Monthly Archives: December 2018

Calypso – David Sedaris (Audiobook)

I’m used to Sedaris’ books making me cry, always with laughter before this one. Now I can add tears because of how heartbreaking some of the stories are in Calypso. Here, Sedaris has hilarious stories mixed in with tragedy, most notably when talking about his sister, Tiffany’s, suicide, but they also cover relatives becoming elderly, and the death of his mother, who was an alcoholic.

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A lot of the stories in Calypso are about family. His father is ageing, his sister has committed suicide, he reminisces about his mother’s death, but this is not a depressing book. Of course it isn’t, Sedaris is hilarious. Most of these more sombre subjects are still dealt dark humour.

I found myself laughing out loud at some of this book – particularly the stories to do with language and observations about strangers and their behaviour. His discussion of creating his own ‘English for business travellers’ is a highlight.

Additionally, parts of Calypso were very moving. His sister’s suicide is so tragic. But he also talks emotionally about the US allowing gay marriage at last. Calypso is a true emotional roller coaster, and you get the feeling you are actually seeing some of the real Sedaris – mostly missing from his other books I’ve read.

It still leaves so many questions though. Did Sedaris really let someone who came to a book signing cut out a benign tumour he had, in order that he could keep it and feed it to his favourite turtle? Did he??

You go on an adventure of emotions with Sedaris, and you come out the other side with a renewed sense of wanting to make life more interesting. He makes you want to explore opportunities and to make the most of what presents itself to you. And he will make you laugh, that’s for sure.

My top Non Fiction Reads of 2018

For the purposes of my yearly wrap ups I go Dec 2017 to Nov 2018, because I can’t accept that I might not finish more amazing books over the next week. That means I read 15 non fiction books this year. I think I could have done better, but never mind! I read 22 last year, but I’ve read less over all this year in general. Last year I split them into politics and feminism, biography and memoir, and science – but I don’t have enough books to do separate ones this year, so they are all getting put together!

So here are my top non fiction reads from this year:

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Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

I’ve been recommending this book to everyone since I read it, and I was so happy that my book club chose it for their December read. It’s about race relations in Britain. It covers many different aspects from education, feminism, and black history. This would be my top book of the whole year. My review is here.

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On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century – Timothy Snyder

Twenty practical things you can do in your life to help combat the rise of tyranny. Each one backed up by twentieth century history. Brilliant and made me feel less useless in the face of what seems like the world imploding around us. My review is here.

 

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The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

Masculinity, what’s wrong with it, and how ideas about it should change to be healthier for everyone! It’s also very funny. My review is here.

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Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood – Hollie McNish

Poems about pregnancy and motherhood, with McNish telling her story from finding out she was pregnant, up to her daughter being about three years old. So honest and brutal, yet full of love. My review is here.

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The Mother of All Questions: Further Feminisms – Rebecca Solnit

A follow up to Men Explain Things To Me, Solnit covers all things feminism that aren’t already covered in Men Explain. It’s no exaggeration to say I found the title essay life affirming. I would really highly recommend this book, but read Men Explain first if you haven’t already read that. My review of The Mother of All Questions is here, and my review of Men Explain Things to Me is here!

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A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf addressed a women’s college 1928 and talks about women and writing fiction. This extended essay is based on those talks. My review is here.

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKee

An unexpected top book entry here! I never expected that a book about screen writing would be that interesting to me, but I found this analysis of what makes a good story fascinating. There’s a huge list of films at the back too, and I love a list to work through. My review is here.

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Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

Fisher’s story of her life. She is hilarious. And her life has been bonkers. My review is here.

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I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes up Human – Robin Ince

About brains, and the strange things they do. Really interesting read and funny, of course! My review is here.

Honourable mention to Ad Astra by Dallas Campbell. It would have made the top list, but it was covered by my list from last year (read it here) before I decided to make my year go Nov to Dec!

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Here are all the non-fiction books I read this year. Click the book title to go to my review of it:

My Top Fiction Reads of 2018

I managed to read 37 fiction books this year, out of a total of 53 books. Really happy with that. For the purposes of my yearly review, I go December to November because I still might read something brilliant over the next week! Here are my top ten:

 

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The Pisces by Melissa Broder

A struggling PhD student breaks up with her long term boyfriend and has a bit of a breakdown. To aid her recovery, she house sits for her sister on Venice Beach, attends group therapy, and falls in love with a merman. It’s clever, filthy, sweary, funny, and dark. I loooooved it. My review is here.

