How am I going with the 2011 Reading List of Enormity? To be honest, I’ve not progressed hugely far since I last updated you in April. That is, I’ve read fifteen books in the interim, which is quite a lot, I suppose, but not at all up to my established rate. Reading, I am trying to tell myself, is not a race or a competition. (If only the university’s English department would give us a bit more time to read some of our texts, we might enjoy them more…!) I spent my uni holidays watching rather extraordinary amounts of television, and that seems to have mostly been the game plan with my cultural downtime of late. In any case, I finished a wonderful novel this afternoon and decided to update you.
The fifteen books – not counting Middlemarch, please note, which I still haven’t finished, because I’ve developed a substantial apathy toward it – are:
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Race written right.
- Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. I have deep amounts of affection for all Ms Healey writes; see below.
- The Celtic Dagger by Jill Paterson. A murder mystery set in Sydney! It was rather odd and charming to see my city in print; I’ve written about this here.
- Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams. A slightly unorthodox teenage romance. See the above link.
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Glorious period mystery that doesn’t hesitate to make you uncomfortable with the nastier parts of history. The main character has one of the strongest and most delightful voices I’ve read.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I have a very old grudge against Dickens, so let’s leave it at that.
- A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly. Another historical novel, featuring a poor white American girl with big city dreams. I have mixed feelings, particularly on the race front – the main character has a Black Best Friend and the former is nice but slightly irritating about it – so I’ll leave off by saying that its mix of fiction with a real murder case is worth a look.
- The Secret River by Kate Grenville. This novel, published in 2006, was and is hugely controversial for its presentation of Australia’s colonial history. It’s definitely worth a look, if only to engage with the debates.
- Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill. Because, as I’ve tangentally mentioned, I liked the TV series, which is a whole different ballgame from the book. I almost put it down on the first page because the novel’s version of the main character said something racist – the racism, just quietly, does not let up! This will be no surprise to anyone who has read any lesbian YA/classic ever, but the plot goes thusly: young white woman falls for other young white woman, latter is straight, former despairs, brief shining hope, object of main character’s affections is actually straight for sure and a total slut unlike our pure and feeling heroine. (I do not endorse calling women sluts, to make this perfectly clear, and am just delivering the attitude in this story.) On the other hand… queer YA, yay?
- Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris. Perhaps you’ve read my review?
- House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones. This series has a special place in my readerly squee-factor.
- The Prestige by Christopher Priest. Unfortunately, I was judging it against its film adaptation, which is one of my favourite films, and has the advantage of using Priest’s rather excellently-plotted book to take the story a few steps further.
- The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, and her twelve hanged maids. As well done as you expect from Ms Atwood!
- Possession by A.S. Byatt. It’s just as well written as you’ve heard; definitely try it.
- The Shattering by Karen Healey.
And that last is what prompted me to write this post, of course. It made me cry. It will doubtless make me cry again. Karen Healey is one of my very very favourite writers. She is a white writer who can actually write characters of colour who don’t want to make me laugh with derision, who are just as real as the white ones. She has enormous amounts of respect for her teenage characters and readers, and for all the diversity of identity and circumstance they bring with them. She’s a fine plotter, and she writes with consideration for the storytelling traditions to which she’s writing in close proximity. Go forth and buy or borrow her books at once!!