Mischling by Affinity Konar

I vividly recall one of my lecturers responding to a student’s complaint about their mark for an essay – the lecturer said that if the student thought he started at 100% and deducted marks for errors as he read, the student was mistaken – “You start with no marks and earn them as I read…” It comes to mind because like the lecturer, I go into every book hoping for five stars but stating with just one. Half stars and whole stars accrue (and sometimes fall) as I read. By the end, I settle on a score – it’s arbitrary, but is useful measure when I look back on my reading. Continue reading

Hunger by Roxane Gay

You know when you first begin a book and you can’t put it down, and then other stuff gets in the way and you set the book aside for a few days, and then you pick it up again and wonder, ‘Was this the same book I was engrossed in a few days ago?’ That. With Hunger by Roxane Gay.

The subtitle of the book is ‘A Memoir of (My) Body’. Gay tracks her physical and emotional state from childhood to the present. An important element of Gay’s story is her gang rape at age 12, something she kept secret for decades. From the time of the rape onwards, Gay used food as ‘safety’, saying that she “…ate and ate and ate to build my body into a fortress.”

I don’t know how things got so out of control, or I do. This is my refrain. Losing control of my body was a matter of accretion. I began eating to change my body. I was wilful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure another such violation, and so I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Continue reading

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I totally understand why Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a favourite of reviewers in 2017.

It would be a terrific choice for holiday reading – it’s pacey and easy to read.

I imagine when Ng was writing she had a complex plotting diagram on a whiteboard, or lots of sticky notes on her wall – clearly every word has been thought through. Continue reading

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg

Many years ago, a friend-of-a-friend lost her whole family in a terrible accident. To have a family one minute and lose them the next was incomprehensible. As my friend mentioned how this woman was doing in the months and years after the accident, I marvelled at how people endure the seemingly unendurable.

How do you recover from that? How would you even begin?

And this is the question at the heart of Bill Clegg’s novel, Did You Ever Have A Family. Continue reading

How Did You Get This Number by Slone Crosley

If I was to follow Slone Crosley’s rules*, I’d have been to Kilwa Kivinje in Tanzania.

Crossley’s essay collection, How Did You Get This Number, opens with a piece about her visit to Lisbon. At age 30, she decided that she ought to fulfil a preteen promise to herself, ‘…that one day I would spin [a globe] and point and travel wherever my finger landed.”

Okay, I’ll wait while you rush off to spin a globe and see where you land. I know you want to. Please report your result. Continue reading

Lifelines by Heidi Diehl

Last year I read a book about swimming and Berlin and hydrology and the nuances in the German language, and it was like it had been written just for me.

Lifelines by Heidi Diehl is about the German psyche (their collective grief and shame), Düsseldorf, and urban planning. Another book written just for me?

Lifelines is also about music and art, the 1970s, what is expressed and what is left unsaid, and how we fit into our environment. Continue reading