Top Ten Tuesday: The Authors I Want to Meet

This week’s TTT, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish as always, is about the authors we’d like to meet. I have a very bad record of making myself look like a tool in front of even vaguely famous people, so I think any conversation I would have with any of these people would be incredibly embarrassing, but I can dream.

Margaret Atwood
Obviously Maggie A is top of this list. The Handmaid’s Tale (as I have mentioned once or twice) is one of my favourite books of all time, and the book and Atwood herself have been huge influences on me since I was 16. I saw her speak a few months ago and she was hilarious, so, if I was able to conquer my famous-person-phobia and actually talk to her, I know it would be amazing.

Alain Mabanckou
I’ve become quite obsessed with Alain Mabanckou this year, reading his novels Broken Glass and Memoirs of a Porcupine, as well as the non-fiction The Lights of Pointe-Noire. His writing just makes him seem like an incredibly interesting person.

Simon Armitage
Any fellow English teachers reading this will instantly nod knowingly and say some variation of “mmm-hmm” because Armitage is the number one heart-throb of our tribe. I have seen him read and discuss his poems but was, unfortunately, in the company of my sixth form class at the time, so was unable to chase him backstage or ask him to sign my underwear.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Obviously, I would love to meet Adichie. I love her books and she’s a really fascinating speaker too. I would perhaps take advantage of this fictional meeting to talk to her about making unfortunate statements about experiences beyond her own too…

Shirley Jackson
Yes, I know she’s dead, but I’m not that likely to meet any of these living writers either, am I? I’m reading my way through all of Jackson’s novels and becoming increasingly fascinated with the writer herself. I have found so many feminist subtexts in her work that I am convinced she was writing about feminism before it was really a thing.  If I bring her back from the dead, I can ask her if I’m right.

Jeff Vandermeer
I have about 7 million questions about the Southern Reach trilogy and only meeting Vandermeer will provide me with the answers I need. Also I could try to persuade him to give me an early copy of his new book and then I would do a happy dance.

Elena Favilli
Favilli is behind the gorgeous Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls which I’ve been reading with my daughter. I’d like to meet her essentially so I can give her an emotional hug and thank her for the small one’s feminist awakening.

Caitlin Moran
There is literally no way that meeting Caitlin Moran wouldn’t be the most fun experience ever. She is hilarious and cool and I feel like she would be a very good role model for me.

Nnedi Okorafor
I’ve read her novellas, Binti and Binti: Home, as well as the novel Who Fears Death, all of which are completely brilliant and fascinating. I’d love the chance to talk to Okorafor about her work; she’s a really unique voice.

Nick Hornby
Another longtime literary idol, I’d love to tell Hornby how much his books have meant to me, especially Fever Pitch and High Fidelity, which phrased so perfectly so much of what I’ve felt about football and music.

If you have met any of these writers, be sensitive about telling me; I might be too jealous to cope. Who made your list this week? Leave me links in the comments.

Tie Your Mother Down: Terrible Mums in Literature

In honour of Mothers’ Day, here’s my lament about rubbish fictional mums again.

Has anyone else noticed that mothers get really bad press in pretty much all forms of literature? From YA to the classics, with plenty of examples in literary fiction, it seems to me that if you’re a character in a book and you decide to have a kid, you are going to end up getting blamed for a lot of crap.

dorothy.jpgLet’s talk about some of the terrible mothers in recent YA fiction. The mothers in Dorothy Must Die and Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls are both drinkers, rendering themselves incapable of caring for their daughters properly; in the case of Danielle Paige’s book, we are two novels and a handful of novellas in, and still unaware of whether Amy Gumm’s mum has noticed that she’s gone. We also have ineffectual mothers, like Mrs Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Jonah’s mum in When We Collided by Emery Lord, both incapacitated…

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Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

we need new names.jpgPremise: ten year old Darling lives a precarious life in Zimbabwe, stealing guavas and grappling with life in poverty after her home was destroyed by paramilitary police. A relative in America offers the chance of an escape, but Darling finds that her new life is not everything she dreamed of.

