Iraq + 100 edited by Hassan Blasim

My very first completed book for my Read the World project! I had already preordered Iraq + 100 prior to coming up with the idea for this project so it was a happy coincidence that the book arrived on my doorstep a few days beforehand! I liked the idea of beginning with a short story collection for a country that I had never read fiction from before- particularly short stories by different writers- because it felt like more of a broad scope of writing than one novel to begin with.

One of the things I noticed about the stories as I read them, which was reflected in Hassan Blasim’s introduction- is how different they were as speculative fiction to what I’m used to. For many of the stories I got the distinct impression that that speculation revolved around how the present would directly impact the future- with flashbacks and hallucinogenic techno bugs and godly reincarnation how might the future people cope with what went on in 2003? In the introduction Hassan Blasim notes that western science fiction has been able to track actual scientific progress in a short amount of time which, given the destruction of vital libraries and museums, plus brutal invasions, has been largely denied to Iraqi writers.

The stories still scan a whole spectrum of speculative writing though- speculative because they all pose the question of what Iraq will be like a hundred years after the invasion of 2003. There’s magical realism, decimated wastelands, a future where the question of ‘religious terrorism’ has shifted from the Middle East to right wing America, holographic pilgrimages and big brother-esque dictator adorned with jewels made of the cremated bodies of people who dare to speak another language. Some of the stories are hopeful, others bleak but they all tie in elements of language, culture, religion and imagination. My personal favourite stories were The Worker, Operation Daniel and Najufa.

It’ll be an uncomfortable read for anyone who isn’t used to being confronted by the consequences of America and Britain’s actions (and, given our media, that’s almost all of us). But for me it’s been a great break from the usual negative stories we see in our media about Iraq- a chance to see things from a very different perspective from mine.

All The Rage by Courtney Summers

This was another book I bought in response to Trump’s comments about women in the media- after a nice librarian in an American high school recommended a bunch on Twitter and I bought them all. So far both this one and What We Saw have been refreshingly honest, feminist commentaries on sexual assault.

All The Rage has an interesting timeline that takes the focus off of the actual act of violence but instead focuses on how Remy copes with the aftermath of being raped. It’s talked about, and her feelings at the time are recounted quite vividly, so please be warned that it would likely be triggering, but her rapist takes a back seat for the rest of the story. Instead Romy deals with barbed comments from her peers, as well as trying to build relationships with people who don’t know what happened to her. It’s about her feelings, how she deals with it, not about him.

After a former friend goes missing at a party Romy’s feelings of despair and anger intensify as she wonders what makes someone a ‘worthwhile’ victim. And why she wasn’t deemed so.

It’s a very intense story. Romy’s feelings aren’t prettied for the narration; they’re raw and realistic and raging. Highly recommended.

The First Ninja Book Box!

I received my first Ninja Book Box today! I’ve previously blogged about the box before, just after the Kickstarter project ended, but I finally got to see what was inside! I don’t want to spoil anyone because I know a few boxes haven’t arrived yet so I’ve put a couple of photos under a ‘Read More’ tag- so click at your own peril!

Ninja Book Box pride themselves on focusing on independent publishers, which is very exciting for someone like me who’s trying to broaden their reading horizons. The theme of the first box was ‘Sightly Surreal’, with every component inspired by the surprise book!

Spoilers below the line, but suffice to say I’m really pleased with the first box and I can’t wait to find out what Bex has got planned for next time!

Spoilers past here!!

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Read the World Project

I’ve been thinking this week of a long term project to broaden my reading horizons. @NinjaBookBox introduced me to Book Voyage UK, a book subscription service that sends a book from a different country every month. I immediately signed up, of course, but it also got me thinking. Could I read a book from every country in the world? I mean, of course it’s possible, but could I do it within a certain time limit? Say, before I’m thirty?

So, this weekend I made a list of every country, dependent territory and annexed territory I could find online, with a few extra entries for Native people and people without states- my politics degree and a particular political interest in marginalised groups within nation states helped here. I’ve tried to think specifically rather than broadly- for example I’ve broke down the United Kingdom in to its deprecate four countries because otherwise it’s likely that ‘British’ would, by default, become’English’. Likewise, I’ve created a separate entry for Quebec and Catalonia from Canada and Spain for reasons of nationalism; the latter presumably don’t represent the former in culture and fiction. 

So far my list consists of about 250 entries, although I imagine it will grow naturally over time (for example, I’ve just now asked myself ‘should I create a separate entry on my list for Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot?‘). I turn thirty in May 2021, which gives me approximately four and a half years. Achievable? I think so.

I’ll be using the hashtag #readtheworldproject on Instagram and Twitter, should anyone feel inspired to join me, or be interested in simply keeping tabs. I’m going to be reading a variety of books, from fiction and memoirs to short stories and poetry, so if anyone has any recommendations then please get in touch!

For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu

I meant to leave this one until December when I’m taking part in a Diversity December Bingo challenge, but since the US election results I decided that for the rest of the year I would only be reading books by marginalised authors, regardless of any challenges I’d already decided to take part in.

