BOOK CLUB: The Top Recent Paperback Releases

Having spent the last few months walking around the streets of Bristol yielding enormous hardback books and inadvertently enhancing my biceps on my daily commute, I was extremely grateful to take a break and spend some time with some new paperback releases. This is a fairly eclectic list, because I seemingly have been unable to stick to a theme of reading this month, so there should be something for everyone.

Meena Kandasamy, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (1 March)

The second novel from Meena Kandasamy explores the central theme of an abusive marriage and its repercussions. A young woman marries an older professor in a seemingly perfect union. After moving in with him, she realises that behind closed doors he is not the man she initially fell in love with.

The crux of the novel I found particularly intriguing was the role of her family, and the pressure they placed on her to stay with him. They have assumed her narrative and reconfigured it to suit their outward image, so much so that her narrative has been so heavily edited that it becomes no longer hers. This is her attempt to regain control.

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Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (8 March)

If you haven’t heard of journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge’s debut novel then frankly, which enormous rock have you been hiding underneath? The book is based on a blogpost she wrote in 2014 of the same title, and unlike some other books that have a confronting and somewhat shocking title that isn’t fully backed up in its content, this is. It is such an insightful read, and will leave you really questioning your motives and the way you communicate with people of other racial backgrounds. The book is a further exploration of her initial blog post and exploring the reaction and responses of white people.

She breaks down structural racism with fantastic clarity. An element that stood out to me personally was her evaluation of the role of feminism within race relations. I am often cautious of negotiating the often whitewashed world of feminism in a way that acknowledges the plights of ethnic minorities. Eddo-Lodge puts it simply, ‘When feminists can see a problem with all-male panels, but can’t see the problem with all-white television programmes, it’s worth questioning what they’re fighting for.’ It is thought-provoking enquiries like this that mean that we can’t be passive readers – it is a call to action and reconsideration.

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Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends (8 March)

This debut novel from young Irish author Sally Rooney hit all the bestseller lists when it was first released last year, and was spotted in the bags of most commuters and on the sun loungers of most holidaymakers. It traces the lives of best friends Frances and Bobbi, who meet Melissa, a well-known and older photographer, and her husband Nick, whose worlds they are both immediately sucked into. Through this, Frances and Bobbi’s friendship begins to waver and fracture. It is essentially a novel about the messiness of female friendship, with a real focus on conversations (hence the title). It is certainly not an action-led novel – it is driven by speech.

Worth investing in for a summer’s read, it explores many tropes of Irish literature in an accessible way. It is not exactly the most challenging read but pootles along really rather nicely.

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Hilton Als, White Girls (1 March)

Hilton Als is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and theatre critic at The New Yorker, whose resumé speaks volumes about his writing ability. You know then, going into this book, you’re in safe hands. Originally released in 2012 and met with major critical acclaim, White Girls explores Als’ fascination with white girls’ vulnerability in combination with their white privilege and ambition. It is this juxtaposition that provides a fascinating dichotomy for Als to explore.

Gender, sexuality and race intersect here, written in a first-person narrative from Als, and is as much an examination of his story as well as that of those around him.

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Uzodinma Iweala, Speak No Evil (8 March)

This feels like one of those books that will stick around for a while. Niru is the focal point of this narrative, born into a life of privilege, but with a burgeoning queer identity that is considered sinful by his conservative Nigerian parents.

The novel exposes the relentless strength of white privilege within society, and the power of words and speech in situations of discrimination and repression. Homosexuality remains a strong taboo with African-American men, and Iweala taps into this conflict with a wonderfully vivid writing style.

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Fiona Mozley, Elmet (8 March)

Young writer Fiona Mozley has taken the literary world by storm with her debut novel, Elmet. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year and is currently in the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Elmet is a family saga set in the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Daniel and his sister Cathy have been raised in this rustic environment with their father, foraging and hunting their food and building their house from scratch. Their simplistic lifestyle is turned on its head when the isolated landscape that they thought of as theirs is placed under threat.

It’s really gothic in style, with exceptionally dark and evocative language. The descriptions are visual and vibrant from start to finish, which thrust us immediately into the environment.

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Ruth Ball, Rebellious Spirits: Audacious Tales of Drinking on the Wrong Side of the Law (19 April)

This one is for the Christmas stocking pile. It studies our relationship with alcohol throughout history, particularly when it is outlawed by ruling forces. It’s far from a dense historical text though – it’s more of a coffee table book worth dipping in and out of whenever you don’t feel like anything too strenuous, though its stories are genuinely engaging.

We are taken through the eras via the myriad spirits and cocktails used by civilians throughout history, with original recipes for cocktails with adaptations to make them legal!

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