If there’s one positive thing to say about lockdown (other than that it’s saving millions of lives – stay home and say safe folks!) it’s that it’s been incredibly productive in forcing me to read more. Forcing is a very dramatic word here since I have been thoroughly enjoying the material that these past two weeks have offered up. Despite my stubborn and, as I realise now, foolish reluctance to step away from the dusty yet delicious smell of secondhand books, I have branched out to ebooks and audiobooks to fill the days, hours, and weeks before I am eventually allowed to visit The Meeting Place for some after work drinks once more.
If lockdown also has you frantically searching for some suitable way to pass the time (brewing your own pineapple beer is, apparently, not recommended) or you’re willing to step outside the parameters of your comfort zone (stop playing The Sims and start reading!) then I hope you find some relaxing reading recommendations here.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
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After shout-recommending it to everyone I know (before having actually read the book) I now feel a bit angsty about my recommendation (after now actually having read the book). Elené described the process of reading My Dark Vanessa perfectly.
Nina… Now at chapter 5 of My Dark Vanessa. It is… wow.
After completing it:
It feels as if someone was holding my head under water this whole weekend while reading it and now I can finally breathe. That was way too intense.
Elené’s reaction was very close to mine in that the experience of reading My Dark Vanessa is almost as intense as the feeling of relief when you finally do finish it. Don’t get me wrong – this is a book that is incredibly powerful. The process of reading it is, in a way, a physical manifestation of the discomfort, trauma, grief, and anger that the main character, Vanessa, feels at the hands of her high school English teacher. Vanessa suffers through the physical, psychological and mental abuse inflicted on her by her teacher and it is only towards the end of the narrative that she breaks the surface of the water in which she was unknowingly drowning.
I will still recommend this book to anyone, although I might not shout it so ferociously. My Dark Vanessa is a necessary read in a time where, despite the glaring proof of gender-based violence and sexual discrimination, it’s still easier to turn a blind eye and negate toxic musculinity, blaming the raging femininists, than analyse our own actions in the perpetuation thereof.
Valuing this book on its technical merit is also not very difficult – Kate Elizabeth Russel plays with two timelines and narrates from the first-person perspective of Vanessa. It’s a merciless read, but a necessary one nonetheless.
Read My Dark Vanessa on a Wednesday evening when the mid-week blues carries you through to the relief of a Friday afternoon and finally being able to breathe again.
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
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Where do I even start with Taylor Jenkins Reid’s successful attempt at masterfully transporting me to the 1970’s – complete with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Daisy Jones and The Six tells the story of Daisy Jones, loosely modeled off of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, and her musical career with The Six, loosely based on the band Fleetwood Mac, and troubled relationship with Billy Dunne, loosely based off of Lindsey Buckingham. This book is very unique and makes for an imaginative read in that it is written as an interview between Daisy, band members from The Six and everyone else involved in the band’s short but tumultuous lifetime. This narrative style is signature Reid and is one that stands out as being very brave in that it could quickly fall flat, but succeeds in expertly creating ten or more unique character profiles of every single roleplayer, no matter how minor their participation in the narrative.
Discussing this book with Marié, resident rebel and music fundi, was an unquestionable part of reading it as I knew that if it was possible for someone to like this book more than me, it would be her.
Two pages in she highlights a Daisy quote which I KNEW would resonate. Daisy explains to the unnamed interviewer after relaying how yet another seemingly powerful rockstar stole an idea from her and turned it into a hit success: “I’m not a muse. I’m somebody.”
“What stands out most to me is how [Reid] takes different people who see and interpret things very differently to all form their own stories.”
Reid really accomplishes a lot with this narrative and I still find myself thinking about the ending – how it is so bittersweet that I struggle to explain to Marié what the emotion is that it evokes.
“Thinking about it still leaves a hollow feeling in my stomach… or choked up with tears. I don’t know this emotion!”
News even better than the book is that it will soon be available as a mini-series starring Riley Keough, Suki Waterhouse and Sam Claflin and produced by Reese Witherspoon. Read Daisy Jones and The Six on an easy Sunday morning to make you long for the wild Saturday nights (post-lockdown) still to come.
Can Everyone Please Calm Down by Mae Martin
Find it on: Audible
I discovered the hilarity of Mae Martin after watching Feel Good (which is very, very high up on my lockdown binge watch list – Angelique will disagree but this show makes you feel SO good). A Canadian-born comedian with a Justin Bieber haircut and self-deprecating humour (my favourite kind), Mae Martin is very difficult to dislike. Her book Can Everyone Please Calm Down is an exploration of 21st century sexuality told from the perspective of someone who has first-handedly already explored this topic in-depth. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t know what the Q in LGBTQA+ plus stands for or if you’re like me and studied Queer studies from a scholarly perspective, there is something to take away from this non-fictional memoir-esque rumination on present day sexuality and gender.I listened to the audiobook version which Martin also narrates and the experience is more along the lines of listening to a podcast – personal experiences and ironies blended with some cold hard facts. While I normally shy away from anything too Kumbaya, Martin’s takeaway is ultimately: who the hell cares what you identify as? Why should anyone else’s expression of their identity matter to you in the slightest? An issue which people tend to overcomplicate is resolved by the simplicity of an answer we tend to over analyse for being too blasé.
Listen to Can Everyone Please Calm Down when a global pandemic has you realising that there really are more important things to worry about.
A Good Man by Ani Katz
Find it on: Google Play Books
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Another hair raising read which I started at the beginning of lockdown. I held off on writing about A Good Man since I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it. Katz takes you along on a narrative that is seemingly flat, without noticeable highs and lows – I was halfway through the book when I realised that the climax is still nowhere in sight and I barely remembered the protagonist’s name – but the ending has you doing a double take and you’re left with a “WTF just happened” sensation.
Told from the perspective of Thomas, a seemingly straightlaced middle aged man with some daddy issues, the narrative follows a “how we met, the good times, the bad times, and the present” trajectory with his French wife, Miriam, and daughter, Ava. However, it is only toward the end that you realise the good times were always bad, the bad times way worse than you imagined, and the present was a complete lie as Martin was an unreliable narrator all along.
I’ve seen many reviews draw parallels between Katz’s Thomas and Nabokov’s Humbert, but I think Katz is far more deceiving in that she very, very subtly drops hints that all is not right in the Martin household, whereas Humbert’s narration is eerie all along, due to it’s poetically enriched descriptions of his inappropriate infatuations.
A Good Man is vanilla in its narration but chocolate fudge sundae after the fact – read the ending and you’ll see why.
Therefore, read A Good Man when you want to read a book twice to pick up on all the damning facts which you glossed over while wrongfully assuming the book’s vanillaness.
Share your lockdown reading recommendations with me in the comments below!