Reading non-fiction often feels, to me at least, like choosing the healthy option at a restaurant. Yes, it might nourish my mind and it might be quite enjoyable, but surely it won’t be as tasty as a novel?
Lately, however, I’ve been branching out and discovering some non-fiction authors that I genuinely enjoy reading as much as fiction. In each case, these authors manage to do something that the best fiction writers do, whether it’s portraying colourful characters, telling an engaging story, or exploring fascinating themes.
For characters, try reading… Ben Macintyre
If you’re the type of reader who forgets the plot of a book seconds after finishing it but remembers the characters for years, you should definitely consider reading some Ben Macintyre.
Everything I’ve read by him has been about WWII – a time at which there was rather a lot going on. But instead of focusing solely on events, Macintyre gifts the reader with colourful, insightful, and often humorous pen portraits of the main players.
The language employed to convey personality is often beautiful. Douglas Bader – a famous, flawed, disabled fighter pilot – is described as “a man with legs of tin, a heart of oak and feet of clay”. Paddy Mayne – one of the original members of the SAS – is described as “a man with enough personal demons to populate a small hell.” There is nothing dry or dusty about Macintyre’s portrayal of historical figures.
For plot, try reading… Tara Westover
I’m mainly talking about her bestselling novel Educated, but Westover has also written powerful and provocative essays such as I Am Not Proof of the American Dream and Is College Merely Helping Those Who Need it Least?
Educated shows that non-fiction can be crafted with the narrative clarity of a novel, including strong character arcs, good pacing, and increasing tension and jeopardy. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to create something like this from your own life, particularly if your own life has been a difficult one, but Westover shows it is possible.
For themes, try reading… Margaret Atwood
One of the main reasons I love fiction – especially literary fiction – is because it engages with big, complex themes that rarely get discussed enough in everyday life. It also tends to do this in an accessible way, without being dry or over-intellectual.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that some fiction writers can also address meaty themes in non-fiction. Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, does this frequently in her essays. She writes about freedom, memory, the power of art and the responsibilities of artists, and she does it all with passion and humour.
Have you read any great non-fiction lately? What would you recommend to someone more used to reading fiction?
I’m kinda loving the laziness of this Top Ten Tuesday topic! What I’m not loving is how small my bookcase is. I live in a tiny flat and don’t have room for a full-size bookcase, let alone a big library with rolling ladders like I totally deserve.
Nonetheless, I closed my eyes and grabbed ten books at random, and here is what I came away with…
(Please note, this post may contain spoilers.)
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I love my gorgeous, illustrated copy of Neverwhere. It’s not my favourite Gaiman novel (that would be Good Omens, which is also my favourite Terry Pratchett novel and my favourite book about the apocalypse) but the world-building is glorious and it makes an ideal introduction to urban fantasy for those who are new to the genre.
Wool by Hugh Howey
I haven’t read this one yet, but I should really get a move on because the TV adaptation is airing on the 5th May. I know the book is always better than the movie, but I feel like there’s no clear consensus on whether this is true for TV series.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I’ve read Little Women twice – once as a teen and once as an adult – and both times I was completely sucked in by it. Alcott’s characters are so vividly drawn, and the joys and griefs of growing up are captured so powerfully.
The only thing I don’t like about this book is the ending. I understand that Alcott was under a lot of pressure from both readers and publishers to get Jo married off, but did it have to be that guy? A boring older man who calls her stories trash? For a more interesting (and queer, and Laurie-centric) ending, read So Many Beginningsby Bethany C. Morrow.
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett
This was the first Ken Follett I read, and while I found the plot consistently engaging I’m not sold on Ken Follett’s style. There’s a bit too much “showing off the research”, which is a bugbear of mine. However, he does write in genres other than historical fiction so maybe I should give one of those a try.
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
This excellent short story collection covers just about everything – desire, friendship, cancel culture, futuristic videogames, a trans woman’s attempt to buy a decent corset – with Smith’s incredible skill and generous humour.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
I bought this book after seeing the film but still haven’t read it. The whole time I was watching the film I kept thinking ‘I bet the book goes into this in more detail’, so buying it was an obvious choice. But having seen the film also means there are some scenes I’m dreading because they’re just so grim.
