Categories
Q&A

A Mini Book Q&A

I was tagged to take part in this on Instagram, but my answers ended up exceeding the allowed character count – so I’m putting the full Q&A on here!

A book that changed my life

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this at 15 and it totally blew my mind. It was such an intense read; I felt like my mind was breaking down alongside Raskolnikov’s. It was so deeply atmospheric and immersed me so strongly that it left an incredible impression on me. It’s one of my favourite books to this day. I’m also consequently obsessed with the idea of visiting St Petersburg, which I haven’t managed to do yet – but one day!

A book I’m looking forward to reading

The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. It’s set in Pompeii’s lupanar, focusing on the lives of the women who worked there. It’s such a fascinating topic and I really can’t express just how excited I am for it!

My favourite read of 2020

It’s a tie between The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I’d been waiting for The Mirror and the Light for 8 years before finally getting to read it, and it was a strong end to a brilliant series. Girl, Woman, Other was so original and powerful. Even if 2020 was one hell of a year, at least I read some great books!

A book I obsess over

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (My favourite novel of his. I’ve reread it more times than I can count). Turkish Delight by Jan Wolkers and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’m excited to expand on these in individual reviews! Also Wolf Hall again (sorry to be repetitive!).

My favourite classic

Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and (as mentioned) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Goodbye to Berlin and Crime and Punishment both fall into the ‘atmospheric’ categories, with the locations of the books being characters in their own right. This always appeals to me because it makes the whole reading experience more immersive and I’m always left with a feeling of nostalgia for places I haven’t even visited. Which is some pretty powerful writing! Lolita was so masterfully crafted, I couldn’t put it down. The hideous subject is wrapped in the beauty of Nabokov’s writing, leading to a simultaneously repulsive and riveting window into Humbert Humbert’s twisted mind.


A book I didn’t really like

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. This isn’t because I have a problem with romance or erotica, because I don’t at all! But I did find this book problematic. Its representation of kink and BDSM was worrying and potentially harmful as it inspired many readers to dip their toes into BDSM, but misinformed them. There was a total lack of consent, communication, and boundaries. Which isn’t presented as a good thing – but it is BDSM that is vilified, rather than Christian Grey’s violation of boundaries. Eventually, Christian abandons the dom/sub style relationship, and he and Ana transfer to vanilla. I think this portrayal of BDSM as something messed up or inherently harmful totally ignores how essential trust and communication is in order for this type of relationship to be healthy and successful – which it absolutely can be. It’s good that people raised this issue and it became a discussion, but considering how much the book exploded in popularity, I do worry about its message.

Categories
Book Reviews

New York City in 1979 by Kathy Acker

I picked this compact book up right after seeing the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate in October, and read it on the train home. It was a perfect digestif following the exhibition, adding even more colour and context to what I’d just seen. I’ve never been to New York and I wasn’t alive in the 1970s, but reading this somehow made me nostalgic for both the city and the decade.

Acker’s prose is both dreamlike and visceral, interlaced with black-and-white photographs scattered through the book. I felt like I was peering into 1979 New York City through a slightly smudged camera lens. The first page opens with: ‘SEXUAL DESIRE IS THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD’. It’s an attention-grabbing start, followed by a wonderfully candid first chapter ‘The Whores In Jail At Night.’ The chapter is dialogue alone, eavesdropping on the sex workers’ incredibly blunt conversation. Later on there is a detailed description of an old woman’s vagina: ‘Old women just cause they’re old and no man’ll fuck them don’t stop wanting sex.’

More than simply a passive gaze at New York’s underground, the book is political too. New York City is a pithole, says Acker. The United States government rains down anti-rent control laws and refuses the city Federal funds. A far cry from today, it describes an NYC abandoned by the rich and inhabited by those with a lower income. The only constant is the artists, who were there then and are there now.

I enjoyed this book massively. I’ve seen some criticism of its short length, and disappointment that it isn’t a meatier dive into 1979 NYC. Although I would have happily read many pages more, I think the length is perfect considering its style. The book is a snapshot, full of frozen in time dialogue and streams of consciousness. It gives you an unvarnished glimpse of the city and entices you to find out more.