We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Along with much of the sane world, in January of last year, I sat, pinned to my sofa in utter horror as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. How had this country, or indeed, the world, gotten into such a state where a openly racist, misogynist tycoon/tv personality could rise to the most powerful seat in the world? A fact all the more astounding given his car crash of a presidential campaign. It was this question I was hoping to answer when I put forward Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book as an option for the book club last month. We took the tantalising bait.

Coates’ book consists of a series of articles, originally published in The Atlantic magazine, written over the course of Barack Obama’s time in power. He takes us from the Civil War, Malcolm X and black conservatism right through to the election of Donald Trump; whom he dubs America’s first ‘White President‘. Each article is preceded by a brief introduction from Coates explaining his motivations for each article in relation to each stage of the Obama presidency.

Coates obviously has a clear agenda with this book and that is ostensibly to demonstrate how the explanation for Trump’s victory lies not purely in struggling rust belt states and their distaste for a liberal, elitist class that they feel has forgotten them, but in racism, pure and simple. With the relevant facts and figures he demonstrates that the Trump electorate came from every class, gender and creed. Their unifying characteristic? They were overwhelmingly white.

Is this tribalism at its purist? The reaction of a spooked white populace desperate to claim back power? I really don’t know and am nowhere near qualified to answer. My instinct tells me that the answers are far more complex than even this book demonstrates, but Coates’ arguments are nevertheless compelling.

One thing that is clear is that racism, specifically towards African Americans, is an inherent part of American society. This is a country that, whilst advertising itself as the land of the free, was built on the backs of African slaves and their descendants. It is also a country where government legislation has actively cold-shouldered the African American community, be it through Jim Crow law or practices such as redlining. This is all fact (trust me, I fell into a Google hole with something every other page). And it is deeply shocking.

Most of the group found this book a bit of a slog. Thinking back to my university days this isn’t the densest non-fiction I’ve ever read but, since all I’ve read for years is novels I did find this slow going, but god is it illuminating and I do feel, as cliched as it may sound, a better person for having finished it. Coates is clearly writing, of course, from his particular point of view, which makes it tricky for someone who, although completely  on side, doesn’t have the depth of understanding of American history and politics to hold her own (I’m repeating myself here I know but I’m wary about sticking my oar into such a sensitive subject when I understand so little). There’s also, due to the book being a series of articles, a lot of repetition which, although helping to hammer some points home that I may not have previously grasped, massively increased the slog factor.

Coates maintains that Barack Obama is the best of the best and that, including his unusual, multiracial, international upbringing made him uniquely qualified to rise up and take the seat of power. Now his legacy is threatened by a man who thinks that global warming is a ruse created by the Chinese and whose attitude towards women and ethnic minorities is deplorable. Nice one America.

Books I Could Re-read Forever

Back in 2016 the pressure to think up startlingly original reviews/bookish posts finally got the better of me and I gave in – albeit temporarily. Life happened and what has followed has been quite a simple epiphany – it doesn’t fudging matter if my posts are any good as long as I’m enjoying myself! It has been all to easy too forget just how fantastic the online bookish community is and the past couple of weeks I’ve spent reconnecting with people have been just wonderful and reminded me just how much I’ve missed everyone.

I always enjoy writing reviews but, if I’m honest, anything beyond that (unless I have a clear subject matter; e.g. a bookshop I’ve visited, etc) I sometimes struggle for inspiration and I have so much admiration for those who churn out quality post after post. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed the eternally popular Top Ten Tuesday (originally hosted by Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish who has since moved on and has now courageously been taken on by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) for a little mental jig around and inspiration (which if any of you have seen my woeful Goodreads so far this year will understand is sorely needed). Today I’m starting on a positive note and looking at the books I could reread forever (but never do since rereading feels like time-wasting – I know that that’s the wrong attitude to have – feel free to tell me how wrong in the comments section below!):

1. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell 

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Now, because of when/where it is set (i.e. Civil War era Georgia) Gone With the Wind can make you squirm; specifically with its depiction of slavery – oh how content they seem! However, regardless of these sinister misgivings, this is a CRACKER of a story and I could read it all. day. long.

2. Snowflake – Paul Gallico

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned this book on here a million times, no doubt in lists identical to this one but do give it a read. It’s not a terribly well-known book these days but it is oh so sweet and ever so magical. Read it before the snow disappears!

