Best Of 2019

Best of: May

So many good books this month. It was hard to choose… But then I always say that – time to just accept it perhaps?!

Best Queer Read: Tin Man, by Sarah Winman. I loved this. I was telling everybody about it, it was going to be in my top reads of the year. In my reading journal, where I usually write three or four sentences about a book, all I put was ‘This was amazing – books of the year.’ (Very lazy, yes) And now, a week later, I’m having to concentrate to remember what it was about. How do books disappear like that? I could tell you every detail of The Shipping News, although I finished that one on May 6. So I’m no longer so sure that Tin Man will end up in a prime place in six months time, but I did love it. I think I read it in one day, I cried, I learned things, I wanted to live in Oxford, and in the south of France, I ignored my husband while I finished it. It may have faded, but I don’t necessarily think a book has to remain with you for it to be considered great, sometimes it’s just about the experience at the time.

Best Novel: The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx. This book was going on the list. If I’d had a novel already, I’d have brazenly categorised this as a queer read. I’m putting it on my 2019 list already, and it doesn’t matter what else comes up. Why? Well, this is a bit unfair, but the main reason I loved it I can’t explain, because it’s a spoiler. If you know the book well then perhaps you’ll get what I mean when I say it wasn’t the character arc I expected, and the ending was just so different to what I anticipated and so wonderful. I love the way Annie Proulx writes, and the way she makes such real characters. And I loved the small town setting for this. It was so like where I grew up, everyone knowing everyone, the gossip and the quiet help, recognising things people had bought from other people – I had that happen to me with a second-hand bike. I can see myself reading this annually at least.

Best Poetry: Dear Big Gods, by Mona Arshi. This book was on the list months ago, from when I first heard it was coming out. I loved Arshi’s first book, Small Hands (and she herself is a wonderful person), and I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a second collection from her for the last couple of years. My impression of these poems is that they are small and exquisite, although they are actually not necessarily small, although most are a single page. Arshi’s language is generally exact and contained but in one poem – ‘Five-Year Update’ – it opens right out into long sprawling lines. In a conversation with poet Liz Berry Arshi says the poem, ‘has a wild ungovernable mind of its own and I thought long and hard about trying to control it and realised I could not.’ The contrast between this and other, quieter, poems in the collection gives ‘Five-Year Update’ a further layer of intensity. There are many small ordinary things in this collection, as in her first. Cups of tea, insects, pieces of fruit, but Arshi uses those small things to say immeasurable things. I will always read every single thing she ever writes, and I urge you to have a look too.

Well that’s it for May. June is Pride Month, so this month I’m only reading books with LGBTQ+ authors or representation. I am trying to boost my translations a bit though, as that category has been sadly underrepresented so far, so do let me know your queer translated recs if you have any.

And let me know what you’ve been reading lately and loving, see you next month!