In my last reading roundup, I was still emerging from winter. Now, it’s been 30+ degrees for weeks, and I can barely remember what a cloud looks like. The storks that had just appeared on the tops of the electricity poles now have little kiddie storks standing up and giving their wings some practice flaps.
So I guess I missed May, but never mind. Here’s a roundup of the books I read in June, from a history of Barbados to Chilean surrealism via a book about sea creatures.
A History of Barbados by Hilary Beckles
Since my wife is Barbadian, I’ve read quite a bit about the country and spent a fair amount of time there, including living there for a year or so in 2012 and attending an interesting literary festival. But I still learnt a lot of new things from this history of the island. Beckles gives a lot of attention to popular movements and struggles, while also charting the shocking violence inflicted by the small white planter class on the black majority, both during and after slavery. In fact, one of the shocking things about reading this history is discovering just how hard the planters and their British imperial backers worked to ensure that after emancipation, things would change as little as possible. This was written in 1990, and Beckles is now head of the CARICOM Reparations Commission. After reading this book, I think he’s got a case.
Sticking with the Caribbean theme, this is a wonderful set of linked short stories set on a street in Port of Spain that’s blighted by poverty but full of memorable characters. Before this, I’d only read Naipaul’s later work, in which the people of his native Trinidad (especially those of African ancestry) exist mainly as objects for biting satire. Miguel Street is very different: there’s a real affection for the characters and the place, and although there’s plenty of humour, often at the characters’ expense, it’s not the cruel humour that came later. I’d read about the trajectory of Naipaul’s life in Patrick French’s shocking biography (reviewed here), so it was great to go back and see how he wrote before the racism he encountered in Britain warped him into someone desperate to disassociate himself from the very people he writes about with such warmth here.
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
I read The Mill on the Floss because I was struggling with point of view issues in my own writing, and I wanted to analyse how a classic omniscient narrator worked. But I ended up enjoying this book far more than I expected, so the analysis fell by the wayside and I let the story carry me along. Although people often claim the omniscient narrator is “distancing”, I felt much more emotionally invested in this book than in so many others with more “intimate” first-person or limited third-person points of view. I really cared about these characters and felt sad/outraged at how poor Maggie Tulliver was treated both by Fate and by her narrow-minded neighbours.
Under the Sea-Wind by Rachel Carson
Rachel Carson, of course, is known primarily for Silent Spring, her exposé of the way pesticides ruined the environment. Although I know it’s an important book, I’ve never been motivated to read a 50-year-old exposé of things we already know. But I enjoyed her 1941 debut book, which describes the creatures of the sea in beautiful prose. This new edition has a nice introduction by Margaret Atwood too.
Yesterday by Juan Emar
Well, this was a weird way to end the month. A man and his wife walk around a city and encounter an ostrich eating a lion, singing monkeys, a very messy and protracted guillotining, and much more. To be honest, this wasn’t for me. It just felt like a bunch of crazy episodes that didn’t add up to anything. If you’ve read it and can tell me what I’m missing, please do so in the comments!
What Are You Reading?
Let me know your recent recommendations in the comments. I hope you’ve had a good reading month, and here’s to more good books in July! You can find more book bloggers’ reading roundups over at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.