Book Review: I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum

He’s no keyboard introvert; he’s a ringmaster who loves spreadsheets.

I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum

I love to read, but I also love TV. So naturally enough, this book was a perfect fit for me.

Nussbaum is a TV critic for The New Yorker and in 2016 won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for “television reviews written with an affection that never blunts the shrewdness of her analysis or the easy authority of her writing“. This book is a collection of her essays from over the years and include a new introduction for each from the writer, giving context on the circumstances surrounding the time it was originally published and the reaction from readers at the time.

I haven’t watched all of the shows she wrote about in this book and skipped some that I still have on my “to-watch” list. I’m also three episodes away from the end of The Sopranos so I look forward to going back to reading that essay soon…

But what did I learn from this book about those shows that I have seen?

  1. The ending of Sex and the City was the wrong one and a disservice to the main character.
  2. I have to re-watch Girls as soon as possible because it really is the best.
  3. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel is actually not very good.
  4. I miss Alicia and really need to watch The Good Wife again.
  5. I need to give Jane the Virgin another chance.

This book also reminded me of how good good tv is. And the author’s piece on Ryan Murphy is possibly one of the best profiles that I’ve ever read. It’s fascinating. Especially as the essay was written just after the announcement of the screenwriter/director/producer’s big Netflix deal and since then, the content he’s created for the streaming service have not been well received.

This is a great book for any TV lover in your life. I now have a new obsession with Emily Nassbaum and have everything crossed that she’ll write a piece on the love/hate relationship we all have with Emily in Paris because I need to know what she makes of that one….

Book Review: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This big ol’ world and we only get to go through it once. The saddest thing there is, you ask me.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

A contender for my favourite book of the year.

The Vignes sisters are twins who run away at the age of sixteen. Years later, one sister arrives home with her black daughter. The other sister has spent her life secretly passing for white. Fooling everyone around her. But what happens when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

I loved this book, from its cover design, to the very last line on the final page. Spanning years from the 1950s to the 1990s, the writing is so vivid that a scene of a daughter and her mother standing on the front porch had me near tears. For the lovers, there’s a warmth in reading about relationships just starting out and those that have lasted through the decades.

But the standout love story is that of the Vignes sisters. Their bond is at the centre of the book and no matter how far they move away from each other, that bond remains. And as a reader, you turn each page with your breath held, hoping that they’ll find their way back to each other.

I read this book at every chance I got. Sneaking in pages at breakfast, lunch and most evenings before bed. I’m so happy that I’ve discovered the writing of Brit Bennett and can’t wait to read The Mothers next. Fingers crossed for many more books in this author’s future.

Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Oh I do love this bit!

What “bit”?

Trying to work out if a man who is ignoring you is dead or alive.

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Sometimes it’s fun to relive the old dating app days….

Ghosts introduces us to Nina Dean, a successful food writer in her early thrities, who has just bought her own place and decides to try the online dating scene. Complications include ex-boyfriends, friends who’ve decided to move to the suburbs, and a father with dementia.

Anyone who has listened to The High Low podcast or read Alderton’s columns in the past, will not be surprised by the overarching theme of her debut novel. Dating mishaps, conflicts with long-time friends and career pressures are all themes we’re familiar with from her previous work. From the quick breakdown of the various types of men you’ll come across on dating apps to the drunken dancefloor dancing, she writes it well.

What I was surprised by, was the inclusion of a storyline centred around Nina’s father’s dementia. Detailing the family’s struggle in dealing with the disease and the strain it puts on all included, it allows for some heart warming moments in the book.

Ghosts was an easy read that I flew through in a couple of sittings. A solid choice for any Alderton fan.

Ghosts hits bookshelves on 15 October, 2020 but is available for preorder now.

Note: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publishers/author via Netgalley.

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

this is not about feeling something or about speaking words

this is about being

together.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I couldn’t think of a way to describe this book and then heard Bernardine Evaristo describe it herself on the How to Fail podcast as “fusion fiction”.

Girl, Woman, Other tells the stories of twelve different characters all arriving at or dealing with a particular significant moment of self-discovery. As the author explained in that same interview with Elizabeth Day, the “stories of our lives are fascinating“. With this book, we are lucky enough to be invited in to experience and learn that fact for ourselves.

And the book is fascinating. Packed with history and covering a range of ages, you are swept up in each of the stories. Some chapters you want to last longer, easily imagining yourself reading a full book about that one character. The book explores different sexual orientations and Meghan/Morgan’s chapter in particular was really valuable for me in understanding the transgender, non-binary experience.

Every now and then, I found myself confused by all of the different characters, especially in the moments where ones from different chapters overlapped in one story. And I think the first half of the book gripped me in a way the latter didn’t. But Hattie’s chapter was a standout for me and the epilogue had me in tears.

I know many people have said it already, but this is a special book and one that everyone should read. It’s educational and poetic and it was a joy to briefly live in stories so very different to my own. And even more importantly, I have a whole back catalogue by the author to explore next!

Book Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

But that’s the thing about old friends, isn’t it? Sometimes they don’t even realise that they no longer have anything in common. That maybe they don’t like each other any more.

The Hunting Party p.68, by Lucy Foley

Sometimes all you need is a good ol’ whodunnit.

The Hunting Party tells the story of a group of college friends who decide to welcome in the New Year together at a hunting lodge in a remote part of Scotland. On New Year’s Day, one of them is dead. But who? And why?

This is a classic Agatha Christie-esque tale where everyone has a secret or is hiding a dark past. No one person or thing is as it seems. The mood is dark and there’s a tense atmosphere between the group from the start. There are characters you’ll root for and ones you’ll hate, and with the chapters told from various peoples’ perspective, the book will keep you guessing until the end.

It’s a fun, easy read that I think most will find enjoyable. A page turner that you’ll fly through in a weekend.

