You know, I love a good book list as much as the next person. However, at this stage of the year I find myself struggling with how impersonal and repetitive these online lists can be. I miss the lived experience of a book, the feeling of someone saying "I read this at this point in my life, and it helped me, it distracted me." So here are a few of the books I've been reading and loving lately, and what moment in my life prompted me to read them:
You, by Caroline Kepnes. An agent at the incredible Darley Anderson literary agency took an interest in my novel a few months ago. She even asked me to revise the current version according to her feedback and resubmit. During this process, she told me that You was a reflection of what she thought my book should be. While I found the book gripping, urgent and beautifully written, the villain and plot was nowhere close to what I am trying to do with my book. God, I wished that everything had fallen into place with that agent, but it just wasn't the right fit for both of us. As for the book, it deeply unsettling and a razor-sharp depiction of modern obsession, and stalking someone is so easy with all the digital information at our disposal.
Only Ever Yours, Louise O'Neill. I became a Louise O'Neill super fan before reading any of her novels. I love her fierce feminism, and her snapchat where she spends her days writing in her bear dressing gown (an accurate of my own life across the world). This book is like a Young Adult Handmaid's Tale, with scenes of the complex world of girls that took me right back to high school. All women in her story are destined to become Wives, Concubines or Chastities, an apt observation of how women are defined today. I loved the plot, the style and the characters, but most of all I was blown away by the dark ending that came out of nowhere!
Tjieng Tjang Cherries, by Jolyn Phillips. I read this book of short stories all in one sitting, lying in the sun one Saturday afternoon. My body felt broken after a fall where I'd damaged my knee and shoulder, and a crazy-hard work week for a new client. These stories are distinctly South African, but took me to a world I've never quite experienced. Jolyn Phillips writes in a beautiful, minimalist style, with the most distinctive voice I've found in SA literature in a while. Each story is light as air, yet coloured with hidden nuance and depth.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North. I read this on recommendation by my wonderfully bookish friend Amanda. It was just the fast-paced and fascinating read I felt like for a weekend where I felt like doing little else but reading books and drinking tea. I won't reveal too much, except to say that it's a magical, satisfying story with surprising relevance to our current times.
Living Beautifully, Pema Chodron. I've been battling a bit with stress at the moment. My actual writing business and the process of selling my novel are rife with constant uncertainty and insecurity. I used to be so defined by success in my career, but now I am continually in flux, with nothing to hold onto. Not to mention the general malaise pumping through our world and country right now. Pema's real, raw wisdom is the perfect tonic to this, and has reminded me to always be grateful, compassionate and fully in the moment.
The Yearning, Mohale Moshigo. There's a reason everyone is so obsessed with The Yearning. The story feels both familiar and magical, infusing each reader's life with a bit of its magic. I love that the story deals with everyday issues of love, relationships and work, while exploring other themes of self-discovery and witchcraft. I read it to unwind (as opposed to older SA books that you read because you should, and study them like academic texts), but have found that the story has followed me.
The Virgin of Flames, Chris Abani. Aaaaah this story is pure fire! I love the writing, I love the characters and I love the setting. It is the type of writing that makes you want to punch something, it's so good. I also love how it features characters that spring to life as if they've been written a thousand times, but yet you've never seen anything like them before.
What have you been reading lately and why? I'd love to hear!