Everything I read in January 2021

The one lesson I took away from this month, was that quality matters more when it comes to reading.


Do you set a reading goal each year for how many books you want to read? When I set a Goodreads reading challenge this year, I realised it felt a bit strange. Setting out the number of books we want to read in a given time slot naturally prioritises quantity rather than quality. 

It made me think. Is it better to read more (and more widely) or to read less, but more deeply? There are benefits to doing both. Although I’ve set myself an arbitrary target for how many books I’d like to read this year — to me — it’s irrelevant if I surpass it or end up reading less. What matters more is what I get out of each book.

In this post — I will be outlining what I read throughout January. Although my Goodreads account tells me I am “behind schedule” to complete my yearly reading goal, I’m not really bothered. 

By reading at a slower pace, I can fully digest each book, pause to reflect on them, and think about what I want to read next. It’s a more leisurely process. So, this is what I read in January 2021. And you’ll notice, there is definitely more quality, rather than quantity.

(Please note that links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you are a UK or US resident, I will receive a small commission if you buy books via these links. All links are included in the book title. Bookshop.org is a website that supports independent bookshops.)


#1 Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams

Fiction, 4/5 stars 

Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

I read this during bouts of insomnia that I was having at the beginning of the month. It was easy to read in those bleak and quiet hours when everyone else is fast asleep. 

This novel tells the story of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old British Jamaican who has just decided to go on a “break” from her long term boyfriend, Tom. Whilst she has to live her life without him suddenly, she’s also struggling with motivation at work and with some of her friendships. 

Queenie finds herself attracting (sometimes warranted, sometimes unwarranted) attention from the opposite sex, which she continually strategies and discusses with her group of best friends over WhatsApp. All the while, she hears nothing from Tom and struggles to know where they stand. 

It’s an amusing book — and made me laugh out loud at times. But Queenie, as a narrator, can be frustrating. There’s always a tragedy, always something going wrong. She comes across as a very needy friend — someone I would struggle to deal with, quite frankly. 

But the book also deals with darker issues such as fetishization, black womanhood, and mental health. It’s breezy, chatty and brilliant, but also shines a delicate light on what it’s like to grow up and enter early adulthood as a black woman. This is well worth a read as it strikes a balance between maintaining a sense of contagious humour and talking about real and raw issues.

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is — having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”


#2 The Discomfort of Evening, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Fiction, 3/5 stars 

Forever intrigued by those novels that go on to win the Booker prize, I picked this up and had no real idea of what to expect. As the title tells us, even before our eyes grace the first page, it is a bizarre read. 

At times, the strangeness erodes what could have been a more harrowing, poignant novel. The reader can easily end up reading about incest and animal abuse and be taken aback, even put off from the novel, and may even abandon it altogether. I don’t blame people who have. There’s no forewarning for what is outlined in this novel in such a visceral style. I know that’s the point, but all the same, I can’t help but feel it didn’t work. 

The Discomfort of Eveningis the first novel from the award-winning poet, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. Set in the rural Netherlands and featuring a family slowly descending into dysfunction, it paints a harrowing picture of how grief can change people. One day, ten-year-old Jas, the narrator, tells the reader how her brother dies in a tragic incident. She documents how the family dynamic slowly but surely decays. It’s an interesting perspective, which makes the feel of the novel all the more powerful. 

It’s certainly original — even addictive to read — but I thought the levels of discomfort to which it goes to, was unnecessary in parts, and would certainly not engage a general audience. But maybe I’m wrong and missing the point entirely. Who knows? That’s part of the beauty of literature. 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”


#3 Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

Fiction, 5/5 stars 

No novel is ever universally loved. But as a bookseller, I noticed this was one that flew off the shelves, and everyone raved about it. After being recommended it by a handful of people, I decided to try it. This is a type of novel that is hauntingly beautiful. There is so much sorrow, misfortune and sadness, accompanied by a beautiful landscape and message. I couldn’t stop reading it, and neither did I want to. 

After finishing it, I noticed the reception was more divisive than I had initially understood. Some people said they were bored by the book and even gave up halfway through. But for me, I couldn’t put it down. 

