The Reading List #10 | March - May 2022

By Lucy Harbron - 14:11

I said it last time and it still rings true now, but something about 2022 has brought my love of reading back in full force. Beyond the obvious boost of returning to a daily commute, letting me get through a couple of pages every morning and evening with no pressure, reading seems to have re-affirmed itself as ‘me-time’, breaking free of the dragging slog that comes along with the longing to just. Finish. The. Book. Over the past couple of months, I feel like I’ve actually read books – taken them all in, finishing up the last page with thoughts and considerations, and a longing to take about them, which has always been a sign of a good book for me.

And without trying, my reading has gotten quicker. Now polishing off books in a couple of weeks when it can regularly take me a couple of months, the return of long baths and sunny mornings spent reading outside has reinvigorated it all. Reading feels luxurious again, a treat or an act of kindness to myself – so I guess the past months I’ve been very good to me.

#1 – Acts Of Desperation – Megan Nolan

Poured over for two weeks, this newly released book had me hooked. I picked it up on a whim at The British Library when the book I was trying to read wasn’t really getting its claws into me, and Megan Nolan’s did immediately. Someone once said my writing reminded them of this book, which I now see as the most ridiculous, huge compliment. Because this is so beautifully written. With tiny 2-page chapters, the story of our narrator’s relationship with Ciaran is all-consuming for both the character and us as readers. Delivered in short sharp bursts of emotion, it maintains a kind of breathless feeling throughout as you can’t turn the page quick enough or bring yourself to pull your eyes from the constant collapse and re-connection of their infatuation. As it weaves between a romance story into devastating, confessional writing about identity (or lack of), degradation and self-perception, this is a book about being loved more than it is about loving. Throughout the major question isn’t whether Ciaran will love the narrator, but whether she’ll love herself enough.

I think the really special thing about this book for me is how new it is. This is Megan Nolan’s debut and it only came out in 2021, so a book this invigorating written now and by someone so young and new to the scene felt exciting. It felt hopeful? Giving me faith that new writers can do incredible things, and modern works can still achieve that timeless-classic feeling that all my favourite old books manage. As I approached the final pages, I noticed my pace slow massively as I tried desperately to cling on to this story.

#2 Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys – Viv Albertine

I’ve read a lot of music books in my life and even more biographies. In fact, a lot of my favourite books are biographies as I love that intimacy like a star is whispering their secrets in your ear as a kind of sisterly sharing. But up until now, the majority of my music reading has been American-centric, almost always about 60s America as the ultimate, definitive ‘interesting era’. So much so that my knowledge of British musical history is pretty hazy – I had no real knowledge of punk beyond Vivienne Westwood and photos in museums, and I had no knowledge of who Viv Albertine is, which now seems crazy to me.

Viv Albertine was the guitarist of the Slits – an iconic British punk band that provided one of the very necessary (and painfully rare) representations of women in the scene. Touring with the Clash and previously being in a band with Sid Vicious, Viv’s life story is a whos-who of British music through the 70s and 80s. Highlighting the fun and the fear in equal measures, Viv writes about the era in a way that’s both exciting and honest, being frank about the poverty they lived in, the violence and the major issues with drugs. As she joins the band, the story picks up the pace into a tale of figuring it out as you go, capturing the ethos of punk as the all-girls band cobbled together something accidentally defining. 

But for me, I liked it best when we saw Viv in her adulthood. Far beyond the punk scene, her writing about motherhood and redefining or relearning her identity later in life is incredibly raw and inspiring. Picking up a guitar again and building back the bravery and the self-assurance to go solo, the whole book is a story of resilience, but a reminder that it doesn’t end with youth.

#3 Veronika Decides To Die – Paulo Coehlo

The week before my birthday, I finished Viv’s book and knew a parcel of new reads was going to arrive soon. In the interim, I found this little 200ish pager in a second-hand book store and decided to give it a go. From the author of The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo general writes fables, telling rich stories with a clear takeaway message, and from the title, I thought I go this one right away. I expected it to be a simple story about a girl that finds new hope after an attempted suicide, and while I was semi-right, it was more complex than that.

It's hard to write about this one without giving it away, so I won’t try. But Veronika Decides To Die shocked me in the best way. While the narrative was a little slow and the multiple perspectives felt confusing at first, the relationships within are so fresh and endearing that it makes it a nice read regardless. Inspired by Coehlo’s own experiences in a mental hospital, the whole book is about sanity – its various definitions in the face of a society that wants to assign it a singular look. And in the collective ‘madness’ of the hospital, each character is forced to renegotiate what sanity and stability look like to them. Giving you take away learnings and important messages, it’s never preachy and the twist at the end shook away any semi-lame perceptions I had about the book when I started it.

#4 Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney

Yes, I’m one of the millions of people that desperately binge-read Conversations With Friends before the show came out. And I did the same with Normal People, and honestly, my conclusion was the same – I liked it.

Sally Rooney’s writing is marmite in a lot of ways. The stories are simple but the writing can slip into poncey territory, as these seemingly totally average characters end up discussing Marxist ideas at the dinner table or behave like they're the only people in the world to have ever got an English degree. But she also has an incredible skill at writing love and relationship. While normal people made that evident, the love there is easy as you root for Marianne and Connell regardless. But in Conversations With Friends, there’s no easy answer as the loves and lives of Frances, Bobbi, Melissa and Nick become intertwined in version stories of love, jealousy, lust and belonging. It was that nuance that I loved, as while the writing about Frances and Nick’s blossoming relationship was beautiful, I think it was the connections between her and Melissa that intrigued me the most – subtly touching on topics of ageing and achievement as their envy flows both ways. 

Similarly to Acts Of Desperation, I’m loving modern works more and more these days. I used to be so snooty and biased against them, always believing that old classics had to be better. But nothing seems to captivate me like a new book, weaving deeply literary moments with dialogue that feels realistic. It lets you hold the book a lot closer to your life, and Conversations With Friends is written in such a deeply cinematic yet realistic way, I didn’t really need to watch the TV show as Sally’s writing makes it all play out vividly in your head.

crying in h mart review

#5 Crying In H-Mart – Michelle Zauner

I really should’ve listened to the warnings to not read this in public. Resulting in a lot of tearing up on the overground, Crying In H-Mart is the most emotional book about food I’ve ever read.

That’s way oversimplifying as the book is mostly about Michelle, AKA Japanese breakfast, and her reflections on her mother’s illness and passing. But in looking back on her relationship with her mum, the book takes on a whole new life as a piece about culture and identity. Starting and ending with food, Korean food and the tastes of her childhood become the most important thing for her healing, serving as a way to stay connected to her heritage even after the passing of her Korean mother risked threatening it. Written so tenderly but with such passion, it’s almost like you can smell it. Mixing these more matter-of-fact sections about learning to make kimchi in with such a vulnerable memoir, it’s so unique and so special. Creating a 4D image of a person and her mother, this biograph goes so far beyond a story of grief, and as I held back tears on the last page, the overwhelming takeaway was wanting to send a million thank yous to Michelle for sharing such a personal experience in such a beautiful way. 

Next Up:

Good Pop, Bad Pop – Jarvis Cocker

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