Some notes on some of the books I read in January 2021. I fully meant to publish this sooner, but it’s been that sort of year, huh?

Antkind by Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman’s debut novel, Antkind is very, very, very long, delightfully odd, and almost certainly not for everyone.

The book is packed with references to movie celebrities and writers (both real and imagined), including a despised “Charlie Kaufman”; it sees President Trump fall in love with his own robot; plus there are various timelines and alternate realities in play. Oh yeah, and there’s a giant ant.

Tales of Two Planets, edited by John Freeman

Tales of Two Planets is a collection of short stories, poems, and essays concerning the climate crisis.

The collection was edited by John Freeman and includes work from 36 writers from across the world including Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat, Mohammed Hanif, and many more.

My favourite story of the collection comes from Daisy Johnson. Her story, “Everything” is a tale of a young woman who has the power to get anything she wants. However, there is of course a cost. But it’s not her who pays the price, other people bear the burden.

The Reason i Jump by Naoki Higashida

I came across this book whilst I was doing some additional research for my play, The Sleep Stealers; and devoured it in one sitting.

Naoki Higashida wrote The Reason I Jump when he was just 13. In the book he answers a range of questions about autism, including what causes him to have panic attacks, and, of course, why he likes to jump. The book also includes one of his own short stories.

It offers an incredible insight into how he perceives the world, and (I think) proves just how much of what we think we know about autism is just plain wrong.

Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8, by Naoki Higashida

Much of Naoki Higashida’s second book has been adapted from various blog posts he wrote between the ages of 18 and 22, (although it should be noted that he often analyses his younger self within these posts).

As such, it offers an insight into Naoki as a young man, as opposed to as a child.

It also includes some of his poems and a short story.

The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey

A reimagining of the story of Pinocchio, from the perspective of his father, Geppetto.

This book is an absolute delight, and includes one of the best opening lines ever: “I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish.”

It’s a book about art, about parenthood, about love, loss and regret. It’s beautifully-written, and much like Carey’s previous novel, Little (the fictionalised story of Marie Grosholtz, the real life Madame Tussaud), the book includes Carey’s illustrations throughout.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

I loved this slim volume of some of Greta Thunberg’s most notable speeches. Many academics would disagree, but I think she’s an incredible speech writer.

Some might say that you’re unlikely to win an argument by kicking off with “hey stupid!”, which, I’d acknowledge, her speeches frequently begin with the equivalent of, but I think that’s why her speeches have power.

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark

Comparisons have been drawn between Boy Parts and American Psycho – imagine Patrick Bateman as a consistently underestimated pretty woman from Newcastle. There are definitely shades of American Psycho here: like Bateman, Irina is an unreliable narrator, a narcissist, and possibly even a sociopath; however, she lacks Bateman’s levels of privilege, and she’s vulnerable in ways that Bateman isn’t – Irina is both a victim and a perpetrator of violence.

This is definitely not a book for everyone – it includes scenes of sexual violence, drug use, and self-harm. But if you enjoyed American Psycho, I think you’ll also enjoy Boy Parts – I definitely did.

Tales from the Loop by Simon Stålenhag

I absolutely loved the TV series, Tales from the Loop (Amazon Prime), and so I treated myself to the book that the series was based on. 

It’s a beautiful hardcover book filled with art and stories from Stålenhag’s childhood, and something I’ll doubtlessly return to again, and again, and again.

Spirals in Time by Helen Scales

This book is an absolute delight. Scales is a marine biologist, and whilst her starting-point is the biology and ecology of molluscs, this becomes quickly intermeshed with human history. For example, seashells were previously used as currency, and it’s thought that “spondoolies” (slang for money), is a modern variant of “spondulix”, which was probably coined thanks to the spondylus shell which was used to make neolithic jewellery and was also an early form of currency.

The biology of molluscs is fascinating too: mollusc bodies are nearly all foot, and so, when a snail swallows, “its food goes right through its mind”. An amazing thought, huh?

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