3. His Dark Material Trilogy – Philip Pullman

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It’s so many years now since I read Philip Pullman’s legendary trilogy, I’ve definitely passed my 10 year rule on re-reads. It’s time to dust these off again because the fantastical adventures of Lyra and her Pantalaimon have never left me.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

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Does this one need any explanation? I unfortunately didn’t make it very far into the popular TV adaptation last year (I couldn’t cope with my OH spoiling it for himself) but a million and one people have told me I need to give it another crack.

5. The Snowchild – Eowyn Ivey

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Another beautiful novel. Rich with imagery and meaning. This modern fairytale reminds me in this lull that there are wonderful books out there, I just need to search a little harder (and read a little more thoughtfully).

6. The Snowgoose – Paul Gallico

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Another beautiful, fable-like tale from one of my all time faves (I’m sure those of you who have been around here a while are familiar with my twee Paul Gallico obsession – sorry). The Snow Goose is arguably his most famous work.

7. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

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I often get myself into a mood where I relish eccentric, quintessentially English books that don’t need to necessarily go anywhere plot-wise, they just need to be beautifully written. This is a book for all your lazy summer afternoons.

8. All My Friends are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

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After reading his fantastical fable; The Tiny Wife, I was so excited to return to Andrew Kaufman’s famous first book. It is funny, quirky in the extreme, touching and can be read on so many different levels. It definitely needs to be read more than the once.

9. Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee

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Ooooo Laurie Lee. More quintessential ‘englishness’ (the original, in my opinion). Although the Spanish novels recounting his time there during the civil war are wonderful, I adore Cider with Rosie. It’s idyllic picture of rural England makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I just can’t help myself.

10. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Adichie is not only an immensely talented novelist but an awesome woman, an intellectual force to be reckoned with and this tract; based on her 2013 TEDx talk, is food for thought. You have no excuse not to improve yourself by reading this again and again; it’s oh so short and oh so important.

Please, Mr. Panda – Steve Antony

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It seems an odd thing to be sat contemplating a review of a baby’s picture book. In a previous life, although I could well appreciate the wonderful cosy vibe of the children’s room in Waterstones, my radar couldn’t have been any further away.

Rather than being obvious and opting for one of my own childhood favourites, I thought I’d turn my attention to a board book that is not only fairly recent but also currently HOT property in the Relish household. We’re talking a repetition of at least 5 times a day minimum….so, without further ado, I introduce Mr Panda.

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This picture book is funny, simple and repetitive. In short; a stellar combo for young children. Mr Panda has a box of doughnuts which he goes about offering to his friends (fair play, I wouldn’t share my Krispy Kremes with anyone) who are, quite frankly, all a bit rude. He quite rightly refuses to share them with anyone until a slightly manic though incredibly polite lemur pops along and uses the magic P word. He is rewarded with the entire box since it turns out Mr Panda doesn’t like them anyway (ah hah! Explanation)

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This is all, of course, gearing up to drum into our toddlers the importance of saying please and might I say that it is an excellent way of doing so. Baby loves the bold illustration (black and white is thought to be particularly good for very young babies so this would be great for newborns) the repetition and the hilarious characters who just lend themselves to ridiculous voices and accents…or is that just me?

Being nice and short and snappy, this is my favourite so far of what I always think of as ‘trendy’ baby books. I don’t know what makes me think of them as trendy exactly…..maybe the stark simplicity…monochrome colours. I find that some nowadays can be overly stylised and a little, in the words of my other half, ‘try hard’. Although these are the kind of books that can probably be appreciated when they’re a bit older, right now we need sheer hilarity, and this has got it in spades.

The Circle – Dave Eggers

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Despite me taking a little mini break when baby arrived, with a little help from a good friend the Manchester Book Club is, thankfully, still going strong. 6 years this spring!!

Although it may have something to do with my waning concentration span, last years’ books felt like a bit of a mediocre bunch. Even Elena Ferrante’s much lauded My Brilliant Friend – that I was so, so, excited to read – was met with sighs and eye rolls, including by yours truly. Though I did finally read A Clockwork Orange….one for the bucket list I suppose.

I always see our first book of the year as perhaps, in some fatalistic way, setting the tone for the next 12 months. Dave Eggers’ The Circle, is, by 2018 standards, hardly going to blow anyone’s mind with it’s tale of a Google-style multinational/all-powerful corporation that has the monopoly over most of the world’s digital information and major technological advances. However, although the premise might sound fairly unoriginal, it’s really important to think about how much our digital world has actually changed in the 5 years since this book was published and therefore how particularly relevant this story is to us today.

