next but again, there’s so much I want to read! But I have a few ideas, for non- fiction I’d like to have a go at:

  • Fully Connected: Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Overload by Julia Hobsbawn. This book looks at the way human society and interactivity has changed with the arrival of the internet, 24/7 media coverage and social media.
  • Airhead by Emily Maitlis. After her stunning interrogation of Prince Andrew during the Epstein scandal, I have become a fan of Emily Maitlis. She is a brilliant broadcaster and journalist and I can’t wait to read this autobiography.

For fiction, I’d like to read:

  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. I have read The Secret History and absolutely devoured The Goldfinch and loved every word, so I am holding out high hopes for this one too. I have no idea what it is about but as always with Tartt, I do feel a little intimidated by this book due to its size, but then I remember how much I devoured The Goldfinch
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Have seen and read great things about this novel, including great praise by Barack Obama so I can’t wait to get stuck into this too!

My reading stats

  • Total pages read: 1,819
  • Total books finished: 8
  • Average rating: 3.75

Final thoughts

April has definitely been a strange month and probably one that I will remember for the rest of my life. In the UK, we have been in lockdown for over a month and life still isn’t due to return to normality for a while. I experienced highs and lows throughout the month, but nonetheless I am so happy I have found the time to read and write again.

What did you read in April? And what are you looking forward to reading next month? Please let me know in the comments! And wherever you are in the world, how is the virus affecting you?

Hope you are all well and in good spirits 🙂