not exactly true

Reading List 2018

In 2016 I finished my PhD, moved house and renovated the house, got married, and, oh yeah, had a baby. In 2017 I... did none of those things, and yet I only read four more books than in the previous year. I'll blame the baby/toddler for that. (He's pretty decent, though, so we won't bear a grudge.) I have an abysmal track record at keeping resolutions (apart from the year I stuck to my vow of reading one graphic novel a month - that was good, if a little pricey), so I'm not making any grandiose 2018 reading promises, except that: I need to be strict about alternating reading books for review, new/current books, and books that have been lingering on the shelf for years. To that end I've kicked off with a new one (David Keenan - amazing) and I'm following it up with an old one (Ivy Compton-Burnett). Also I found I read more non-fiction than usual last year, and I'd quite like to keep that up too, but we'll see how I get on with the dusty old pile first.

30. Unthology 10. I'm biased because I've got a story in this, but it's a great anthology.
29. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin. Cracy that I've only just read this. Brilliant.

28. The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner. Excellent.
27. Shift, Mia Gallagher. Excellent story collection.
26. Follow Me To Ground, Sue Rainsford. Creepy and original.
25. Problems, Jade Sharma. Brilliant novel about addiction.

24. Jude: Level 1, Julian Gough. Satirical Irish novel - funny.
23. The Overstory, Richard Powers. Excellent stuff - brings out my inner eco-warrior.
22. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman. Didn't like this much at all.
21. The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann. Very long! Loved parts, found some sections a drag.

20. Break.up, Joanna Walsh. Meditation on online relationships.
19. The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer. Another great one, all about friendship and envy.
18. The Vagrants, Yiyun Li. Outstanding novel. I'd enjoyed her short stories before but this was phenomenal.
17. History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund. Didn't get on with this one.
16. Room For a Single Lady, Clare Boylan. Really funny & sharp - if you like Muriel Spark, etc.
15. Anything You Do Say, Gillian McAllister. Crime / guilt / relationship drama; puts you off shoving people down the stairs, that's for sure.

14. Sorry To Disturb The Peace, Patty Yumi Cottrell. Odd, funny, bleak: really enjoyed it.
13. Outer Dark, Corman McCarthy.Well, that was bleak as hell. Maybe don't read if you have a little baby?!
12. Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado. Short stories - very thought-provoking.
11. Feel Free, Zadie Smith. Essays and reviews. Pretty long but very good.
10. The Cone Gatherers, Robin Jenkins. Fantastic Scottish novel; gutted I've only come to it now.
9. The Minister and the Murderer, Stuart Kelly. Non-fiction. Review to follow.

8. Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith. Essays. Some excellent, some (the film section in particular) not so much.
7. Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh. Stories. Very Flannery O'Connor-eqsue.
6. Honoured Guest, Joy Williams. Story collection. Great stuff.  If you like Lorrie Moore, etc.
5. Swing Time, Zadie Smith. Great take on two girls' long friendship (Cats Eye va Elena Ferrante).
4. The Earlie King & the Kid In Yellow, Danny Denton. Debut novel from an Irish writer: totally mad, very exuberant.
3. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes. I appreciate the cultural significance and modernist innovation but I didn't really get much out of it which was a shame (and isn't anything to do with the quality of the book, obviously).
2. Winter Papers, Vol. 3, ed. Kevin Barry & Olivia Smith. Irish arts annual. Favourite bits were stories by Anakana Schofield and Cristín Leach.
1. This Is Memorial Device, David Keenan. Took me a little while to get into it, but then, bloody hell: astounding stuff. 

Reading List 2017

Does exactly what it says on the tin, right? I managed three whole blog posts in 2016; I might try for four in 2017. Aim high, eh. And I couldn't help but feel a little irate that I only read 72 books last year - I used to easily top a hundred - but then, while the previous three years had the PhD as a limiting factor, 2016 had finishing the PhD, renovating a house, submitting the PhD, having another baby (a boy one, this time), the viva (the horror), our wedding and the PhD corrections (thankfully minor). So I guess I shouldn't feel too bad. Anyway, let's see how 2017 goes. I've got a huge pile of books that have been accumulating for years and if I get through even a quarter of them, plus review books and new buys, I'll be happy.

