The Reading List #5

By Lucy Harbron - 17:16

The year drew itself to a close in a pretty ideal way for my to-read pile. Spending the final months of the year in another lockdown and boring tier 3 life, I was well prepared with a fresh stock of books. Completely ignoring my vow to stop buying new books and focus on the ones left unread on my shelf, I went out pre-lockdown and spent the money I knew I’d save on meals out on whatever caught my eye. So for the final reading list of the year, I went in mostly blind.

BTW. I’m now a Bookshop affiliate! Bookshop is on a mission to support local bookshops and so am I. There’s no reason to be buying books on evil Amazon anymore but I understand the draw of the convenience. Bookshop is just as easy to use, and if you buy any of my recommendations through my shop, I get a commission, so you also get to support me and what I do. A win win. 

#1 The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Remember back in February where I said I was going to read The Bluest Eye… well. I finally did it! The Bluest Eye was book number 3 on the reading list in my 1st year of uni, and now I’ve finally read it, I feel like I was robbed of all those seminars and discussions. This book has such a unique way of being so easy to read while also being completely gut-wrenching. The subtle way that Toni Morrison packs her characters full of pain and repression, and the decision to study racism and class through the lens of young girls makes the whole novel so heart-breaking but never so heavy it becomes suffocating. The bit that really got to me was the focus on self-esteem and beauty, and the way racism had seeped into the girls’ view of themselves, tacking a massive issue in a way that felt so reflective of how these things pop up in day to day life.

Took me long enough but I’m so glad I finally picked this one up properly, feels like a book everyone should read.

#2 Spy In The House Of Love - Anais Nin

I’d seen the cover art for this book a million times and always meant to give it a go. Anais Nin feels like a writer I should know more about, writing diary pieces along with essays and short stories, all forms I love. So I went into this book completely blind with no idea of plot and no familiarity with Anais work, something I haven’t done in a long time. Immediately I connected to the main character Sabina, a woman who is a kind of emotional chameleon having multiple affairs, and I love how her personality is built through the narrator’s assumptions mixed in with her thoughts and experiences. It reminded me a lot of Fitzgerald and all his best bits in The Great Gatsby as he describes Daisy, full of really beautiful and rich language, but Anais Nin uses it to describe a female character that’s 100x more liberated and powerful.

The balance of power and vulnerability in this short novel is amazing, but if you’re looking for a strong plot that you can really get stuck into, this isn’t the one of you. With no real climax or build, this novel is more of a sequence of happenings, so there were some points where I felt like the 136 page book was taking me forever to finish. The relatability of the character and the feminine energy throughout has definitely hooked me in though, keen to discover more of Nin’s work next year.

#3 The Descent of Man - Grayson Perry

This is a strong contender for one of my favourite books I’ve read all the year. Previously I’d heard of Grayson Perry but never indulged much, however this has been on my to-read list forever, and since finishing it I can’t get enough of him. Reading The Descent Of Man made me realise how counter-productive so many other book on gender are, always focussing on women and what we need. In this book, Grayson Perry instead focusses on what men need, offering up a discussion of what men may need and the importance of considering men and what to do with masculinity as we attempt to rid of the toxic side of it. Written in Grayson Perry’s classic humour and casual tone, I was shocked how much I actually learnt and have taken away from this book, being one that’s really stuck with it. Honestly, I want to buy everyone in my life a copy of this book, feeling like it’s hosting such an important conversation that too often gets forgotten or silenced.

#4 Diary Of An Oxygen Thief - Anonymous

I picked up this book 100% based on the cover, and it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Not at all what I expected as I was suddenly thrown into this monologue of toxicity from the male protagonist (antagonist more likely), but I don’t remember the last time I read a book this quickly, polishing it off in a week. With an anonymous author who talks in personal pronouns and even refers back to his plan to write a book, I love that you never really know whether the book is fact or fiction, feeling like you’re reading the diary of a guy who honestly is just a complete asshole. Playing on the sympathy for the devil trope, Diary Of An Oxygen Thief is like Lolita or Frankenstein, told from the villain’s point of view, but then imagine that villain was funny and sounded like half the men you’ve ever met. Building a voice that’s full of all your most toxic thoughts, the narration of this book is so human and captivating in its gross cruelty, you get completely sucked in, being shocked and enthralled and sympathetic towards the narrator all at once.

As far as the plot goes it’s pretty simple, the narrator is awful to women and then a woman is awful to him. But the voice is so good I closed the book and immediately ordered the sequel, hoping I might be able to squeeze it in before the year is out.


In Conclusion...

I counted and this year I’ve read 25 books, not counting the numerous novels I’ve started and given up on or the complete works I’ve been dipping in and out of. That’s more than I’ve ever read in a year, even while I was at uni, and for once I feel like I’ve actually properly engaged with what I’ve read, able to give you a summary and an opinion on any of the titles. A couple of weeks back I wrote this piece for Reason To Be Cheerful, talking about how I think I’ve finally recovered from the reading burnout of my degree and started to enjoy it again as a comforting activity and a kind of routine self-care. Previously flying through books on my commute, the half an hour I spend reading in bed every morning determines the mood of my day, always feeling a difference if I skip it. 

This year reading has been such a necessary form of escapism, being tied into little luxuries that have made the year bearable at worse, but at best actually really really lovely. Spending every Saturday morning sat by the canal with a takeout coffee and pastry has become my lockdown equivalent of a meal out or a Saturday night cocktail, feeling like the one treat my week leads up to. Especially in a time where we spent so much of our year alone, something about reading makes my own company feel so luxurious and special, a bit of quiet that I really look forward to. Diving into everything from classic novels to new poetry to non-fiction diaries, this year has massively broadened by reading horizons, and given me some of my favourite books that currently sit on my shelf.

And hopefully it’ll continue into 2021. 

Up next...

Chameleon in a candy store – anon

Orlando – Virginia Woolf

Nights Sky With Exit Wounds – Ocean Yuong

All the books still unread on my shelf…

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  1. ohh I love this!! The Toni Morrison sounds incredible, I've had beloved sat by my bed for months but have yet to get round to it. If you liked the Anais Nin you should so read her 'veiled woman', its bizarre and explicit but so radical for the time it was written! Your review of diary of an oxygen thief is spot on, I totally agree with the link with Lolita – i thought it was so unusual and creepy, but I sort of loved that! I just finished on earth we are briefly gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and if that was anything to go on, his poetry collection should be incredible!!!
    Also your ritual of a coffee and a pastry and sitting by the canal with a book sounds divine x


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