Book Review: What She Found in the Woods by Josephine Angelini

I’ll let it stay frozen on the inside. Like me.

Josephine Angelini, What She Found in the Woods

In the end, I’m not sure that this one was for me.

What She Found in the Woods tells the story of Magda, a teenager who has been sent from New York to the Pacific Northwest to live with her grandparents for the summer. She’s uninspired and bored until she meets Bo and life gets even more interesting when she realises that not all is as it seems in the woods near his forest home.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a young adult novel and so I was nervous that I would find it hard to get into but I actually got through the book quite quickly. The story really gets going once you’re introduced to Bo and get to follow along as this young couple’s relationship starts to develop. I thought Angelini captured quite well the awkwardness of being a teenager and trying to fit in with the crowd.

Where the book lost me though was how the author treated the topic of mental health. I found the depiction of medical professionals troubling, as I did the portrayal of women living with addiction . It’s quite negative and I didn’t understand the need for that. I also found it weirdly dark and overly complicated towards the latter part of the book. There’s nothing wrong with darker content but I felt that it was unnecessary and the plot became almost unrealistic by the end (even though it’s fiction to begin with).

I think this had the potential to be a Veronica Mars – esque mystery but it got lost along the way. A good first part but one that could have done with some editing touches to the second and third.

CW: mental and physical abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm.

Note: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publishers/author via Netgalley.

Sunday Read.

The chair is an ex voto: a stand-in for the artist, making both him and his illness visible, while critiquing the invisibility of Black and disabled artists within mainstream artistic culture.

Sinéad Gleeson

Sinéad Gleeson’s Constellations was one of my favourite books of 2019 and I’ve been following her work ever since.

Her recent article for frieze is a fascinating look into artists exploring the body in pain through art.

It’s free to access and read here now.

Happy Sunday, all.

Book Review: Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

The sign became very quiet. the palms ceased to bend, and a sweet silence enveloped the hill.

Patti Smith, Year of the Monkey, p. 23

When I was reading this, every now and then I’d stop to take a photo of a passage like this one and post it to my Instagram stories. At one stage, my Dad sent me a private message: “Cheer up”.

It’s hard to describe what this book is about so I’m going to borrow some inspiration from the book’s blurb and Goodreads: ‘Following a run of New Year’s concerts at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore, Patti Smith finds herself tramping the coast of Santa Cruz, about to embark on a year of solitary wandering. Unfettered by logic or time, she draws us into her private wonderland with no design, yet heeding signs–including a talking sign that looms above her, prodding and sparring like the Cheshire Cat. In February, a surreal lunar year begins, bringing with it unexpected turns, heightened mischief, and inescapable sorrow. For Smith–inveterately curious, always exploring, tracking thoughts, writing–the year evolves as one of reckoning with the changes in life’s gyre: with loss, aging, and a dramatic shift in the political landscape of America’.

Just Kids by Patti Smith is one of my favourite memoirs of all time so in my eyes she can really do no wrong. And I really liked this book. It’s strange and confusing and half the time I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was real or a dream. The text is interspersed by photos, poetry and even sketches but Smith takes you on a journey, and you’re happy to just go along for the ride.

The part that has stayed with me the most is where she writes about death and grief when spending time with a friend who is dying. Her words are so beautifully stitched together that you almost whisper the lines on the page, “Everybody dies […] But I’m alright with it. I’ve lived my life the way I wanted“.

This book won’t be for everyone but I think everyone should try it. And if it’s not for you, then please go find Just Kids. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Sunday Read

I read about Ahmaud, I said. I read about Breonna. I don’t say, but I thought it: I know their beloveds’ wail. I know their beloveds’ wail.

Jesmyn Ward

This Sunday’s recommendation is an essay on grief from Jesmyn Ward who lost her husband earlier this year.

I read The Fire This Time, which Jesym edited, recently and I’m still thinking about it. Her writing is so powerful and this essay is an incredible piece of writing.

You can read it online at Vanity Fair now.

Happy Sunday, all.

Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

When they found the secret graveyard, he knew he’d have to return.

p.6., The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Do you ever read a book that received a huge amount of praise and then feel almost like you missed something when you don’t necessarily have the same reaction?

Winner of the 2020 Pulizer Prize for Fiction, The Nickel Boys tells the story of Elwood Curtis, a young boy living in a segregated Tallahassee in the early 1960s. Raised by his grandmother, following one innocent mistake, he is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.” The book is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children.

I really struggled with writing this review because I didn’t dislike the book but I also didn’t love the book. I found part one to be incredibly engaging and felt a real connection to the character of Elwood. That moment at the end of part one where you know he’s headed to the Nickel Academy caused my stomach to drop.

There were moments throughout the remainder of the book, certain descriptions, like that of the fan in the “Ice Cream Factory”, that were incredibly affecting but I also felt there was a shift in the writing style from the start of the second section that just didn’t work for me.

For anyone who has read the book, they know that there is a moment of realisation for the reader, which I won’t go into detail on here as I want to avoid spoilers. For me, I felt that that moment was a complete change of tone for the book and almost took away from the novel as a whole for me.

I read The Nickel Boys as part of a book club and we had such an interesting discussion about this moment in the book. Some people were struggling with the story up until that moment and it was only then that it finally clicked for them. I found that so interesting – how we each might read the same book and yet all come away with such different and unique feelings about it. Their theories and opinions on that moment’s inclusion had me revisiting the final moments of the novel.

While I still don’t know for certain where this book lies for me, I know that it gifted me with a really interesting conversation between friends on Zoom for over an hour one evening in August. I think that speaks for the power of Whitehead’s writing, and that this book is one for each reader to experience for themselves.

Please do let me know in the comments if you’re read the book and what you thought of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.