It’s no secret that I’m a lover of Agatha Christie and that I won’t accept people underestimating her. You may remember that I got angry when The Truants got compared to the Queen of Crime when it wasn’t even a pale imitation. I got even more annoyed when the characters were talking about the books as some twee and childish examples of literature. Christie is a fantastic writer. She understands people and their motives better than most writers. She knows what she’s talking about and she has written some of the best twists of all time. She has ruined me for contemporary crime writers because I know what to look for. I always see it coming because Agatha taught me well. Yesterday was the 130th anniversary of her birth. 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of her first book being published. It’s a big year for Christie fans. So, as I’m still nowhere near finishing my current read, I decided to dedicate my second bookish post this week to her.Read more
As we’ve already discussed, I’m a petty and stubborn person. I stayed up way too late on the 31st August to make sure that I finished this damn book before the month was over. After all, I had already included it in my August Reading Wrap-Up and I didn’t want to miss my book count of 10. Thankfully, I did manage it and I didn’t end up being too late a night. The question is, was the book worth it? I wasn’t exactly expecting a great deal from this book because I really hadn’t thought much of Vox. When I wrote my review of Christina Dalcher’s previous novel, I discussed the rise of feminist dystopia and how bored I was with it. I guess, on the plus side, Dalcher has taken a broader approach. Women don’t exactly have it easy in this one but at least it wasn’t another literary world specifically created to torture women into submission.Read more
I have a copy of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Girl somewhere on my bookshelves. Obviously, I haven’t read it yet but I haven’t read a lot of the books on my bookshelves. A friend gave me a copy of How To Be A Woman for Christmas one year but I haven’t read that either. It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that there are so many other books in the world. Being a reader is like having the worst case of FOMO imaginable. There are so many books that have already been published and plenty still to be published. Of course, you’re always going to be wondering if the book you’re currently reading is the best one that you can get. It’s understandable that certain books and authors are going to miss out and, unfortunately, Caitlin Moran was one of them. I had thought about waiting until I’d read the book but if I did that I’d never have watched the film. It probably goes against the bookish code but it had to be done.
I know we have the same conversation every time some new contemporary author is compared to Agatha Christie but it’s the kind of thing that bears repeating. Modern readers really underestimate her skills. It seems as though all you need to do these days to be compared to her is either mention her/her books or write a small scale crime thriller. By small scale, I mean not one of these overly dark, psychological thrillers but more of a slow burner that revolves around a domestic or small setting. Here’s the thing: Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. She understood people, she understood motivation, and she understood murder. She had the ability to shock and she knew exactly what her readers wanted. Her books are light on detail and character study because they don’t need it. They do what they set out to do. She wasn’t an indulgent writer because she understood how to craft the perfect whodunnit. She didn’t need gimmicks or excess plot to distract her readers. She hid everything in plain sight. Something writers these days tend to struggle with.
I’ve probably said this far too many times recently but I had decided that I was never going to read this book. I’d been put off by the bright pink colour and the title. I couldn’t help but imagine romantic-comedies or YA fiction. I’m not against back protagonists but I am against anything too sentimental and lovey-dovey. I don’t really do romance. I’m too cynical for hearts and flowers. However, I’ve only heard good things about this book so I had to try it for myself. And it’s just another way to add to my anti-racist reading list. The more non-white authors and protagonists I embrace the better, right?
I had to take a quick break from my current anti-racist reading list to read my book club’s choice for this month. I’d put it off for ages because it was only short but we’re meeting over Zoom on Thursday. That meant I only had a couple of days to get through it. Thankfully, it’s only 170 odd pages and I managed to get in a quick read of Noughts and Crosses over the weekend first. This was the book that I voted for because I really did want to read it. I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of Nora Ephron’s films. I’m not a huge romantic comedy fan. I even disliked When Harry Met Sally and that’s a film that nearly everyone has seemingly agreed to enjoy. I admit, she certainly has a way with words and it’s not necessarily the writing that I dislike. Okay, that’s not true because the story is the writing. But it’s not a matter of quality, it’s just not my thing. I am convinced that she is a great writer and, provided I could find a story that I can get on board with, I was confident I’d enjoy it. So, why not this one? After all, people have been showing off their copies on Instagram for ages now. Although I have to admit, I hate the Virago Modern Classics diamond cover. I love a cover with texture but it doesn’t wow me. I tried so hard to track down the cover I wanted but it would have taken ages thanks to bloody Coronavirus. Of course, without Coronavirus, I wouldn’t have been in the book club anyway.