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
Despite its beautiful prose, this one disappointed me in the same way that most fantasy romances disappoint me – not enough fantasy! I wanted to find out more about the mermaid’s world and instead she just goes to live in a guy’s bathtub and loses her tail.
The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley
I’m interested to read a love story with an older protagonist – Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday – but apparently not interested enough because this has been sat on my bookshelf for ages.
Common Bonds by various authors (including me!)
I swear I picked this at random and not to promote my own work (though, err, if you fancy a copy you can buy it here). It’s an anthology of short stories with protagonists who are aromantic – they don’t experience romantic attraction – and with a strong focus on platonic relationships.
My personal favourite is Cinders – a fairytale retelling so crammed with jokes that it makes Shrek look humourless. There’s also father-daughter bonding in space, and a cursed seamstress who becomes friends with a witch. My own story, Spacegirl and the Martian, features a superhero getting drunk and wandering around London with her nemesis.
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
The author of the Anne of Green Gables series seems to have a reputation for writing cosy, feel-good books. This book, about Anne’s daughter Rilla and her coming-of-age adventures, certainly has its fair share of warmth and sweetness. But it’s also set during WWI, and Rilla has brothers and a love interest being sent away to fight. I may have cried a bit.
Thanks for taking this haphazard tour of my bookshelves with me. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
Is there any better box than a box of books? Surely not. A while ago, my publisher sent me a box containing 25 copies of my novel Other People’s Butterflies. There were 25 copies because in my home city of Bristol (UK), there are about 25 ‘little free libraries’.
Maybe you’ve come across one of these in your own hometown. A little free library is an accessible place where people can find free books, and leave books that they no longer want. Some are as small as bird feeders, while others are as large as bus shelters. Some of them are just adorable!
I don’t have a car, so schlepping all those books around Bristol was a challenge. I started by spending an afternoon focussed on central Bristol, where there are quite a few little free libraries.
It was chilly, drizzly, and my GoogleMaps wasn’t working properly for some reason. Luckily I had my best mate Tea with me, who has a much better sense of direction than me. Some of the little free libraries we found had a great selection of books, and I couldn’t resist nabbing a copy of Lark Rise to Candleford, which has been on my TBR for ages.
After tackling central Bristol, I turned my attention to libraries in more out-of-the-way areas. A few of them were out of use or too difficult to get to, but that meant I had some books left over to take to the village I grew up in – Little London in Hampshire.
If you don’t happen to live in either Bristol or Little London, you can still grab a copy of Other People’s Butterflies on Amazon, in paperback or e-book form. It’s a YA contemporary about identity and friendship, with some 1940s spy stuff mixed in because why not?
Do you have any little free libraries near you? And have you ever discovered any brilliant books in them?
“Why would anyone want to read a book with no romance in it? Romance is AMAZING and gives you ALL THE FEELS. I can’t get invested in books without romance. If a woman says she doesn’t like romance in books, she’s just trying to prove she’s not like other girls”.
If you’re a (female) reader who craves books without romance, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. It’s a pain in the arse, but when people try to talk about the need for no-romance books, the response is often a rhapsody about the joys of romance in fiction.
Perhaps a little defensiveness is understandable. After all, romance novels are frequently dissed and dismissed. At best, they’re considered almost proper literature. At worst, they’re considered trashy and insubstantial. We trivialise romance so much that I’ve actually heard Jane Austen novels referred to as “chick lit” because they end with marriages.
But despite this undoubtedly sexist trivialisation of romance, it’s still the best-selling genre by far. It’s as pervasive as it is popular, with romantic storylines often featuring prominently in books of other genres. This can be an issue because believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t want to read kissing books.