 

 

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Sight – Jessie Greengrass

Our narrator is pregnant for the second time, and contemplating the significant relationships in her life; with her mother, grandmother, partner, and daughter. Long, beautiful, poetic sentences mixed in with three science stories that complement the main story. Contemplative and moving. I adored this book and felt greatly moved by parts of it. My review is here.

 

 

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The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Inspired by Black Lives Matter, The Hate U Give is the story of Starr Williamson and the aftermath of her being witness to her friend’s murder by a police officer. The book follows Starr’s move toward activism, and explores her life as a black student at a mostly white school, and how she is treated in her own neighbourhood because she is sent out of the local district to school. It’s emotional! My review is here.

 

 

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The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

A gay Iliad adventure! We follow the life of Patroclus from his banishment for killing another child, his new life being brought up as a companion of Achilles (his father takes him in), to his adulthood as Achilles lover, and their adventures in the Trojan War. Special shout out to Thetis, Achilles’ Godess sea nymph mother, who does not like Patroclus. She is terrifying and brilliant. My review is here.

 

 

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In Our Mad and Furious City – Guy Gunaratne

Five residents of a London estate are followed in the aftermath of a terrorist killing that happens nearby.  It’s a brilliant book about life in London, and struggles against racism, oppression, religious expectations, and uniting them all – poverty. I just wanted good outcomes for all the characters so desperately! My review is here.

 

 

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Ponti – Sharlene Teo

Ponti follows the relationships between three Singaporean women. Szu, an awkward teen, her beautiful, cruel, one time film star, mother Amisa, and brash Circe, Szu’s only school friend. We go back to Amisa’s childhood and teenage years, and forward to Szu’s adult life in 2020. The women are all interesting and complicated, and I really enjoyed being immersed in their world during Ponti. My review is here.

 

 

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Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

The Iliad written from the perspective of Briseis, the war bride taken from Achilles, by Agamemnon, that kicks off the whole story of The Iliad. We join Briseis while she is still a princess, before her city is destroyed by the Greek fighters. I loved the different perspective given to the Trojan war by the women’s story. My review is here.

 

 

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White Tears – Hari Kunzru

Audio nerds and their descent into obsession with an old blues song that may be cursed. It’s about privilege, racism, ‘authenticity’ and cultural appropriation. Eventually it becomes a quite strange ghost story too, but I liked this weird element! My review is here.

 

 

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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

A wide ranging story, set over eight generations, of two separated sisters, beginning in the 1770s. One stays on the Gold Coast in Africa as a slave trader’s wife, one becomes a slave and is shipped to North America. You follow each generation of the family up to the present day. My review is here.

 

 

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Heartburn – Nora Ephron

Hilarious book about a woman coping with her discovery of her husband’s infidelity. I haven’t managed to review this yet! I don’t know whhhyyyyyy. I’ll add the link when I do!

 

Here are all the fiction books I read this year. Click the name of the book to go to my review of it:

The Outsider – Albert Camus

A guy who doesn’t care for conforming to societal norms ends up in a terrible situation, but ultimately doesn’t give a shit, because what’s the point, right? I sort of loved The Outsider for it’s weirdness and the protagonists attitude. Honestly, who doesn’t love a book categorised as philosophical fiction?

Meursault is our main character. His mother dies at the beginning of the book and he refuses to show emotions just to satisfy other peoples expectations. Ultimately this is brought back to him as one of the main pieces of evidence against him at his trial. He refuses to pretend and stays true to himself and is baffled as to why this seems to wind people up so much. He is tried for a terrible crime he commits, but also for not conforming.

Camus intended the book to highlight the absurdity of life. It’s also known as The Stranger, as it was was written in French as L’Étranger. Camus wrote, in 1955:

I summarised The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.

I really enjoyed The Outsider. As well as looking at absurdity, it is an existentialist novel. Mersault often ponders death and ultimately decides he doesn’t care if it happens today or in twenty years. It’s going to happen at some point, so who cares when?

Despite being written in 1942, I found Mersualt’s thoughts when his girlfriend stops visiting him strangely reminiscent of my thoughts when that most grim and tedious of modern phenomena happens: ghosting.

For the first time in a very long while, I thought about Marie. She had stopped writing to me a long time ago. That evening, I considered the situation and decided she had perhaps grown tired of being the mistress of a man condemned to death. It also occurred to me that she might be sick or dead.

At times like this I try to remember this very good advice.

Yes, I know. I read one of the most important philosophical books of the twentieth century and I managed to make it all about the emotionally simple men I’ve cavorted with. Help me. Also, pls tattoo that advice on my eyeballs.

