Backlist Books of the Year

At the end of 2019, I challenged myself to read 100 books from my own shelves. What I meant by from my own shelves were the books that had been sitting there some time, often for years. I was fed up of not getting to books that I knew I wanted to read because there was always something shiny and new in front of me. The pandemic helped, of course; losing most of your work and being forced to stay at home will do that. I finished the 100 in early December. Here are the ones I really really loved.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender (Windmill)

I thought this would be twee, I was so wrong. The story of a girl who realises she can taste people’s emotions; the story of her brother who begins to disappear. It’s about trauma and depression and it’s perfect.

The Western Wind – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)

A Brexit allegory disguised as a Medieval whodunnit. Utterly compelling.

Fleishman Is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Wildfire)

A soon-to-be-ex-wife and mother disappears. A terrible soon-to-be-ex-husband who thinks he’s great has his story narrated by his ‘crazy’ friend. A piercing look at heterosexual marriage and a send-up of the Great American Novel. Longer review here.

Things we lost in the fire – Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell) (Granta)

Dark, dark, dark stories. So haunting, so brilliant.

Exquisite Cadavers – Meena Kandasamy (Atlantic)

A Oulipo style novella showing how fiction can be created from life, but it isn’t the same thing. Longer review here.

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary – Sarah Manguso (Graywolf Press)

Manguso wrote a daily diary until she had her first child. This is full of ideas of letting go which are so brilliant I copied many of them on to Post-Its and stuck them above my desk. It’s published by Picador in the UK.

we are never meeting in real life – Samantha Irby (Faber)

Irby is my discovery of the year. Her essays are laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining but they are also about her life as a working class, disabled Black woman with a traumatic childhood. Revolutionary.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron (Virago)

Funny; good on cooking and marriage. Devastating final chapter.

Fingersmith – Sarah Waters (Virago)

Clever crime novel about class, the art of theft and pornography. Superb structure. A masterpiece.

The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch (Canongate)

Yuknavitch’s non-chronological memoir about the fifteen lives she has lived. It’s about dying (metaphorically), swimming (literally and metaphorically) and living (literally). It fizzes.

Bear – Marian Engel (Pandora)

The headline is this is a book about a woman who has sex with a bear. It’s really about female autonomy. It’s being republished in the UK in 2021 by Daunt Books.

Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link (Harper Perennial)

Kelly Link is a genius. These stories are so rich in detail; she takes you from a situation that seems perfectly normal to a wild, subverted world that also seems perfectly normal. Incredible.

Parable of the Talents – Octavia E. Butler (Headline)

The novel that predicted a president who would aim to ‘Make America Great Again’. It’s as much the story of a mother / daughter relationship formed under significant trauma as it is the story of a country at war with itself. Longer review here.

Copies of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Fleishman is in Trouble, Exquisite Cadavers, we are never meeting in real life, The Chronology of Water and Parable of the Talents were courtesy of the publishers as listed. All others are my own copies.

In the Media: 12th April 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

The results of the VIDA count was announced on Monday. VIDA: Women in Literary Arts have counted the number of female and male reviewers in the major literary publications. There are some improvements this year, but overall the picture remains grim. For the first time this year, VIDA published a separate count for Women of Colour, it’s as depressing as you might expect. Reaction came from Hannah Ellis Peterson in The Guardian, ‘Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds‘; Radhika Sanghani in The Telegraph, ‘Men aren’t better writers than women. Literary mags need to close the book on gender bias‘ and on Bustle, Caroline Goldstein declared, ‘The Results of the 2014 Women of Color VIDA Count Are Problematic‘.

VIDA also produced a handout: Things You Can Do Right Now to Advance Women’s Writing. Immediately after the results of the announcement, good things began to happen in Twitterland; Marisa Wikramamanayake created a ‘Women Who Review‘ database. If you’re a reviewer, you can add yourself to it; if you’re an editor at a literary magazine with a gender balance problem, you can have a look at all the women you could approach with review commissions. Judi Sutherland is getting a group of women reviewers together to send reviews to the TLS, contact her on Twitter if you want to get involved, and Amy Mason created Sister Act Theatre (@SisterTheatre): Support + recommendations of/for women working in UK theatre/performance. Worked with a great woman? Need work? Promoting your show? Tell us.

While all that’s been going on, Katy Derbyshire has been collating ‘Some more statistics on translated fiction‘ on Love German Books.

The other big news this week came from an American report that found the number of women choosing to be child-free has increased. The report coincided with the publication of the Meghan Daum edited essay collection Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids and the launch of the film While We’re Young. It’s triggered a number of articles: Emma Gray at the Huffington Post says, ‘A Record Percentage Of Women Don’t Have Kids. Here’s Why That Makes Sense‘; Jane Marie wrote, ‘Why I Stopped Trying to Be a Supermom and Started Being Myself Again‘ on Jezebel’; Hayley Webster wrote, ‘I had an abortion and didn’t talk about it…and I no longer want to live in shame‘ on her website; Hadley Freeman wrote, ‘Why do we still have to justify the choice to be child-free?‘ in The Guardian; Jessica Valenti asked, ‘Why do we never worry about men’s childlessness and infertility?‘ also in The Guardian

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Music and Television:

 

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists: