Book Lists for All Humans #2


I didn’t expect it to be so soon but here we are, courtesy of this list of Top 10 Books to Make You a Better Person in The Guardian. Four white men (sounding good so far, right?), three men of colour, three white women. Verdict = could do better (the pun wasn’t intended but I’ll take it).

There’s a problem with this list because I don’t know what making someone a ‘better’ person means. Who decides the criteria?

I’ve gone for books that made me think about the world differently (and avoided any I included in list #1 although they’re all relevant too); feel free to interpret it in your own way and leave your suggestions in the comments.

An Untamed State – Roxane Gay
Haiti, kidnapping, rape, privilege, poverty

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman
Dystopia, AAVE, disease, love, war, religion

Under the Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta
Love, religion, ‘cures’ for homosexuality, Nigeria, women

Just Call Me Superhero – Alina Bronsky (translated by Tim Mohr)
Disability, friendship, love, sexuality

Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo
Counterfactual slave narrative, race reversal

The Repercussions – Catherine Hall
War photography, Afghanistan, love, women, history

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
Hijab, dating, religion, family, writing

Tell No Tales – Eva Dolan
Far right, immigration, politics, crime, corruption

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah
Race, class, albino, women in prison, perspective

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Working class, feminism, religion, crime, coming of age

(Links to my reviews.)


The Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction Shadow Panel Shortlist

After four weeks of reading and discussion, our shadow panel have decided upon the following shortlist. Like the official judges, we will be re-reading our choices and deciding upon a winner at the beginning of June. The official shortlist is announced this evening; we’re looking forward to seeing how it compares.

If you click the covers of the novels, they will take you to my reviews.







The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Until the reprieve that Vernah is fighting for comes, if it comes at all, I write this in the shadow of the gallows. If the Department of Public Prosecution and the Department of Prisons have their way, I will swing from a rope and hang until my neck lengthens to breaking point or it snaps and my bowels open and my life is extinct and I am given a pauper’s funeral and an unmarked grave.

Memory is a category D prisoner in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. Convicted of killing a white man, as she waits for her death sentence to be carried out, she writes her story down for Melinda Carter, a Washington based journalist.


Memory was born into poverty in the Mufakose township in Harare:

We were poor without knowing it. There was nothing ennobling or romantic or life-affirming about our poverty. It just was. And you could say that we did not know just how poor we were because everyone else was the same. We accepted the simple order of our lives in the ignorance that other, richer lives were possible.

Memory relates stories of her childhood, her brother and sisters, her parents. Everything she tells the reader is underpinned by two things: that her parents sold her to a white academic, Lloyd Hendricks, whose murder she now stands accused of and that she is an albino and, therefore, treated differently. She tells us of the attitude of the children she grew up with, commenting that the papers focused on her condition in the initial reports of the murder:

Their attitude was implicitly rooted in the language itself. Bofu is in noun class five, denoting things, just like benzi, the word for a mad person. Chirema, like a chimumumum, is in noun class seven, also denoting things, objects, lifeless objects or incomplete, deficient persons. But murungudunhu is heavy with meaning. As a murungudunhu, I am a black woman who is imbued not with the whiteness of murungu, of privilege, but of dunhu, of ridicule and fakery, a ghastly whiteness.

What’s interesting, as the book and Memory’s story unravels, is that her sale to Lloyd Hendricks is not as sinister as I was expecting it to be. I was braced for a tale of abuse but what Lloyd actually gives Memory is an education and a place in a privileged white society few have access to. Gappah exploits the two parts of Memory’s skin colour – the condition that makes me black but not black, white but not white – to show two very different lifestyles being led in the same Zimbabwean capital. Regardless, however, both sides carry dark secrets which have to be hidden from society.

The novel considers race, colonialism, class, gender and memory. The fourteen category D prisoners whom Memory spends most of her time with are mentioned throughout the novel in relation to their daily lives and the prison conditions. We are told near the beginning of the novel what their crimes consist of but Gappah largely puts these aside as she writes about women who are human beings above all. As for Memory’s memory, the big question, of course, is whether it’s reliable or not and how much does she really know about her childhood?

The Book of Memory is a gripping tale of a life which led to death row. Devoid of sensationalism, Gappah focuses on how universal themes and ideas affect individuals on a daily basis. While she grapples with these themes, they are mostly only present in the context of the story and it’s perfectly possible to read the novel purely as an interesting tale of two sets of lives. A multi-layered, fascinating tale. The best type of novel, I find. The Book of Memory is a gem.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.