Dear Britney, I hope you get justice.

Content note: this post discusses coercive behaviour and domestic abuse.

I don’t know anything about conservatorship. This post isn’t about that. And it’s not about mental health and legal rights. It is about Britney Spears apologising for pretending to be OK.

There is a lot of dialogue about how female-passing people are forced not to show certain emotions, be unreactive, and generally suffer in order to get by. However, I was caught by the amount of times she apologised or talked herself down in advocated for many of her human rights to be restored to her. Like most people, I am angry and hope she is “freed”, but I am also grieving for her because I know what it’s like to doubt everything you think you know about yourself and how long it can take to realise how bad things are.

I have been in several abusive relationships with impacts on my emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing that I am still untangling. Here’s an example. Readers who know me will be aware that I am neurodivergent. One of the manifestations of that is that I put things down when I am distracted and lose things in my house. One of my former partners used this to move my contraceptive pill around, claiming I’d “lost it” when I’d been moving around. They did this maybe once or twice a month for almost two years before we stopped living together. Now, when I have to do something every day, I have reminders and I keep the necessary things in place the whole time. When I travel, I know what the different bags in my case signify and I set reminders to check that one make-up bag has all my chargers in, and another my meds etc. My disorder is internal but I manage it very successfully. This person took risks with my health and then exploited my disability to make me think that I was being chaotic when struggling with insomnia.

I have dozens of stories like this where I didn’t know things were wrong until they were taken “too far”. When a partner was travelling, I started weightlifting. I LOVED it. I felt empowered and honestly found myself in my body for the first and only time. When the partner returned, they were not used to my new fitness, my new strength, my new confidence, or how my body had changed. Instead of adjusting, they wanted me to let go of those things. They booked things to clash with gym classes. They started “forgetting” to buy certain foods and replacing them with other things. They would only be happy if I went out in clothes they were familiar with. And here’s the thing… I didn’t notice.

You cannot imagine my shock when I discovered that my gym membership had magically cancelled itself and my account had been locked out. (Google autofill is not always your friend.) The people at the gym were nonplussed and said I’d put in a request to have my data removed. The account was there so they reinstated it but I spent several days wondering: had I done this when I was sleepwalking? Was my card info wrong? When did I change the password? And then, I mentioned it. As you do. And was reminded that I’d said I wanted to change gyms (true) so I must have just done it “sometime”. And that was when I knew. Online forms stress me out because of inaccessible layout and the room for typos/nightmare proof reading. I almost never do life admin on a whim because I make mistakes when I am not focused. However, this partner never believed in my neurodivergences because theirs were (to them) more severe. Eventually, I found the email in my sent folder and I knew immediately that I hadn’t sent it.

That was the first of many similar realisations across the next few weeks. It was also the time that I started to talk to other people about some of things I thought were happening. I’d been in this cycle of behaviour for years.

I realised about the contraception about two years later when I’d lost something and my friend said to me: “You always know where things are unless you’ve been distracted.” And it’s true. Interestingly, my current partner is a Tidy Person. I thought I was before but now I know that I am, actually, a Clean Person. And in the short time we’ve lived together, we have navigated how to support his mental wellbeing by keeping things fairly neat without him moving my stuff because it disorients me and I panic. We have had lots of 15 second conversations where we figure out systems. No stress. Just a quick check-in and on we move. He hates stuff on the sides so he stacks the dishwasher and puts it on. I empty it and he knows that if I forget, it’s not wilful. I just forget things that I can’t see. Therefore, he leaves the door open as a gentle reminder.

Seeing all the takes on Spears’s current circumstances, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people in controlling relationships amplify their complicity in these circumstances. Example from Hannah’s vault of bad memories: a partner and I had shared finances because I am better with money and therefore, I was wrong for not offering more financial assistance when they started stealing money from me. It took me a long time to realise that wanting to share and choosing to share with a loved one is not the same as the loved one taking from you. Similarly, I have (just recently) had to get out of the habit of asking permission to wear make-up or to go out in workout gear. I’d internalised this inappropriate practice and it confused the hell out of my current partner. Because I learned to ask my abuser’s opinion about things they had no business taking decisions about, I made myself feel partially responsible for receiving their orders.

