2018 Reading Round-Up

All data from my Goodreads Challenge page.

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Non-fiction – essays

I spent some of 2018 working on an essay collection (loading. . . ) so it’s no surprise that I dived into a lot of non-fiction. Essay collections I loved: Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, not least because it allowed me to say things like “daringly inventive with the very form of the essay” in various pubs, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, not least because it was written by Cheryl Strayed, and of course, as a bookish Irishwoman I devoured Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self . My personal favourite essay-read from 2018 was Leslie Jamison’s new-to-me The Empathy Exams. Her addiction and recovery memoir is on my shelf thanks to Dublin City Libraries and I’m very excited to read it.

Memoir

When is an essay collection not a memoir? When you read enough of either that lumping them together becomes ungainly, of course!

The most enjoyable memoir I read in 2018 was Helene Hanff’s Underfoot in Show Business. If you’re a creative person, just read it. Please trust me on this.

It’s often hard to call a memoir enjoyable, especially if it was written from a period of great trauma (“sorry you were sad, nice book tho”), but I am very glad that I read Poorna Bell’s Chase the Rainbow while being immensely sorry for everything she went through. It made me better.

Non-fiction – other

I re-read And the Band Played On, by the late fearless journalist Randy Shilts, about AIDS in Reagan’s America. The passage of time has debunked some of the book’s assertions (Gaetan Dugas did not, in fact deliberately infect people with HIV), but it’s still a fine piece of journalism that will break your heart.

YA

When I’m not writing essays, I write YA, and when I’m not reading essays, I read a lot of YA. It’s the category I come back to most often. This year I dug into Coe Booth‘s back catalogue and absolutely loved her work – would strongly recommend that any fans of Angie Thomas check out Booth. Brian Conaghan’s The Weight of a Thousand Feathers (now an An Post Irish Book Award winner) was also excellent.

I read a lot of great YA this year (Cethan Leahy’s debut, Tuesdays Are Just As Bad, has my hands-down favourite book title of 2018, Juno Dawson’s Clean is fabulous, and if you didn’t love Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, seek help). However, for some reason the YA reads that resonated the most with me in 2018 – Conaghan and Booth – were about the working-class teen experience, which is so often absent (especially from American YA – the exception springing to mind is Dumplin‘, which I re-read before the film came out and loved both). I am making an effort to read under-represented voices and so far it’s been a total delight, but I am conscious that class and wealth cannot be excluded from the discourse on marginalisation and I’m pleased to have the chance to read these stories. And on that note, it’s almost time for On The Come Up you guys!!

General Fiction

Putney was unsettling, but wonderfully written, evocative and unflinching (I wanted to throw a lot of punches that week), and was one of the stand-outs of the year for me. I also loved Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

Crime/Thriller

Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Liar’s Girl was so good that I bought it for my highly discerning aunt, and it’s now Edgar Award-nominated! I read very little else in this category this year, although I did finally finish Hannibal Rising, the Hannibal Lecter origin story, and I was underwhelmed.

 

For 2019, I’m most eager to read the aforementioned On the Come Up (which one of my book clubs has chosen!), Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering, Sinead Gleeson’s essay collection Constellations, and Deirdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths, a YA that totally won me over when I snagged a sampler at Deptcon. It’s looking like a good book year…

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Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

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This is a dote of a book, lads. It starts and ends there.

I will read almost any variety of YA fiction, but I have a special fondness for romances. My YA gateway drug was Sarra Manning’s Diary of a Crush series, which was full of wisecracks and pop culture references and joy and kisses and sleeping security guards in the Louvre and vintage dresses (I thought all vintage dresses would be so beautiful after reading Edie’s adventures – I didn’t anticipate so many years of wading through puffed sleeves and polyester) and ice cream and paddling pools in the backyard and music festivals and summer jobs in cafes and and and and and….

But so many lovely YA romances have one thing in common. Boy meets Girl. Rarely Boy meets Boy, and even less often, Girl meets Girl.

The Summer of Jordi Perez is Abby meets Jordi – two smart, talented, creative and likeable teen girls are chosen for a summer internship that leads to a coveted senior-year part-time job. They both want the job, but they also both want each other. It’s summer, it’s LA, Abby doesn’t know how to drive, Jordi has a passion for photography and wears too much black, Abby is a plus-size fashion blogger and Jordi is Mexican-American. And everything unfolds just as you hope it would.

Abby’s identity as a plus-size young woman and her relationship with her mother (a health food guru) is depicted well, but for me the novel had two strengths. One was that it is the f/f summer romance of my dreams, and the other is that it handles the nature of change really well. Abby’s sister has left for college and hasn’t returned for the summer (she’s also interning), her best friend is in her first serious relationship and disapproves of Jordi, and she knows that the sea-change of graduation is only a year away.

If some of this brings to mind Leah on the Offbeat, it’s different enough to feel fresh – in spite of a few similarities, Abby and Leah are very different girls – but I suspect fans of one will enjoy the other. A few elements of the ending felt a little anti-climactic to me, but not enough to dent my enjoyment of this. Looking forward to more from Amy Spalding.

PS the burgers were a nice touch.