For Today I Am A Boy is probably one of the most incredible books I’ve read all year. Incorporating themes of how Asian immigrants are treated in English speaking countries, oppressive parents and trans issues, it tells the story of Peter Huang growing up in Canada as a child of Chinese parents. As narrator, we see Peter’s struggles growing up amongst three sisters and a father whose main desire was to have a son, with the knowledge that Peter, truly, is a woman.

It’s a short but heavy book; although it’s a coming of age story there’s a lot of references to quite horrific subjects. Things referred to include how a woman can rape, how violence against trans women is a very real danger, and how supportive parents can make all the difference to a young transperson’s life while a lack of support can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. We see Peter’s anger and revulsion at her body manifest in different ways, all of them heartbreaking.

Yet there’s a lot of optimism in the book as well. The love and ultimate acceptance Peter gets from her sisters, as well as the people later on in her story, is really heartwarming. I cried a little at the end.

The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

I was so excited when I saw that Nicola Yoon had a new book out; I really enjoyed Everything Everything when I read it at the end of last year and get newest one sounded just as heartwarming. The story revolves around Natasha, who is an undocumented Jamaican immigrant, and Daniel, son of Korean immigrants, and the day they spend together after meeting in a record shop in New York. The problem? It’s Natasha’s last day in America after a failed attempt to stop her family’s deportation.

I’m honestly not generally a romance fan, just as a personal preference, but there’s something so lovely about the way Nicola Yoon wrote this one. Natasha and Daniel fall in love over the course of a day, but it doesn’t feel forced or shallow. The whole ‘science experiment to fall in love’ thing is a little tropey, but it works in the context of the characters who, incidentally, don’t fit in to the usual stereotype of romantic girl and sciencey boy.

Which leads me nicely to the representation in The Sun Is Also A Star. I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, speak over others on the validity of representation in the book, nor am I qualified to pass judgement on it. However, my understanding from reading commentary on the characters on Twitter is that the representation is great and the characters a welcome interracial relationship. Personally, I liked reading a book about the children of immigrants in America, especially as their experiences were not homogenous. I haven’t read enough books humanising undocumented immigrants, in particular.

So overall a sweet YA romance with an important underlying plot about the treatment of immigrants as somehow ‘other’ in America.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

This one popped up on my Amazon recommends after I bought a few Joe Hill books on there. It’s marketed as horror, but it was so much more.

A writer interviews Merry about events that took place within her family home fifteen years previously, when she was eight years old. We hear of her sister’s slow breakdown as acute schizophrenia changes her from a moody teenager to a terrifying, confusing presence in Merry’s life; her father’s descent into more radical Catholicism and the eventual involvement of a TV production company willing to perform a televised exorcism. The money will solve the family’s problems after their father loses his job, but the repercussions are so much worse than any of them could imagine.

I was, honestly, expecting this to go along the lines of a supernatural horror. Instead it’s a story of an unreliable narrator and the manipulation of a vulnerable young woman; Merry’s witness to her sister’s more bizarre behaviours can’t be trusted and the production of the TV program exploits Marjorie’s illness to the point of no return. Instead of a supernatural horror it’s a comment on the sexualisation of children on the television, the treatment of mental illness by the Catholic Church and the ways in which young children can be manipulated by those around them.

The build up to the ending was such that I never saw it coming. There weren’t hints along the way; the perks of Merry telling her story is that no one else knows what went on until she choose to reveal and so the abrupt, tragic end took me completely by surprise. 

It was a really clever, well plotted horror-slash-family-drama.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Warning: There are mild spoilers in this one! (Nothing to do with the ending, but references to some plot points)

I’d seen this one floating around Twitter for a while so I was quite excited to read it. It was a good thriller… I had some issues with it as a concept but it was a dark, edgy read.

Sophie is a drug addict recovering from a dependency on painkillers after a car crash left her with long term injuries. She returns from a rehab facility with her whole town believing that her relapse caused the death of her best friend in a drug deal gone wrong. Only Sophie knows the truth, that Mina’s killer knew her and that Sophie herself has been clean for months. Together with her few remaining friends in the town she seeks out Mina’s killer and ends up in increasing danger herself.

I think I had the same issue with Far From You as I did with Little Girl Gone. Namely that the dramatics of the story jarred a bit in my British-guns-aren’t-common-brain. But that’s on me. I just find those sort of small-town-gun-toting-car-chase scenes a bit much. The whole thing was brilliantly written though, so I can’t fault it on that front.

I’ve seen the LGBT rep discussed quite a lot on Twitter; it features a lesbian and a bisexual girl as main characters. I wish that they could have had a happy ending, but it wasn’t to be. Given that one of them was dead at the beginning that’s probably fairly obvious, but there we go.

I did really enjoy reading Far From You, despite some misgivings. It was well written, edgy in the right places (what with the drugs and murder) and sympathetic in others (Sophie and Mina’s relationship-that-could-never-quite-be).