Review: Sight – Jessie Greengrass

014 - Sight

014 - Sight

★★

I read this a few weeks ago, shortly after the Wellcome longlist was announced, and if I’m entirely honest I don’t remember much about this book. I wish I could say wonderful things but ultimately if I had to pick one word for this book it would be forgettable.

From what I remember this book follows a rather self-absorbed, 20-something woman who is pregnant with her second child. That didn’t interest me in the slightest unfortunately. I have no desire to procreate, so pregnant narrators are something that are very hit and miss with me anyway. I will say that the idea of a grieving daughter and a soon to be mother assessing her relationships with the females in her life is a good one, however if it had been left at that I think I would have enjoyed this book marginally more than I did.

However, it wasn’t just left at that (of course it wasn’t!) instead we had random sections about figures from history thrown in – something I really didn’t enjoy. I found the dichotomy between the present day story and historical figures jarring. Just when I felt I may be getting in to the present story I was pulled out of it by a tangent about Freud or the man who discovered the x-ray, and while I think this could have been a good tool if applied correctly, I don’t think it was applied correctly.

As I said, I don’t really have a lot to say about this book unfortunately as 2 weeks have passed since I read it and I actually forgot I had read it until I checked my list of books to review. I can understand that this might work for some people, but for me it was a massive miss unfortunately.

Review: This Really Isn’t About You – Jean Hannah Edelstein

012 - This Really Isn't About You

012 - This Really Isn't About You

★★★

This was my first foray in to the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist for 2019 and, what can I say, this is an okay book.

This Really Isn’t About You is the authors experience with finding out she had a gene which increases her risk of specific types of cancer, and ultimately is the gene that killed her father. For me though there wasn’t nearly enough about this aspect of it – it was more a memoir on grief, sexual harassment and dating in a 21st century world than it was about the medicine and Lynch syndrome. That’s fine, but I was expecting a lot more from it I think.

It’s a very readable account, and the title is correct, it really isn’t about you it’s very much written by the author for the author. It reads like a therapy exercise, and while that does make it very easy to get through I did get to the end of the book and wonder what the point of it was. I would have loved a book which was more about her father – her father who was partly responsible for building the worlds first MRI scanner, a man who has had his part in the history of medicine. Her father was an incredible man and I’d have loved more about him, instead I found parts of this book to be really self absorbed.

But as I said, finishing this book I wondered what actually was the purpose of it. I don’t feel any more educated on Lynch Syndrome and, honestly, I read this book nearly a week ago and don’t feel I can recall much of it at all. I’d not have picked this up if it wasn’t for the Wellcome Prize, and honestly unless you’re really in to memoirs I’d not recommend it to anyone either.

Review: And the Wind Sees All – Guðmundur Andri Thorsson

011 - And the Wind Sees All

011 - And the Wind Sees All

★★★★

One of my many mini-challenges to myself in 2019 is to read more translated fiction, and a good place to start with any translated fiction is publishers which specialise in it. As I always seem to go for the same few publishers for translated fiction I decided to do a bit of research and branch out this time around which is how I discovered Peirene. I had previously heard of them, but just never picked anything up from them (so they disappeared from my memory, bad Ashleigh.) Anyway, I decided to go over to their website to see what they had on offer and was happy to find a number of books from countries I’ve never read before. Including this little gem from Iceland.

The blurb says that this book all takes place in 2 minutes, and that is sort of the case. What I thought it was and what it became were very different things in that I thought it was from one persons perspective, but it wasn’t. The book is a series of vignettes, from a series of individuals who all have one thing in common – the village in which they live. The main thread of the book is that the narrative takes place over a two minute bike journey which Kata – the choir conductor – takes through the village to the concert that evening. Each vignette from there is a snapshot in to the life of different villagers – some she encounters herself, others who observe her from their homes – sometimes we’re in the present but often we’re in the past.