In my time writing this blog, I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of great new people. I’ve been introduced to some fantastic writers and been given opportunities to read some amazing books. One of the greatest of these new connections has been with Alexis Marie Chute. Back in January 2018, I was given the chance to help reveal the cover of her first novel, Above the Star. Since then, I’ve had the chance to read every book in the series and loved each of them. The final book in the trilogy, Inside the Sun, came out in April. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic caused disruption to the book tour. When Alexis Marie rearranged the tour to be a virtual one, I jumped at the chance to become one of the stops. I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable recommending books to people because I think it’s quite a personal thing. Our tastes are all so different and I don’t ever like forcing my opinions on people. But, I’m incredibly passionate about this trilogy. If you’re looking for something to start up during quarantine, The 8th Island Trilogy could definitely be the one for you.
I was drawn into Such a Fun Age as soon as I read the concept. Emira Tucker works as a babysitter for a rich white family. Her employees are Peter and Alix Chamberlain. He is a local news anchor in Philadelphia and she is a lifestyle blogger who writes letters. One evening, Emira is asked to take their three-year-old daughter Briar out. While at a nearby grocery store, the babysitter is stopped and accused of kidnapping her young charge. I thought I knew where this novel was going but it kind of pulled the rug out from under me. We’ve seen this kind of thing going viral. With police officers or authority figures unnecessarily stopping young black people for crimes they didn’t commit. This novel could easily have drawn on those viral videos but it went deeper than that.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bookish girl in possession of a good library, should be in awe of Jane Austen. Not just girls, obviously, but I had to make it work for the quotation. Anyway, as a bookish person who has never really been enamoured with her work, I’ve occasionally come across some criticism. I mean, I did make the mistake of studying the era in which she was writing so that didn’t help much. I’ve also got plenty of friends who enjoy her books. I don’t judge them for it, as I don’t judge anyone for reading anything they want. I just don’t appreciate people giving her so much credit for the shaping of English literature. Especially feminist literature. As I discussed in my Friday Favourites last week, there were plenty of women who were as, if not more, inspiring than Jane was. They’ve just gone out of fashion. After all, outspoken and overtly political women aren’t the kind of people who are celebrated in most societies back then. Jane Auten survived because she wasn’t pushing as much of an agenda. Yes, she was putting strong women in her books but there was nothing anyone could really disagree with. Her writing isn’t the most beautiful but she was never trying to be. To me, she’s not literary fiction but romantic fiction and it’s just not my genre. I’ve been known to describe her as chick-lit before and it’s got me in trouble. I don’t think there’s anything negative about chick-lit but it’s formulaic and doesn’t push boundaries. And I love my boundaries to be pushed.
I have never really been the biggest Jane Austen fan. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t describe myself as a hater but I can’t say that she inspires me greatly. And let me tell you something, being a bookish person who doesn’t automatically adore Austen is tough. I don’t judge anyone for liking her but there’s a certain amount of blind faith in her that means you can’t go against her without getting some backlash. My issue is that Austen has been turned into some sort of literary heroine. Somewhere along the way, female writers in history appear to have been erased from the public consciousness and Austen has taken the crown for most important female writer ever. This is nonsense. It’s like the fucking Beatles all over again. Jane Austen did not invent female writing. She has great insights into human nature and is quite funny. But it’s like romantic-comedy. It’s safe because everyone knows where it’s going. The reason that Jane Austen survived wasn’t that she was doing anything incredibly revolutionary or different. She survived because she’s readable. That’s not a bad thing. Obviously readable is good but it’s not necessarily exciting. Austen’s novels never did anything daring enough to have people decry them. They just stayed in the middle of the road. And as for Austen being a feminist? Yes, she writes about strong female characters but Austen was not influenced by the burgeoning feminist narrative going on at the time. It’s very much domestic feminism and it’s very much confined to its little bubble. The main reason that Jane Austen is often given the position of the greatest female writer is that you’re not encouraged to read the others. For whatever reason, they’ve been removed from the conversation. So, here are some of my favourite female writers who, in my opinion, are better than Jane Austen. I’ve not included every single one but there are definitely some women here that I think everyone should read.