Still steeped in the dregs of winter’s last remaining weeks, it is the opportune moment to revisit the most interesting and exciting literary happenings for the month of February. Whether this has been a month of sweet anticipation for the oncoming spring, romantic indulgence, or a continuing demonstration of hibernation habits, this edition of The Monthly Reader is here for you. So grab yourself a mug of your favourite hot drink and let’s get down to it.
‘Detainee bags top prize for book written via WhatsApp‘ by Reuters (The Hindu)
The nature of Australia’s immigration camps is a topic discussed with insufficient fervour by global mainstream media. The abuses that occur toward camp detainees, as well as the problem posed by the lengthy incarceration of refugees in these off-shore locations, presents a challenge to anyone interested in the rights of those seeking asylum. News at the beginning of February that one detainee had authored a prize-winning novel during his detainment helped to redraw focus towards this intensely problematic system. Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee incarcerated in an Australian camp in Papau New Guinea, wrote his novel No Friends but the Mountains while interned and submitted it chapter-by-chapter to an Australian translator via WhatsApp. The novel won the $72,390 Victorian Prize for Literature and Boochani hopes that this success will help to draw attention to the 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently imprisoned in Australia’s off-shore immigration camps.
‘Shelf policing: how books (and cacti) make women too ‘spiky’ for men‘ by Marie Le Conte (The Guardian)
Could the premise of any article be more problematic than this one? In this piece, Marie Le Conte is addressing a recent bit of journalism(?) from The Daily Mail, in which women are instructed to rid themselves of particular books if they wish to be successful in love. Obviously intending to follow Marie Kondo’s controversial proclamations on book reduction with their own layer of controversy, The Daily Mail employs the perspective of life coach Liz Hoggard to tell us exactly what we need to do if we ever want to bag ourselves that man. According to Hoggard, the bedroom should be devoid of all literary endeavours – no books, since these are a distraction from “love.” Similarly, women must purge themselves of all books with depressing titles to avoid their environment being a turn-off. Since we are all obviously striving to make our home singularly accommodating to potential suitors and current beaus, this makes perfect sense. Why, after all, would we wish to design a home suited to our own passions or attempt to find ourselves a guy who doesn’t feel himself dissuaded from love on the basis of books in the bedroom? It’s journalism like this that makes me realise how very far we’ve come.
‘BBC unveils first look at big budget adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy epic “His Dark Materials”‘ by Peter White (Deadline)
Quite possibly the news of the month, if not the year. I have been an enormous fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy since the release of Northern Lights in 1995. To this day, I remember my aunt buying the first book in the series for my birthday and, from that moment, I was utterly enamoured with the world of Dust and daemons. My signed copy of The Amber Spyglass is quite possibly my most valued possession and, despite my eternally abiding love of Harry Potter, it was always His Dark Materials that I would pick as closest to my heart. News that the BBC were making a televised adaptation of the series was music to my ears. Following the somewhat disastrous attempt to adapt the first novel to film, I can’t help but feel that the material is in far better hands with a BBC TV series. I’ve yet to see a BBC literary adaptation that I haven’t loved and with a stellar cast (Ruth Wilson as Mrs Coulter!), I’m beyond excited to watch this series.
‘Neil Gaiman on Good Omens, Sandman film rumours, and his next book‘ (The Guardian)
This webchat with Neil Gaiman, hosted by The Guardian, is an incredibly insightful dig into the author’s work and upcoming projects. There are some great nuggets of information. George Saunders apparently used time spent reading The Graveyard Book to his children as part of his inspiration in writing Lincoln in the Bardo (which makes perfect sense to me). Gaiman also highlights his love for Diana Wynne Jones as his favourite writer of children’s fiction (since she wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, I completely agree with Gaiman’s perspective here). The interview also gives some details on the upcoming adaptation of Good Omens. If you are a fan of Gaiman, this piece is well worth a read.
‘Marlon James: “You have to risk going too far”‘ by Alex Preston (The Guardian)
This interview is certainly my favourite from February and for obvious reasons. Previously unacquainted with Marlon James’ work (although I had obviously followed the roaring success of A Brief History of Seven Killings, I’ve yet to read it), I was so intrigued by the premise of his new release, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, that I got it on the day of publication. It was easily one of the best books that I’ve read in recent months, if not longer. I spent a while digging deep into James’ inspirations, objectives, and personal history, with a view to gaining a better understanding of the foundations underlying this genre-defying dip into African myth and legend. Alex Preston’s interview with James is an incredible interrogation of James’ position as a uniquely voiced literary force and Black Leopard, Red Wolf‘s origins.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Could it be anything else? This was surely the release of the month and will certainly be one of 2019’s favourite novels. I had Marlon James’ newest publication on my list of Books To Watch For In 2019 and it certainly lived up to the hype. Following his Man Booker winning A Brief History of Seven Killings with a departure into something close to fantasy fiction, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a confidently rendered dive into African legend and myth. Through the character of Tracker, a man who possesses a supernatural power of smell, the novel narrates a quest to find a missing boy. Although the novel employs many of the tropes and characteristics of classic fantasy, James’ desire to write a novel that fills the absences in traditional representation elevates this novel to an altogether different plane. It is an ambitious work that further confirms James’ status as a voice of acute insight.
What I’ve Been Reading
February was another excellent month of reading! I’m still far outpacing my objectives for the year (which were purposefully accommodating of any obstacles) and the first two months of 2019 have given me plenty of opportunities to read diversely. In February, I ticked off a couple of new releases and some short story collections. I read books spanning Japan, Africa, and Latin America. All in all, the perfect literary accompaniment to this cold and stormy month!
– Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings by Jorge Luis Borges
– The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
– The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (currently reading)