Coming out of these situations, you have to name and build boundaries before you scratch the surface of the ones that have been broken. You have to ramble and guess and panic and hope that you are locating the things you need before you understand what you are trying to heal from. It’s terrifying and it’s risky. It’s also mistake-ridden.

I knew that I had lost any sense of bodily autonomy through the different abuses I have been through (via multiple partners). I’m only now starting to appreciate how I have manifested that lack of sense in the way I have lived since.

I don’t know if this post will help anyone but hopefully, it will tell or remind a survivor or person reclaiming their sense of self that it is possible to be safe. It is possible to be loved while you are healing. It is possible to argue without emotional abuse. It is possible to notice a new pain long after you were hurt and I believe it is possible to heal from these things.

I hope that Britney Spears is allowed to heal, that she is given autonomy to decide what she wants from her life, and that anyone who finds themselves trapped is able to find their way out in a manner that helps them move on. I feel like I’ve only really began to know myself (and not the person I thought I should be) several years on from my experiences. It’s really hard, I’ve made so many mistakes, and still, I continue to be filled with joy that I made those mistakes (and many more affirming choices) for myself. I still apologise for existing but it happens less and less and the people around me are able to tell me when I do it without it feeling like yet another rebuke. I want the Britney Spears I invested in as a small person to be able to say “I make my own choices and I’m glad to be alive” too.

Thoughts About Work

A reflection on best practice and duty of care in British academia

I get a lot of questions about my teaching practice, my pastoral attitudes, and the relationship between my research that connects many aspects of identity with improving Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in British universities. I think about how to do my different works better a lot but, in that, I’ve never reached a short or simple answer.

I balance lived experience with inspiration from others, research, training and other learning while also making many and ongoing mistakes. In fact, I am concerned about edifying any one person’s process without the context of community, friendship, and assimilated knowledge. For example, I went to a workshop about a book, which is no longer happening, and someone gave an improvised introduction to the philosophy of imagination and how we can connect it to Black liberation. I am not philosophical and didn’t hold onto the details of their words, but I was transported in the moment and I learned a lot about energy and intention in teaching. And in my own way, about imagination and liberation. I know who that person was, and I always signpost their influence on how I approach topics in my teaching, but they aren’t tangibly acknowledged in the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.

I hold the conversations with friends, colleagues, and students as part of this process. I fail more than I succeed but I learn because I ask for feedback and I work very hard to reflect on the critiques I receive. Could I do something differently or in a more helpful way? Have I misjudged a conversation? Was I being lazy? Sometimes, I will feel that my authenticity or intention doesn’t work for someone and move on. At other times, I will have messed up. I catch myself losing focus and operating in unhelpful, unhealthy and toxic ways as the norms in university environments can feel safer and also, what is expected. Example: I often assume knowledge of certain phenomena in popular culture. So, I have a note on my desk that says: “Not everyone has seen The Lion King”. I don’t always remember but I also sit with the feeling when it happens to me and I feel lost rather than included. If you have never felt that distance from learning, it’s hard to locate creative empathy in whatever work you do.

For me, the hardest but most necessary part of aiming to be a good teacher, a respectful researcher, a good colleague, a helpful supervisor etc. is knowing that those things are largely conditional on the perspective whoever I am in dialogue with. Is my work, my energy, my intention having the impact I hope it will? If not, the only person responsible for that is me. And if you are thinking that this position reads as insecurity then you are misunderstanding the measurement of intentionality with likeability. I admit that I have not shaken the want to be liked but this is neither intrinsic nor essential to doing my work intentionally. I am regularly described as “confrontational” and “challenging”. Ignoring the codes ascribed with those expressions, I know that this is because I prefer direct questions and direct answers and that I am also unimpressed by non-answers. The thing about academia is that non-answers seem to come easily. We all hedge. We all present things with angles. We all consider how we cover our backs, especially when we have come from or are in precarious situations. There can be a safety in not answering when a question is asked. But often, that’s where the greatest harm lies. I have done it because it felt like the right choice at the time, but it has almost never been the best choice. The downside is that it risks more and costs more to be open and committed in a public way.