76. The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla. Essays on being BAME in Britain today. Just as brilliant/powerful/heartbreaking/invigorating as everyone's been saying.
75. Nasty Women, various. Collection of essays on living as a woman today with a particular focus on the Trump era: this was a massive crowdfunding success.
74. Women & Power: A Manifesto, Mary Beard. Adapted from her LRB lectures. Excellent.
73. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward. Beautiful and brutal. Review soon...
72. City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin. Satisfying conclusion! The trilogy isn't as good as the first book but it's still a very engrossing read.
71. The Twelve, Justin Cronin. Not as good as the first one, but compelling all the same.

70. The Passage, Justin Cronin. Read this a few years ago and now I've re-read it in advance of checking out the sequels. Really good, literate, post-acopolaptyc gore.
69. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro. Not bad. I enjoyed it but probably won't re-read.
68. A Natural, Ross Raisin. Really compelling and astute novel about football and masculinity. A fantastic read.
67. Transit, Rachel Cusk. Excellent and really psychologically acute.

66. Sputnik Caledonia, Andrew Crumey. Totally wierd and compelling sci-fi/political/bildungsroman/astrophysics mash-up of a novel. Really enjoyed it though not sure about some of the gender politics.
65. Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker. Pretty mental stuff. Admired more than enjoyed.
64. Smile, Roddy Doyle. Loved this up until the last few pages. Doyle's so good on men and Dublin and with dialogue.
63. Hotel, Joanna Walsh. Non-fiction/auto-fiction; thoughts on hotels, home, marriage, Freud, language. Really interesting.
62. They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, Horace McCoy. Intense and depressing: good stuff!
61. Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney. Debut novel; interesting.
60. Dinner at the Centre of the Earth, Nathan Englander. Novel. Review coming soon.
59. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay. More essays, mostly on feminism and race. Excellent.

58. Shrill, Lindy West. Feminist essays: quick, funny, and very good.
57. Protest: Stories of Resistance, ed. Ra Page. Story anthology - well worth a look. Review here.
56. Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit. Essays on feminism (a brilliant read).
55. The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit. Essays about illness and landscape and change.
54. Chernobyl Prayer, Svetlana Alexievich. Non-fiction about the reactor disaster in 1986. Horrific. Should be required reading everywhere (especially in government offices...)

53. Karate Chop/Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, Dorthe Nors. A collection and a novella: I especially enjoyed the novella (Minna).
52. So Happy It Hurts, Anneliese Mackintosh. Epistolatory novel.
51. The Idiot, Elif Batuman. Debut novel. Review here.
50. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy. Review coming.
49. The Tsar of Love and Techno, Anthony Marra. Intense, funny, sad, and set partly in Chechnya, which is a new one for me. Review here.
48. Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie. Excellent novel. Review here.

47. Flaneuse, Lauren Elkin. Non-fiction about women and cities. Mixed feelings about this one. Review here.
46. Green Glowing Skull, Gavin Corbett. Totally mad novel. Flann O'Brien, Chris Adrian, Kelly Link and Pynchon meet The Three Tenors. No idea what was happening by the end but loved the journey!
45. Madame Zero, Sarah Hall. Fantastic, powerful story collection. Review here.
44. A Horse Walks Into A Bar, David Grossman. Very, very intense. Review here.
43. My Shitty Twenties, Emily Morris. Brilliant, funny memoir about single parenthood. (Disclosure: Emily's my friend, but the book really is a great read.)
42. Room Little Darker, June Caldwell. Story collection. Review here.
41. The Tryst, Monique Roffey. Erotic novella. Interesting (though not my usual thing!). Review here.

40. The Power, Naomi Alderman. A cracking, thought-provoking read.
39. No Harm Done, Jean McGarry. Intense story collection.
38. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy. Mad complicated but worth the effort. Review here.
37. Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh. Fantastic. Shirley Jackson-esque.
36. The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, Maggie Nelson. Memoir. Great stuff.

35. Torpor, Christ Kraus. Loose prequel to I Love Dick. Loved it. Review here.
34. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. Late to the party with this one. Totally blew me away.
33. The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry. Captivating.
32. To Be A Machine, Mark O'Connell. Fascinating non-fiction look at transhumanism. Review here.
31. The Dogs of Inishere, Alannah Hopkin. Story collection; review here.

