whatjaimereads's reviews
79 reviews

Winter, by Ali Smith

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reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

2.0

I was so looking forwards to Winter by Ali Smith after having read the precursor to it last year, and it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

One of the things that I was really looking forwards to was more of Smith’s characters and their realistic relationships, but the cast in this book just didn’t quite feel fully formed for me. In Autumn I also really loved the political discussion and reflection based in the year of writing, but these themes seemed to take a little too much of a backseat in favour of The Ghost of Christmases past. 

I personally really dislike the subculture within literary fiction of what I refer to as “being clever just for the sake of being clever,” it’s one of the things I disliked in Outline by Rachel Cusk, and a recurrent theme of my DNF pile. In my opinion, Winter delivers this in swathes. The first half of the book feels completely disconnected from the second, the social and political commentary is much the same, and the characters were too two-dimensional for me to properly indulge in some of their richer moments of dialogue.

It would’ve been difficult to surpass just how much I enjoyed Autumn, and I definitely anticipated that I wouldn’t enjoy Winter as much. That being said, I’m curious to see where Spring sits in my opinion after having such mixed outcomes so far, although personally, my main excitement lies in the final instalment, Summer.
Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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challenging emotional reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is undoubtedly a masterpiece, and I am so grateful to last year’s Booker Shortlist for bringing it to my attention. 

This is a short novel, but every word is placed with intent, there’s no question that this is a modern classic which will stand up to the test of time. Nervous Conditions is a semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles an important moment in Zimbabwean history, the turn of independence, through the eyes of a teenage Tambudzai and her extended family. The discussions of gender, (post)colonialism, race, and mental illness are incisive and deeply impacting. Tambu’s character was designed to be relatable to the masses within Zimbabwe, and the realisations of the dominance of poverty, particularly through the eyes of an increasingly-educated protagonist, will be unforgettable.

Dangarembga treats each of her characters with kindness and generosity, despite the hardship with which they are faced. This is deeply reminiscent of the recent article written by Simukai Chigudu for The Guardian which I bang on about all the time; so if you read and enjoyed that, I definitely recommend moving onto this. Actually, I recommend this to everyone, there’s no way that you can go into this book without benefitting from its richness and the knowledge that it imparts. Undeniably accomplished, outstandingly realised, and a true privilege to have read. 

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Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power, by Lola Olufemi

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challenging informative inspiring reflective medium-paced

4.0

Feminism, Interrupted by Lola Olufemi is a beacon of hope when it comes to young feminist activism. The author sets out a manifesto for a holistic approach to feminism through accounts of those traditionally excluded from the mainstream movement. Feminism, Interrupted directs readers towards further reading in a way which got me excited to reconcile my identity with a strain of the feminist movement.

This is evidently a well-research book, especially in light of its brevity, and the text is rife with quotes from other prominent activists and organisations. Olufemi sets out in the introduction that one of her aims is to get people excited about doing their own further research, and it my opinion she does a great job. It can be particularly difficult to find UK-centric radical feminist theory, and for this in particular I was excited by this.

There were definitely times at which I disagreed with the ideas, or felt as though there was a significant gap in representation, but this is bound to be the case within any feminist lit. Olufemi does an outstanding job in such a brief introduction, and I particularly believe that this is a must-read for anyone new to radical-feminist theory. 

*ARC kindly gifted by Pluto Press in exchange for an honest review
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

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I was excited about this book for a long time, and managed to wade through 11 pages before DNFing and having a Big Cry.

Chapter 1 is rife with extremely graphic racism, sinophobia, ableism, eugenics, and forced sterilisation, and to my understanding it only gets worse from there. It is completely inexcusable for this to be upheld as one of the greats, and reading this was deeply upsetting.

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Palestine, by Edward W. Said, Joe Sacco

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challenging emotional informative medium-paced

5.0

First off I would like to thank @ells.books for her review of Palestine by Joe Sacco, without which I probably never would’ve found this gem. 

Sacco’s graphic journalism covers his time spent visiting the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early ’90s, telling the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a collection of interviews. This makes for an impacting, but approachable, introduction to a complex subject matter. 

The graphic novel format is something that I was completely new to, and I was apprehensive, but the illustrations gave a real emotional pull to the accounts. Often with such difficult subject matter it can be easy to emotionally detach, but balanced with displays of camaraderie, hospitality, and Sacco’s dark humour, I was kept engaged throughout. Palestine is a difficult read, and the sheer volume of interviews makes for an overwhelming realisation of the gravity of the conflict. One of the great achievements of this work is that it reminds the reader of our luxury in being able to turn our backs on current events; Palestinians, however, must face the terror and brutality of their situation every day. 

As with all non-fiction texts, it is important to go into this with further reading in mind, but I do think that this is an outstanding introduction
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue ... and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation, by Lauren Michele Jackson

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challenging informative reflective medium-paced

5.0

White Negroes by Lauren Michele Jackson is a scathing cultural criticism of America, and white people’s affinity for appropriation. Jackson covers everything from Christina Aguilera, to Vine, to the Green Rush, in a concise, but thoroughly researched collection of essays.

