Books have been helping me to stay sane during lockdown. I have always been a massive reader, and quarantine has given me the time that I needed to get through a lot of the books on my hit list.
I sat at my book shelf and picked out some of my favourite recent books that I think everybody should read – and I am just bursting to tell you about them! Let’s get to it.
THE BLUEST EYE – TONI MORRISON
This book…I mean, what can I say. It is one of my favourites of all time, and I have read it three times. Let’s start with the blurb.
Toni Morrison’s debut novel immerses us in the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family – Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola – in post-Depression 1940’s Ohio. Unlovely and unloved, Pecola prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged white scoolfellows. At once intimate and expansive, unsparing in it’s truth-telling, The Bluest Eye shows how the past savagely defines the present.The blurb.
Me and this book first met in my first year of my undergraduate degree, and I fell in love at once. I swallowed it up like nothing else. Morrison’s writing is so magnificently effortless, you just run through it. The New York Times said it was “so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry”, and I couldn’t agree more. This book is so complex, yet so beautifully written.
You sympathise with the main character, Pecola, so much – she is so young and yet she finds herself a victim to so much hatred within her community because of her dark skin. So, she prays for blue eyes, that she feels are the gateway to acceptance, freedom and happiness. Through this, Morrison confronts massive concepts like institutionalised racism, sexism and the perception of self alongside the importance of self-love.
The metaphor of the blue eye is incredibly potent throughout, and the way that Morrison has used it is…so genius. Although this is a fictional novel, it was published in 1970. Thus, it is very historical. Morrison is a black woman herself, so understanding what she is attempting to convey in this novel makes it even more beautiful.
It’s an incredibly tragic book. It’s a very educational book. I truly believe this should be on school syllabus’s everywhere, so I think you should really read it! you’ll love it.
THE WALL – JOHN LANCHASTER
Branded ‘The 1984 for our times” by the Daily express, this novel really takes you on a journey. Let’s look at the blurb:
Kavanagh begins his time patrolling the wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he only has to do two years of this. 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is he survives and gets off the Wall and will never have to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. But what if something did happy – if the Others came, f he had to fight for his life?
This is a dystopian novel which is easily recognisable as a reflection of our own world. Kavangh is our main character, and this book follows his journey as he begins the mandatory guarding of ‘the wall’ which every young person has to do in this story. ‘The wall’ sits on the UK coastline and it represents a future, symbolising the consequences of climate change and global warming.
More obviously, the wall guards against what the novel calls the ‘others’: individuals coming from sea to the UK. Of course, these are refugees, and the wall symbolises the UK boarder. I think the dehumanisation of these individuals throughout the story is what is significantly chilling, as it alludes towards Brexit-mentality, racism and xenophobia in the UK. The relationships formed throughout the novel act as a moral at the end of the story.
Admittedly, it does take a while for the story to get good, as Lanchester spends a lot of time at the start of the novel particularly highlighting the mundanity of guarding the wall. But, if you stick through it, you won’t be able to put it down. I loved this book so much!
A friend of mine told me that she studied this book for her English A-level, which I found really interesting because it is a thought provokingly brilliant novel that changes you and your perception of life. I really recommend giving it a read – it is a short one after all!
WOMEN, RACE&CLASS – ANGELA Y. DAVIS
Let’s switch it up and do some non-fiction. I met Davis’s Women, Race and class when I was researching my dissertation, which focussed on intersectionality and black women. I didn’t read the whole thing at the time but I made a note to return to it when I had some extra time on my hands. There’s nothing that says extra time like quarantine, is there?
Let’s look at the blurb:
Ranging from the age of slavery to contemporary injustices, this seminal history of race, gender and class inequality offers an alternative view of female struggles for liberation. Tracing the intertwined histories of the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, Davis examines the racism and class prejudice inherent in so much of white feminism, and in doing so brings to light new pioneering heroines, from freed slaves to mill workers, who fought back and refused to accept the lives into which they were born.Blurb.
This book is excellent. It has thirteen chapters, and each chapter reads as an essay historically looking into black women and their experiences and their positions in society. It is incredibly educational and particularly enlightening considering the current BLM movement. You can find more books of this nature in my blog post: #BLACKLIVESMATTER What can I do to make a difference?