30. The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth McKenzie. Nails the whole family/in-law dynamic. A lot better than I expected after the first couple of chapters.
29. The Iron Age, Arja Kajermo. Deceptively brutal story of a Finnish childhood. Review here.
28. The Living End, Stanley Elkin. The Inferno, sort of updated. Mostly very funny; one unfunny rape joke. Hmm.
27. The Night Visitors, Jenn Ashworth & Richard V. Hirst. Properly creepy ghost story.
26. The Blood Miracles, Lisa McInerney. A reread for research. What book!
25. Making Space, Sarah Tierney. Debut novel. A girl adrift falls for a hoarder. Review here.
24. The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney. Interviewing Lisa soon, so this was a research reread. Still brilliant!
23. The Lauras, Sara Taylor. Road trip novel. Good stuff on gender but didn't grab me much otherwise. Preferred The Shore.
22. The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth. Totally fantastic. Brutal and inventive and compelling, and man, an object lesson in characterisation and the intricacies of first person narration and voice.

21. Cold Water, Gwendoline Riley. Second time in a row - wanted to get the nuances before I taught it.
20. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. Pretty odd, quirky, sad - I prefer his short fiction but I did enjoy this.
19. Cold Water, Gwendoline Riley. Short but intense; very Mancunian.
18. NW, Zadie Smith. A reread for teaching purposes; just as good as I remembered. Still her best, though I haven't yet read Swing Time.
17. The Embassy of Cambodia, Zadie Smith. A good story but packaging as a hardback book is a bit cheeky imo.
16. Hangsaman, Shirley Jackson. Horrendously realistic and tense (as you'd expect).
15. The Witchfinder's Sister, Beth Underdown. Fantastic first novel - literary historical, massively tense and beautifully written. Prize nominations ahoy, I reckon.
14. Veronica, Mary Gaitskill. Interesting, but not my favourite of hers.
13. Rockadoon Shore, Rory Gleeson. Captivating debut novel about a bunch of teenagers on holidays. Funny but very sad, too.

12. Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Max Porter. Just as sad as I expected it to be, but hopeful too.
11. The Notebook, Agota Kristof. Chilling story of wartime.
10. The Blood Miracles, Lisa McInerney. Fantastic second novel; review here.
9. Leaving is my Colour, Amy Burns. Really funny debut novel; especially great on family tensions.
8. Hame, Annalena McAfee. Very, very long novel; the history and writings of a fiction Scottish poet on his island island. Review here.
7. A Line Made By Walking, Sara Baume. Her second novel; clever and sad. Review here.
6. Orange Horses, Maeve Kelly. Super collection. Review here.
5. The Nix, Nathan Hill. Really entertaining, a great read, but not the Most Amazing Book Ever as per some US reviews... My review here.

4. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi. Fascinating novel if you're interested in black history and the slave trade (read it!) or if you like family sagas. Review here.
3. Chelsea Girls, Eileen Myles. Fabulous novel-slash-memoir. Loved it.
2. You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, Alexandra Kleeman. Very weird but captivating novel. Review here.
1. The Outrun, Amy Liptrot. Memoir about alcoholism and recovery, but really great when it comes to talking about Orkney and island life/history.

For Books' Sake: The Weekend Read

My story 'A Quick Fiasco' has been reprinted today by the brilliant folk at For Books' Sake - shout out to Kerry Ryan! - as past of their 'The Weekend Read' feature; it's online and free, so have a look! I also love the picture they've picked to go with it. Ace!

For Books' Sake are a truly excellent organisation: in their own words, they were 'founded in response to insitutionalised, systemic sexism in the media, publishing and education industries' and their mission is 'to create a community that centres, supports and champions writing by women and girls, challenging inequality and empowering women and girls of all backgrounds to tell their stories and have their voices heard.' Great, right? My story is set in the context of political (and familial) unrest, and features a hardcore campaigning woman, so I'm especially pleased that Kerry asked me to take part. Check out the website- read, support, get involved!

The Forge Literary Magazine

I've been part of an online writers' collective, The Fiction Forge (formerly The Fiction Workhouse) for more than seven years now. It's a workshop group, at heart - we post drafts of our stories and critique them at length, and occasionally hold madcap writing exercises - and some of my most trusted beta-readers are amongst our members. At the moment we've got people here in the UK, in Italy, in the USA and in Singapore, so there's a real spread of voices. Anyway, last year we thought, hey, we write and we read, we're decent editors (I've worked at The Manchester Review, some others have edited Fourteen Hills, somebody else had a brief stint behind the scenes at Granta) - so why not start our own online magazine, eh? And so, we did.

