book review: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

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WARLIGHT by Michael Ondaatje
★★☆☆☆
Knopf, 2018

 

You know those moments when you find an author you think you’re going to like, but you chose the wrong book of theirs to start with? That’s what happened with Warlight. This was not a good book, but I don’t think it’s over between me and Ondaatje. More on that in a minute.

Warlight was almost unbearably boring. I’m sorry, I know that ‘boring’ is the kind of pedestrian critique that we try to stay away from while reviewing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that felt this utterly pointless. There’s no conflict, no character development, no intrigue, no payoff. This book meandered through the narrator’s recollections of his youth in post-war London, halting all too briefly on defining moments, claiming to imbue them with weight but never willing to properly examine them in any kind of broader context. The nonlinear chronology could have been used effectively, but it served only to create such a distance between present-day-Nathaniel and past-Nathaniel that the chapters about his childhood lacked any sort of spark or passion or urgency. The one question that Ondaatje never seems interested in answering is why the reader should care about any of it.

The one saving grace for me was the prose. Ondaatje’s writing struck me as both elegant and effortless. There is no question that this book is well-written, and I found myself pausing at certain sentences, impressed by their construction and insight:

You return to that earlier time armed with the present, and no matter how dark that world was, you do not leave it unlit. You take your adult self with you. It is not to be a reliving, but a rewitnessing.

But despite these flickers of profundity in the sentence-by-sentence writing, there isn’t a whole lot of emotional depth to this novel on the whole. For a novel purportedly about memory and perception and unearthing the truth, far too much remains unexhumed. The whole thing is bizarrely perfunctory and passionless, and there is no doubt in my mind that Warlight‘s inclusion on the Booker longlist is an homage to Ondaatje’s illustrious career more than a reflection of the quality of this particular novel. But, again, I’m willing to read more Ondaatje in the future, as I refuse to believe this is the height of what he’s capable of.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman | Everything Under
In Our Mad and Furious City

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book review: A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

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A LADDER TO THE SKY by John Boyne
★★★★☆
Doubleday, August 2018 (UK)

 

I couldn’t have gone into A Ladder to the Sky with higher expectations; John Boyne set the bar pretty high with his last novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies – my favorite 2017 release and easily one of the best books I’ve ever read – and though it doesn’t quite live up to that standard, A Ladder to the Sky was every bit as enthralling as I hoped it would be. The novel follows Maurice Swift, a young aspiring writer who desires success at all costs, and though he writes decently, he isn’t able to come up with plots of his own. So he sets out to steal other people’s stories, at higher and higher costs.

I guess I’ll start out with my main criticism, then – I expected (perhaps erroneously) that this book was going to be an examination of the heights you can reach if you’re willing to sacrifice your soul, but in reality Maurice doesn’t seem to have much of a soul to begin with. Though he’s a well-constructed character, I did find that he was more of a flat-out villain than the antihero that I had been hoping for. This only became an issue for me in the final section, when some of his actions became almost unrealistically evil, and were never morally grappled with in a thorough enough way to warrant my own engagement or emotional investment in this character’s arc.

And I know that seems like a pretty big gripe, but despite the fact that A Ladder to the Sky is centered around Maurice, the majority of the book isn’t told from his perspective. The novel begins with Erich Ackermann, an old and respected German novelist, who confides a secret in Maurice who then goes on to exploit this to further his own career. Each section unfolds similarly; a character recalls his or her own relationship with Maurice, and each story is in its own way horrifying and heart-wrenching. The section narrated by Erich did end up being my favorite, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact?) that Boyne recycles a character arc that anyone who’s read The Absolutist will quickly recognize. I was still highly invested in Erich, and I did quickly become intrigued by Maurice, who, despite the aforementioned complaints, is a thoroughly captivating figure. I guess I just wanted to end up rooting for him, not against him. But I don’t know what that says about me.