There is so much in here. It looks so small, but don’t be fooled. Each page is flooded with so much information. Davis doesn’t leave a single topic untouched. The best part is you literally feel yourself sinking into this book, because even though there are a lot of statistics and facts, it is so well written, it never feels like you have to fight to stay interested in its content.
There is no way that I could review the entirety of this book because of how much there is to say about it, but I would like to talk about some of the chapters in particular where Davis discusses feminism. I realise that a lot of people do not actually know much about feminism. But, if you do walk away learning something new today, know two things: Feminism is not a radical movement and it is not inclusive. There are many, many branches of feminism, which includes black feminism, because mainstream feminism is very problematic. Davis’s third chapter, Class and Race in the Early Women’s right’s campaign (P.40) and her fourth chapter, Racism in the Woman Suffrage movement (P.61) critically examine this and look into the prejudice and racism in these movements.
This book is so great. It is so interesting and I hope that I have compelled you to pick it up. Trust me you will not regret it.
DISGRACE – J.M COETZEE
This book is crazy. It deals with 101 things all at once, and it really makes you think about morals and ethics, and what is right and what is wrong. Black and white and gender…you know what, let’s read the blurb:
After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding.
For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythm of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the fault-lines in their relationship.Blurb.
Our main character, David, lives a very relaxed lifestyle in Cape Town. His position of power as a white teacher at a university acts as a loophole for his scandalous indulgences. He becomes a slave to his desires and makes a series of immoral and unethical decisions. Readers question how much of his later repentance is genuine and how much of it is performative.
The second half of the novel is when things get dark. Coetzee moves our main character in with his daughter in the countryside after something happens and he has to leave his former life behind. But society in the countryside operates in a very different way to what he is used to. As white people, they find themselves as minorities and they become victims to series of attacks. This opens up the whole conversation about justice, revenge and reparations for Apartheid in South Africa.
This is a great book. It makes you uncomfortable and makes you really think about the choices characters are forced to make and whether you agree with them or not. David, of course, remains an unlikeable character, but many people do sympathise with him by the end of the novel when he encounters his own suffering.
I think everybody will have a different reaction to this book. You will either love it or hate it. It was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2003, and won the 1999 Booker prize, so it is a good book!
Trigger warning: Sexual assault and violence.
THE LONELIEST GIRL IN THE UNIVERSE – LAUREN JAMES
Finally, this beautiful book. Can we just take a moment for this cover?!
I met this book when I was on the hunt for a light-hearted read. I was reading lots of heavy books that were educating me on the BLM movement (you can find a great list here), and I just wanted something in between to help me relax . I thought this was just going to be an easy sci-fi/romance, but it turned out to be so much more. Let’s do the blurb:
Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew members on a spaceship bound for a new planet. She is the loneliest girl in the universe, until she heard that a second spaceship has launched from Earth with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.
Their oil communication is via email, and the messages take months to transmit, yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does she really know about J? And what do the strange new messages from Earth mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone…Blurb
Okay, this book was just turn after turn after turn. I finished it in one sitting and just sat there for ten minutes thinking about what I had just read.
The story follows Romy, sweet, adorable Romy as she travels alone in her families spaceship on a mission to discover ‘Earth 2’. A lot has happened on the ship, and in an accident, she is left all alone. She has communication with a therapist on earth but the messages can take days to send and receive so she ends up feeling very lonely.
NASA emails to inform her that there is another ship that has much better technology. The ship will come and travel with her to this new planet, and will catch up with her in just a year. She starts communicating with the boy in the other ship, J, and ends up falling in love before they have met. But, this book is not the contemporary love story that is sounds like. I will say no more, because I am on the verge of spoiling and I’m trying not to!
There is so much more to this story that you would not even be able to guess from the synopsis. You find out so much about Romy’s past, her everyday life, and J.
James does such a good job at creating this new world, and the sci-fi jargon is not too foreign. Romy remains retable – although it is unlikely that any of us will ever be on a spaceship to ‘Earth 2’, her anxieties, nightmares and everyday problems make her an adorable and very likeable character!
I really recommend this book…especially if you like a good scare!
Those were my top 5 quarantine reads! I hope that you have enjoyed this blog post, and are intrigued by at least one of these books! I would love to know what you have been reading, so let me know! I’m always up for a recommendation!
I’m currently reading Helly Acton’s The Shelf, if anybody is looking for even more recommendations!