The Forge Literary Magazine launched at the start of January. We've got a team of volunteer rotating editors (me included) so we don't have a house style as such - we're too eclectic for that - though we do all prefer to see pieces come in at sub-3k. We take fiction (short stories and flash fiction) and non-fiction, and we pay our writers. We don't charge for submissions. So far we're running at a turnaround of two or three days, on average, in terms of responding to writers. We publish a new piece each Monday. Every story is read by two of us (randomly assigned) in the first instance, and each month there's a pair of Editors of the Month who get the final call on what they want to publish. So far, we've had work from Janice Galloway, Nona Caspers, Roxane Gay and Kevin Barry, and coming up, we've got Emma Jane Unsworth and more. But it's not a closed circuit of writers-who-know-writers: we've also already got truly amazing work lined up from open submissions, including a fantastic story from a brand-new writer. Along with Sommer Schafer, I'm one of the Editors of the Month reading for our April slots, and I would love to see what you've got.

Reading List 2016

Man, looking over the last few years' versions of this list (see sidebar for links) I'm reading about thirty books fewer a year since I started this PhD - not counting academic texts - which is pretty depressing, really. Anyway, new year, new books. This year's resolution (I have a terrible track record of sticking to these things - still haven't read all of Proust, for instance) is first, to clear the shelves of books that have been building up for years and years, and at least keep the lag to 'within eighteen months of purchase', and second, to get back up to a two-a-week average. What are the odds? Minimal, I reckon - 2016 is chock-full of life-insanity (more details to come, etc. blah blah). Well, still: let's go... [Edit: hey, bet you can't spot when in the year I finally got the thesis submitted, eh?!]

72. The New World, Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz. Not as mind-blowing as The Children's Hospital, but a lovely and complex portrait of marriage and its commitments.
71. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Just as below. An absolute must-read.
70. Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine. Savage, depressing, enraging, invigorating.
69. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff. Didn't live the upper middle-class-ness of it all but it was ultimately incredibly compelling.
68. The Twelve Poems of Christmas, Vol 8, Carol Ann Duffy. Lovely.
67. I Love Dick, Chris Kraus. Amazing study of female subjectivity & the patriarchy.
66. The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson. Fantastic memoir-ish book.
65. You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, Alexandra Kleeman. Weird but compulsive novel.

64. Hearing Voices/Seeing Things, William Wall. Brilliant story collection.
63. The Sellout, Paul Beatty. Booker winner. Impressive but I didn't love it.

62. Ferenji, Helena Mulkerns
61. Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood. Disappointing adaptation of The Tempest.
60. The Tempest, William Shakespeare. Good, innit?
59. All the Rage, AL Kennedy. Stories. Some I liked, some I didn't.
58. Serious Sweet, AL Kennedy. Interesting but not quite for me (reviewing coming on Bookmunch).

57. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. Brilliant account of a messed up family.
56. The Lesser Bohemians, Eimear McBride. Superb. Outstanding. All the good adjectives.
55. Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, Mia Gallagher. Ambitious and brilliant novel: worth its 500 pages.

54. Fullalove, Gordon Burn. My first of his. Masterful and fascinating, but tiring in a sort of Will Self kind of way.
53. People in Glass Houses, Shirley Hazzard. Linked stories set in a multinational corporation. Brilliant.
52. The Emerald Light in the Air, Donald Antrim. Stories. Good stuff as usual from Antrim.

51. Wild Quiet, Roisín O'Donnell. Multi-cultural Ireland finally reaches the short story.
50. All Quiet on the Orient Express, Magnus Mills. Quietly insane, like all his books. Loved it.
49. The Shore, Sara Taylor. A short story cycle set on a trio of islands off the coast of Virginia. Grew on me and by the end I was really hooked.
48. The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink. Bonkers novel about environmental campaigns and a dysfunctional marriage. Snappy, witty, really engaging.
47. The Loney, Andrew Michael Hurley. A horror story set in Lancashire (cheery summer reading, eh?). If you like The Wicker Man, etc.
46. Fell, Jenn Ashworth, Ghost story set in Lancashire. Lovely writing.
45. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante. Last one. Addictive reads, so intricate and thought-provoking. Got to buy her earlier books now...
44. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante. Part three. Great!

