#1 (2020): Shrill by Lindy West

My first read of the year was Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West.

From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.

The book is brilliantly written — honest, funny, and heartbreaking in parts. I found aspects of it particularly relatable, and I think that anyone who has disliked or felt betrayed their body will find themselves nodding in recognition at what West has to say.

West discusses her career as a journalist throughout the book, and frequently cites instances where she had to pull up colleagues on their double standards with regards to fat-shaming. I found it eye-opening but, at the same time, unsurprising that she encountered such intense prejudice just because of how she looked. Like Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self, which I discussed here, Shrill tackles challenging — and often ‘taboo’ — issues head on. I believe that it’s vital that these discussions keep taking place and that marginalised voices are heard. Kudos to West (and Pine) for having the courage to speak out. More, please!

Lindy West’s second book The Witches Are Coming is out now (and the friend who bought me Shrill assures me that it is equally excellent).

Top 6 Reads of 2019

Since 2016 I’ve kept a log of the books I’ve read each year, and it pleases me to flick back and see what’s kept me occupied. However, the list fails to capture the essence of why I enjoyed a particular volume, which is where this blog comes in. I hope that it becomes a memory aid for me, while providing interest and reading inspiration for others.

I’m kicking off with my top six reads of 2019 (in chronological order).

• • •

Brahms’s Elegies – Nicole Grimes

Brahms’s Elegies provides readers with an insightful exploration of a number of Brahms’s choral works from the 1870s and 1880s: Schicksalslied, Op. 54, Nänie, Op. 82, and Gesang der Parzen, Op. 89. Grimes addresses these works with clarity and eloquence, situating the pieces within their historical, literary, and philosophical context. It is an enriching and thoroughly engaging volume from beginning to end.

Spring – Ali Smith

This is the third installation in Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, but as each one is self-contained you can jump in at any point. Spring deals with themes of loss and bereavement, moral conflict, and questions of identity against the backdrop of Brexit. Smith’s writing is at all times well-crafted and her characters are utterly convincing. Of the three she has published, Spring was by far my favourite.

Notes to Self – Emilie Pine

I devoured this during the summer in three greedy gulps. Pine writes with lucid honesty about her life and the challenges she has faced. She considers what it means to be a woman, and addresses the realities of everyday sexism. Her frank and powerful essays deal with family life, infertility, and depression, to name but a few vital themes. This collection leaves you with much to reflect on after you’ve turned the final page.

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my all-time favourites, which I return to repeatedly when I’m in need of literary comfort. The narrative concerns two individuals whose lives are inextricably linked through time travel. Niffenegger creates an intricate and wholly believable alternate reality, in which you quickly find yourself completely immersed.

What Red Was – Rosie Price

Price’s debut novel is a raw and compelling depiction of how a young woman attempts to come to terms with trauma. The prose is gracefully crafted and Price creates a superb sense of space — both physically and mentally. Aspects of the book reminded me of Sally Rooney’s Normal People or Anna Hope’s Expectation; all three writers have a talent for making everyday scenes come alive with a tangible vibrancy.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

Like many, I came to The Handmaid’s Tale via the TV series, and was at once disturbed by and fascinated with Atwood’s dystopian world. The Testaments is a sequel that had a lot to live up to, but in it Atwood offers a perfect balance of explanation, resolution, and new information. It also makes you feel things for characters that you never thought you’d feel (a bit like when you found out that Severus Snape wasn’t a complete swine after all).