I describe myself as a bit too much. I am intense, emotional, loud, clumsy, enthusiastic, and eager to do my best work. It can be exhausting for me as well as to other people. But that is my essence, and I am fine with it. In order to argue about safe working environments or paying students for their time or changing the curriculum, I need to be all of those things because they make me present and attentive. However, they also make my mistakes more prominent and, sometimes, harder to undo. I don’t know what my approach to my work is other than that is should be liberatory, accessible, fun, and (often) useful to people around me. That is not the mode of my institution or my profession but it’s where I sit and most days, I try and move a little bit closer to it.

Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges

I read 125 books in 2020 and this is what I learned…

  1. I’ll never stop finding books I want to read.
  2. Reading in this volume made me evaluate writing styles, plot directions, and stock characters in a new way.
  3. There are always new areas, regions, genres, sub-genres, publication forms, and other exciting things to be found. If you think “you’ve read everything”, you’ve not opened your mind to all the possibilities around you.
  4. Having a small community of avid readers in my space has made the world of difference. Especially as my reading family come at books in entirely different ways.
  5. I love talking and writing about books and I want to do that more.
  6. I enjoy giving books as much if not more than I enjoy buying books for me.
  7. Emotionally, I delineate between (1) “books I read for me”, (2) “books I read because I’m worrying about what other people think”, and (3) “books for work”. Sometimes, the intellectual pressure pile yields a gem, but I’d like to focus more on my joys in 2021.
  8. My learning disabilities are present rather than separate in my reading habits. I now understand better what does/does not hold my attention, when in the day I read most comfortably, what kind of writing asks me to find pictures in words rather than offers images easily, which fonts to avoid, that I get anxious reading books with very tight spines, etc.
  9. My triggers and gore thresholds have changed.
  10. I hate conventional book clubs but “buddy reading” – where I read at the same book around the same time as one or two other people – is great.
  11. There is, actually, a balance to “books bought” vs. “books read”. I do not enjoy being surrounded by too many books I haven’t read but I do need a range of choices.
  12. Shock realisation: I don’t want a big library of books unless I love them all. I am really unromantic about a book once it has been read. I’d like to think more about where the books I get rid of go to. I’d also like a designated “unread” bookcase (a small one), so I don’t keep finding things I haven’t read and stressing out.
  13. I am very fussy about the “Young Adult” literature I read and need to keep space between the different YA options I read to have the greatest enjoyment of them.
  14. I still love self-help books and I’m going to try to confront my internalised snobbery about the fact that I like reading about cleaning, wellness, and spirituality.
  15. I still need and love audiobooks. I wish my local library had a richer range of content.
  16. Long books can be a relief as well as a chore. I will definitely keep an eye out for a 500+ page novel in 2021.
  17. If a “classic” or venerated book doesn’t speak to me, I need to move on and not feel emotionally or intellectually negligent.
  18. I need to keep up my non-fiction reading because I value it but…
  19. I should maintain a 1:4 ratio of non-fiction to any other form because I read a lot of fragments of non-fiction when at work.
Do The Reading Reading Challenges

Recommend Me a Book

If you are reading this, you have probably volunteered to help me find new books and read new things.

The task: Recommend/Buy* me a book you think I should read or you think I will like. Any format: prose, poetry, non-fiction, graphic novel, or anything else.