43. The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante. Part two - compulsive read.
42. The Vegetarian, Han Kang. Weird, fascinating novel.
41. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. First of the series. Pretty compulsive; sort of like a classy soap-opera-slash-crime-family-saga.
40. Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan. Debut novel.
39. June, Gerbrand Bakker. Thoughtful Faulkner-esque novel about a Dutch family.
38. The Abundance, Annie Dillard. Superb essays.
37. Iron Council, China Mieville. Even looser sequel to the other two. More North and South than sci-fi; politically right-on (for me) but hard to engage with. Wasn't keen.
36. The Scar, Chin Mielville. Loose sequel to the below. A little slower to kick off but equally page-turning.
35. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville. a reread. Creepy and vibrant and weird as hell.

34. The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark. Good, witty as ever, but not my favourite of hers.
33. Solar Bones, Mike McCormack. Stunning second novel.
32. Object Lessons, ed, Lori Stein. Story anthology from The Paris Review. Really interesting.
31. The Way In, John McAuliffe. Poetry collection I've been reading on and off for ages. Brilliant stuff by my friend and colleague and former lecturer.
30. The BBC National Short Story Award 2013. Shortlisted/winning stories. Short but good.
29. The Long Gaze Back, ed. Sinead Gleeson. Collection of stories (new and old) from Irish women writers. Some really fantastic entries - as usual I loved Lisa McInerney's contribution.
28. Forensic Songs, Mike McCormack. Story collection. Decent.
27. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson. Non-fiction classic. Brilliant (if terrifying).
26. Blind Water Pass, Anna Metcalfe. Good collection.
25. Selected Stories, Mary Lavin. Very powerful selection from across Lavin's career.
24. The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman. Final part to the trilogy. Loved them all.
23. The Magician King, Lev Grossman. Sequel to the below; also great.

22. *The Magicians, Lev Grossman. A reread; they call it Harry Potter for adults. Gripping and utterly page-turning with great prose. (A post-PhD-hand-in treat; one of several to come!)
21. The Bed Moved, Rebecca Schiff. Short story collection.
20. Black Water, Louise Doughty. Sort of a spy thriller slash love story, but not really: compelling.
19. Hot Milk, Deborah Levy. Intriguing novel about parents and kids.

18. The Sunlight Pilgrims, Jenni Fagan. Beautiful novel about the (potential) end of the world.
17. The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan. Grim as fuck novel about a teen in care - really great though.
16. Unthology 8, ed. Ashley Stokes, Robin Jones. Story anthology - decent stuff.

15. Pleasured, Philip Hensher. Intertwined lives in Berlin just before the Wall comes down.
14. My Romance, Gordon Lish. Slightly weird meta-fictional text: novel or sort-of-memoir? Not my favourite of his, anyway (Dear Mr Capote takes the top spot, I reckon).
13. The Book of Revelation, Rupert Thomson. Disturbing, thought-provoking.
12. American Housewife, Helen Ellis. Energetic, but a mixed bag.
11. Barbara The Slut, Lauren Holmes. Excellent story collection, very funny.
10. Light Box, K.J. Orr. Short stories: interesting.
9. Where Love Begins, Judith Hermann. Creepy story about stalking in German suburbia.

8. Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge. Beautiful prose. Sad, elliptical story.
7. Asking For It, Louise O'Neill. Powerful YA novel about rape/consent. Should be required reading for everyone, boys and girls.
6. Dinosaurs on Other Planets, Danielle McLaughlin. Excellent story collection.
5. Daughters of the House, Michèle Roberts. Beautiful, biting prose.
4. MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood. Wasn't too keen; too much summary, not so much on character or forward-moving plot.
3. *The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood. Reread before I hit the final volume of the trilogy. Great stuff - better than I remembered.
2. Falling In Place, Ann Beattie. Fantastic writing but I took too long over it; started to lose interest.
1. Kid, Simon Armitage. Poetry (unusual for me). Quite enjoyed it.

'A Quick Fiasco' in Fugue, Issue 48


My story, 'A Quick Fiasco', has been published in Issue 48 of Fugue, the literary journal of the University of Idaho. It's part of my PhD manuscript and it's been a long time in the works, so if you read it, I hope you like it! It's got high drama and lots of swearing and I'm told it's pretty funny... It's the last story in the issue, p.85, and you can read it online for zero pounds.

I also have three shorter pieces in the latest issue of Sou'wester, which comes out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and is ace: this journal isn't online but you can buy it from the website for $5 if you're so inclined. The stories are called 'Land Grab', 'Scrap' and 'Consent': 'Scrap' as shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2014, and 'Consent' in 2013, so it's great to see them in print.