Happy Pride, everyone! June was Pride Month in the USA, and we get even more prideful goodness in the UK as festivals go on until the end of August. In honour of all things LGBTQ+, I read mostly queer books in June, and am continuing the trend into July.
Let’s review what I read last month.
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
I finished this on the very first of June, so it just squeaks in! This epic of a book charts a gay man’s life from growing up in Mexico with his mother, to moving to the States, becoming embroiled in the Communist movement, his writing career and the Cold War. This was my first Kingsolver and possibly not the best place to start. It was tough going, guys. When the story centred in Mexico, and covered the intriguing real-life characters of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky, it was a fascinating and compelling read. I wanted to know more, and felt pulled along with the story. Everything else (which is about half of the book) was freaking dull. I cared nothing about his writing career – just kind of wanted him to shut up about it because no one cares – and the chapters when he is in the US just felt flat and empty. A bit disappointing overall.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
An interesting read that wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but there we are! This is a popular book, with many people absolutely loving it. And though I did very much enjoy it, I didn’t get that mind-blown feeling I was hoping for. It is, however, very thought-provoking, asking many questions from different angles, ultimately leading to the question of ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What can we do now?’. It’s a treatise to humanity, it’s strengths and flaws, wrapped up in a dystopian, Far-Cry style future with a good helping of Shakespeare. Definitely recommend.
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon
This slim novel is stunning. Set in the inter-war years in Iceland, it follows a young man as he stumbles through his life during the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Orphan, rent-boy and movie-lover, he is an outsider to everyone and both feels it painfully and embraces it. It’s a book I’m going to keep coming back to, as such a small book packs such a heavy punch. And that ending left me breathless for a little while. Simply beautiful, and I will be looking at picking up some more books by Sjon in the future.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Ness has a wonderful way with words. This book flits seamlessly from heart-wrenchingly painful to laugh-out-loud funny in the space of a few sentences, while continuing to offer questions that he leaves the reader to answer. The writing has a beautiful rhythm throughout; the dialogue clear and well-crafted. The characters are all realistic and you empathise with them throughout, and little Tomasz is possibly the best person I’ve read all year.
The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward
A mix of prose-poetry with this one – a memoir recounting Daley-Ward’s difficult youth in the north of the UK. At times painful, and yet filled equally with a kind of hope, the book looks at the struggles of her life from a variety of different angles: never knowing her father; sex-work; her sexuality; her family’s disfunction; and mental health. This last point is pervasive throughout and is the root of the Terrible she explores. It resonated as a deeply human experience, even though I have no similar life-experiences in my life.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
On the one hand, I found this book fascinating, original and deeply engaging. On the other I feel like it was a struggle to get through. This sci-fi novel explores race, human brutality, sexuality and gender in a tangled web as their vessel travels through the Heavens. And I wonder if this was the problem, to some extent: that the book was so focused on its themes and messages that there isn’t actually a lot going on. Plot felt lacking or insubstantial for most of it. There is a vast amount of representation in this book, with the main character Aster being black, genderqueer and having either Aspergers or mild Autism. But I feel the heart of the story that would have given me more of a connection to the myriad of characters and the book itself was lost underneath the various points that Solomon was trying to make, most of them continuously brutal and violent.
House of Names by Colm Toibin
I will be honest and say I don’t fully know how I feel about this book. At it’s most surface level, it is a very easy book to read. It pulls you along with the story of what happens to Agamemnon’s family after the battle of Troy, and tries to provide a context and an understanding for the motivations of the characters that is often overlooked. The writing is clever (to be expected from Toibin), without being pretentious or difficult. I think, perhaps, my issue is with Toibin’s treatment of Clytemnestra. He starts the book with her and empathy is all there for her situation. You fully support her in what she does. But as the story shifts its focus, I think you can tell that Toibin was actually far more comfortable in writing Orestes and his story, resulting in Clytemnestra falling back into this unsympathetic, psychotic character. I lost my connection at this point (around two-thirds of the way through), but it’s still with me and one I might revisit again.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I finished the month with something a bit different, after being in the mood for an audiobook and just for this book! It is absolutely fascinating, and gives a perspective on the Middle East and Pakistan and the Taliban and Islam that is very much overlooked by most people, myself included. I learned so much from this young woman, and am in awe of her strength and the support of her family. Truly inspiring, and one of those books I regret taking this long to get to. I highly recommend the audiobook, particularly if you struggle with reading non-Western names. An absolute must-read and sadly still as relevant now as it was when it first came out.
A pretty good month overall!
Let me know if you’ve read any of the above, what you’ve been reading, or if you just want to chat ❤