There are many reasons for this. Firstly, can we please stop insisting that romantic love is a universal part of the human experience? It’s not. Many people (yours truly included) are aromantic – we don’t experience romantic attraction.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like romance in books – just ask Alice Oseman, the openly aromantic author of the Heartstopper graphic novels. But sometimes it means exactly that. Sometimes we’re icked out by romance, or we just can’t relate to it.
There are plenty of other reasons why a reader might be looking for a book without romance. Perhaps they’ve just gone through a horrible break-up and don’t want to read yet another book about how romantic love is the key to happiness. Perhaps they’re looking for a book for their teenage daughter and are drowning in a sea of YA novels about how important it is to have a boyfriend.
Probably the most common reason for wanting a romance-free book is just a craving for something different. Something where the plot isn’t overpowered by an unnecessary love triangle. Something where friendships or family relationships take centre stage. Something where characters are gazing out into the world together instead of into each other’s eyes.
So how do we find books with minimal romance? Here are my top tips:
Read books aimed at men
It pains me to say this, but when it comes to centring platonic relationships in fiction, dudes do it better. There’s no expectation for straight male writers targeting straight male readers to include romance in their books, and this frees them up to focus on other relationships. “Brothers in arms” type friendships and father-son relationships are particularly popular.
So grab a blokey book if you fancy a break from romance. Something with a sword on the cover. You might be pleasantly surprised at the emotional depth of the platonic relationships in these books.
Read middle grade
Although romance does make an occasional appearance in middle grade fiction, there tends to be much more focus on friendship. One of the loveliest things about MG is that it’s full of loving, uncomplicated, boy-girl friendships, which are rare as hens’ teeth in YA.
Look for clues…
OK, I realise my advice for finding romance-free books has been pretty depressing so far. I’m basically saying that if you’re female and over the age of 12, every book marketed at you will be chock full of romance.
But it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that, and figuring out the rules of romance in fiction can be fun. Here are some tips for figuring out which books are romance-heavy and which books are light on the kissing.
Clues in the genre: Outside of the romance genre, some genres are more likely to lean heavily on romantic storylines than others. For example, fantasy tends to have more romance than sci-fi. With historical fiction it gets really interesting, because apparently someone decided that certain time periods are romantic and others aren’t.
Regency? Super romantic.
Middle ages? Not romantic (too much plague).
Vikings? Not romantic, but maybe a bit sexy.
World War 1/2? Lots of tragic romance.
Ancient Greece? Lots of gay romance.
Clues on the cover: If the front cover of a book aimed at adults shows two characters, this usually means they will do a romance at some point. But look carefully at the posing of the figures.
Characters looking at each other or standing back-to-back are almost certainly love interests, while characters both looking in the same direction (e.g. looking straight out of the cover) may have a platonic relationship.
Clues in the blurb: Sometimes a blurb will be explicit about a romantic storyline, and sometimes it will only hint at it. If a character’s appearance is mentioned, that character is probably a love interest. Also, if a female character moves to a small town and discovers purpose, friendship, and maybe more… the more is a dude and she hooks up with him.
If all else fails, Google is your friend. Type in “books with no romance” and you’ll get a bunch of recommendations, which might come as a relief to readers who feel like the odd one out for preferring fiction without romance. I’ll leave a couple of starting points for fiction categories that tend to be heavy on romantic storylines:
It’s pretty obvious why authors live in fear of bad reviews. Not only do they bruise the ego, they also damage sales. Readers frequently check reviews before buying books, and negative reviews are bound to put some of them off.
But maybe we should worry a little less about bad reviews, because it’s not quite as simple as bad review=no sale. Now that I think about it, there are certain types of bad review that actually make me more interested in a book.
The “unlikeable female protagonist” review
She’s a bitch. She’s toxic. She’s problematic. Hooray, I love her already! Reviewers often throw these words around to describe any female character with genuine flaws, rather than the Allowable Flaws For Women which are:
Being chaotic (but never in a way that causes actual problems, just in a cute way)
Being hot-tempered (but only with people who deserve it, not genuine anger issues)
Having messy hair and bitten nails
I feel like the era of antiheroes ended too soon, and women and minorities never got to see enough characters like us being messed up and morally questionable. I’ll take a flawed and complicated female character over a perfect angel any day.
