Top Ten Tuesday: One-Sitting-Reads

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish is all about quick reads: those wonderful books you can read in one sitting, possibly with a short break to gather supplies.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
This is possibly the saddest book I’ve ever read and, while it is very short and possible to read in one go, that is probably the most psychologically damaging thing you could actually do.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Short but astounding, this is an obvious choice but a perfect one. Merricat is only with you for the few hundred pages of the book’s duration, but she’ll stay in your head long after.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Under 100 pages and completely bonkers, this African sci-fi is brilliant.

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun
I saw this mentioned on a blog about weird books, and that it certainly is. Something to do with shadows lifting? I can’t exactly remember, but it’s definitely a one-sitting read.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
This isn’t actually particularly short – about 300 pages – but I read it in one sitting the other night, so it counts. It’s a story about a computer game-obsessed teenage boy in 1987, and it’s beautifully nostalgic.

Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin
This novella goes back to the Axis Race prior to Wolf by Wolf, and is ace because it’s all about Luka and he is my favourite.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Completely different to the better-known House of Mirth, this novella is about a simple, rural man beset by complicated relationships and tragedy.

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s letter to a friend, advising on how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. A lot of it is quite obvious, but Adichie’s style is always irresistible.

One by Sarah Crossan
A quick read because it’s written in verse but another deeply emotional one, Crossan’s story of conjoined twins facing the reality of being separated is life-changing.

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
This quick read concerns a teenage girl and a coming-of-age story. It’s a classic.

Baileys Prize Long-List Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

the power.jpgThe Premise: overnight, the world’s girls develop strange, electrical powers, including the ability to fatally zap people at will. Suddenly, women are the dominant sex. The Power is narrated through the perspective of Roxy, the daughter of a gangster; Allie, who uses her newly developed powers to escape an abusive home and later becomes a figurehead for a spiritual movement; Margot, an ambitious mayor with a daughter whose powers are problematic, and Tunde, a Nigerian man with journalistic dreams who seizes the opportunity to chronicle what’s happening.

Thoughts: a week after finishing this book, I’m still not sure I can properly formulate sentences about it. I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it and then found myself unable to sleep, so focused was I on the issues The Power raises.

Firstly, it’s a really intriguing and compelling story. The shift in power from men to women is a simple enough premise, but is explored here with great complexity. There are moments of gender-role-related satire, like when men are advised not to go out without personal alarms, and Alderman’s creation of a world in which women are in charge is certainly an engaging one; not one, however, that seems particularly appealing based on what Alderman shows us here. It’s this area which I had a problem with, and I’m still troubled by it. The creation of a ruling sisterhood seems like an appealing thing (I’m thinking of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, for example), but Alderman takes the idea of power and the means of maintaining it too far, in my opinion; anyone thinking of reading The Power should be aware that rape occurs more than once in the novel, and the apparent portrayal of it as an inevitable manifestation of one group’s power over another did not convince or engage me.

It’s disappointing that this was my over-riding feeling on finishing The Power as, prior to the last quarter, I found the characters and their related but distinct stories really interesting. Margot’s political machinations, juxtaposed with her (occasionally questionable) concern for her daughter, provides a fascinating aspect to the over-arching plot, while the intersecting stories of Roxy and Allie also appealed to me.
The book’s jacket features a wildly enthused Margaret Atwood proclaiming The Power to be “electrifying! Shocking!” and that “you’ll think twice about everything,” and my literary idol is not lying there; there was certainly plenty in The Power that shocked me. The Atwood influence is, I think, very evident when reading Alderman’s book; at times, it is as if she has read a chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale and tried to rewrite it; the framing narrative, consisting of a male author writing to Alderman for advice on his novel, is the closest thing to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Historical Notes I’ve ever seen. And it works, and comparing something to Atwood’s masterpiece is certainly not an insult; it just felt a little too close at times.

Conclusion: Having written my thoughts, I am no closer to deciding what they actually are. It’s very confusing. The Power is definitely an interesting book and one that is worth reading. I’m just not sure how productive it is to construct such a terrifying picture of a world dominated by women. My house is dominated by women and it’s awesome.

