You might think that as an English Lit graduate, I would be all about reading. A few years ago, you would have been right. The trouble is, I think my degree made me hate reading. When I’ve picked up a book in my spare time lately, it’s felt like a chore. My brain still can’t switch off from close textual analysis mode, and when I’m trying to dissect and unpick a story’s every theme, metaphor and subtext, it makes it hard to enjoy the process of getting lost in the pages.
As a result, I’ve been reading a lot of trash. Poorly-written non-fiction about serial killers, celebrity autobiographies, that kind of thing. I spent £9.99 apiece on pornstar Asa Akira’s two memoirs and read them both in an evening.
It’s not to say that those kind of texts don’t have their place. Sometimes you just want to read something easy and superficial without having to think about the implied depth of the words. For that, celeb autobiographies are great. David Mitchell’s was appropriately funny and Trevor Noah’s was one of the most interesting books I’ve read in the past few years.
However, all this passive reading is doing nothing for my writing, which is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I may have flirted momentarily with the idea of spending my life as a teacher (as I’m sure every English student has), but writing is my soulmate. If I lose all else, above all, I’ll still be able to write.
That’s why I’ve given myself a reading list that I can take at my own pace, about things I actually want to read (!) and without having to analyse a single thing (!) and with no horrible deadlines hanging over my head or awkward seminar discussions (!). I’m hoping that I rediscover the excitement that I seem to have lost over the past few years, and that along the way I might be able to discover one or two things about myself. That’s what reading is all about, after all.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
Last year, I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy for the first time, and felt like I had found a secluded, glimmering pool of water on a hot summers day. Page after page, I remembered a little more what I love about literature. Roy’s way of writing is firmly rooted in her architectural background as a city planner, and you see this as she lays blueprint after blueprint atop one another with details so fine that they make little sense until the final structure is revealed before your eyes. I fell in love with that style of beautiful and defiant prose – something that is present even as she speaks in interviews, which leads me to believe that she just has these delicate sentences dancing in her head, ready to be plucked at will and put into a paragraph or a speech. I just love the way she writes, speaks and thinks, so if I’m coming across as a fanatic, it’s because I am.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Roy’s first novel in 20 years, tells stories from across India, weaving narratives of past troubles and current unrest. It was longlisted for the Man Booker prize, which gives Roy a 100% success rate for having her novels nominated for this prestigious award. I am so excited to read it!
Will Write For Food – Dianne Jacob
It was sometime last year that something clicked in my brain and I realised that I have a dream. As someone who is fairly un-dreamy, as it goes, this was something that came as a surprise to me. But there it was, this fully formed idea of what I would love to become and what I aim to work towards. Cooking started out as a necessity for me, as a child with a home life that was difficult at times, I just had to eat. Over time, however, it has developed into a whole universe of all-consuming excitement and joy. I spent all of my time planning my next meal, what I’m going to make my friends for their birthdays, the feast I’m going to prepare for Christmas. I am not passionate about anything else in life the way that I’m passionate about food. The moment I realised that, I realised that food has to be in my future somehow, and that’s where this book comes in.
Now, I don’t think I’m bad at writing. As far as I can tell, the way I write is always readable and occasionally – dare I say it – kinda pleasant? If you’re unconvinced, then be reassured; on my reading list is a book that promises to help me become a better writer. And even better than that, a better food writer. This is something I’m really excited to dive into, because being a food writer would be the perfect convergence of my two passions, and anything that helps me become a more talented writer is of huge value to me!
The Sea Inside – Philip Hoare
I don’t know much about this book. To tell the truth, it was on one of my reading lists at university and I just never bothered to open it. What I do know is that it uses my hometown of Southampton and the local area as a focal point for at least some of the story, and I am always incredibly interested to see how other people envisage the place I grew up in and have so many conflicting feelings about myself.
Mister Shah – Christian DeFeo
Before I decided to focus on women in dystopia for my dissertation topic, I was considering investigating the representation of Islam post-9/11 in literature and general culture. As such, I bought a load of books that I thought would be good reading material for that, but never read them once I changed my mind. I kind of wish I had chosen that dissertation topic instead, and who knows – maybe a masters will be on the horizon in a few years time, if I ever forget how much I hated university. In the meantime, though, this book interests me so much that it has to make it onto my list.
Following a Pakistani Londoner who is unfairly identified as a terrorist on the underground, the book highlights the problems with how terrorists are portrayed, and how innocent people suffer when racial profiling becomes the norm. This story feels fairly close to home; my boyfriend is a British Pakistani who always gets held a little bit longer when we go through airport security; my nephew is half Pakistani and a Londoner himself. But you don’t need to be close to someone affected by this kind of thing to be invested in it yourself. It should matter to everyone that we treat people fairly and don’t make incorrect assumptions about anyone. That’s why books highlighting these issues are so essential and that’s why it’s on my reading list!
The City & The City – China Mieville
Another one from a uni module reading list that I chucked on my bookshelf and never glanced at twice. I’m glad that I’m reading this one in my own time, however, because from what I can tell, it is a bit of a tangle in terms of narrative structure. Set in two twin cities occupying the same location, where the inhabitants of one must ignore those of the other, this novel does not promise to be an easy read. But I love these kinds of books, because once you get your head around them, they are so rewarding and so enthralling that you struggle to put them down!
What are you reading right now? Have you read any of these? I’d love to hear what you have to think!