The “pacing issues” review
Nine times out of ten, when a reviewer says a book has pacing issues, they mean it is slow-paced. This might be an issue for that particular reader, but I’m often in the mood for a leisurely, reflective read, and a slow pace will suit me just fine.
If the review praises a book’s characters but says it’s “let down by pacing”, that probably means it’s a character-focussed book rather than a plot-focussed one. I read for character rather than plot (with a few genre-related exceptions, e.g. mysteries), so I’ll be happy to read it and hang out with the characters even if they aren’t going anywhere quickly.
The “unnecessary gay characters” review
“Waaaaaah, why are there LGBTQ characters in my fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/historical fiction? It’s forced diversity and the author’s just trying to be woke. Queer people didn’t exist before the 1980s anyway so it’s historically inaccurate.”
This type of review pops up when LGBTQ characters star in books that aren’t about romance, sexuality or gender identity. It always makes me want to read the story more because I’m a queer person who rarely reads romance, but I still want to see our awesome community represented in books.
Are there any types of “bad” review that make you more tempted to pick up the book?
I definitely read more new authors than familiar ones in 2022, and I’m planning to keep that going in 2023. Here’s my pick of the bunch…
Karen Joy Fowler
Who’s she? An American author of literary fiction, sci-fi and fantasy.
What did I read? ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ – a story about a young woman whose sister mysteriously disappeared during childhood.
What do I want to read next? I’ll probably go for her most well-known novel – ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’.
Who’s she? Only the queen of historical fiction.
What did I read? ‘The Queen’s Fool’ – the story of a teenage girl who becomes involved in a Tudor power struggle.
What do I want to read next? ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is her most well-known novel but I’m more drawn to ‘Tidelands’ – a novel set in 1648, about a woman suspected of being a witch.
Who’s he? An award-winning Australian author. He is frequently named as Australia’s next contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
What did I read? ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ – a fictionalised account of the life of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.
What do I want to read next? ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ – strange adventures, an unlikely friendship, and an exploration of American democracy from the perspective of outsiders.
Who’s she? An Ecuadorian-American author, best known for her ‘Brooklyn Brujas’ series.
What did I read? ‘Labyrinth Lost’ – a YA fantasy about a young bruja who casts a spell with dire consequences and has to rescue her family from a strange world.
What do I want to read next? ‘Bruja Born’ – the next book in the ‘Brooklyn Brujas’ series.
Who’s she? A British author who published children’s and adults’ fiction from the 1930s to the 1970s.
What did I read? ‘Ballet Shoes’ – the story of three very different sisters who take to the stage to earn some much-needed money.
What do I want to read next? ‘Ballet Shoes’ was such a cute, feel-good story that I’d like to read another book in the series like ‘Tennis Shoes’ or ‘Party Shoes’.
Who’s he? A Scottish-American writer (and fashion designer).
What did I read? ‘Shuggie Bain’ – a novel about a young boy growing up in Scotland, and his mother’s struggle with alcoholism.
What do I want to read next? Stuart hasn’t written many novels, but ‘Young Mungo’ – the story of a Protestant boy and a Catholic boy falling in love on a Glasgow housing estate – definitely sounds worth a read.
Who’s she? An American novelist, essayist and translator.
What did I read? ‘The Moth Diaries’. Written in diary form, this novel explores the experiences of an intelligent, troubled teenage girl, and her obsession with Ernessa – the new girl at school who may or may not be a vampire.
What do I want to read next? As far as I can tell, ‘The Moth Diaries’ is the only novel Klein has written. Maybe I can find some of her short stories to read.
Who’s he? A British historian and writer of non-fiction books, mostly about soldiers and spies.
What did I read? ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’ – the absolutely barmy story of the formation of the SAS in World War II.
What do I want to read next? It’ll have to be ‘Colditz: Prisoners of the Castle’. One of the main players from ‘SAS: Rogue heroes’ ended up in this POW camp and I want to find out what happened to him there.