Perhaps the most delightful element of this novel is the meta commentary on the publishing industry. There were moments that I found jaw dropping because I couldn’t quite believe that Boyne was bold enough to publish something like this. I mean, of course it’s fiction. But we all know that the kind of schmoozing and chronic ladder climbing you find in this novel are hardly artistic inventions. It was nice, though, to read something this honest (if embellished for fiction, of course). It was also a pretty drastic departure from The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but I honestly think that’s a good thing; one of my favorite things about Boyne is that he’s not the kind of author to write the same book over and over. A Ladder to the Sky was fun and moving and unexpected, and I’d encourage anyone to read it.

book review: In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

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IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY by Guy Gunaratne
★★★★★
Tinder Press, 2018 (UK)

 

In Our Mad and Furious City is a frenetic and imperfect but unforgettable feat from debut writer Guy Gunaratne. Set in London over the course of two days, it tells the story of three boys and two of their parents, against the backdrop of an incipient riot caused by a local boy killing a British soldier. Yusuf, Selvon, and Ardan are three friends who live in or around a Neasden housing estate, trying to make a future for themselves in a city fraught with violence and extremism.

This book is a defiant look at the classism, racial tensions, and anti-immigration sentiment that plague not only post-Brexit Britain, but also the previous generation’s Britain; it deals in the enduring and intractable nature of violence and the ways in which that ties into national identity for the second-generation immigrants whose voices propel the novel forward. The violence in this novel isn’t specifically tied to one race or religion – one of the older characters reflects on fleeing Northern Ireland during the Troubles; another remembers arriving in London from the Caribbean only to find himself confronted with the Keep Britain White movement in the 1950s. Gunaratne’s depiction of the cyclical and relentless nature of violence can be disheartening, but this novel is more about the choices the characters make, the strength it requires to turn away from brutality and not engage with it.

Written entirely in different dialects whose cadences and vocabularies vary depending on whose point of view chapter it is (one family is from Ireland, another from Montserrat, another from Pakistan), Gunaratne’s prose is gritty and colloquial but also elevated to the level you’d expect from a literary novel (something that Sebastian Barry failed to do convincingly in Days Without End, I thought, but which Gunaratnre manages with aplomb here – I was simultaneously convinced by the authenticity of the narration and impressed by the prose).

So here it all is, this London. A place that you can love, make rhymes out of pyres and a romance of the colours, talk gladly of the changes and the flux and the rise and the fall without feeling its storm rain on your skin and its bone-scarring winds, a city that won’t love you back unless you become insoluble to the fury, the madness of bound and unbound peoples and the immovables of the place.

But, as I mentioned above, I don’t think it’s a perfect novel; the frantic pace leads a few unwieldy moments, like the awkward inclusion of a sixth point of view character for only a single chapter, or Gunaratne not giving the novel’s climax much room to breathe. I couldn’t help but to think it could have been improved by another 50 or so pages, but at the same time, it’s such a snapshot piece that in a way I admire all Gunaratne was able to achieve with its brevity.

Only halfway through the Booker list, but this one feels like a winner.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure
The Mars RoomSnap | Milkman | Everything Under

ARCs I need to read #3

You can see the first of my ARC posts here and the second here; I have since read all of those books, but ever since getting caught up I seem to have acquired a lot more.  So, here we go again.

39346604My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih
Publisher: Mandel Vilar Press
Publication date: September 25, 2018
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I’m not as tired of WWII historical fiction as most people seem to be, and the summary sounded interesting to me.  I haven’t read a whole lot of YA historical fiction so… why not.  Plus it’s only about 200 pages so I figure it’ll be a quick read.
Goodreads summary: “Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler’s army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in “free of Jews.” Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dye decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele—and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna’s father disappears, suddenly it’s up to Hanna to find him—and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive.”

37905907The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Publication date: October 9, 2018
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I didn’t end up loving Camilla Way’s last novel Watching Edie, but there was a lot that I did enjoy about it, enough that I really want to give the author a second chance, and I like the sound of this one.
Goodreads summary: “When Clara’s boyfriend, Luke, disappears, everyone believes that he’s left her, but Clara thinks she knows the truth. Recent evidence suggests that Luke had a stalker, and Clara worries that he’s been kidnapped. Then Luke’s older sister, Emma, who vanished twenty years ago, suddenly reappears.

Emma wants to help Clara with her search for Luke, but she refuses to talk about what happened–even though it nearly destroyed her family when she vanished. And the deeper Clara digs into Luke’s mysterious disappearance, the more convinced she is that the two incidents are connected.”

37570619The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: In my quest to read more Korean fiction this one came to my attention, and it’s blurbed by Min Jin Lee aka the queen.
Goodreads summary: “In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges they know will face them, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their other daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.