Have you read The Power? I feel a really urgent need to discuss this book with people, so, if you have, let’s dissect it in the comments.

Review: Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

ghana-must-goThe Premise: the Sais are a Nigerian-Ghanaian family, separated by geographical distance and deep emotional strife. Brought back together by tragedy, they are forced to confront their problems.

Thoughts: that summary made this book sound really cheesy, which it isn’t; I just don’t want to say too many things about the plot, because I didn’t know much about it when I read it and I think that helped me to enjoy it. Selasi has created a classic dysfunctional family, which is my number one favourite literary trope; having moved from Ghana to Boston, Kweku Sai and his wife, Fola, raise their four children in comfort until Kweku suffers a professional injustice and abandons his family. It’s a decision that impacts on each of them, and from which the family never truly recovers. Selasi begins the novel with Kweku back in Ghana, before focusing on each of his children and his estranged wife in turn. This, along with the incredibly poetic writing style, makes Ghana Must Go slightly confusing to begin with, but it’s absolutely worth sticking with.
The slow reveal of details about the Sai parents and their children – Olu, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor; twins Taiwo and Kehinde, clearly deeply haunted by something in their past, and “baby” Sadie, forced to serve as Fola’s emotional support after Kweku’s disappearance – kept me utterly intrigued throughout Ghana Must Go. The sometimes dreamlike writing meant that I had to occasionally go back and reread a paragraph to check that I hadn’t missed anything; it’s not a book to skim-read. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the big reveals and was only half-right; Selasi plants clues in really subtle ways, which means the final few chapters are shocking at times, but there are clear pointers earlier on.

Conclusion: Ghana Must Go had been on my TBR list for months, and I’m so pleased I picked it up; it’s a really engaging read and I enjoyed my time with the Sai family. Selasi has crafted them beautifully, making each of them sympathetic without idealising them. I really liked the details about Ghana too, which give the novel such a rich sense of setting. I’ll be looking out for more from Taiye Selasi.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? As always, I’d love to know if I’ve inspired you to pick it up. Recommendations always gratefully received too.

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is back! Hurrah, and thanks to The Broke and The Bookish, as always, for hosting it. This week’s topic is an easy one: Books on my Spring TBR. I say “easy,” but obviously trying to list only 10 books I’m planning to read in the next 3 months is actually a horrific task. But never mind.

The Lights of Pointe-Noire by Alain Mabanckou
I’ve read two of Mabanckou’s books this year and really enjoyed them, so I’m looking forward to getting started with this one. I think it’s a non-fiction account of his return to the Congo after living in France for many years.

The Old Man and The Medal by Ferdinand Oyono
I’m on a mission to read novels set in or by authors from all the countries of Africa; Oyono is from Cameroon and this book is about colonialism and its effects.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
The Baileys Prize longlist came out last week and I’ve only read 5 of the books on it, so I’ll be reading this as part of my mission to rectify this. It sounds amazing, actually; it takes place in Kentucky and sounds like an epic family saga with horses.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This has been getting so much hype but doesn’t actually come out in the UK till the start of April. I’m really excited to finally read it.

A Book for Her by Bridget Christie
I saw this on a list of suggested reading for International Women’s Day and I do love a feminist-hued memoir/rant.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Another book I’ve been looking forward to for ages and I actually have an advance copy – woohoo! It’s about a young woman who returns home to care for her ill father and finds that things are even worse than she thought.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
This is a coming-of-age  novel about first love and a heist, set in 1987. It looks really cool.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone a few months ago and am looking forward to cracking on with Taylor’s new book before returning for the rest of that series. I’ve got an e-ARC of this but the physical copy looks so beautiful, I may have to buy a copy too.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint
Another Baileys Prize longlistee, this sounds pretty harrowing; it’s about the murder of two children and the police investigation into their mother.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
I read O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night last year and loved it, so I’m looking forward to reading this, another book longlisted for the Baileys Prize.

Are you reading any of these books? Or have you already? Please let me know in the comments.