Where the Crawlands Sing is set within a small town on the North Carolina coast. It tells the story of, “Marsh girl” abandoned by her mother and the rest of her family, as they fled from her abusive and violent father. Soon, he leaves too, and Kya is left to fend for herself as a child. She learns how to fish, cook and befriends Nate, who teaches her how to read — as she only managed to attend one day at school. 

Kya has spent most of her life in solitude and at one with nature, making it difficult for her to form close relationships with others. However, something soon blooms between her and Nate as she struggles to navigate those first feelings of love. As soon as things start to work out for her, and she opens herself up, something dreadful happens that has the ability to pull her life all apart — again. 

This novel had all the assets that I believe makes a compelling read. The characters were believable and interesting; the plot was thick with what-ifs, questions and interesting thoughts about childhood, community and social expectations. The story was well told and kept the reader on their seat. I enjoyed it from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone. 

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”


Overview 

In January I read just over 1,000 pages, which is far less than I would usually reach. However, I’m coming away from the month feeling satisfied with what I read and what I’m taking away from each book. 

Each novel I read opened me up to new ideas, experiences and thoughts from different perspectives I would not necessarily encounter in real life. I learnt a lot from each and was reminded of the power of words and how they can make us feel. 


Currently Reading 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading this for a while. Because it covers the course of an entire day in such depth, I find it quite heavy to read and digest. I’ve been reading it in small chunks, hence why it is taking me so long to finish. 

I do love it though — but realise it is not everyone’s taste. There is something so unique and magical about reading Woolf’s words, and I can’t quite put my figure on what exactly that is. Perhaps I’ll know when I finish it. 

The Searcher, Tana French

I love this. I love the feeling of it; it’s so eerie and creepy. It’s definitely a slow burner, which I don’t mind, but I’m intrigued to find out where the story will go. I’m reading this on my Kindle which I use for nighttime reading in bed. I’m about halfway through and enjoying it so far. 


Well, that was my month in reading. Based on my history, I read less this month than I usually do, but I’m not bothered. I’m not trying to race ahead and read as much as possible this year, but take in every read.

I want to value every word on the page and give each story my full attention — rather than always being focused on the next book. 

Thank you for reading


Stuck for what to read? Check out some of my recommendations: 

5 Non-Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

What The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley Teaches us About Friendship

50 Fiction Recommendations for 2021


Please note, this was originally published on Medium in A Thousand Lives.

‘The Discomfort of Evening’: A Disturbing but Compelling Read


The Discomfort of Evening is a novel like no other. In many ways, it is evocative of the traditional literary fiction genre. Told through the perspective of Jas, a 10-year-old girl — it is highly character-driven. 

My qualms with the novel lay in how it portrays discomfort — as it goes beyond certain (usually) respected boundaries. As a result, it may make many readers uncomfortable, with often, little warning. However, it makes for a truly compelling and addictive read. But maybe that’s precisely because it is so uncomfortable and strange? In the same way that many people are compelled to read and watch true crime stories — as readers, we can’t help but read on further despite our raging sense of discomfort. 

All in all — the clue is in the title for this one. In a nutshell, The Discomfort of Evening is a strange novel with a very strange feeling. 


About the Book 

A Discomfort of Evening paints a picture of rural life in the Netherlands, told through the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, Jas. She lives on her family’s farm with her two siblings and parents. One day — pretty early on in the novel — her brother tragically dies, after that, the family dynamic suddenly changes. 

As the whole family struggles to come to terms with death, havoc and strangeness are let loose. The parents start arguing and Jas, as the narrator, lets us know how concerned she is about their lack of love between each other — she picks up on every change. The family as a whole goes down a dark path. 

This culminates in a case of foot and mouth which is discovered on the farm, resulting in the culling of all livestock which not only damages the family business and their livelihood — but is another reminder of the persistence of death. In between this, Jas and her siblings have to face the changing pace of her father’s religious belief. Even though she was used to growing up in a religious household, as these events unfold, her father becomes increasingly driven by religion at all costs. 

And of course, the children rebel in their own ways. And this rebellion is completely disturbing, at times unnecessary, but all the same — completely addictive to read.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a prize-winning young poet in the Netherlands, add this is their first novel. It won the international booker prize in 2020, and has since, sold many copies worldwide, after being translated from the original Dutch. 


What Makes the novel Disturbing and Discomforting? 