But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?”

35277865The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Publication date: November 23, 2018
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Ahh this is one of my most anticipated reads of the year – a historical mystery set in 15th century England told in reverse?!  Yes yes yes.
Goodreads summary: “15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?

Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.”

36628390Come With Me by Helen Schulman
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: November 27, 2018
Received from: Publisher via mail
Why I requested it: I didn’t!  This is my first unsolicited ARC which I found very exciting so I may read it for that reason alone, despite the fact that reviews have not been glowing so far.  We shall see.
Goodreads summary: “Amy Reed works part-time as a PR person for a tech start-up, run by her college roommate’s nineteen-year-old son, in Palo Alto, California. Donny is a baby genius, a junior at Stanford in his spare time. His play for fortune is an algorithm that may allow people access to their “multiverses”—all the planes on which their alternative life choices can be played out simultaneously—to see how the decisions they’ve made have shaped their lives.

Donny wants Amy to be his guinea pig. And even as she questions Donny’s theories and motives, Amy finds herself unable to resist the lure of the road(s) not taken. Who would she be if she had made different choices, loved different people? Where would she be now?”

40122005Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: January 8, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Sarah Moss is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to read for years – I’m particularly interested in The Tidal Zone, but then this one popped up on Netgalley and I couldn’t resist.  And it’s quite short so probably not a bad place to start.
Goodreads summary: “In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs–particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the “primitive minds” of our ancestors.”

39863502The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: January 22, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I loved Lynda Cohen Loigman’s debut The Two-Family House which I won in a Goodreads giveaway a million years ago, so when I saw her name I knew I wanted to request this.
Goodreads summary: “Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.”

40046064The Cassandra by Sharman Shields
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication date: February 12, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Cassandra retelling?  Yes.  (This list is quite WWII heavy, isn’t it…)
Goodreads summary: “Mildred Groves is an unusual young woman. Gifted and cursed with the ability to see the future, Mildred runs away from home to take a secretary position at the Hanford Research Center in the early 1940s. Hanford, a massive construction camp on the banks of the Columbia River in remote South Central Washington, exists to test and manufacture a mysterious product that will aid the war effort. Only the top generals and scientists know that this product is processed plutonium, for use in the first atomic bombs.

Mildred is delighted, at first, to be part of something larger than herself after a lifetime spent as an outsider. But her new life takes a dark turn when she starts to have prophetic dreams about what will become of humankind if the project is successful. As the men she works for come closer to achieving their goals, her visions intensify to a nightmarish pitch, and she eventually risks everything to question those in power, putting her own physical and mental health in jeopardy. Inspired by the classic Greek myth, this 20th century reimagining of Cassandra’s story is based on a real WWII compound that the author researched meticulously. A timely novel about patriarchy and militancy, The Cassandra uses both legend and history to look deep into man’s capacity for destruction, and the resolve and compassion it takes to challenge the powerful.”

40121930Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: February 12, 2019 (originally 1979)
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: I need to read more female Japanese authors and this sounds brilliant.
Goodreads summary: “It is spring. A young woman, left by her husband, starts a new life in a Tokyo apartment. Territory of Light follows her over the course of a year, as she struggles to bring up her two-year-old daughter alone. Her new home is filled with light streaming through the windows, so bright she has to squint, but she finds herself plummeting deeper into darkness, becoming unstable, untethered. As the months come and go and the seasons turn, she must confront what she has lost and what she will become.

At once tender and lacerating, luminous and unsettling, Yuko Tsushima’s Territory of Light is a novel of abandonment, desire, and transformation. It was originally published in twelve parts in the Japanese literary monthly Gunzo, between 1978 and 1979, each chapter marking the months in real time. It won the inaugural Noma Literary Prize.”

40554142Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Received from: Netgalley
Why I requested it: Because The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was perfection.
Goodreads summary: “In 1979, Daisy Jones and The Six split up. Together, they had redefined the 70’s music scene, creating an iconic sound that rocked the world. Apart, they baffled a world that had hung on their every verse.

This book is an attempt to piece together a clear portrait of the band’s rise to fame and their abrupt and infamous split. The following oral history is a compilation of interviews, emails, transcripts, and lyrics, all pertaining to the personal and professional lives of the members of the band The Six and singer Daisy Jones.