Rules (some can be broken):

  • Books under 350 pages (dyslexic friendly)
  • Avoid American authors unless you don’t want to
  • No anti-Islamic terrorism stories
  • No disposable sexual assault plot lines
  • Less keen on YA (because I read a lot). Avoid contemporary school settings
  • Only your most unusual or particularly special crime thrillers

Authors I have read a significant amount of work by/everything currently in print by:

Han Kang; Akwaeke Emezi; Arthur Conan Doyle; Octavia E. Butler; Toni Morrison; Dorothy L. Sayers; John Le Carré; George Orwell; F Scott Fitzgerald; Becky Chambers; Truman Capote; Neil Gaiman; Jane Austen; Anthony Trollope; Agatha Christie; Lisa Kleypas. Alice Oseman; Natasha Ngan; Sue Grafton; Patricia Cornwall.

Favourite books that I have read recently:

  • The Emperor’s Babe – Bernadine Evaristo
  • On a Sunbeam – Tillie Walden
  • Dawn – Octavia E. Butler
  • You Should See Me in A Crown – Leah Johnson
  • The Deep – Rivers Solomon
  • Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds – adrienne maree brown
  • The Death of Vivek Oji – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
  • Jazz – Toni Morrison
  • The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett
  • The Unspoken Name – A.K. Larwood
  • Asha and the Spirit Bird – Jasbinder Bilan
  • Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
  • Trans Power – Juno Roche
  • Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
  • Heartstopper Vols. 1-3 – Alice Oseman

*Budget will be supplied by me or I’ll buy the book on your recommendation. Please use independent booksellers.

Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading I Need To Talk About This Reading Challenges The Isolation Reads

What do you get if you read 100 books in nine months?

Perhaps the most interesting side effect of lockdown for me has been returning to reading in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an avid reader forever, but I encounter extreme slumps as well as periods where reading just isn’t my preferred way to pass time. Unlike some people who didn’t feel like reading over the last few months, I have (perhaps counterintuitively) found getting back into books has helped me navigate living alone in a (relatively) new city where most of my friends live away. More than that, it helped me to understand the value of moving from computer screens to paper for me as a dyslexic person. I experience screen fatigue (including the TV) a long time before I experience word fatigue. The nights I have gone to bed at 21:00 with a book, I have almost universally slept better. Why? Because I ditch my phone and am really present in a low energy state, generally feeling chilled. I do audit what read before bed, but I also have very familiar audiobooks I listen to at night to counteract any triggering content.

            I would love to tell you that this reading spurt has made me more decisive about what I read but that would be untrue. As we speak, I am “stuck” with a book I want to like, but find dull, and can’t quite commit to abandoning. This is really silly given that, when this happened during the alphabet challenge, I immediately picked up pace when I accepted that I was never going to “get” Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. The writing is beautiful but after 15 minutes I would be fidgety and disengaged. In fact, it put me to sleep for one of my two naps in the last 18 months. I wanted to love it and be immersed. Almost all of my reading pals speak very highly of it, but truth be told, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe after writing this post, I will commit to hiding the volume by my bed, removing it from my Goodreads “currently reading” list, and see if I experience any inclination to return to it.

            What else have I learned? I really, really enjoy a reading challenge that has very open parameters. I set myself a monumental task when I took on my own “Reading The Alphabet” challenge. I wanted to tackle my 100+ book To Be Read (TBR) pile and so I committed to read a book by authors with surnames beginning with every letter of the alphabet. I had to supplement here and there. (Thank God I did, because The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a standout read.) But I also got caught up in reading (1)in alphabetical order, (2) at least one fiction and non-fiction entry, and (3) [DON’T DO THIS] as many entrants per letter as possible. What should have been 26 books could have become fifty-two books plus any bonus “extra” reads. The problem here came when I hit A Brief History of Seven Killings. I had read lots of “heavy” books at this point and was really looking forward to a graphic novel a lot of letters away. Finally, I decided to “break” the order and read what excited me, which is perhaps the best lesson of this year. I also committed to skim the James in a 90-minute speed read and move on.