Who’s she? A British novelist and nature writer.
What did I read? ‘All Among the Barley’ – the story of a teenage girl and her rural community in the 1930s.
What do I want to read next? ‘The Stubborn Light of Things’ – a nature diary written in Harrison’s beautiful, unshowy prose sounds blissful.
Who’s she? You know who she is. Literally the world’s best-selling author of all time.
What did I read? I’m embarrassed to admit I got to my mid-thirties before reading an Agatha Christie, but at least I started with a good one. I read ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, in which detective Hercule Poirot must solve a murder on a train while the murderer is still aboard.
What do I want to read next? There are plenty of novels to choose from (Christie wrote 66) but I’m drawn to ‘Death on the Nile’ – another Hercule Poirot whodunnit.
Have you read any of these authors? If so, which of their books would you recommend?
You can find more topics for Top Ten Tuesday here.
Happy New Year me hearties! My new year’s resolution is to read a bunch of nautical fiction, because that’s a resolution I will actually stick to. I’ve created my own reading challenge, so if you’re up for some adventures on the high seas, climb aboard.
Every book I read for this challenge will be in the nautical fiction genre, i.e. it will be set on or near the sea. If you’re playing along and find a book that ticks more than one of these boxes, feel free to count it for both.
1. Female protagonist
Nautical fiction is often a boys’ club, so challenge #1 is finding a female-centric book.
2. Set before 1500
A lot of nautical fiction is set during the “golden age of sail”, generally considered to be mid-1500s to mid-1800s. But people were navigating the seas long before this, and I’d love to read a sea story from ancient times.
Pirates are cool.
4. Diverse cast
Most of the nautical fiction I’ve read is pretty Eurocentric, so I’ll be looking for stuff that isn’t just a bunch of white dudes. LGBTQ representation is always welcome, and it would be awesome to see physically disabled characters thriving at sea.
Honestly, I’m just itching to read a murder mystery set on a cruise ship.
6. Something by Patrick O’Brian
Because you can’t read nautical fiction without reading Patrick O’Brian.
7. Set during WW2
I know this period is over-done in historical fiction, but I’ve still never read any WW2-era hist fic set at sea.
Mermaids are cool.
9. Animal magic
Sailors share the seas with fish, whales, sharks, and so many other creatures. I’d like to read a nautical story where animals are central to the plot.
10. Ships on ships
I rarely seek out romance in fiction because I tend to get much more invested in friendships and other platonic relationships. But in the spirit of exploration, I’m going to try a big swoony romance on the high seas.
Do you have any recommendations for any of these challenges?
“Cosy” isn’t usually something I look for in books, but I’m intrigued by the concept of cosy fantasy. Sometimes the world-building in fantasy novels is so tasty that I just want to hang out and people-watch in the tavern for a while rather than whizzing off on an adventure.
Das Boot by Lothar Günther Buchheim
I’ve never seen the film, but I recently watched the first series of the TV programme and damn-near chewed my nails off. So tense! I’m planning on doing a nautical fiction reading challenge in 2023, so this would be a great book to have at hand.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Yeah, it’s a bit of a dad book, but my taste in fiction is increasingly dad-ish. I think it would be a good companion to Das Boot.
Aces Wild: A Heist by Amanda Dewitt
Asexual representation is still hard to come by in books, so this is exciting. I love a good heist, and ace rep only sweetens the deal.
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
This is one of those classics I’ve been meaning to read forever and still haven’t got around to. I live in a large city but grew up in the countryside and often find myself missing it, so I love to read books with rural settings.
The Ionian Mission by Patrick O’Brian
Obviously I want the next (eighth) book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. Jack and Stephen own my heart and their adventures never disappoint.
Port Royal by Peter Smalley
Another book from a nautical series. This is only the second book in Peter Smalley’s series, but the first one impressed me with its subtle examination of friendship across a class divide, and its fearless portrayal of trauma.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
I’ll admit it’s mostly the hype that’s got me curious about this one. Also, I recently read Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova and it got me in the mood for brujas and brujos!
Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon
I’ve been reading this series since I was 14, so it’s an automatic purchase. Yet somehow this book has been out for over a year and I still don’t have it.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
I want to read this before the movie adaptation arrives!
So what’s on your Christmas list this year? And have you read any of these books?
I like to think I’m a well-read person. I read broadly, across most if not all genres, and I don’t avoid controversial books. So what is the most harmful book I’ve ever read?
Yep. I can say confidently that the middle grade novel The Exiles at Home by Hilary McKay is the most harmful book I’ve ever read, because it’s the only one that directly caused me to harm another person.
In The Exiles at Home, young Phoebe Conroy wants to be a zookeeper. She practises by making her own zoo and putting a picture of her sister Rachel in it, with a sign saying “Beware of the Roaring Pig”. Eight-year-old me thought this was both creative and hilarious, so I did the same thing to my own sister. Obviously she was upset and angry, and I got a proper telling-off.
My point here is that there is no such thing as a “safe” book. Books can be harmful by presenting shitty behaviour as funny (or just normal), perpetuating damaging stereotypes or narratives, glorifying violence, romanticising abuse, or pretending truly dangerous things are safe. There are a million different ways a book could potentially cause harm.
Ban all the books!
So what to do about it? Should we keep a gimlet eye on every book that’s published, getting ready to ban it at a moment’s notice? For me, it’s a clear No. If you are old enough to read, you are old enough to think for yourself and decide what to do with a book’s messages.
Banning books – whether it’s the government, organisations or individuals removing books from libraries, schools or bookshops – is blatant censorship. Depriving people of the right to access books of their own choosing is straight out of 1984 – a book that has, of course, been banned repeatedly for “obscenity” and supposedly pro-communist passages.
Also, have you seen which books get banned these days? It’s basically any book where teenage characters have horny feelings, and that picture book about two male penguins adopting an egg.
Cancel all the books!
Maybe we should stick to “cancelling” books that we consider harmful instead. This is a more complex issue, because when people talk about cancelling books they are usually talking about de-platforming – basically, boycotting a book or author, and encouraging others to do the same.
The discourse around cancelling books can get ugly, but boycotts are a completely legitimate tool of social change. So, do I agree with the cancellation of books that readers consider harmful? Mostly, no.
Reason number one – I believe cancel culture in the book world is harmful to marginalised authors and likely to result in less diversity in publishing. Feel free to disagree with me on this point, but be aware you are disagreeing with a marginalised author.
One or two high profile cases have given the impression that cancelling books is all about holding rich, white men (and rich, white Harry Potter creators*) accountable to their audience. In reality, you can’t cancel these mainstream authors because they have readers all across the political spectrum.
The same can’t be said of marginalised authors who write about marginalised characters. We get our foothold amongst readers who actively seek diversity in their reading and regularly engage with social issues. Sorry to use the w-word, but our readers are way more likely to be “woke”.
That’s all fine and dandy, but God forbid we don’t live up to their standards of progressive literature. One slip-up – anything from cultural appropriation to writing too casually about suicide – can end a career before it even begins.
We’re not allowed to make mistakes, learn and grow like mainstream authors, and we’re certainly not allowed unpopular opinions. Cancel culture tells marginalised authors “You’re not allowed to be an artist or an entertainer – that’s for straight, white dudes. You must be a safe space.”
Reason number two – I believe cancel culture in the book world makes traditional publishing an even more risk-averse place. It’s already conservative as hell, avoiding anything that is less likely to turn a profit due to being the wrong style, the wrong length, not fitting neatly into an established genre, etc. Now, books also need to be as inoffensive as possible.
A book can get cancelled for many reasons, but it generally begins with “This book makes me uncomfortable”. Since books that are provocative or challenging frequently make people uncomfortable, publishers are more likely to avoid them in favour of books that are “wholesome”, “comforting”, or “like a big, warm hug”.