While I have aimed for a comprehensive and exhaustive approach, I must acknowledge that full and complete accounts from all parties involved has proved impossible. Some people were easier to track down than others, some were more willing to talk than others, and some, unfortunately, have passed on.

All of which is to say that while this is the first and only authorised account from all represented perspectives, it should be noted that, in matters both big and small, reasonable people disagree.

The truth often lies, unclaimed, in the middle.”

That’s it!  Have you guys read any of these or are you looking forward to reading them?  And which ARCs do you have right now?  Comment and let me know!

wrap up: August 2018

Favorite: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Honorable mentions: Macbeth by Shakespeare (obviously), My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, Milkman by Anna Burns, Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
Least favorite: Snap by Belinda Bauer

AUGUST TOTAL: 12
YEARLY TOTAL: 91

So as you can see, it was a solid reading month aside from that 2-star streak in the middle, and it’s been quite Man Booker heavy.  I really did not go into this planning on reading the entire longlist, but it looks like that’s where I may be heading… I own a copy of In Our Mad and Furious City, I won a copy of Normal People, and I have library holds on Warlight, The Overstory, and Washington Black, so, those are all definitely on my horizon.

Currently reading: Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (lol I haven’t picked this up in weeks, I’m sorry Thomas Hardy!!!  I’m enjoying it but I just have so much going on reading-wise and it keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the pile), The Line That Held Us by David Joy, The Whole Story and Other Stories by Ali Smith, The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (audiobook).

What was the best book you read in August?  Comment and let me know!

P.S. Follow me!  @ Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Letterboxd

book review: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

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EVERYTHING UNDER by Daisy Johnson
★★★★☆
Jonathan Cape, 2018 (UK)

 

This novel was stunning. Everything Under is a retelling of a Greek myth (more on that in a second), set in the English countryside, which follows Gretel, a lexicographer, who’s recently tracked down her estranged mother Sarah. It’s a tricky plot to summarize as it unfolds with a nonlinear chronology, but it ultimately pieces together the fractured narrative that connects Gretel, Sarah, and a boy named Marcus who stayed with them on their riverboat for a month when Gretel was thirteen, before disappearing.

Daisy Johnson’s prose is accomplished and lyrical; of the Man Booker longlisters I’ve read so far, I’d say she’s only behind Donal Ryan in terms of prose quality, which is an incredible feat. This book is stunningly atmospheric; the water beneath Gretel and Sarah’s riverboat feels like a living, breathing entity, and the whole novel has a tone that’s both vibrant and feral. It can be difficult to rework Greek mythology into a contemporary setting, but I felt that Johnson achieved this with aplomb, turning the ordinary into something almost mythical, which perfectly suited the kind of heightened drama that inevitably must unfold in a story like this.

I’m not really sure what’s going on with the marketing of this novel, because in some promos I’ve seen reference made to the myth it’s retelling, and in others I haven’t. I did know which myth it was going into it, and rather than hampering my experience with the novel I think it enhanced it. But I have seen others say they wished they hadn’t known this information ahead of time as the knowledge does naturally give away quite a few plot points. But I don’t think it’s a novel which endeavors to shock the reader with its twists and turns, and with fate and free-will at its thematic center, I don’t think it’s difficult to figure out where the story is headed, even quite early on. So, I guess it’s up to you whether you want to look up the myth it’s retelling, but if you’re a Greek mythology lover, I think you’ll enjoy knowing ahead of time so you can properly appreciate Johnson’s positively masterful foreshadowing and symbolism.

The reason I’ve dropped it down to 4 stars from 5, which I thought it would be for most of the time I was reading, was that I wasn’t very enamored with certain elements of the ending. I have to quote my friend Hannah’s review where she talks about the last 20% of the novel: “Here Johnson makes quite a lot of the subtext text” – this was my main issue as well. The stunning subtlety that I had so admired about the first three quarters of this book was sacrificed for a very literal manifestation of one of the novel’s themes, adding a sort of fantastical element that I didn’t think was necessary. What can I say, I just don’t like magical realism.

But ultimately I did think this was an incredibly strong debut (!!) novel. Johnson’s prose was incredible, and the amount of thematic depth here really took me by surprise. Johnson provides us with a thorough meditation on fate, agency, breaking and mending familial ties, the role of language in shaping us. I really loved this.