The novel follows our marginally dull, girl-next-door-type Mae Holland as she bagsies a job at the most sought after company in the world; the Circle. All is innocent enough at first, as she starts in a fairly lowly customer service role, albeit working in lovely surroundings with all the bells and whistles of the latest technology. Things however, soon turn sour, as her work colleagues’ California smiles start to look more and more deranged, the founders’ ethos creepier and creepier and Mae’s position more precarious as she is sucked into a world where privacy of any kind, even in your own home, is seen as a betrayal against those around you. Mae is utterly brainwashed, the Circle’s grip on society becomes greater and oh my god have I really reactivated my own social media accounts?! Eek!!

Although I know that this already won’t be a favourite of mine this year, The Circle made for a perfect book club book. Eggers shines a light on many pertinent issues; the positive and negatives sides to current technological advances being one of them. However, the spotlight is mainly focused on personal privacy and the question of how much individuals should be sharing with those around them. In a society where many people voluntarily offer up their homes/lifestyle/partners/children/jobs to scrutiny (see Instagram. I love you Instagram but you scare me sometimes), in Mae’s world this scrutiny becomes a requirement; the ability to go ‘off grid’ impossible. And the scariest thing of all? Hardly anyone questions laying themselves bare for the cameras in the grand quest for shared information, knowledge and transparency. And for those who do? Well, I won’t spoil the story for you 🙂

So far so excellent book club book. Eggers’ novel is gripping, an easy read and incredibly prescient looking at it from the other side of the frenzied whirl of social media we live in today. The major gripe here would be that sadly, in his eagerness to make all of these very valid points, plausible plotlines and proper characterisation occasionally fly out of the window, leading to raised eyebrows here and there. Mae all too readily agrees to wear a camera around her neck and chart her every move, sacrificing her personal life in the quest for transparency. Does this girl have no opinion? It also seemed slightly lazy to bung one of Mae’s college friends (and therefore surely equally young/inexperienced?) smack bang at the top of the Circle, for all of our convenient plotline needs. Perhaps I should have bothered applying for that Google CEO job when I left university after all….

Not one to scour your local bookshop for but if you see this in the library it is a quick and chilling read. Good entertainment all around.

Peepo! and the perils of parental reading

**Coughs**

Hello?…..Anyone out there??

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My incredibly bad (and spotty) ode to librairie mollat

I have to admit, it feels a little odd and vaguely embarrassing to be writing an actual blog post today. I have no idea (but very much doubt) whether my old bloggy friends and lurkers on here remember me or pay a visit to old reviews from time to time but, whether I’m rekindling old connections or speaking out into the void, welcome!!

Our life has had a complete transformation over the last year and a half. Namely starting our very own little family (puppy included) and hopefully a future generation of mad-fer-it little readers.

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It is such an obvious cliché that parenthood will have a huge impact on your reading; particularly for those former die-hards with tottering TBRs who used to regularly burn the midnight oil to finish a book. Two weeks’ into this adventure, once the shock had subsided and I remembered that I was, after all, Literary Relish and that I kind of enjoy reading a book from time to time rather than purely bingeing on daytime telly – well, it was a revelationDozy days spent on the sofa breastfeeding lend themselves to one thing and one thing only, BOOKS and lots of them. God forbid however that you find yourself stuck without a glass of water or, worse, a complete dud of a novel.

Thankfully I was fairly lucky in the early days, using books to help me stay awake during night feeds and experiencing some absolute gems; Ellen Wood’s East Lynne being one of them (I talked about my absolute faves of last year for the wonderful Rebecca Foster in this here post on her fabulous blog).

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New filing system

This peaceful time is inevitably short-lived but, in our frantic lives, particularly when running around after and raising little humans I think it is essential not to lose sight of ourselves. For me, whether I read 5 or 50 books this year, I find that self in literature.

I read an article on the fabulous books section of the Guardian website months ago (and didn’t bookmark or save and now can’t find it – poor show) where the author cited having a baby as the event that helped him out of his reading rut. Lengthy nighttime feeds and, in toddler/childhood, reading to his children at bedtime and introducing them to much-loved classics, completely rekindled his love affair with books.

Children’s books are wonderful things and, during weeks when I can barely keep my eyes open past 8pm, such gems as Mog and the Baby (Judith Kerr), Hairy Maclary (Lynley Dodd) and Please, Mr. Panda (Steve Antony) keep me going, maintaining that wonderful fuzzy bookish feeling in my tummy. It won’t help my Goodreads Challenge, but it will certainly help my soul.

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My poor ravaged old bookshelf

It feels great to be back and rambling into the blogosphere again. If any of you are still around I’d be delighted to know what’s new. And if you have some lovely children’s books to recommend or tips on how to maximise reading time on very little energy, throw them my way!!

xx