This brings me back to The Exiles at Home, which I still think is a brilliant book. One of the best things about it is that the characters act like real sisters, and real people. The constant labelling of books as “problematic” for featuring flawed characters who do bad things makes me think that this type of character depth is actively discouraged.
It also links in with my first point about marginalised authors being under more scrutiny. As a queer author, I often hear other queer authors lamenting that their characters have to be perfect (and have perfect relationships) to be considered unproblematic. It’s unfair, and it’s boring as f*ck.
OK, rant over
Thanks for reading. If you still feel that cancelling books is a good and necessary thing to do, that’s OK. I know this comes from a genuine, caring place of wanting to prevent harm. My thinking is that books will never be harmless. They are not inert little scraps of paper, but living things that interact with our minds in brilliant, terrifying, and sometimes unforeseeable ways.
I would ask you to be brave, and to boost twice as many books as you boycott. Particularly those written by marginalised authors, or about risky topics that make mainstream publishers squirm.
* People are actually trying to cancel J.K. Rowling for her transphobia rather than anything to do with her books, but the whole “Can you separate art and artist?” thing is beyond the scope of this post.
In Throne of Glass, a bunch of assassins and thieves compete for a chance to be the King’s Champion. A daft-but-fun YA read with plenty of action.
Organisation queen – How do you organise your books?
Err, I don’t. They’re shoved in my bookshelves every which way and kept in piles on the floor.
A book you read for the hype
I bought Song of Achilles because I’d heard so many people speak highly of it, but I just couldn’t get into it. Not to sound like a straight dude (because I’m neither straight nor a dude) but I was hoping for a bit less romance and a bit more fighting the Trojans.
Shopping addict – What makes you buy a book?
Oh damn, so many things. But lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more indie books, so I’m more likely to buy something self-published or published by a small/independent press.
A science fiction book
Let’s go with Klara and the Sun. If you’re a fan of the Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, this is a must-read.
On a break – Which books have you put down to pick up later?
I started reading The Amber Spyglass at 15 but didn’t get around to finishing it until I was 19. I feel like those four years made a difference to my understanding of it.
A book that made you laugh out loud
I rarely laugh out loud at books but OMG, that scene with the tin of pineapple! Three Men in a Boat is possibly the funniest book I’ve read and it was published in 1889. It just goes to show that some things are timelessly funny: slapstick, crap holidays, and young guys being very bad at adulting.
That time at space mountain – Are there any books you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve read?
Ahem, I think you’ll find it was Ross who had the embarrassing incident on space mountain. I don’t see the point in being embarrassed about reading something you enjoy, but I have read some stereotypically “guilty pleasure” books, such as…
A scary book you’d keep in the freezer
Don’t laugh! I doubt any book will ever scare me quite as much as this one did when I was a kid.
V is for encyclopaedia – As an adult, have you read any books with words you had to look up to understand?
I’m sure I have, but can’t think of any in particular.
A book with a spiritual or supernatural theme
This one is about the Norse gods, doing very spiritual things like fighting, playing tricks on each other, and tying their genitals to a goat (that last one is Loki in case you hadn’t guessed).
A book with an “Oh My God!” twist
A British classic
You can’t beat a good Dickens.
A book nobody seems to be talking about
All the indie books! I’m going to take this opportunity to shout out the Inverbrudock trilogy by Katherine Highland, particularly A Lattice of Scenes and Seasons as it’s my fave. These three #ownvoices books centre autistic women and girls as they navigate the joys and challenges of everyday life in Scotland.
Carol and Susan
An LGBTQ+ author and book
This list needs some poetry, so who better to add than Carol Ann Duffy? I love her Selected Poems, which contains work from five of her books. Some of her poems explore her experiences as a gay woman, while others take vastly different points of view. All are vivid, sharp, and full of feeling.
I don’t usually read traditional romance novels. I need to be tricked into reading romance by disguising it as another genre like historical fiction.
If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged! Unless you’ve already done the FRIENDS tag, which is entirely possible since it’s about four years old.