            Not so long ago, I wrote a blog about my trepidations in approaching The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel because it was such a big book! All of my neurodivergence warning bells go off if I could hurt myself dropping a book, the word fatigue means it could take weeks, and it’s a dense story. HOWEVER, I am so glad I started my lockdown reads with it because (1) I loved it, (2) I managed it in a weekend, and (3) it prepared me to try out “bigger” books. I pre-ordered some hardbacks and for the first time in my life, am almost entirely on top of them where I would ordinarily reach for a paperback first. I have no idea how many more books I will read this year. I am loving doing The Black Book Challenge with Leighan so that is pushing me along. I have so many exciting unread titles in the house that I am on a real book buying ban for a while.

            I thought I would end with a list of my highlights of 2020 so far. Note: these are books I have read in 2020, not necessarily books published in 2020. I hope you enjoy some of them, and I look forward to writing up many pending reviews.

P.S. I went to look at my Goodreads to compile this list and got very overwhelmed by how many of these books I really loved.

Hannah’s Reading Highlights so far:

  1. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
  2. The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo
  3. Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan
  4. Trans Power by Juno Roche
  5. Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
  6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  7. Heartstopper (Vols. 1-3) by Alice Oseman [ALL of the volumes are great]
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. Flèche by Mary Jean Chan
  10. Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
  11. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  12. The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 by Carly Usdin
  13. The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood
  14. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  15. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  16. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  17. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  18. Jazz by Toni Morrison
  19. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  20. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  21. Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown

20 Books By Black Authors to Pre-Order

This post is tailored to British fundraising and release dates but anyone can back these folks and causes.

First. Support Black Lives Matter. Support Black Pride. Invest in the Free Black University.

Some of these links are to organisations that don’t really need your money. Try to back independent bookstores before you go to Am*zon, please.

Children’s Fiction

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin – Roseanne A. Brown (Pre-Order)

The Gilded Ones – Namina Forna (Pre-Order)

The Dark Lady – Akala (Pre-Order)

Anita and the Dragons – Hannah Carmona and Anna Cunha (Pre-Order)

You Should See Me in a Crown – Leah Johnson (Pre-Order)

Ikenga Nnedi Okorafor (Pre-order)

Adult Fiction

Black Sunday – Tola Rotimi Abraham (Pre-Order)

Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold – Bolu Babalola (Pre-Order) (Pre-Order)

Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark (Pre-Order)

Saving Ruby King – Catherine Edel West (Pre-Order)

The Space Between Worlds – Micaiah Johnson (Pre-Order)

Memorial Bryan Washington (Pre-Order)


On Reflection: Moments, Flight and Nothing New – Adjoa Wiredu (Pre-Order) (Pre-Order)

Here Is the Sweet Hand: Poems – Francine J. Harris (Pre-Order)

Burning Sugar – Cicely Belle Blain (Pre-Order)


Sporting Blackness: Race, Embodiment, and Critical Muscle Memory on Screen – Samantha N. Sheppard (Pre-Order)

African Europeans: An Untold History Olivette Otele (Pre-Order)

Loud Black Girls. 20 Black Women Writers Ask: What’s Next? – (ed.) Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene (Pre-Order)

It Takes Blood and Guts – Skin and Lucy O’Brian (Pre-Order)

Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance – Ntozake Shange (Pre-Order)

Reading Challenges The Isolation Reads

Read the Rainbow Challenge

Hi! If you are new here, welcome! I am Hannah, a bookworm with a book buying problem. I am also a workaholic and on annual leave during a global pandemic so I’ve decided to jazz up “shopping” my To Be Read pile.

The task: to read at least one red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink (indigo and violet were impossible) book in one week.

I have made my colour distinctions on the basis of the spines of books but you do you on that. Amazingly, I have a surprisingly large selection of material available to me although I have almost double the amount of blue books (17) and half the green books (5) in comparison to the other options. I hope to read a range of genres, geographical locations, and styles of book but I am not imposing any other restrictions.

