What I read in August ~ 2020

August was a good reading month. On the whole, I was very impressed with most of the things I read, including feeling a warm wave of nostalgia, having read the long-awaited latest instalment in the Twilight series. Although I haven’t read as many books, as usual, two of them were over 700 pages! I hope you all managed to have a good reading month too! What were your favourite reads? 

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race Reni Eddo-Lodge, Non-fiction

This is an essential read for everyone. Reni Eddo-Lodge reveals in her emotionally charged long-from essay the deep, systemic racism at the heart of British society. With chapters on feminism, class and the criminal justice system it is a thematic demonstration of how racism is embedded within every level. Eddo-Lodge challenges readers to recognise their own bias and learn to listen – and it is evocative and completely compelling. It explains complicated concepts in a broad and uncomplicated manner, making it fully accessible, acting as a great starting point for learning about race.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Midnight Sun Stephanie Meyer, Fiction

For die-hard fans of Twilight, this is a must-read. Written as an addition to the Twilight series, readers finally get to see Edward’s version of events. Reading this gave me a greater appreciation for the Twilight world and I was interested to see things through Edward’s perspective, as he has long been branded as the creepy boyfriend. Granted, this won’t make sense unless you are familiar with the series but it offers more of an in-depth background to the Cullen’s and the Vampire world. Reading this filled me with the nostalgia of my teenage years. The over 700 page novel of mostly Edward’s inner thoughts and feelings won’t be for everyone – but for die hard fans it is bliss.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Little Friend Donna Tartt, Fiction

Donna Tartt’s first novel is full of initial intrigue as the story follows Harriet, a young girl, who tries to uncover the murderer behind Robin, her younger brother who was found dead in the family yard many years ago. The premise offers an initial hook and Tartt delivers a dreamy and evocative description of Alexandria, Mississippi in the 1970s, but fails to deliver a coherent plot and ending to what would have been, a fascinating novel. As a dedicated Tartt fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and was left wanting more of an explanation. Nonetheless, it is still a beautifully written book, but with no definitive ending. Literary fiction by nature focuses on character development, but this does not mean the plot should have to suffer. This is brilliantly demonstrated with Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

How I Learned to Hate in Ohio David Stuart MacLean, Fiction

This book is a portrayal of hate in multiple forms, demonstrated within one community in Ohio in the 1980s. Told through the perspective of Barry Nadler, and the small community he is a part of, the novel explores racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and white, middle-class discontent which shines a light on the division that can encapsulate small communities. It’s not a plot-driven novel but an in-depth social commentary told through one person’s inner monologue. The book only really gets ‘exciting’ at the end but keeps the pace through short, snappy chapters. I think this book is important and necessary, but I was constantly waiting for something to happen and when it did, felt unfulfilled.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This takes me up to 45 books completed out of my 50 to read for this year. I am ahead of my Goodreads challenge for the first time in years which makes me really happy. For once, I won’t be ending the year wishing I had read more, but smiling because I have. And, because I have documented it all!

Happy reading everyone.


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.


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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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What I read in May (2020)

Another month in isolation brings another months worth of reading to an end! I have read a variety of things and pretty much loved everything. I’m starting to think maybe I need to be more critical…!? I found myself feeling drawn to non-fiction which isn’t the norm for me, but nonetheless, the month was still dominated by fiction.

The Library of the Lost and Found, Phaedra Patrick ★★★★

It feels like a life time ago that I read this but it was only at the start of the month! A lovely, heart warming story about a librarian who attempts to discover the truth about her family’s past. Uplifting and reviving in a time of need! And if you like books about books, stories and words, you’ll love this.

Re read: Normal People, Sally Rooney ★★★☆☆

The beginning (and most of May it seems) has been dominated by the hype around Normal People. I decided to re-read this in the hope of liking it more, again, I was left with the same feeling I got the first time round. Average story documenting a strange kind of relationship – something about it doesn’t sit with me well. A nice little coming of age novel, but one that doesn’t deserve the hype, nor the literary credibility.

The Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll ★★★★

I enjoyed this very much. To coincide with my increasing habit of journalling during isolation, I decided to read the definitive bullet journal guide. I found it very informative, motivating and easy to read and would recommend it to anyone who is looking to learn more about the benefits of journalling to manage anxiety. It also contains useful diagrams and examples of how to lay out your journal.

The Bridge of Little Jeremy, Indrajit Garai ★★★★

I was kindly sent a copy of this and really feel in love with the story. It is one of the most beautifully written stories I have read and I feel in love with the language. It’s told through the perspective of a twelve year old boy living in Paris, trying to save his Mother from going into financial ruin. It really tugs at your heart strings, but in all the best places. Above all, it is a story about the love and appreciation for art and seeing the beauty in the everyday.

Frozen Butterflies, Simona Grossi ★★★★

This was weird story, it had such a lingering weirdness that I couldn’t bring myself to write a review about it on my blog. The characters were directionless, possessive and obsessive and I found the relationships that Susan (the protagonist) perused worrying and strange. However, I found myself addicted to the book and couldn’t stop reading it. The discovery of a stranger’s journal starts the whole thing off and gives the reader the hook they need to read the novel. Intriguing is one word to describe it for sure.

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy ★★★★★ 

Arguably the best book I have read this year, I loved everything about it – from the story, the protagonist, Sofia, and the general ‘feeling’ the book left me with. It’s descriptive prose made me notice even the small things in my day to day life, and I felt I could immediately read it again. Set in Spain, the story follows the journey of post-graduate, restless Sofia, as she takes her mother to Spain in the hope of curing her various ailments. It is essentially a coming of age novel, but told with such sincerity and depth that it kind of blew me away.

In the Dark, Soft Earth, Frank Watson (ARC, due to be published July 2020) ★★★★

I was kindly sent this from the Plum White Press. This collection of poems explores many elements, from love, relationships, desire, to an appreciation of nature and our place in the world, but essentially draws upon the idea that everything we experience has an ancient history. The language is simple, but charged with pivotal imagery and sentiment. The images created are beautiful, and a hypnotic ode to the human experience.

Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News, Emily Maitlis ★★★☆☆

I found this book enjoyable, interesting and funny at times. As someone who is interested in journalism and admires Emily Maitlis for her wit and manner when interviewing, I was excited to read it. However, I felt it lacked depth. It reads as a snapshot diary documenting various interviews, but offering little in depth insight into the philosophies behind news-making and journalism. Maybe I expected to much from it, but I felt she could have gone deeper as she certainly has the capabilities to do so. However, still an interesting read.

Reading stats

Average rating – 3.8

Books read – 8

Pages read – 2, 276

What I’m currently reading

I’m currently still reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists but I’m so close to finishing! I’ve been reading it in-between the sixteen or so other books I have read for the past couple of months, hence why it seems like I’ve been a bit slow. I have to read it in small chunks as I’m trying to really take it in. I am actually writing a piece on it for another publication so I want to read thoroughly. I must admit, there were a few sections in the middle that dragged somewhat, but I’m currently on a bit that’s really good! I think it will be a book that ends up having a significant impact on me and the way I think.

Final thoughts

I’m actually feeling very happy with myself in terms of reading. For three years whilst I was at university, I just didn’t find the time to read for pleasure and I am so pleased that this is something I am able to do. COVID has helped obviously, but I think I would be reading just as much anyway. This month I reached 30 books read so far this year which is crazy! I sent myself a target of 50 at the start of the year and thought that was ambitious!

I’ve had a couple of really great comments and feedback recently on my reviews – saying they are really in depth and thought out which is wonderful to hear. However, it has got me thinking, am I perhaps writing reviews which are too in depth? Would it be better to adopt more of a chatty, informal style or still stick to the ‘rigorous’ type approach. I’ve tried doing the short and snappy style which I enjoy, but sometimes it doesn’t feel right for certain books. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know!

Happy reading and best wishes as always,

Violet xxx

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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 🙂