Reading round-up March 2018

photo of The Gurugu Pledge and a chocolate egg

I am currently halfway through my Easter read-a-thon and bang on schedule: I’ve finished three of the six books I’m hoping to read before the end of Monday. But I am also full of cold and feeling a little rubbish, so the Netflix and Youtube breaks have been getting longer…

Much like this bank holiday weekend, March as a whole has been a mixed bag. It snowed twice, which was pretty but the one time we went out in it further than the local park I twisted my ankle. And that meant I didn’t run for almost a whole month, which makes me worry a little bit about that pesky 10k race in six weeks’ time.

On the plus side we did an awesome gyoza cooking class arranged by a local cafe called Eatchu last weekend and now our freezer is full of tofu, mushroom and spinach dumplings. Surprisingly it seems to be the cooking them part that is defeating us so far but that might be because they require a 100% non-stick pan, not ones where not only the non-stick but all the materials appear to be peeling off in places. I think we need new frying pans.

I need to go roll a die to choose my next read-a-thon book. Happy Easter everybody!

(Is there a non-religious/multi-religious alternative to Easter I should be celebrating instead? It’s Hanami in Japan right now, but that lasts for about six weeks, or until the sakura’s gone, and it’s on the other side of the world. While we do have cherry blossom in our garden it is considerably less impressive than the pictures I’ve been seeing from Tokyo. I would take a photo to demonstrate our pathetic cherry blossom but it’s dark and wet outside. Still, a cherry blossom festival does feel more appropriate than one linked to a religion I don’t belong to, even if it does reduce my excuses to eat chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. If only they made tasty spiced buns without crosses on. And no, teacakes don’t count, they’re very different.)

Books read

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
This is the typically charming story of one winter when Moomintroll wakes up early from hibernation and discovers what winter is like. He makes new friends and sees new sides of old friends. I am really coming to love the Moomins.

Awakening by Sharon Bolton
In this thriller, country vet Clara is asked to advise the police after a man dies from a snake bite – a pretty unusual occurrence in the UK, especially when the victim was a largely healthy adult male. A village’s secrets come unearthed and Clara is made to face up to the reasons she hides from the world. This was an enjoyable read, and a well written one, but I was a little annoyed by some of the romantic tropes.

The Group by Mary McCarthy
This novel written in the 1960s and a group of women who graduated from Vassar in the 1930s has been on my to-read list for years. Perhaps I expected too much, perhaps I’m a little tired of educated elite people in New York City at the centre of every other American book I read, but this just didn’t do it for me.

Giant Days, Vol. 6 by John Allison (writer) and Max Sarin (illustrator)
Daisy, Esther and Susan embark on their second year at Sheffield University, this time with the added fun of renting a house. This continues to be a great series. The girls’ friendship is pitch perfect, as are the many distractions that life throws at you when you’re meant to be…going to lectures or something? I already have volume 7 on the shelf and I might well break it out this weekend if my other reads get too heavy.

Science(ish): the Peculiar Science Behind the Movies by Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks
This podcast spin-off takes three key questions each from a list of blockbuster sci-fi films and attempts to answer them. Questions such as “Were dinosaurs really like that?”, “Could someone bring dinosaurs back to life?” and “Should we use science for de-extinction?” (I really hope you can figure out which film inspired those ponderings). It’s an interesting jumping-off point for some rather disparate science chat. I’m reviewing this for work so I’ll link to my fuller thoughts when they’re published.

The Passport by Herta Müller
And now we get to the read-a-thon books. This is a short novel about a village in a minority German-speaking corner of Romania in the 1980s. Ceausescu’s regime is increasingly oppressive, and this minority in particular are being killed. Everyone in the village is trying to get out, and they will all do whatever it takes to get that precious passport. There is a juxtaposition of stark reality and surreal, fairytale-like moments that I guess made the bleak story easier to swallow, but it was still upsetting.

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

This is a collection of essays on race, migration and British society today. Writers from black, Asian or ethnic-minority (BAME) backgrounds who have spent all or most of their lives in Britain explore these topic in various ways, from lists or fact-based essays to more literary or humorous styles.

Nikesh Shukla (who is Bristol-based and runs a few local initiatives for young BAME writers) has assembled a great roster of writers, well known and less so. Some of them look at race from an academic standpoint, whether that be looking at history, popular culture, or sometimes a specific form of media. But most of the authors write from their personal context, whether that means telling their own story or simply explaining what they have come to understand about race in Britain.

They are educational, familiar, unfamiliar, beautiful and heartbreaking. Occasionally they are dry, but there are some important facts here to convey.

The Gurugu Pledge by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel
On the Gurugu mountain in Morocco next to the border with the small Spanish enclave of Melilla, people from all over Africa hide in caves and tents in a makeshift camp, waiting to make their attempt on the border wall that could get them to European soil. To pass the time, the people on Gurugu mountain tell stories about where they have come from and play football (which also keeps them warm on this northerly point of the continent). The stories they tell are sometimes mundane or funny but mostly deeply upsetting.