Here’s a breakdown of the six books I read during July. What were you reading this month?
19 Love Songs is a collection of short stories by David Levithan, all connected by the theme of love.
Blurb on the back:
No love song is exactly the same as the one that came before it. There’s the heartsick pop of a sarcastic boy with an unrequited crush. There’s the gentle lullaby of Valentine’s Day, as seen through the eyes of someone who wakes up in a new body every day. There’s the tentative melody of two boys stranded on a snow day. In 19 Love Songs, David Levithan makes a playlist of stories, verse and illustrations. Celebrating love in all its forms, there’s something for every reader to cherish.
I don’t usually like short stories, but this collection is really special, with wondrous tales of different kinds of love; stories that we all need in times like these.
It really could be subtitled #loveislove.
Levithan writes about love between: boys and boys; girls and girls; boys and girls; between friends; between parents; between strangers; between people who never knew they needed each other until now.
How to sum this book up? What’s that phrase I’m looking for?
Oh yes, here it is: life-affirming.
19 Love Songs is just the tonic you need.
This month I read Heartstopper volumes 2, 3 and 4, by Alice Oseman (I read volume 1 last month).
I read these very quickly, but now we have to wait until 2023 for the fifth and final instalment in the series.
I watched the Netflix adaptation first, and then wanted to read the source material.
What a wonderful story!
If you don’t know, Heartstopper tells the story of Charlie and Nick, who meet one day at school and fall in love.
It doesn’t matter if you start with the Netflix show or the books; both are amazing!
This month I finished reading Abi Daré’s bestseller The Girl With The Louding Voice.
Blurb on the back:
As a third wife in a small Nigerian village, fourteen-year-old Adunni is expected to fade into silence. But Adunni will not keep quiet. She’s smart, funny and curious, with an infectiously joyful spirit. And despite adversity awaiting her at every turn, she’s set on getting an education, no matter the cost. Determined not to settle for her fate, Adunni embarks on a journey from her village to the wealthy enclaves of Lagos. A journey that will change her life and, if you listen closely, possibly yours…
Published two years ago in 2020, here’s what reviewers have said:
The story told in this novel is an important one. The trauma of girls forced into marriage and the blight of domestic slavery in Nigeria are both issues that must be brought to light. As Adunni wonders: “Why are the women in Nigeria seem to be suffering for everything more than the men?” The Girl With the Louding Voice joins a long and fine tradition of issue-led novels that have sparked conversations resulting in social change. Social justice is a laudable intention when writing a novel, yet one also reads them for subtler and less concrete gains.The Guardian
(T)he plot takes our protagonist on a whirlwind tour of the various horrors — pregnancy-related death, an inhuman criminal justice system, child sex trafficking, grueling labor and violence both physical and psychological — that millions of Nigerian girls face, and for which, Daré suggests, education is the only escape. Adunni nurtures her dream of becoming a teacher by sneaking into an employer’s library to read, and enlists a sympathetic neighbor to coach her for a scholarship application. Throughout her harrowing coming-of-age journey, told with verve and compassion, Adunni never loses the “louding voice” that makes Daré’s story, and her protagonist, so unforgettable.The New York Times
The genius of The Girl With A Louding Voice in its use of ‘non-standard’ English is that, though all the rules around language structure, syntax, lexical and grammatical features et cetera are broken, readers from anyway in the world can read the book to understand. Whilst it is initially difficult to grasp this unique way of writing, a few pages into the book a liight bulb does switch on. It then becomes easier as the book progresses to comprehend the content and context of the novel. We see here how language is used as a result of need. Adunni the character becomes real within the nuisances of her lived experiences. After putting down this book the reader would want to meet Adunni in real life, that is how believable she is!Afrika Is Woke
Adunni’s story is harrowing, which is why, I think, it took me a couple of weeks to read; I couldn’t face all her trials and tribulations every day. Although this is a work of fiction, The Girl With The Louding Voice has opened my eyes to the reality that many young girls face in Nigeria. Daré even includes facts about Nigeria throughout the book, almost like footnotes, which help the reader to put Adunni’s story into context. Did you know, for example, that in Nigeria child marriage was made illegal in 2003, but still an estimated 17% of girls are married before the age of fifteen. Nigeria is also the most populous country in Africa.
Here’s the author talking about the book:
Another book set in Nigeria that I read recently was My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I highly recommend!
Finally, I also read Eddie Izzard’s autobiography Believe Me, subtitled a memoir of love, death, and jazz chickens, although really the book should just be called “Stamina”. Read on to find out why…
When this was published, back in 2017, Izzard identified as male. She now uses female pronouns, so I will refer to Izzard as she/her.
Eddie Izzard is now an established actor and comedic force, but her success did not happen over night. Believe Me shares the story of her slow rise to to the top: from humble beginnings in the 1980s as a street performer in London’s Covent Garden, to having-a-go at the Edinburgh Festival, and to establishing herself on the London comedy circuit a decade later, before making the leap to doing solo comedy gigs.
In the book, Izzard tells us that she doesn’t write down her comedy; she often improvises it, memorises it, and then tweaks it as she goes along, until she ends up with a refined performance. Believe Me is written in a very matter-of-fact style: here are the facts and this is how it happened. Although this is the story of a comedian, the book itself is not funny.
Izzard breaks down her story, detailing her mindset and her approach to her work, letting the reader know exactly how she achieved her success. This is useful information for budding comedians or actors, but for the rest of us, it is often an exercise in psychology. In many ways, her approach can be summed up in a single word, which she often points out to us: stamina.
Tragedy, however, is also at the heart of Izzard’s story; her mother died when Eddie was only six years old, which resulted in she and her brother being sent off to boarding school so that their father could continue to work. Izzard’s recollections from her childhood are heart-breaking; I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Izzard goes on to say that perhaps the reason for her stamina, for her drive to achieve, comes from her belief that if she achieved enough, then her mother might come back.
The other thread that runs through Izzard’s life is the conflict she felt about her gender identity. She realised at a young age that she wanted to wear make-up and women’s clothing, and self-identified as transvestite, before using the term ‘transgender’. Throughout the book she refers to being in “boy mode” or “girl mode”, which would dictate how she would dress. Izzard now identifies as female, although sometimes performs as an actor in “boy mode”.
But, back to stamina.
The book ends with the marathons that Izzard ran in the UK in 2016 (43 marathons in 51 days), to raise money for Sport Relief. Since then, Izzard ran 28 marathons in 28 days, in 28 different European countries in 2020, and last year she ran 31 marathons and performed 31 stand up gigs, in 31 days, from a treadmill in London. Now that really is stamina.
In summary: if you’re expecting a book full of laughs, then you’ll be disappointed. But, if you want a story of how to achieve your dreams, Believe Me could be your stamina muse.
So what were you reading this month? Let me know in the comments below!