What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

June 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Morgan: Walking on the Ceiling, Aysegul Savas  Like Crudo, The Friend and Asymmetry, this is also an auto-fiction about a young woman writer and her friendship with an older male writer. Set in Paris and Istanbul, Savas, a Turkish author, examines her difficult childhood in Istanbul and her troubled relationship with her strange, nervous mother as she walks the streets of Paris with her friend. Beautifully written, warm and compassionate, this book is also a sad indictment of what is happening to the beautiful old city of Istanbul as the government razes much of it down in the name of progress.

John: The Library Book by Susan Orlean is the story of a devastating fire in the main Public Library in Los Angeles. Orlean, of course, makes it about far more than that. It’s about the role of the library in society, the eccentric early librarians, the fire itself and the devastation it caused when 700,000 books were destroyed. It’s also a true crime story and the story of the person who may have started the fire. As if this wasn’t enough, there is also Orlean’s wonderful prose.... plus 

Rivers of London Series (Books 1 to 6)  by Ben Aaronovitch—These books have been something of a guilty pleasure. Over the past few months I have read the first six novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. Ben Aaronovitch  blends police procedural and contemporary fantasy. With a nod to Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde and J K Rowling these plot driven tales are great entertainment.

David M: The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey—A medieval mystery, as the blurbs say. But much more than just that. Cleverly structured and convincingly involved with the lives of the people, the beliefs and the world view of the time, this novel has at its heart crimes and failures which are as profoundly significant today as they were then. Only now it’s not just a single village we’re talking about.

Andrew: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo—This book—a work of non-fiction due for publication next month—has a massive buzz about it.  From Leigh Sales to Elizabeth Gilbert, it seems it could  well prove to be the book one needs to have an opinion on this year. And, well, I don’t quite have an opinion... yet. Basically it is the emotional and sexual lives of three women—broken up and then interwoven chapter by chapter—portrayed by Taddeo with an almost shocking vociferousness. She has no qualms about projecting herself into the point of view of these women; she gets under their skin more readily than one could imagine possible. Whilst it is bound to polarise readers, what lifts the book well above being a sensational pot boiler is that Taddeo writes exceptionally, startlingly,  well.  I am not far in but I have found myself in equal measure both transfixed and discomforted.

Victoria: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is a multilayered story: A family of four on a road trip from New York to Arizona in search of the history of the Apaches. On this road trip, the family pack seven archive boxes with their favourite or important things— which reveal themselves throughout the book. Alongside this story of family dynamics is the story of thousands of Mexican children being smuggled across the US border which is being documented by one of the parents. Fascinating novel and extremely well written. I have not read Luiselli before—and Lost Children makes me want to read more. 

Jonathon: Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead—A book about facing the ghosts in our past; what we want to but cannot forget. Whitehead fictionalises the true story of a Florida juvenile prison during the US civil rights era, showing the brutality inflicted on children there and tracing its consequences decades later. He powerfully contrasts the idealism of those inspired by MLK with the pragmatism of those not yet ready to trust hope. I particularly enjoyed his snapshots of New York City and the way he ends this story—somewhere between sweet and bitter. (due in July)

Stef: I Built No Schools in Kenya, A Year of Unmitigated Madness by Kirsten Drysdale—is a surprising and often laugh out loud tale of how Kirsten Drysdale found herself caring for an elderly white man with dementia, in Nairobi, Kenya. At times you wonder who has really lost the plot - Walt, the dementia suffere; Marguerite, Walt’s 2nd wife, who is seen as a threat by her step-daughter; or Fiona, Walt’s daughter, micromanaging Walts’ care from her home in the UK. Not to mention the carers, who have to manage every minute of Walt’s waking day—from arranging his clothes in reverse order to help him get dressed to substituting Ribena in the wine bottle so Walt can still enjoy a glass of wine with his meals. As Walt’s dementia worsens the Symth household more isolated and more crazy.  Kirsten finds herself on a crash course on managing dementia and toxic family dynamics; and observing British Colonialism and the social and racial attitudes of the master of the household; and discovering a deep affinity to Africa.

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