My goal: one of each colour. At least 10 books read.

In order to make this fun and manageable, I am not going to write “full blogs” about each book but I will update this post with the titles and some details in the following format:

  • Details:
  • Impression [delete as appropriate]: OMG amazing / I really enjoyed! / Yeah, it was good / Eh, it was fine / I would not buy this if I were you / It’s not for me but ….
  • Summarise in five words:

May the odds be ever in my favour!


Onjali Q. Raúf. The Boy at the Back of the Class. London: Orion Children’s Books. 2018
OMG amazing
Brilliant kids challenge refugee crisis


Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ. Black Star Nairobi. Brooklyn: Melville House. 2013.
I really enjoyed it.
Compelling, pacy, perilous international thriller.

Johny Pitts. Afropean: Notes from Black Europe. London: Penguin Books. 2019
Yeah, it was good.
Social cultural scrapbook with tunes
Geek note: I made a Spotify playlist of songs that are mentioned, are by artists who come up in the book or I really rate. You can find it here.


Amrou Al-Kadhi. Unicorn: The Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen. London: Fourth Estate. 2019
I really enjoyed it.
Queerness, family, faith, home, tussling.


Alice Oseman. Heartstopper Vol. 3. London: Hodder Children’s Books. 2020
OMG amazing
Pure queer teen emotional intelligence.


Mary Jean Chan. Flèche. London: Faber & Faber. 2019
Queer agony fencing with words.

Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye. London: Vintage. 2016.
I can’t call it “OMG amazing” because I’m not gushingly enthusiastic: Brilliant and beautiful.
Bittersweet stories of neighbourhood pain

Alice Oseman. Heartstopper Vol. 2. London: Hodder Children’s Books. 2019
OMG amazing
Pure queer teen romance feels.


Marina Benjamin. Insomnia. London: Scribe Books. 2019
It’s not for me, but the insights on insomnia (as lived experience) are legit.
Rambling pretentious sleep-deprived whimsy


Guy Gunaratne. In Our Mad and Furious City. London: Tinder Press. 2019.
OMG amazing
Brutal London tensions burning hot.

Books That Changed My Life Do The Reading The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings [audiobook]. Hachette Audio UK. 2014.

I have really odd relationship with Dr Maya Angelou’s work. I can’t remember not knowing who she is. We had posters with her poem “Still I Rise” on all over my primary school walls. I read excerpts of a lot of her work at uni. I sat on a bench outside my current workplace listening to her read her poems as I hyperventilated before my job interview. But as with many academics, I have only accessed parts of Angelou’s prose when I have needed to rather than appreciating her works in their entirety.

I didn’t know about the controversy about the Caged Bird in American schools or about the content warnings of sexual abuse and accounts of racism that are associated with this book. As a survivor, I found the accounts of Angelou’s PTSD incredibly powerful. I found her way of describing sibling love really touching. I also related strongly to her account of re-finding her voice through reading and through reading aloud. There are so many beautiful passages, so many moments of tension and release, and many laughs in among lots of profound sorrow. I can’t wait to read the next one.

As a person with specific learning difficulties, I advocate for audiobooks a lot. I specifically recommend listening to anything read by Angelou. She has such an expressive but mellow voice. You hear her humour and vivacity but also her pain and fragility. I adore her  recording of her collected poems and I know I will debate about whether to listen to more of her books or to read them. I have copies of the other five autobiographies at my mum’s but in the current circumstances, I may end up using our Audible credits to plough ahead. We will see. I don’t really know what I thought this book would be like but it was even better than I imagined. I am grateful to Dr Maya Angelou for writing it so we can all explore and cherish it.

Do The Reading The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: Children Of Blood and Bone

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone. London: MacMillan. 2018.

