Insole Court Book Club – Spring Reads

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Springs Book Club picks are:

  • Tuesday 26th February – Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Tuesday 26th March – Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Tuesday 30th April – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Tuesday 28th May – Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel

Read along, join us at Insole Court or share your thoughts here on the blog.

Happy reading!

Kelly

review-ish: A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

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“It was as if a blade had shucked his heart like an oyster and stolen the beauty within. He said his heart never started beating again, it just started working and I never understood the difference, not until I was much older anyway, when I learnt that coming back from the dead is not quite the same as coming back to life.”

I love Sarah Winman’s writing so much. I read When God Was A Rabbit, Winman’s debut novel, many, many moons ago and just couldn’t believe how much it stayed with me. Not specific plot points but the magic and the feelings that she evoked. I highly recommend it as a quick read with depth. So when I saw A Year of Marvellous Ways in a charity shop, without even knowing that she had published other books, I did a little squeal and took it home with me.

Maybe it’s that I work with older people in my day job. Maybe it’s the writing.  Either way, Marvellous is a corker of a woman that I wanted to know, live with and go on adventures with. She’s such an incredible character and presents an unusual and very positive view of ageing well and challenging stereotypes. She is written to have a different view of the world, and seeing things through her eyes, just for a little time, was deeply moving. The other characters are also well developed and  naturally contradictory, and didn’t suffer when compared to the marvellous Marvellous.

I don’t think you need to have lived in the West Country to see the Cornish landscape that Winman paints because her writing is so poetic. She could describe the centre of the Earth to you and you’d feel like you had grown up there. But I did have such vivid images in my head of the South Hams in Devon when reading this book, (limited imagination of mine…) but that was lovely as it reminded me of many a happy time. Particularly when reading it in the middle of that endless grey that we have lived through in Wales recently.

I’m currently reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende for the Insole Court Book Club, and when I mentioned this to a friend, she described Allende’s work as magical-realism and something clicked. So many books that I adore are like this. Sarah Winman’s work, The Buried Giant by Ishiguro and Murakami. Now I have discovered another vice of mine I will actively try to read outside of this genre, but it’s nice to know that its always within reach when I need to feeling something to the point of emotional exhaustion.

Love having a little cry.

Anyone wanna recommend some magical-realism? Not for me I’m trying to diversify, but for other followers.

Kelly

review-ish: The Tiger’s wife by Tea obreht

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“When the fight is about unraveling – when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event – there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them.”

If you read Zebra and didn’t get the hype, then this probably isn’t for you. It has a really similar feel to me. Conflict, displacement, ancestry and family connections are all explored. But The Tiger’s Wife has a fantastical/folk-loreish element that I really loved.

The various stories and the jumping between time-periods, as well as the fact that it is set in a fictional village, Gallina, in an unnamed Balkan land, does make for a complex narrative. In fact, some reviewers suggested that it’s the back stories that make up the content of this novel, rather than the actual main plot.

I LOVED the back stories. They were evocative of a holiday to Croatia a few years ago, in terms of the vineyards and coastal regions. Gallina reminded me of the forests around Plitivice lakes. I loved the way the superstitions of the people created these wonderful but sometimes damaging myths around their neighbours lives. I loved that we approach them all through Natalia’s grandfather at different stages in his life.

Side note, I LOVE the typography of the Balkan language (even though WordPress doesn’t have the characters).

Many better reviewers than me have talked about the themes of death and peoples relationship with it, and their reactions to it. I think I very much glossed over this part of the narrative, focusing more on the mythical tales. But upon reflection, I can totally see this point. And it is perhaps these themes that stay with you beyond the end of the book.

This really is an accomplished debut novel and one that I am so glad I discovered in a charity shop in Cardiff. If you’re happy to feel history, rather than learn it, and are willing to let go of reality slightly, then I highly recommend this book. It’s just really beautiful in parts. But I also get why readers might not be able to persist with it.

Further side note, this was one of about 10 books that were bought on the same day, from many international authors. Many of which I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up if it wasn’t for this blog. So I’m grateful to be discovering not just new stories, but new authors as well.

Anyone else got a decent amount of time off for Christmas? I’ve lined up The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende as my Christmas read (Insole Court Book Clubs book for January) and am also dipping into Not All Feminists Wear Pink.

This has to be my favourite time of year for reading!

Kelly

Other things: Christmas Gift Guide

Thought I’d use a bit of my free time to pull together a gift guide for Christmas. These are books that I’d like to receive, or books that I have bought as gifts before, for a variety of friends or family members. All available at Wordery, or I’m sure you could order in any of these in an independent book shop.

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, for the fantasy fan. Soon to be a TV show.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, for someone who loves an epic ride. I haven’t read this yet, but its been highly recommended to me.
  • Power by Naomi Alderman, for the young people. Review here.
  • Also for the young people, Animal by Sara Pascoe. Or anyone actually. Very informative but also funny.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama, for literally anyone. We all need more Michelle in our lives.
  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, realistically, for the parents of toddlers. Dark and hilarious.
  • Sabriel series by Garth Nix. Fab for tweens and young adults. Strong female protagonists in a really unique fantasy world.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbera Kingsolver, for the avid reader in your life. Treat them to this beauty.

