2016 has been an interesting year. As I write this we have just heard of Carrie Fisher’s death. Bowie. Prince. Cohen. Brexit. Trump. Aleppo. The ‘alt-right’. George Michael. Spain’s turn to the right, once more. Let’s take a deep breath. 2016 has not been kind to us.
Reading is, for many of us bookworms, a necessity, but also escapism. When I joined the blogging community 6 years ago (!!!!) I discovered that reading for escapism was considered a bad habit. You should read to become a better person, to learn. But, what if escaping our lives makes us better people? What if turning the news off and enjoying a good story will make us happy and more sympathetic human beings? I truly believe in the power of books to change the language we use to describe the world, hence change the world. But it does not have to be a task, or a struggle. Reading for pleasure has always been how I understood reading (except during my degree when I learned the horrible phrases ‘compulsory reading’ and ‘reading with a deadline’), and 2016 has been a year for pleasure because to put it simply, reality sucked a bit too much. It has also been a year of wonderful women, present in my life as authors and as mentors, friends, and colleagues. It has been a #ReadWomen kind of year.
As I got deeper and deeper into my PhD thesis I learned that there is more to reading for pleasure than crime fiction. After reading and writing about Scarpetta and Brennan for hours and hours, I found myself less likely to pick up a crime novel during my free time, and instead binge-watching crime television shows (an addict is an addict, right?). This is why I finally approached the Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child). The four novels, which are an international success, tell the story of Elena ‘Lenú’ and Lina ‘Lila’ from their childhood in the corrupt and violent Naples of 1950’s until our current times. At first I did not understand why the series were so successful, but one page in Ferrante’s writing will make you read the four novels in a row. More on Ferrante soon.
Something similar happened with reading in English. I chose to read Ferrante in Spanish because I thought that the translation from the Italian original would be closer than the English one. So, I decided to begin and end the year reading another series. Dolores Redondo’s Baztán Trilogy (The Invisible Guardian, The Legacy of the Bones, and the upcoming third volume) is taking the English-speaking world by storm. Written by a woman author and with a strong and complex female main character, the series focus on Amaia Salazar’s investigation of serial murders in her native town of Elizondo. The novels offer a different take on Spanish culture by erasing the stereotypical paella and flamenco image and instead making the Northern culture known to international readers. A delight for many natives like myself. Again, more on Redondo to come soon.
But, what I can say? My heart will always belong to forensic doctors. If I was a die-hard fan of the Scarpetta series (I know the quality of the novels decreases with every new installment, just let me enjoy them while I can!), I am now a die-hard fan of Kathy Reich‘s Temperance Brennan series as well. I was already a regular Bones (2005 – 2017) viewer, but the novels offer a different take on Tempe, yet she feels familiar as well. I read the first novel in the series, Dèja Dead (1997) for my thesis, and it takes a huge amount of self-control every day not to purchase Brennan #2. As I analysed it for my thesis, I am not sure I will be reviewing it here, just in case the boundary between my work and this blog becomes more blurred.
2016 was also a year of discoveries. Even though Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist did not appeal to me at all, I was immediately interested in her second novel The Muse. Cleverly mixing art, history and personal narratives, half of the novel takes place in a small Andalusian town months before the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). The writing was so inspiring and clever that it will remind readers their love for books, language, and art in general. And did I mention that Burton writes about the hardships of being a woman artist? You can check my review here. Going back to Spain, I also discovered my love for Almudena Grandes’ The Ages of Lulu (Las edades de Lulú), which felt like the original 50 Shades, with Spain playing the main female role after decades of fascist dictatorship. Taking into account the current state of affairs, it may be wise to remember that sometimes, rebellion for rebellion’s sake is good (and a bit of erotica never killed anyone). Discover it for yourself here.
I also did some re-readings this year, mainly for my thesis. The one that surprised me the most was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which I read for the third time for an upcoming book chapter I wrote, and it amazed me one more time in ways I did not expect. Moriarty’s power relies on her ability to portray everyday life in a critical yet humorous way, while inscribing the traditional female experience of housekeeping and child-rearing in popular literature. I really, really hope to gain an open access license for my book chapter to share it. Meanwhile, here‘s my review (from 2014!), and the trailer for the upcoming HBO adaptation produced and starring my beloved Reese Witherspoon:
And I finally became an adult in 2016, which means that I finally learned to enjoy non-fiction. Even though I had read some non-fiction in previous years, it was not my go-to genre. This year all I could think about was learning about the life experience of other women, mainly writers and feminists. The boyfriend gifted me Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road, which proved to be an enormous source of inspiration to keep travelling and fighting for women’s rights (review here). But I was also reminded of my love for reading, writing and connecting to other women writers’ work by Kate Bolick’s Spinster (review here). Another key read for me was Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, as I felt I was giving too many f*cks in my life, and it was time for a change. I highly recommend this book to any woman out there who has ever felt guilty when putting herself before others. More here. I hope to read more non-fiction in 2017: I think that my next read will be The Mitfords by Charlotte Mosley, but I have also heard a lot of good things about books revisiting the three Brontë sisters. So, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for any good recommendations that you may have.
As for contemporary crime fiction, I had the pleasure of exploring diverse takes on the idea of ‘crime’. The first big one was American author Megan Abbott, whose last novel You Will Know Me about a teenager Olympic gymnast has become my recommendation for anyone who asks for more women in crime reads. You thinking about reading it? Click here. I also read After You Die, Eva Dolan‘s Zigic and Ferreira #3, which is contemporary British crime fiction focused on diversity issues, starting with the DS and DI in charge. More here. My taste for diverse British crime fiction does not end there, and Tastes Like Fear, Sarah Hilary‘s new installment in the Marnie Rome series was also a big part of the year. I may nudge her a bit every year regarding the next book in the series, this is how good they are.Finally, for my job at LARB, I was assigned the review of Megan Miranda‘s All the Missing Girls, a crime novel told in reverse, which only shows how crime novels are character studies on human behaviour, rather than mere whodunits. Since the content is all theirs, here‘s a link to my review.
I could not finish this post without mentioning the two more difficult reads of 2016, and the cosiest one. Let’s start with the difficult: I was invited to deliver a paper on the 2012 New Delhi Gang Rape, and the prospect of analysing how rape, rape culture and rape victims were portrayed in the media was something I could not refuse. As I usually do whenever I face anything in life I am not really familiar with, I chose to read fiction. Crime fiction? It felt like it. It felt raw. And cruel. And there were days when I could not utter a kind word to anyone in my house because either I let my feelings build up as rage, or I would burst into tears. Responsible for this almost-breakdown were Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, and Courtney Summer’s All the Rage. I have not reviewed them yet. I do not know if I ever will. Revisiting Emma’s and Romy’s stories – though fictional – feels a bit too much for the festive season. And to finish this post with some optimism, I loved, loved, loved Sam Baker’s re-telling of The Tenant of Windfell Hall: The Woman Who Ran, which is the perfect mix of contemporary crime fiction and English classic literature. Just check it.
But, as it happens with everything in life, this could not have been possible without the people in my life. From the publishers and editors who kindly send their review copies across the Channel to Spain, I would like to thank you for making this blog possible. Especial thanks are deserved by all the authors who have kindly agreed to be interviewed for Books & Reviews this year: Paula Hawkins, Dolores Redondo (who kindly confided in me for her first blog interview in English!), Megan Abbott, and Helen MacKinven.
And, finally, to every single reader and to the subscribers and followers, more than 2,000 of you who have chosen to support this blog: THANK YOU. Books & Reviews is possible thanks to each of you. I hope you have a wonderful 2017 filled with books and love.