Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Bought Because…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

PREVIOUS TOP TEN TUESDAY TOPICS:

FORTHCOMING TOP TEN TUESDAY TOPICS:

  • April 7: Books I Bought/Borrowed Because… (Fill in the blank. You can do 10 books you bought for the same reason, i.e., pretty cover, recommended by a friend, blurbed by a favorite authors, etc. OR you could do a different reason for each pick.)
  • April 14: Books I Enjoyed but Rarely Talk About (This is for the books you liked, but rarely come up in conversation or rarely fit a TTT topic, etc.)
  • April 21: Titles That Would Make Good Band Names (submitted by Michelle)
  • April 28: Books I Wish I Had Read As a Child

Why does one book leap out at you when others, perhaps, don’t? What are the reasons we buy this book over that one? What is the narrative behind that little packet of paper and ink you hold in your hands? For me, it is often a tad banal: because it belongs to a series or is by an author I already know I love. And that can simply dig you into a reading rut. So let’s have a look at some of the ways I picked up new authors and books – generally as a result of recommendations on social media, from work colleagues and friends or book prize long- and shortlists.

Social Media

Being part of a number of bookish groups on Twitter, Bookstagram and Discord, you see books recurring or being discussed and loved and you tend to pick up on those and think, so what is the fuss about then? Recommendations from the internet, that web of people and communities in the ether which has become significantly more important to us all recently.

Heroides, Ovid

Thank you to Natalie Haynes for this: the author of A Thousand Ships and presenter of Stand Up for the Classics has responded to the Covid crisis with a series of videos about Ovid’s Heroides – #OvidnotCovid a series of epistolary poems written by the wives and lovers of various classical heroes: Penelope, Briseis, Medea amongst others. The women sidelined by Homer’s depiction of the Trojan War and whose voices Haynes herself, Madeline Miller and Pat Barker are seeking to find again.

So, obviously, I went online (because going out is no longer an option) to find a copy myself. There is a small part of me that wonders whether my thirty-year old GCSE Latin wound be good enough to read the original Latin…

Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

This seems to have generated a lot of fan art and fan love over on bookstagram. And the endorsement that is involves “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!” did what Charles Stross wanted it to do: it got my attention. I mean, whose attention wouldn’t that get? It seems designed to hit every saleable genre you can imagine, although I found the fronting it with “lesbian” a little uncomfortably fetishistic.

I have begun it. I have been interrupted by the release of the Women’s Prize Longlist (see below) .

Red, White and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston

There was – and is – a lot of love about this book online and it really is not the sort of book that I would normally pick up: ignore the gayness of it, the fact that it is unquestionably a romance would have usually kept it off my radar.

But I am glad that – prompted by online friends and online book groups – I did give it a go. It is so sweet and positive – and oh the emails between the American President’s dual heritage son, Alex, and Henry, Prince of Wales. There is a gentle hint at a political thriller underneath the romance, but it is only a gentle hint and all the main characters are lovely and supportive of each other. A nice antidote to the world we live in at times!

Book Awards

This is probably the prime route whereby I find new authors: I try to follow the longlists of the Women’s Prize, the Carnegie Medal, the Booker Prize, punctuating my year and clustering my reading around exactly this time of year. Rather than look at this year’s prizes, let’s consider books I loved but only read because they are on this list.

Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: Jeanette Winterson – whose Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit I did love – has in my head been relegated to the past, to A-Level syllabus reading, to a well-meaning but not terribly relevant literary cul-de-sac. How did that happen in my head?

Well, Frankissstein turns that on its head! Wholly relevant, exploring the liminal spaces within gender and identity and consciousness, the novel is also witty and wry and deeply humane – and above all beautifully lyrically written.

Obviously riffing off Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the story alternates between that summer in Italy and modern post-Brexit Britain. Wonderful.

Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: I had never heard of Emezi before they appeared on the Women’s Prize longlist last year, but their writing is wonderful, mythic, deeply imbedded in Nigerian Igbo culture and deeply personal.

