The Reading List #9 | January - February 2022

By Lucy Harbron - 14:44


After ending 2021 complaining about the way my reading had slowed, the love came back thick and fast with the new year. Maybe it’s the way that the stress of a social media job had me desperate to do anything but look at a screen throughout January, or maybe just the fact that nothing helps reading quite like being patient and kind to yourself, but 2022 has brought back all the cosy moments I’d been missing. Sinking back into a routine of morning commute pages and evenings spent soaking in a bath while the paper gets damp, I’ve already ticked off some books I’m been desperate to read for quite a while and some I’d never heard of before now.

book of achilles review

#1 Song Of Achilles – Madeline Miller

I’d seen this book everywhere, with TikTok claiming it would be the most heartbreaking read ever. Having read sections of the Iliad in university, I’ve been searching for a way to dive back into Greek mythology while doing everything possible to avoid picking up the big, intimidating classics. Realising I’d forgotten to bring a book home for Christmas, I wandered down to Waterstones on the hunt for My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, and when I couldn’t find that, I pick up this instead.

With a lot of complicated names and places and a massive cast of people, Song Of Achilles is a slow burner and I’d forgive anyone for giving up before it gets good. The relationship between Achilles and our protagonist Patroclus sways between endearing and dull for the first couple of chapters, but as the Trojan War begins and we get fully situated within the legend, I couldn’t put it down. Laid in the bath for nearly 2 hours while the finale kept me gripped, I felt my pruned skin tightening with the tension. It’s strange as you know the outcome, the fates of the characters are revealed pretty quickly into the novel but you wouldn’t expect the curiosity of how they’ll get there to provide so much suspense. Also, unlike other books, Madeline Miller has a way of using boosted action to slap the accelerators on character development. In comparison to the slow start, you learn so much more about Achilles and Patroclus as they’re in the throes of war, doubling down on excitement and emotional attachment all at once as it barrels towards a gut-wrenching ending.

I will say, it didn’t quite live up to the devastation I was expecting after seeing so many reviews. Sure I shed a couple of tears and laid in the bath for a little longer cradling the book after closing. But a day later I was recovered and onto the next.

my year of rest and relaxation review

#2 My Year Of Rest And Relaxation – Ottessa Moshfegh

Thanks to TikTok, this book is IMPOSSIBLE to find. I scoured Waterstones across London to find nothing, and then one day while wandering the Barbican, there it was.

I can’t remember the last time I read a novel this fast. Sitting at around 300 pages, I flew through it in just over a week, taking any chance I got to return to the narrators odd situation. With very little actual plot, the story centres on an unnamed main character and her mission to sleep for a year. You never really know what truly has led her up to this point, but she touches on odd flashes of memory from parental trauma, bad relationships and strange jobs. But the only concrete knowledge we have about the character is that she’s beautiful, miserable and a terrible friend. Doped up on sleeping pills given to her by a questionable therapist, the story is told in glimpses as the character drifts in and out, hallucinates, sleepwalks, attempt to push away friendships against her subconscious actions, and tries to rest.

For a purposefully awful character, I’m one of the people that found the protagonist oddly endearing in her toxicity and I think part of the reason I read it so quickly was due to a strange desire to check in on her. As the book began to draw to a close, I desperately wanted her to be okay, and to complete her mission to finally wake up rested and changed. I also found myself wanting to rest with her, going beyond my usual bath and train reading spots and finding myself curled up in bed, café corners and sofas to join her. Incredibly readable and easy while being so odd and complex in its subjects, Moshfegh’s characters felt so vivid and full and real even when told through the protagonist’s biased eyes. I could’ve read this book forever, like an ongoing diary that I wanted to snoop on constantly.

The best thing I’ve read in a long time.


patti smith woolgathering review

#3 Woolgathering – Patti Smith

Continuing my mission to read everything Patti Smith has ever written, I found a beautiful copy of Woolgathering in a rare books shop in London Fields. Written in a relatively mysterious part of Patti’s life, as she retired to raise her children in Michigan. Inspiring an oddly pastoral piece in her library of NYC-centric books, Woolgathering is a mixture of child-like fairytales and odes to the people she loves. Mixing up past and present, the book seems to nurture her childhood self, using her voice and imagination to tell mythologised stories of her favourite cafes, the birth of her sister and her various moves to and from New York.

In comparison to other books like Just Kids and The Coral Sea, Woolgathering doesn’t hold a candle to them. But it’s still beautiful, as is everything she does. In all her earlier works as she begins to settle more and more into prose, I love that you can see her warming up for Just Kids. Perfecting her memoir-style and learning to merge it with magic and all the literary references she loves, you can feel her learning how to be the Patti Smith I adore.

Still a worthy read for Patti Smith fans, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one though.

violet bend backwards over the grass review

#4 Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass – Lana Del Rey

I finally caved and bought Lana’s poetry book when it was 50% off in Waterstones. Having heard a couple of spoken word readings of the works, I really loved the style. LA Who Am I To Love You feels Ginsberg-ish, or like Frank O’Hara for the modern celebrity age. I love the complexity in Lana’s ability to be both so open and so mysterious as she shares a lot here but still the image of who she is remains blurry.

Like everything Lana does, there are moments of cheesiness. When she mentions vaping and calls lovemaking her legacy, I definitely rolled my eyes. But for fans of her work, I think this is a really interesting look into her voice and process. At points you get to see several drafts of the same piece, complete with crossings out and handwritten changes, you begin to see the thought process behind her work, and the tone of her music carries through completely in even the shortest, simples haikus. The queen of incredible one-liners and a magician at building a full atmosphere while saying so little, the book is encased in the same kind of glamour and beauty that holds all her albums. Reminding me of her demo recordings with their ever-changing lyrics, it’s nice getting to look at Lana as an artist while so many shrug her off, and the effects fame can have on the purity of work.

A nice little read that you can take as much as you want from, I’d recommend listening to the recordings after or during.

We Had To Remove This Post review

#5 We Had To Remove This Post – Hanna Bervoets

A novella about the trauma faced by content moderators, this book is already out in Dutch but not yet released in English. Slipping through my letterbox after a particularly bad day as a social media manager, it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. Despite touching on some heavy subjects, Emma Rault’s translation is easy to read and endlessly engaging as we step into the main character, Kayleigh’s life and workspace at a big social media organisation. I don’t think we really consider the fact that actual people are involved in content moderating, assuming it’s just a bot or a computer program. But the fact that this book is informed by real-life stories of content moderators makes it all the more shocking and opens up loads of thoughts about the traumatic jobs low-wage workers face and the way capitalism will exploit people’s money struggles as Kayleigh discusses her debts.

While being really conversational in tone, there is so much subtext here as you gradually see the characters be changed by their work. Slowly being affected by what they spend their days seeing, I like that it focuses more on the outcomes of trauma rather than sharing too many upsetting scenes of what they saw- leaving it up to the reader’s imagination definitely makes it worse.

Despite only being around 130 pages, I feel like this book has changed my perception, making me want to complain less about my social media job and consider more about the trauma behind the scenes. I think it’s a really important book and I’m so glad it’s finally being released in the UK!

Next up...

And The Ass Saw The Angel – Nick Cave

  • Share:

You Might Also Like


Talk to me...