Maybe I'm starved of down-to-earth literary criticism, but this book was probably the biggest encouragement to start writing again of anything I've read, done, seen or heard this year
4. Earthlings by Sakata Murata (novel, audiobook, Japan, 2020)
A gem. I loved it from the first sentence. I worried for a bit that it was going to swerve too much into the territory of Convenience Store Woman, but it remained enough of it’s own thing to be a triumph!
Gonna call it now: this is the funniest book I will read all year.
Is it a novel? Is it another autobiography, veiled this time by the third person pronouns? Is it longform poetry?
Answer: it is the natural end result when language and attention and logic come out the other side of being "extremely online".
Buy a ticket, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Right book, right time. One test of a book is how often you bring it up in conversation and I've been able to refer to, and evangelise about, Braiding Sweetgrass often in the weeks since reading it.
It ranges widely - and does drift in parts, being rather long - but the topic is so broad (see that subtitle) and the process of decolonising the thinking of a reader such as me when it comes to plants takes time.
Books like this raise interesting questions about form. As an audiobook narrated by the author it more closely resembles the kind of yarning and sand talk at the heart of the culture Yunkaporta shares, but the listener misses out on the sand talk symbols as visual things (my brain, at least, cannot follow extended descriptions of unique symbols). In the end, all books are imperfect and incomplete in whatever form they take, and it's the work of the reader to complete the circle.
8. Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (short stories, audiobook, Canada, 2013)
Wow. This book is exciting. It starts out with short stories in a recognisable, North American mold. It felt a little like a first nation's Jesus' Son - and then the stories lean more into Nishnaabeg modes and language. Another bad comparison: it felt like the bait and switch in David Vann's Legend of a Suicide where the death (the dyer?) in the second half is unexpected and makes you re-evaluate everything. This time, it's like: where those first stories good on their own terms or were they bait to lure me in.
Okay, so, hear me out. I enjoy reading romance...
The set-up (a male hospice nurse who works nights rents out his flat 7pm to 7am to a junior book editor so he can pay legal fees for his brother, and the two flatmates only converse through post-it notes...) is super hooky.
Sometimes the beats felt like they came with signposts: THIS IS A BEAT.
But I devoured it. I like romance. It only took me 38 years.
Published in 2011, collecting magazine pieces from even earlier, but it didn't feel dated. Sullivan was tapping into the racial, religious and economic discontent that would propel Trump into the White House - that's part of it. But his voice is so clear, distinct. I really want to read a collection of his essays from the last 10 years...
Interpretation: My eyes suck. I've worked hard for nearly two decades to be a good reader with my ears. This enabled me to read 90 total books this year, a significant step up from 66, 61, 42, and 66 in the preceding years.
Interpretation: Backslid from 2020 when on 41% of authors identified as male (52% the year before that).