08 Apr 2024 – Book round-up: Jan-March 2024

Some thoughts on a few books, some of which I do not recommend and others I’m desperate to discuss with anyone and everyone. You can see the full list of what I’ve read this year on The Storygraph.

The memoirs

Q1 was memoir season. Somewhat coincidentally, though I was doing a writing course at CityLit and many of these were on the reading list.

I’m not sure why I started with 2 celebrity memoirs because I really don’t give much of a shit about celebrities in general.

Anyway, I read The Woman in Me because the free Britney movement was pretty cool. I also read it as a corrective to the misogyny of my youth, when listening to Britney was considered very not cool We listened to LinkinPark and Eminem and clearly had no taste.. When I think of her, I am reminded how profoundly we are raised to hate women. It’s so 90s-feminist-thinkpiece to say now but it remains unfortunately true, cliche for a reason. The vitriol directed toward famous women is ubiquitous and boring.

The writing isn’t great, which is a bit of a dealbreaker for whether or not I enjoy a book. But I thought she handled her story and the conflict with her family with considerable grace, given what happened to her.

I read Pageboy by Elliot Page because he’s trans. I was predisposed to read it generously, I wanted to like it. And I’m sorry but I just didn’t. There are descriptions of things that happened to Elliot which are so horrible and sad, and I feel a lot of sympathy for him as a person. But as a book it made Britney Spears seem like Shakespeare. These guys need to hire some ghostwriters. Or perhaps I am just not the audience for the celeb memoir.

In contrast, On Writing by Stephen King was just spectacular. They call him the king for a reason. I wish I could read his novels but I’m too lily-livered to handle horror. I enjoyed the memoir sections more than the ‘toolbox’ section. His main tip seems to be, start writing in the morning and don’t stop until you get to 2,000 words. Babes, I would if I could.

As a book about how to write, I did enjoy A Memoir of My Former Self: A Life in Writing by Hilary Mantel. It’s not ‘how to write’ from a craft perspective – for that I read the very boring Writing Tools – but Mantel makes you think about writing differently. I remember referencing it in class a lot.

I picked up Twelve Moons by Caro Giles without knowing anything about her or the book, because I thought it would be about the moon and I love that bitch. But really it was about motherhood and I am simply not interested.

The prose was contrived, elaborate descriptors piled on top of each other. Also, making lots of tea is not a personality trait and does not need to feature so frequently.

Which is an entirely hypocritical position because I do not feel the same way about Patti Smith and her endless cups of black coffee in M-Train. (Or Year of the Monkey, which I read last year). Perhaps it is because her complete nonchalance and willingness to drink all kinds of mud, including instant coffee, is effortlessly cool. Perhaps because black coffee is my drink, and so of course I think it is chic.

I am a little obsessed with Patti Smith memoirs I started with her B-side, but have finally bought Just Kids.. Her work is so ephemeral and random, but makes me believe that creativity is possible.

The rest

East of Eden and Disgrace are filed under ‘books that fucked me up’. Especially Disgrace, my god. I read The Lives of Animals a few years back, which is so different I was totally unprepared for this. I was fully clenched the entire way through. Awful awful awful you cannot put it down.

This excellent feature in the LRB came out very shortly after I finished the book. I will be working my way through his bibliography. I’m in my Coetzee era.

When I started East of Eden, I wondered if this was one of those racist books that is considered good because it was written by a White American man. But I kept reading and like, ok, against my will I have to admit it’s a fucking great book. The writing, the characters, the THEMES. Just take a blender to my insides, that’s fine.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe is an excellent example of how to write a profile/biography that is extraordinarily compelling. It's a fat brick of a book but doesn't feel like it at all. I haven’t stopped talking about opioids since.

I read Breathe by Joyce Carol Oates because someone I respect said Oates is one of their favs. I hated it immensely, but respect this person possibly more than anyone in the world that I’m going to give her another try. Which of her books should I read?

I won’t talk about the trashy fantasy novels – the The Locked Tomb trilogy by Tamsyn Weir – that I hoovered up the way one binges a shitty TV show, but with less shame. If lesbian necromancy in space sounds interesting to you, DM me.


That’s all for now. I remain, as always, keen to talk about books at all times. If you have read any of these and want to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.