Good lord. When I started this book this morning, I was fairly ambivalent and to be honest, I nearly abandoned it. I wasn’t really caught by the story or the characters until over halfway through. I only persisted because someone I love really enjoyed it and by the end I could see why. I read the last 150 pages in less than an hour.

I wonder if I have read too many dystopian Young Adult (YA) novels because I think Children of Blood and Bone comes most alive in its happiest scenes. It has some pockets of compelling actionbut the dances, laughing, parties, and moments of belonging landed most with me. The book’s most beautiful detail is the slow reveal as Zélie’s hair returns to a natural state while she is coming into her magic. That’s not something I’ve seen in a book like this before.

I read YA and children’s books because I enjoy them but I’m also always scouting for things for my godchildren that incorporate Black and neurodiverse characters. I never saw myself in a book when I was young but I try to surround them with stories featuring people like us as much as possible. I think that Children of Blood and Bone fills a vital gap. I definitely didn’t read a story set in Nigeria when I was young, and truthfully, I was introduced to “African Literature” as a “genre” of book by pretentious white teachers at school: “you must read Things Fall Apart.” What we needed was more books by authors from across the continent and from the diaspora. Stories of all kinds. I am going to buy the audiobook for my oldest godchild right away. He’s just seen Black Panther. He’s slowly watching Avatar: the Last Airbender with his dads. He will LOVE this book.

As for me, I know I will read the next one someday. Unlike Natasha Ngan’s Girls of Paper and Fire, I don’t feel like I need to read the sequel right away (although I totally would if I had it). However, I know I’ll be happy when I do read Children of Virtue and Vengeance. For some unknown reason, I am entirely on Team Inan and I need to know where he ends up.

The Isolation Reads

The Isolation Reads: At Dusk

It’s a really strange time and we are all processing #SocialDistancing differently. Friends and colleagues will have noticed my increased presence on Twitter. I am mindlessly checking my email many, many times an hour and perpetuating my underlying anxieties. As a result, I have set myself some digital check out time every day. Sometimes I’m going to spend that time attacking my To Be Read pile. This is a (possibly short) chronicle of what I finish or abandon. Wherever I can, these reviews will be written immediately after finishing the book. These are not measured reflections. They are gut reactions.

Hwang Sok-yong. At Dusk. (Trans. Sora Kim- Russell). London: Scribe Publications. 2018.

“Have you read any Han Kang?” said the bookseller at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham when I bought At Dusk earlier in the year. I gushed about how much I love her books and wish we had more of her work in translation and that I keep thinking about learning Korean so that I can read more. “Oh cool. I bought this because I like Han Kang too.”

While there is a stillness in At Dusk, which I associate with the sections of introspection in Kang’s books, Hwang Sok-yong incorporates less abstract and visceral elements in his writing. For some reason, I really thought that this book was going to be a thriller about the architecture and building lobbies in Korea but it definitely isn’t. You follow alternating narrators across a lifetime of experience in Korea’s shifting social environments. You spend the book thinking you understand the connections between them but you finally understand that you don’t. The twist in the relationships is clever. The revelations about one of the families involved are brutal and sad. At times, I felt like I was reading a novelised version of West Side Story (1956) with street gangs running around, and at others, like I was glimpsing into an understated domestic drama like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s awesome films Still Walking (2008) or Our Little Sister (2015).

I loved how filmic and peaceful Sok-young’s writing style felt. It meant that where there was violence or a heart-breaking revelation, I was caught oddly unawares. None of the characters in the story are content and their lives are gently turbulent but I felt like I was watching the story unfold through a barrier that deadened some of the noise. It’s a really clever writing style. It’s subtle and oddly soothing in a unnerving way because you have a delayed reaction to some of the tragedies as you unfold. That said, some of the sections of the architect Park Minwoo’s “rags to riches” story are quite dull and I found myself skimming in places rather than savouring every word.

Overall, I will definitely check out other books by Hwang Sok-yong and I really need to get some good books on South Korean history because apparently I love books by Korean authors about life in Korea!