In Freshwater, they follow the development of Ada who is – and here I struggle for the right word, which English may not have – inhabited, infected, possessed by ogbanje, spiritual Godlings attached to her soul, spirit and identity, taking their own form and identity.

Ada’s journey explores Emezi’s and she explored her gender, her autonomy over her body, her sexuality. And Emezi’s writing is so potent that I am waiting with bated breath for the release of The Death of Vivek Oji this Summer.

The Mars Room, Lisa Kuchner

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: it is set in a prison and is heavily American. And for some reason prisons are usually a turn off for me in terms of reading. I mean, where can you go without creating a prison break or riot?

Kuchner, however, created something utterly compelling: Remy Hall, in prison for murder, is our protagonist and – alongside the stories of her fellow inmates’ lives – her story in told in a patchwork style. Her childhood, her work as a dancer in the eponymous Mars Rooms, her crime – if that is what it was -are drip fed to us, and her voice is compelling, vivid but not wholly reliable.

10 Minutes and 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: the author was simply unknown to me, although I learn now that she has written seventeen books, eleven of which are novels… this doesn’t bode well for reducing my TBR list!

But the novel and the writing is gorgeous! Sensual and sensory descriptions in the first part, sense-memories linking the dying mind of Tequila Laila to moments from her past. Staggeringly beautiful in the final pages and a tender evocation of the power of family – blood and water families – and friendship and identity.

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: the slave trade. A little like The Mars Room, the setting – a nineteenth century slave farmed sugar plantation in the Caribbean – is one which generally I find… uncomfortable.

But the setting is quickly left behind: take a look at the image on the front cover: a floating balloon ship! There is a strong element of adventure and voyage after the opening pages, taking us far beyond the sugar plantations into the Arctic and mainland America and England and Africa… and Washington Black himself is a wonderful narrative voice.

Recommendations

Generally a bit more hit and miss! I mean, I was recommended the Harry Dresden series, for one thing, and (unpopular comment coming up) I did not terribly like them – but I didn’t dislike them enough to not read the rest of the series.

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey

Why I wouldn’t have picked this one up otherwise: zombies.

I do not enjoy zombie stories in particular, although I did quite like Mira Grant’s Feed – although that may be because I read it whilst in hospital waiting for my daughter to be born.

M. R. Carey’s book, though, takes a fresh and different slant at the genre, giving us the narrative of one of the infected (I think it is one of those zombie books that doesn’t use the word zombie), the ten-year-old Melanie, who is not fully aware that she is anything other than a child. And as often with zombie narratives, the real threat is not the undead but the humans.

Wakenhyrst, Michelle Paver

There is a perception at work that I am obsessed with dark and sinister tales, and one colleague in particular regularly points me towards Gothic tales.

And it is not untrue that I love me a good Gothic novel. Wakenhyrst is a decent, competent gripping example of the genre – but it is perhaps a little over familiar with slightly too heavy echoes of The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black.

This particular colleague has also urged be towards Laura Purcell, who I haven’t got round to reading yet.

So, there we have it, ten books that I wouldn’t have picked up without recommendations from either the internet or friends or book prize longlists. New books and new authors to me. I look forward to hearing your own recommendations too!

17 comments

  1. Thank you for visiting my TTT earlier. As I said there, I looked at a few of the other lists and couldn’t find anything that would really interest me. That’s very rare.

    Anyway, your list is interesting. Those are often the sources I draw inspiration from. And some of your books are on my wishlist. I have read several by Elif Şafak, she is a great author.

    Stau safe. Happy Reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed this! I enjoyed your breakdown of why you bought/wouldn’t have bought each book, and I can definitely see some familiar titles in here that I’ve only read because of other recs/hype. Also thank you for introducing me to #OvidNotCovid !! I’m going to have to check that out asap!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve read a few of these, but I’ve been seeing Washington Black mentioned quite a bit on blogs and you’ve convinced me I need to read it asap. Sometimes books that make us uncomfortable are the ones we need to read the most.
    Thanks for this awesome list!

    Liked by 1 person

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