Such A Fun Age

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Read 27/01/2022-29/01/2022

Rating 4 stars

I had Kiley Reid’s debut novel Such A Fun Age on my library wishlist but took it off again after I read some lukewarm reviews here in the blogosphere.

Then my employer decided to set up a reading scheme, that they’re calling The Big Read. It aims to encourage staff to think about different perspectives and think more critically about our work and our audiences. Our first book is Such A Fun Age, and we were each given a copy at the start of December. It seemed rude not to read it.

The story concerns Emira, a 25 year old black woman who is drifting a little in life, working as a transcriber and a babysitter, and Alix, one of Emira’s employers, a 33 year old mother of two. It explores the friendship groups of both women, shining a light on Black experience through Emira’s story as well as on the pressures on all women to be someone, to have purpose, to be fulfilled, all while looking good, through the stories and interactions of all the female characters. There’s also a story arc around the differing relationships between men and women, in particular men who want to appear as feminist and Black allies but whose actions are still underpinned by a certain level of chauvinism and white saviour behaviour.

It’s a book that got some hype. It was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. The cover is blazoned with praise, as is the front fly, and there are three pages of praise quotes. I’ve a friend who said that the hype is to be believed. I’ve a workmate who said that it’s good but a bit overegged. But what do I think? Continue reading

Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain

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Read 09/01/2022-27/01/2022

Rating 4 stars

I like Sathnam Sanghera. He makes difficult, emotive subject matter accessible. His documentary about the Amritsar massacre led me to Kim Wagner’s book Amritsar 1919. I haven’t yet watched his Empire State of Mind series, but I reserved his book Empireland somewhere in the distant past of 2021 and it arrived from the library at the start of this year.

Empireland begins with a set of acknowledgements that include the following statement, “… I’m going to spend as little time as possible fretting about definitions: almost every term used in discussion of empire, from ‘colony’ to ‘commonwealth’ to ‘colonialism’, to say nothing of ‘race’ and ‘racism’, can be contested, their meanings changing over time.” Sanghera goes on to say that immersion in definitions produces long academic books, and his ambition in writing Empireland was to create the opposite.

He has succeeded. Empireland is Sanghera’s personal exploration of who he is, as a British Sikh, and how empire has created the environment he grew up in, as well as influenced the language and attitudes everyone in Britain has, across race, gender, religion and politics. Continue reading

The Radetzky March

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Read 02/01/2022-09/01/2022

Rating 5 stars

Onwards in my European literary tour to Austria. Joseph Roth was born in a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is now in Ukraine, but studied in Vienna and is considered to be an Austrian writer. I have his novel The Radetzky March in a Folio edition, which is no longer in print.

The Radetzky March is considered to be a political masterpiece that draws parallels between the elevation and subsequent fall of a military family and the decline and eventual collapse of the Habsburg monarchy. The focus of the novel is the Trotta family, Austro-Hungarians of Slovenian origin, the patriarch of whom rescues Emperor Franz Joseph I from death during the Battle of Solferino. This earns him an elevation to the nobility and the title Baron Trotta von Sipolje.

It’s a funny book that captures the camaraderie of military life, the ridiculous nature of civil service life, the generational changes in parent-child relationships, and the curious rigidity of friendship between men of a certain class. Having studied the causes of the First World War at school, it also provided a different, more social context to the political one I garnered from O Level text books in the 1980s.

It’s also a poetic book, in the way Roth describes landscape, seasons, thoughts and emotions. His turn of phrase is perfection. I loved the lightness of his touch, the humour and fondness for his characters, and the way he skewers the social structures of the time, while simultaneously mourning their passing. Continue reading

In the Pines

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Read 01/01/2022

Rating 4 stars

Paul Scraton is a British writer who lives and works in Berlin. I’ve read his psychogeographical novel Built on Sand, which is still one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and his walking travelogue Ghosts on the Shore, that tells the history of Germany’s Baltic coast via a personal cartography.

I’ve been eager to read his fiction collaboration with German photographer Eymelt Sehmer since it was announced by the publisher back in spring. In the Pines continues Scraton’s exploration of our relationship with landscape and what it says about us. Continue reading

Six Degrees of Separation: From Rules of Civility to Daisy Miller

It’s 2022, so a Happy New Year to you. 1 January was also the first Saturday of the month, making it time for Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Our starting book this month is one that I included in my January chain two years agoRules of Civility by Amor Towles. This is a book I read before I started this blog. It was recommended to me by a good friend in New York, and I loved it.

Continue reading