Thoughts: NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel was Booker nominated in 2013 and it’s easy to see why; like 2016’s nominated Do Not Say We Have Nothing, it juxtaposes personal stories with real-life political conflict, in this case the postcolonial struggle in Zimbabwe. There’s a lot of issues running throughout the novel; Darling’s friend, Chibo, is pregnant, having been raped by a relative, while the AIDS crisis is also an important factor. Rather unsubtly, the ghetto in which Darling and her friends live is ironically called Paradise, which only highlights their deprivation. Somehow, We Need New Names doesn’t become a depressing novel, which is probably down to the vibrancy of the child characters, whose understanding of the problems around them is limited enough to camouflage the tragedies that afflict them.

The novel becomes something quite different when Darling is “saved,” moving to Detroit (presumably also used ironically, given that city’s well-publicised problems) to live with her aunt. School is too easy; attitudes are too different. In one noteworthy episode, Darling smacks a misbehaving child at a wedding and is shocked by the horrified reaction of the white guests. Bulawayo also explores common themes like the overwhelming responsibility of the immigrant, duty-bound to provide for those left behind; this sense of crushing obligation is particularly evident late on, as time speeds up and the reader sees how Darling’s life develops. There’s a particularly poignant section where she speaks to her old friends, only to feel completely divorced from them and her home.

In Conclusion: I really enjoyed We Need New Names, having wanted to read it for ages.Bulawayo achieves an admirable balance between broad cultural and political commentary and the personal stories of her characters, all of whom I genuinely cared about. While it covers lots of pertinent issues, I wouldn’t call it an “issues book;” it manages to be entertaining at the same time as enlightening, and creates pathos without being depressing to read. It’s definitely worth picking up if you haven’t read it already.

6 Degrees of Separation: From Fever Pitch to My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You

It’s time for another round of 6 Degrees, hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. A very complicated spider chart was scrawled in my notebook in the planning stages of this post. I’m not going to lie: it was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

This month, we start with Nick Hornby’s memoir of supporting Arsenal, Fever Pitch, which also happens to be one of my favourite books. If you’re interested in knowing why, I wrote this post about it last year. For my first link, I’m heading to another of Hornby’s books – and, in fact, another favourite of mine – High Fidelity, which shares lots of Fever Pitch’s concerns with masculinity and obsession, but transfers these ideas to music, with Rob, its protagonist, owning a record shop.

Another book in which record shops play an important part is Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited, which I read earlier this year and loved. It’s about three Asian teenage boys who start their own reasonably terrible hip-hop collective; it’s a very warm and funny book and I recommend it. The boys spend much of their time browsing the latest rap releases in London’s record shops, and there’s my link.

Nikesh Shukla also edited the recent anthology, The Good Immigrant, which features essays from BAME writers on the immigrant experience, race and prejudice. It’s a brilliant book and one that’s so timely right now. A memorable piece from the collection is by Riz Ahmed, who you might know from the TV show The Night Of as well as his roles in Rogue One and Four Lions; he recounts the experiences of traveling to the USA as an Asian actor with stamps from Iran and Afghanistan on his passport. It’s a terrible injustice but one which he handles with humour and grace.

Another book which is concerned with prejudice is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which I assume every sensible person on the planet has read. Her main character begins the book as the author of a blog that’s essentially about the stupid things white people say. I love Adichie; she is my literary hero.

Blogging takes me to my next link: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. This YA novel, which came out in 2016, is about friendship, religion and grief, but also features a character with a fashion blog; it’s one of those fictional blogs with about a gazillion readers which I read about and feel inadequate, but the character has great taste in music so I’m prepared to admit her blog is probably good too.

The Serpent King is set in Nashville, which leads me to my final link. My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You by Kathi Kamen Goldmark is an obscure novel I picked up in 2010, when I was looking forward to a trip to Nashville as part of my honeymoon; I like to read books set in the places I visit, and it was quite tricky to find any for the home of country. Luckily, this one covers both the city and the music. I don’t remember it that well but I do remember that it was fun and an easy read, as well as featuring some brilliant pretend song titles, like My Baby Used to Hold Me (Now He’s Putting Me On Hold).

As always, this was fun; thanks to Kate for hosting. If you’ve joined in this month, or have read any of the books I’ve linked to, please let me know in the comments.