So I finished my degree. That’s a big thing that’s happened recently. A massive thing. It’s also terrifying, but that’s not the point here. One of the things I’ve been really looking forward to is actually having time to read! For pleasure! Not books about feminism in post-colonial Senegal! (Kidding, I loved reading that book about feminism in post-colonial Senegal.) As of next week, I’ll be commuting half an hour or so on the train every morning and evening when I start my job (more on that later), which gives me a little under an hour a day to sit and read, which is a very exciting possibility. So, here are the ten books which I’m most looking forward to reading now I’m free. (It’s probably worth mentioning that I actually own all of these already because my book buying habits are out of control and I really should be banned from the Nottingham Waterstones.)
How to Be Both – Ali Smith
I have owned this book for about a year without reading it (a common problem for me), and I’m looking forward to finally getting on with it. I’ve only read one other Ali Smith book, Boy Meets Girl, which I love love love, and How to Be Both won basically all the awards when it came out. It’s set in two times, the 1460’s and the 1980’s (ish, I’m not entirely sure when the second setting is). Honestly, after reading a few reviews, I’m not really sure of what it’s about, but it’s so highly lauded that I can’t wait to read it anyway.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve never read any Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I know. Call myself a book lover. Well, I’ve read We Should All Be Feminists, but I don’t really feel like that counts. But this year I’ve been studying African literature and learning about what it means for African women to be writing their own stories, for African people to be writing at all. It’s a love story, I think, but it’s also about globalisation, Nigerian politics and immigration.
The Bricks That Built The Houses – Kate Tempest
I truly madly deeply love Kate Tempest. I’ve read both her poetry collections, obsessively watched videos of her performing, listened to her albums on repeat, all of it. Last month, she did a Q&A at Rough Trade Nottingham to promote her first novel The Bricks That Built The Houses, so of course I went along. She’s fantastic to hear speak, passionate and thrilling and fucking brilliant, and she made me want to write in a way that I haven’t wanted to in years. The book opens with three teenagers driving away from London, with a suitcase full of money, and I don’t know much more than that. I read the first fifty pages or so the night that I bought it, but I haven’t touched it since, so I’m looking forward to getting back to it.
Moranifesto – Caitlin Moran
Another one that I know I’ll love, and a birthday present from my excellent uni mates. Caitlin Moran is brilliant and funny and wonderful. This is the follow up to Moranthology, so it’s a collection of her columns, as well as a few pieces that are new for the book, mostly about politics. This probably won’t be something I read all in one go, it being lots of short pieces rather than one overarching idea means that I’ll probably pick it up, read a couple and put it down. Also, I have the hardback so I can’t be bothered to lug it around with me.
When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
Ahh yes, light summer reading about death. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon, diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and this book is a reflection on death, from the perspective of both doctor and patient. Every review I’ve heard (particularly Michael Kindness’s on Books on the Nightstand) has made me want to read it more, as it’s apparently full of beautiful writing, which makes it clear that Paul Kalanithi is a real loss to the literary world.
Unspeakable Things – Laurie Penny
I’d been seeing this book in my uni branch of Blackwell’s for a couple of months before I bit the bullet and bought it. This book is about the need for outspoken, brave feminism, about being unafraid to be who you are and about social justice in the modern world. So basically everything I care about. I’m psyched.
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is a super important book. It’s written as a letter to Coates’s teenaged son about the realities of being black in America. I really want to inform myself more about racial issues, because I have the privilege of being white and I really don’t know enough about these issues, even though they continue to be so pressing. I’m not expecting it to be an enjoyable read, but it’s a necessary one.
Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea – Teffi
Now we get into the subsection of this post which is books about Russia. I might have finished my Russian degree, but I’m still bloody obsessed with Russia, and I’m going back sooner than expected. Teffi was a hugely popular writer in pre-Revolution Russia, until she was forced to flee, and this is the story of her final journey through Russia to exile, which has only just been translated into English.
I’m Going to Ruin Their Lives – Marc Bennetts
Putin is almost always the first thing people ask about when I say that I study (studied, rather) Russian. Which is natural, because he is terrifying and fascinating in equal measure. The title of this book comes from a remark Putin allegedly made about the protestors on the day of his inauguration for his third term as president, a remark which he seems to have followed up on, and the book is an examination of how the Russian protest movement was destroyed.
Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexeivich
Last year’s Nobel Prize winner, this is another piece of required reading. This is an oral history of the Chernobyl catastrophe, and a warning for the future. I know almost nothing about it but it’s another massively important read, and another piece of translated literature (I’m fascinated by literature in translation, and I’m also too lazy to read things in the original Russian).