With chapter exploring a different person it becomes more interesting the further in to it you get. I love seeing how characters from one persons past fit in to another past, or hearing a story from the other side of the fence. It really does bring the village alive, everyone is involved in everyone elses lives in one way or another. People have secrets, people have pasts, some people left the village and inevitably find themselves coming back, others have come to the village with no previous ties to it to escape from the city.

The writing in this book, and therefore also the translation, were beautiful. Parts of this were so, so poetic. I loved the more atmospheric descriptions of the landscape and whatnot, I’m a sucker for beautifully described nature and this was spot on for me. If this is the quality of all books published by Peirene I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on my next one from them (and bonus, some of the eBooks are 99p on the Kindle store at the moment, which cannot be snuffed at).

Wellcome Book Prize 2019|| Longlist Discussion

WBP - 001 - Introduction

Well it’s that time of year again, Wellcome Book Prize season. This year the Wellcome Prize is celebrating it’s 10th year, so it’s quite a special one. For those of you unfamiliar with the Wellcome Prize, all books nominated feature central themes of medicine, health, illness or biosciences and can be from either fiction or non-fiction shelves in your bookshop – they just have to represent the key points in a new and innovative way.

This year the longlist has surprised me. Books I expected to see there (including The Gene Machine) were not longlisted, and there are a few books I hadn’t even thought eligible which have been put there. So interesting to say the least and I will confess to being quite underwhelmed when I first saw it. The more I’ve looked in to the books I didn’t know about, the more positive I’m feeling about the longlist – the key themes this year appear to be mental health and gender and I am all for that – but compared to last year I don’t feel there are any immediate stand outs at this stage.

I’m also really happy to see that it’s pretty much 50/50 fiction and non-fiction – this excites me because it means that biosciences and medical representation are becoming more prevalent and better discussed in fiction. What I am sad about though is the lack of hard science – I understand the prize wants to be inclusive and get more people reading science based books but as a scientist I can’t help but be disappointed just a little bit that there’s not a more “sciencey” popular science book (The Gene Machine). But that’s just me being difficult.

WBP - 2019 Longlist

Wellcome Book Prize longlist 2019

 

The more I look at these books, and read about them, the more enthusiastic I find myself. The books this year are very different to the ‘traditional’ shortlist of denser popular science books and while I dislike change, I can only look at it objectively and say that it’s a good thing. In spite of my reservations with less “hard science” the Wellcome Prize remains one of the most varied literary prizes out there and this is definitely an accessible reading list with a good balance of fiction and non-fiction. A lot of the time prizes can get stagnant, but this one surprises me every year as it always seems to evolve in to something new.

A few of the books have been on my radar for a while (The Trauma Cleaner, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Sight and Heart) and only two I was actually going to pick up so this is just the motivation I needed to read the rest. The others I know very little about, I know there’s a fictionalised account of Alan Turing’s final year of life in Murmur, Amateur is the authors biography of becoming the first transgender man to box at Maddison Square Gardens. In fact there seems to be a lot of biography this year, which is all the better as I’ve really been enjoying a good biography/memoir as of late.

The shortlist is announced on March 19th – thankfully a Tuesday (I don’t work Tuesdays) – and I’m hoping to have got through the bulk of this longlist by then. Needless to say I have a few very, very exciting reading weeks ahead of me and I for one cannot wait!

Are there any books here that you’ve read? That you want to read? I’d love to hear from you!

Blog: January 2019

Wrap Up - 01 - January

Hello chums and happy February to you all! I hope this blog finds you all well and settling in to 2019 nicely!

Today it’s a wordy post as I’m going to be talking about my January highlights, this isn’t going to be solely book related but will instead include a general overview of January with some of my favourite things. Hopefully a little more interesting than a blow-by-blow account of all the things I read and the statistics of it all. But if you don’t give a toss about reading this, that’s also fine. Bookish related posts will resume tomorrow with a Wellcome Prize 2019 introduction!

Continue reading