“Even though it will feel uncomfortable for a while, but according to the pastor, discomfort is good. In discomfort we are real.”

Just from reading the title, we know it’s going to be a strange and uncomfortable read. But I never thought it would be this weird. 

Jas, inevitably, is growing up and exploring her own sexuality — which in itself — is not strange. She documents this with a matter of fact style, evocative of a young child. However, this exploration of herself, and her own sexuality, get incredibly uncomfortable when it involves her brother (who was several years older) and her sister. 

The casualness to which incest is witnessed between two siblings, one 10, and the other in their early teens, is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing. But, this is not where it stops. When the foot and mouth outbreak happens, a vet comes to the farm to try and help Jas’ father. As a grown man, he tries to groom Jas, a 10-year-old girl, right in front of her parents’ eyes. 

But this sexual discomfort and exploration don’t stop within the family. Jas invites her friend Beth over and her brother assaults her in the cowshed. Evidently, this novel aims to incite discomfort to demonstrate one family’s decay and how disorder can reign. I appreciate the intention — but the delivery using these examples — is unnecessary. 

But there are other disturbing elements — such as animal abuse. Jas shoves an ice cream scoop into the bottom of a cow, which is described viscerally and physically. She treats them with no respect for somebody who has grown up on a farm and developed a love of animals. But perhaps, this is the result of the prevailing family dynamic infiltrating all of her actions. 

Lastly, — Jas’ mother is evidently suffering from depression. She makes it clear to Jas, at one point, that she wants to die. The whole family walk on tiptoes around her but don’t attempt to comfort her, or help her in any way. I found this one of the most disturbing elements — it wasn’t one told with graphic imagery — but simmering beneath the surface. The casual dismissal of a mother in complete suffering was far more disturbing and uncomfortable than anything else. 


How the Style of the Book Feeds into this Discomfort 

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld writes vividly, and without limits. They do not shy away from patining a visceral and uncomfortable picture of death, incest or animal abuse. It’s plain and simple for the readers to witness and feel. 

The delivery and imagery created tunes automatically into this sense of discomfort, which could be executed with greater poignancy — if you removed the incest and animal abuse. 

The author draws upon what is obviously disturbing and uncomfortable, I found myself at times, finding it clunky, gimmicky and crying out for attention. 

Through the language, style and narration of certain disturbing events, Rijneveld paints a picture of one family who is on the verge of decay — just as their farm is crumbling around them. It portrays a disturbing account of youth, grief, suffering and everyday life but propels this to new — and often — unworthy heights. 

Fo me, the parts I found most disturbing were less obvious — such as Jas’ mother’s mental decline. More examples of this slow, subtle and simmering discomfort, for me, would have been more effective in displaying the novel’s message. Although certainly unique, I feel as if this novel falls short of what it aims to achieve, and potentially, eliminates a whole bunch of readers. 


Did it Deserve the Booker Prize? 

This novel was a bestseller in the Netherlands before it was translated into English and won the international booker prize in 2020. The author grew up in a strict, religious, Protestant household — which bears a significant resemblance to the one depicted in this novel. 

Rijneveld also experienced the loss of her own brother when she was 3 and this novel, in many ways, is an attempt to document how that impacts a family. 

“Either the family grows closer or it falls apart. As a child, I could see that ours was starting to fall apart.” — Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

In this respect — it’s aims and intentions are noteworthy, making it worth a read. It is a unique way of exploring grief, trauma and growing up within a troublesome family. Rijneveld style of writing makes the novel compelling and addictive. It will also alienate many readers who don’t want to subject themselves to reading about incest and animal abuse in their spare time. 

I can see why it got the Booker prize, but I wouldn’t say it necessarily deserved it — when considering what it was up against. However, as readers, we should remember that just because a novel wins the Booker prize or has critical acclaim, it doesn’t always mean it’s good or better than anything else. 

All in all — this gets a 3/5 for me, as it was a compelling read, which explored many difficult themes. I liked the writing style and can appreciate its execution and what it aimed to do — but I have problems with the disturbance levels portrayed in the novel. And I’m not sure that a mass market of readers would enjoy reading it. But perhaps, that was the point. 


Have you read The Discomfort of Evening, if so, what did you think? I would love to know.


This article was originally published on Medium.com.