Monthly Hits: May 2014
30th May 2014
From poverty to illness to feeling like a complete outsider, our book choices this month showcase some unforgettable female protagonists who survive and conquer against all odds!
Here’s what we’ve been reading…
Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann (2012)
Told in stark verse, Ali’s memoir is brutal, honest and heartbreaking. An absorbing read from a truly talented lady, she recounts her childhood and her subsequent journey to come to terms with, amongst other things, how her mother was ‘tricked’ into giving her away. Ali Cobby Eckermann is a talented Australian writer whose work I truly admire. [Emma]
The Lady and the Little Fox Fur by Violet Le Duc (1965)
In The Lady and the Little Fox Fur, an unnamed old Parisian woman begins hallucinating due to her poverty and subsequent starvation. To escape her life, inanimate objects come alive with voices and personalities. I read this after remembering how much I enjoyed Le Duc’s La Batarde. It’s super sad and poignant but incredibly hypnotic. If you don’t mind a bit of flowery, poetic prose, it’s definitely one to add to your list. [Jenn]
Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik (2014)
Kseniya Melnik’s debut, Snow in May, is a terrific collection of nine linked short stories about family, music, medicine, and the legacy of Stalinist oppression. Most are set in the northeastern Russian town of Magadan, though America often provides a useful counterbalance. Several stories focus on three female generations of one family, and it is a pleasure to spot the threads joining the narratives. Russian music, proverbs, and foodstuffs abound, and you can almost feel the setting’s bleak cold. [Rebecca]I haven’t sobbed this much since Dumbledore died. If you read nothing else this year, read this book!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
With wit and insight, Skloot tells the amazing story of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cancer in 1951, aged just 31. A sample from her tumor was used in research without her knowledge, or her family’s. These cancer cells, labelled HeLa, went on to become one of the most important tools in medicine. Lacks’ is a sad story, and it would be easy to be judgemental about the money made from HeLa while many of her family can’t afford basic healthcare. But that would be an oversimplification and Skloot is a better writer than that. [Kate]
Adichie’s latest novel demonstrates masterful storytelling alongside intricate explorations of race, gender, and relationships. Americanah follows the story of Ifemelu, who moves from Nigeria to America to attend university. In this vastly different culture she discovers many clashing views about race and is forced to question how she fits into American society. But after creating a highly successful blog and developing many significant relationships, Ifemelu must ultimately return to Nigeria to face the life that she has left behind. [Rosie]
On Becoming Fearless… In Love, Work and Life by Arianna Huffington (2007)
My mum waxed lyrical about Fearless before later posting it to me. Though it contains some beautifully phrased advice for ex people pleasers (like me), I’m sceptical of the PR spin buried within Huffington’s writing. Her brand of feminism is also too middle-class and outdated at times for me! [Marie-Claire]
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (2014)
Roxane Gay’s debut novel is about a Haitian-American woman kidnapped and held for a ransom her father refuses to pay. The protagonist refuses to break; I on the other hand, broke wide open. I haven’t sobbed this much since Dumbledore died. If you read nothing else this year, read this book! [Dominique]
The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (2007)
A female-only commune in the Lake District, wielding guns and lavender ice cream, is the center of resistance to the totalitarian government. You’d be forgiven for thinking the premise a little farfetched, if not entirely bonkers.
However, Sarah Hall’s dystopian novel feels chillingly contemporary despite being written 7 years ago: set in the aftermath of extreme flooding, insurance scandals, foreign wars, abuse of oil resources, and the breakdown of a coalition government. It was released as the ‘Daughters of the North’ for the US audience, but perhaps the Orwellian title would have been 2014…! [Jenna]
We can only hope that June will bring (at least) a few more hot days, so if you like the sound of any of May’s picks, add them to your list. They’ll go down well with a can of beer and a patch of grass.
And be sure to look out for more awesome hits next month!