The pandemic is not the only thing I’ve had going on this year. I was pregnant; my mum underwent chemotherapy; my sister was sectioned; I had a novel published. In September, I gave birth – dramatically and unexpectedly – on the kitchen floor.
Needless to say, with all this going on – as well as a toddler who was unable to attend nursery for a huge portion of the year – my reading habits were affected.
At the start of the year, morning sickness left me too nauseated to pick up a book. When I began to read again, lockdown had started. Unable to go to a bookshop, I turned to the books already sitting on my shelves. Exhausted by early pregnancy and childcare, I opted for slim novellas. Unfortunately, there was probably a good reason I’d left these particular texts untouched until now. Nothing blew me away.
As my energy returned in the second trimester, I looked at the selection of novels from my American publisher, Tin House. I devoured Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (taxidermy, lesbians, bondage, roadkill – a wonderful mixture) and Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (peacocks, decadence, and voyeurism – another delicious mix).
It was about this point that I turned to eBooks. I had never read a book on my phone before, but I was desperate to get stuck into Jenny Offill’s new novel, Weather. I was meant to attend an event she was doing in March, but it had been cancelled due to the pandemic. Thankfully, her novel was every bit as pithy, dark and humorous as I hoped, and the fact it dealt with climate change made it all the better. After that, I was hooked on my Kindle app. I loved the fact I could read anywhere, in tiny snippets, even when pushed for time. And that’s when my reading cranked up a notch.
I had a listicle I needed to write, so I visited and revisited a number of incredible books on motherhood in dystopian fiction: Sealed by Naomi Booth (not for the faint-hearted); Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (a great concept executed well); The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (fragmented brilliance); Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (weighty issues dealt with elegantly); Severance by Ling Ma (gripping and uncomfortable); Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (cerebral and nail-biting) and The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick (this book had me at “artificial uterus”). Maybe it was the horror of the pandemic and everything else I was going through at the time, but I found this reading list oddly cathartic. So much so, that once I’d finished working my way through it, I treated myself to one more dark, speculative work on motherhood: Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket. Another pithy novel – beautifully written and painful to read in all the right ways.
Was I hooked on difficult reads? Possibly, because next up was Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts. Never have I so liked such an unlikeable character. And a female character at that. The most delightfully disgusting thing I’ve read in a long time, and a real breath of fresh air.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, my attention span was short, and my energy levels were low. Unsure when I’d go into labour, I worried about starting to read something I wouldn’t be able to finish, so I stuck to short stories: Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes and The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank were both great reads. Incidentally, the cover for the latter really doesn’t do it justice.
As the end of the year neared, and global politics seemed gloomier than ever, I turned to nature to cheer me up. Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake was just the ticket. I had never realised quite how ubiquitous and important fungi are. They enable so much of the world around us to exist and might even hold the answers to many of this planet’s problems. And I love the fact that once this book was published, the author wet one of his copies, seeded it with spores, and ate the mushrooms that sprouted out of it. It makes my “consumption” of literature this year look like child’s play.
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