Shelf by Shelf: Contemporary Novels

This shelf is primarily contemporary fiction, with some of my mini books stacked up at the end, also featuring a Duplo race car driver that I’ve had since I was tiny. It used to be entirely arranged in height order, which was immensely pleasing to me, but unfortunately Ali Smith’s Autumn has ruined that. I like to keep books by the same author together, so I had to make the choice as to whether that or the height order thing was more significant in my shelf-logic.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
A slavery narrative in which the Underground Railroad is made literal, this is a really striking, vivid account of Cora’s escape from her master and flight from a terrifying slave catcher. It’s hard not to compare this to Homegoing (which would be on this shelf but I’ve lent it to my boyfriend), given how close together I read them and the thematic elements they share: I definitely thought this was a better book.

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The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
This is a really vivid portrait of the people of South London, and stunningly written. It’s nowhere near perfect, but I’ll be excited to read any future novels she writes. (My rule about keeping books by the same author together goes to shit if they write different types of book, so Kate Tempest’s novel is seperate from her poetry.)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This isn’t out until May, so this rubbish proof cover is not what it will look like in the final version. It’s a really stressful story about mental illness and loneliness, and much, much better than I thought it was going to be based on the blurb.

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Spaceman of Bohemia by Jarolslav Kalfar
It’s really tough to summarise this book because there’s so much going on. The titular spaceman is Jakub, on a solo mission to investigate a cloud of cosmic dust and the pride of the Czech Republic. It’s been compared a fair bit to The Martian, but it is a considerably better, more interesting novel. As Jakub moves through space, he thinks back over his family history, and by extension that of the Czech Republic, and his struggling marriage. It’s a very, very weird book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Man Booker winners don’t tend to be the most readable works, but this is surprisingly fun. It’s also clever and funny and will mess with your head.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
This illegible gold spine is the proof of Laurie Frankel’s third novel. I absolutely tore through this, there’s a certain messiness to the prose which I adored. It’s about the experience of being a parent to a transgender child, which is of course a super important topic, but it’s not worthy and serious about it. It has moments of being ever so slightly preachy and sickly sweet, but it doesn’t shy away from the difficulties the entire family faces.

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Now we enter into my mini collection of this year’s Bailey’s Prize nominees. One of those books that you race through, while simultaneously never wanting it to end. Stunning prose is combined with a sweeping portrayal of several generations of a family in Communist China, with a bit of a fairytale feel.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Oh this book is just so GOOD. An intense, plotty look at a world in which women have the physical advantage, this was one of the best books I read last year.

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The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
I don’t quite know how to talk about this book, it’s kind of heartbreaking and uplifting all in one. It’s about friendship and love and frustrated ambitions, in the apparent peace of post-World War II Switzerland.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I assume that you all know that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a genius. This is a study of immigration and race, as well as a love story.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I reviewed this a little while ago, suffice to say I was disappointed.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I bloody love this book. It’s about a group of wealthy students at an East Coast liberal arts college who commit a murder right at the beginning of the novel. The book then takes us back to show us how that happened, and what happens in the aftermath. It looks like a terrifying beast of a book but it’s so plotty you don’t even notice the hundreds of pages going by.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
It’s a long time since I read this book, but it’s about gender fluidity and sexuality, based on a Greek myth (I won’t pretend to remember which because I know literally nothing about Classical literature). I do remember loving it.

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Autumn by Ali Smith
Ali Smith’s latest is an interesting idea – the first in a quartet of novels inspired by what is happening in the real world as she writes. It’s set just after the EU referendum and Smith weaves that in brilliantly, but it’s more about ageing and time. I will say, I found myself with a lot of unanswered questions at the end, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, volumes 1, 2 & 3
These are put out by Joseph Gordon Levitt’s production company hitRECord, and are beautiful collections of stories no longer than a page, with little illustrations. I want more of these to come out, they are absolutely lovely.

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Next up I have a stack of the Penguin Little Black Classics, which I’m not going to go into any detail. I love these, and they’re really handy for carrying around if I’m reading a beast of a hardback which won’t fit in my handbag.
Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands by Ivan Turgenev
A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin
The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen
Well you are gone, and here must I remain by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Woman Much Missed by Thomas Hardy
Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde
Come Close by Sappho
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti 

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