More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews:

From a Low and Quiet Sea | The Water Cure | The Mars Room | Snap | Milkman

top 10 tuesday: Favorite Nonfiction

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish which is now hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week’s topic:

August 28: Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.)

I’ve seen a lot of people interpret this as ‘favorite nonfiction’ which seemed fun, so I’m going to do that!  I’ve also been talking to What’s Nonfiction? recently who is a lovely person and has been getting me excited to add more nonfiction to my life, so let’s start with ones I’ve enjoyed in the past.


Women & Power by Mary Beard: The two feminist essays combined into this collection aren’t exactly groundbreaking for anyone remotely familiar with feminist theory, but I loved this anyway.  The first essay concerns itself with the role of women in the public sphere and the precedent of silencing women’s voices, using both historical and literary examples, and the second essay shifts to our societal conception of power as a male-dominated domain.  Being a classics lover myself, I loved Beard’s unique perspective on these subjects and all the parallels she draws to antiquity.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: This was my first Nelson; I’ve since read Bluets but I much preferred The Argonauts, though I’m looking forward to reading The Red Parts soon.  The Argonauts is her memoir about her relationship with the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, and her writing is piercing and insanely intelligent.  This was just a pleasure to read and I’m looking forward to reading Nelson’s complete works at some point.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: Well, it’s popular for a reason.  This book was great.  The Devil in the White City is Larson’s parallel account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the life of the serial killer H.H. Holmes.  Though these two threads never quite dovetail in the way I was hoping for (to me it kind of felt like 2 books packaged into 1), I still loved reading this highly informative and well-researched account of 1890s Chicago.

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave is just about the most heartbreaking memoir imaginable: when Sonali Deraniyagala is on vacation with her parents, her husband, and her two sons in Sri Lanka, all of them are killed in the 2004 tsunami.  This is her account of surviving that devastating tragedy, and though it’s incredibly bleak and unsparing, it’s also filled with such love and gratitude toward her family.

Poetics by Aristotle: Probably my favorite of the Ancient Greek rhetorical texts, Poetics is an essential companion text for anyone interested in reading Greek tragedies.  Aristotle’s insights into humanity’s relationship to theatre are some of the most important foundations of contemporary literary criticism – and it’s under 150 pages.  Read this!

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: Probably the most famous true crime classic, In Cold Blood tells the story of the murders of 4 members of the Clutter family in 1959 Kansas, then details the capture and killing of the murderers.  This book is fascinating, compelling, and oddly haunting.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt: This is McCourt’s devastating memoir about growing up in the slums of Limerick, and it’s quite unlike any other memoir I’ve read.  It’s an immersive survival story that can be quite difficult to read at times, but it’s also told with such forthrightness and an undeniable love for his flawed country, it’s hard not to get swept away by it.  I think this was my first introduction to Irish lit when I was 16 and I haven’t looked back since.

Black Boy by Richard Wright: I still haven’t read Wright’s more famous novel Native Son, but his autobiography Black Boy was brilliant.  It’s primarily a coming of age story about being black in the U.S. south under Jim Crow.  It’s a harrowing read at times, but it’s also quite a page turner.

Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King: I had to read this in my Latin class in high school, so I could probably go for a re-read, but it’s a really fascinating text.  It’s about the construction of il Duomo di Firenze, completed in the 1400s, which was actually a ridiculously complicated process.  So if you’re at all interested in architecture, I’d highly recommend this.  Or if you like The Pillars of the Earth.

Jo Cox: More in Common by Brendan Cox: And finally: Jo Cox was a British Labour MP who was murdered in June 2016.  This biography of her life written by her husband is just as powerful and beautiful as you’d expect, and it probably hit me harder than any other memoir or bio I’ve read.  (Obviously my feelings toward the book have become a bit more complicated with Brendan Cox’s recent sexual harassment scandal, but as he’s resigned from the Jo Cox Foundation where all the proceeds from the book go, I still feel like I can recommend it in good faith, since it’s ultimately about what a brilliant woman Jo was.  Though I obviously don’t blame anyone for choosing not to read it because of this.)

Also, I just started listening to The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien on audio, inspired by this post, and I can already tell it’s going to be an incredibly hard-hitting read.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book?  Comment and let me know!