Do read The Outsider though. It’s a good, thoughtful read.

 

Books Bought and Read – November 2018

I’ve just finished writing my October 2018 one, so thought I’d just get on with the November one straight away!

Books Bought

I bought the kindle version of The Complete Short Stories: Vol. 1 by Roald Dahl, because it was in the 99p deals one day.

Later in the month, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was also in the kindle 99p sale.

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That’s it for outright buying. I also got Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham in a subscription box I get. I loved Gilmore Girls, so I’m really happy to get this book!

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I received this fantastic sounding book from Faber & Faber. A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas. Getting sent books is a complete rare even for me! This is only the second I’ve ever received. So it’s fantastically exciting!

Books Read

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Wake by Anna Hope

The Outsider by Albert Camus (review to follow shortly)

Looks like I’m slowing down towards the end of the year. I know all I’m going to want to do in December is look at xmas recipes! and that’s going to get in the way of reading 😀

Other posts on my blog this month.

Top Ten Bookish Items I’d Like to Own. Blatantly trying influence people just before xmas.

Wake – Anna Hope


Set over five days in November 1920, Wake follows the lives of 3 women in the aftermath of the First World War, in the run up to the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. It focuses on the effect of the war on the women left behind, and the general disruption to society in the years afterwards.

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Wake manages to get across the feeling of collective grief felt by society after the war, and the dreadful situations many people found themselves in, particularly the poor soldiers who were traumatised, then abandoned by the government shortly after they returned home.

The chapters are interspersed with the story of the Unknown Warrior: the finding of a suitable body, the process of transporting it from France, and finally the burial. I liked how this linked the different stories, with it being the big news of the day, all the characters discuss it.

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The three main stories in the book are about Hettie, a dancer at the Hammersmith Palais, whose brother has returned from the war a broken man. Evelyn, who lost her lover during the war and is now living a very grey existence without him. Finally, Ada whose son is missing, presumably dead, but she never received an official letter about him.

The stories of these women mean that a large cross section of the whole society are covered by the story. Different age groups and classes are all involved, and all are broken by the war in different ways.

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Wake was chosen by my book club as we would be meeting near Remembrance Day. I really enjoyed in and was particularly glad to not have to read a book about how grim life in the trenches was. It was nice to read about how grim life in the UK could be after the war. 😀

The burial of the Unknown Warrior gives a potentially depressing book a more hopeful ending as it signifies the start of a collective healing for society and for some of our main characters. I really enjoyed Wake and would definitely recommend it.

Book Bought and Read – October 2018

I’m slightly late with this one! But it is just about still November… for another 5 hours anyway. I read seven books in October! This compares with only two so far in the whole of November. I guess I was having a quiet social life month back then.

Books Bought

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Wake by Anna Hope for book club. This was chosen to tie in with the 100 yr WWI anniversary this year and remembrance day.

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Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, 75th Anniversary Illustrated Edition
by Edith Hamilton. This book is beautiful. The cover is all shiny and there are several colour illustrations inside that are just gorgeous. 
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The Gallows Pole Ben Myers. I bought this because I was going to another Manchester Literature Festival event in December with Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe (see two books further down!). I can’t go now because now my daughter’s school play is on the same evening – for one night only! I will have to relinquish my tickets… so two more may become available! This book looks great. I have seen it around a lot – probably just remembered because of the distinctive cover. It’s about coin forgers in Yorkshire!

I next bought the kindle version of The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson because it was 99p and I’d been reading great things about this translation.

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Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe. Bought because I was going to be going to that Lit Fest event.This book looks amazing though. It’s based on the life of Andrea Dunbar, who famously wrote the play Rita, Sue and Bob Too. 

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I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes us Human by Robin Ince. A supermarket bargain!

Books Read

Seven this month! Click the book name to be taken to my review.

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Miss Nightingale’s Nurses by Kate Eastham

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Ponti by Sharlene Tao

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In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratane

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The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

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Heartburn by Nora Ephron (I somehow completely missed reviewing this one!)

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I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes Us Human by Robin Ince

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Other Posts this Month

I’ve been making an effort to do a few more general book posts – top tens etc. In October I managed to do:

Top Ten Longest Books I’ve Read. Spoiler alert: it contains a lot of Jilly Cooper and a lot of A Song of Fire and Ice books.

Top Ten Villains in Books. Starts out well, then gets a bit ranty!

and a Review of Manchester Literature Festival Events I attended.

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Pat Barker and Kamila Shamsie!

Well then, now I’m immediately going to go and write my November wrap up!