This was my first time reading an essay collection, but Jackson’s talent is evident - each chapter stands alone, stands out, and is wrapped in a neat bow; and yet there is space left for you to form your own opinions and discussions. 

When it comes to anti-racism work, there is always more to be read and learnt, and what this book does so well is to take the themes that you have read elsewhere and overlays them into a current and relatable context. Some key discussions within the collection for me were on the continuation of minstrelsy in the music industry, and the gluttonous consumption of black trauma through viral stardom - how much thought did you give to Sweet Brown in her vulnerable moments when we were fixated upon “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That?” 

This book is current, and shows the necessity in the continuation of anti-racist work. I really enjoyed Jackson’s style, and my only issue is that I wish it had been a longer book. I will definitely return to this collection, and will be waiting with bated breath for her second book!
Black and British: A Forgotten History, by David Olusoga

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challenging informative slow-paced

4.5

Black and British takes the reader right back to the Anglo-Romans, and shows how black and white Britons have lived alongside one another for centuries. Each page is packed densely with information, and parts of my own history education that didn’t seem to really match up have finally had the missing pieces put into place. I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you’re in search of a starting block for reading black British history. 
But, this book is by no means all-encompassing; Olusoga does an outstanding job of walking you from the Anglo-Romans to the 1870s, and from this point forth is where it fell short for me. Whilst the book takes a rather meandering pace through the 19th century (more than half the page count lies there), it proceeds to cover the 20th century with an astonishing brevity. Please do make time for this, but go into it looking for gaps to be filled with further reading. A few of the things that I flagged for exploration are: the history of black British women (in the colonies and as immigrants), the Anglo-Boer War, the Scramble for Africa, the interwar period, decolonisation and the Commonwealth, and the period from the arrival of Windrush to present day. 
Exceptionally accomplished, and a great baseline, I look forward to reading and recommending books that work in tandem with this throughout the year! 
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones

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challenging dark emotional reflective tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

This is a novel that explores the many facets of humanity, through inter-generational trauma, crime, poverty, womanhood, and what it is to live in a tourism-based economy. It was these discussions around Barbadian tourism and the cavernous wealth disparity between locals and tourists that initially drew me to this novel, and Jones delivered in swathes.
Our cast of characters are treated with generosity and kindness despite the difficult choices with which they are faced. Jones’ prose style is fluid and exceptionally accomplished, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut. This is undeniably an important, approachable entry point to Barbadian literature, I look forward to keeping an eye out for her future work.
This was a great entry point for my own #ReadCaribbean journey, with a similar vibe to My Sister, The Serial Killer through the fast-pace and tension building that is reminiscent of a thriller while straddling genre-boundaries in a similar fashion.
*ARC kindly gifted by Headline in exchange for an honest review

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The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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dark reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

1.0

Fitzgerald’s prose is ripe for analysis, and clearly he was a proficient writer of his time, but I really struggled to see beyond just how “of its time” this book is. Of all of the books to have been written, should we be clinging onto this as one of the greats when there are such flippant mentions of racism, antisemitism, and eugenics?
I could go on for hours (and regularly do) about how we have to reevaluate the current curriculum to be able to move forward as an equal and just society. I am a firmer believer that change is achieved through education, and with the longevity of white supremacy, we have to start by reevaluating the novels that we herald as being “great,” and moving beyond the likes of Gatsby would be a great place to start.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk

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challenging informative inspiring reflective slow-paced

5.0

I picked up The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, in order to better understand what is currently known about trauma and PTSD, as a way of better understanding my own dealings with it. 
Kolk has written a comprehensive text, which explains the current scientific research regarding traumatic memory and PTSD, in a way that is approachable to a layperson. The book offers a hopeful idea of how to treat PTSD with the potential for full recovery, which is something that isn’t often discussed in similar literature - oftentimes it is anticipated that a victim/survivor will live with the shockwaves for the rest of their life. This was a refreshing stance, and it acted as a beacon of hope for my own journey. The author has an underlying tone of true compassionate care for his patients, and it has armed me with a lot of empowering knowledge.
Importantly, this book will offer you a lot of insight into other books, particularly within contemporary literary fiction. Reading this alongside a range of fiction has oftentimes given me the tools to more accurately understand the depictions of traumatised characters, and the accuracy of their portrayal.
However, this is not to say that The Body Keeps The Score is perfect. There is a lot of unnecessarily graphic depictions of traumatic experiences, to the point where it verges on trauma voyeurism. If you choose to pick this up, anticipate that it will be a slow read which you will have to take numerous breaks away from. 
The Body Keeps The Score was a welcome break from typical self-help texts, it provided me with the language to be able to articulate my experiences, and an ability to work my PTSD into the fabric of my being.
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Worthy of note is that 4 years after publication, the van der Kolk was fired from his post at The Trauma Centre for accusations of bullying and misconduct, further info is available online with a quick google search.

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