February 2017 reading round-up

girl reading

Does every month fly by when you get older? I can’t remember the last time it didn’t feel that way. Time passes too fast. Then again, it’s been another reasonably busy month. I’ve kept up the running, on track to run my first 10k in British Science Week as part of Run the Solar System. Once I have the virtual race under my belt, I’ll be all set for the real thing in early May.

On the cultural front, I went to see Othello at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And I went to Bletchley Park, which has left me itching to learn more about life there in World War II, if I can only choose between the hundreds of books written about it over the past 20 years or so since it became public knowledge.

Speaking of science and engineering history that had been relatively hidden, tonight I watched the film Hidden Figures about black women who worked as computers at NASA in the 1960s. It’s a remarkable film, a stark reminder of how recently widespread discrimination not only existed but was the norm, and what a fight it was for talented women such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson to do their work every day. I now really want to read the book behind the film, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, though I understand it’s rather different, taking a wider look at the historical context and less of a personal story of those three women.

I’ve also been slowly re-reading Utopia by Thomas More. December marked 500 years since its publication, which I learned thanks to a display at Somerset House when we went to London in January. It’s remarkable how much has changed and how little, both in daily life and in aspirations. I don’t agree with all More’s ideas for an ideal state, but there’s certainly plenty there to be frustrated that in 500 years we haven’t figured out how to be a happier, more equal society.

Anyway, on to the books I actually finished reading this month.


Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk
This is a rather lovely graphic novel about being a misunderstood teenage girl. I liked that Ivy is difficult, to be honest she’s an outright bitch, and not in a giggly Hollywood way. Oleksyk’s story and artwork fill in the detail of why she acts the way she does and takes us on the journey with her to learning how to maybe…not be a bitch.

Negroland by Margo Jefferson
This is somehow both experimentally lyrical and drily historical at the same time. It’s a non-fiction narrative about black elite society in America from the 1940s to the 1970s. Jefferson slips between first and third person as she both is and isn’t the focus point of her own memoir. Informative, but distancing.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
I loved this book. Completely and utterly. It’s the love story of two women – young, inexperienced Therese and older, mid-divorce Carol – in 1950s New York. It is beautifully written, moving and incredibly readable.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
This recent thriller is also very readable but I did have reservations. I’ve read a few comments on how its main character – a middle-aged woman who has an affair – is punished over and over again for her promiscuity, and maybe that’s what I found uncomfortable. Certainly an intelligent, well written book.

HERmione by Hilda Doolittle
This might be the epitome of literary – a strange, repeating, myth-referencing auto-fiction about a young woman called Hermione who is emotionally fragile. She has returned home after failing her university exams and keenly feels the disappointment to her family. She is wooed both by a young man she has known a long time and a woman she has just met, and neither of them does her psychological state any favours. I adored this but it’s going to be as much of a challenge to review as it was to read!

Short stories

“Most die young” by Camille Bordas (New Yorker The Writer’s Voice podcast)

“On the street where you live” by Yiyun Li (New Yorker The Writer’s Voice podcast)

“Constructed worlds” by Elif Batuman (New Yorker The Writer’s Voice podcast)


How was your February?