Let me know if this was in anyway useful. Or comment if you need a specific recommendation, happy to help!

Kelly

Review-ish: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

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Translated by Jay Rubin.

“Spend your money on the things money can buy. Spend your time on the things money can’t buy.”

There are soooooo many quotes that I could pull from this book, so many nuggets of wisdom and joy. This quote doesn’t do it justice but it was short and I thought readers might appreciate a short quote!

I have no idea where to start with this book. I feel like I come away from Murakami’s novels never truly feeling like I have full understood the narrative (its probably because I’m skim reading!) but I sure have enjoyed the journey. I am always gripped, fully absorbed in his bonkers worlds that are vivid and all-consuming. I get peoples struggles, I really do. You’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to let go of any pre-conceptions and dive head-first into it. And sometimes, that is just not what you want.

But there’s so much in this book to get your teeth into. Mystery, history, fantasy and distinct and in-depth character development. I learnt about the Manchurian war, which I knew absolutely nothing about before, whilst also being taken along on a study of a marriage. There are such a huge range of characters that it can be easy to lose track a little bit, but as you start to get lost, Murakami will bring you back with a letter or story.

I love that Toru is an Everyman. He’s unassuming. He likes things to be neat. He’s in his 30’s and a bit lost. It’s our ability to relate to him that makes him so compelling. He’s such an accidental hero.

I’m always a little bit cautious to recommend Murakami to others. They’re usually massive for a start, and his style definitely isn’t for everyone. I would say not to start with Norweigan Wood, as now I can see that it isn’t reflective of his work (Sorry, adult live-in boyfriend, I let ya down there). The three I have read most recently though, Kafka on the Shore, The Hard-Boiled Egg and the End of the World and this gem are much more similar in style. For someone with a limited visual imagination, Murakami is a dream. Genuinely, it is books like this that make me love to read; the sort of books that make you cancel social engagements and go to bed early to enjoy.

Many Goodreads peeps have suggested multiple readings so I definitely think I would come back and give it another go at some point. With re-reading, I wouldn’t rush through it in excitement and might take a bit more of the actual plot in.  I’ll have another crack at Kafka on the Shore as well.

 

Anyone else fan? Any other Murakami recommendations?

Kelly

Review-ish: Cuz by Danielle Allen

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An American Tragedy.

‘Deterrence dehumanizes. It directs at the individual the full hate that society understandably bears toward an aggregate phenomenon.’

This book was another library-lure, when I had no intention of picking up anymore books. The local-to-work library has a ‘new books’ display that seems to get me every time. Although a small book, I can’t say it was a quick read.

I thought that the most powerful parts of this book were when the author was talking about the statistics of the prison system in America, and the sections where she talks about how crime grew in American and its impact on minority communities. These were informative and powerful and were the things that I think drew most people to the book.

But I did struggle with much of the rest of the book. There were glimmers of lovely prose and I absolutely felt the guilt and sadness that she felt about her impact (or lack thereof) on her cousins life. Sometimes it felt a bit ungainly which meant that what should have been powerfully emotional, felt clunky.

I would be really interested to read more around the subject of race in America so please send me recommendations.

Kelly

 

 

Review-ish: The Warmth of the Heart prevents your Body from Rusting by Marie de Hennezel

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Ageing with growing old. Translated by Sue Dyson.

‘The worst is not inevitable. Something within us does not grow old. I shall call it the heart, the capacity to love and to desire, that inextricable, incomprehensible force which keeps the human being alive…’

A little bit of non-fiction to mix things up a bit. This book was bought for me as a gift by my boss as its very much applicable to my job, so I’m aware that I have a special interest. So that’s a bit of background.

I love that someone on Goodreads described this book as ‘very French’. It is wonderfully French. Full of joie de vivre which is the point of it really. Hennezel paints beautifully vivid images of eccentric, smiling Europeans; loving life, laughing and shagging in older age.

It is chock-full of anecdotes from a range of people; academics, researchers, students, nuns, doctors, authors and people living with dementia and their friends and families, with Hennezel’s own thoughts weaving in between. This diverse ranges of voices and experiences creates a really rich tapestry of what ageing can mean for different people.

As much as I think that everyone could take something very important from this book about the way we look at ageing, I am very aware that it’s a big part of my life at the moment and therefore isn’t something that everyone wants to examine. It can be upsetting to think about ageing, but this is a light-hearted approach with a positive message; every person can change the way they think about ageing and can enjoy life until the end.

It’s absolutely the sort of non-fiction that I enjoy. There’s a very human element to it, a bit of a narrative. Its read-able but also you can pick up as and when. I read it over a series of weeks alongside any fiction I happened to be reading. I learnt a long-time ago that I can’t read two fictional books simultaneously. I only have a certain amount of imagination-RAM in my brain box.

I’m only hesitant to recommend this book to others because I know that I have a bias and have read a lot already about ageing. Has anyone else had this experience when recommending non-fiction?

Kelly