One of the things I repeatedly tell my pupils and tutees, and their parents, is that there’s nothing I can teach them that they can’t learn by reading books. Occasionally, this backfires and they tell me not to bother coming again, but mostly they nod in agreement… and then go straight back to their iPads the minute we finish our lesson.
They call it noir—or possibly neo-noir—which, of course, is the French for black. However, if there’s a word, in any language, for the colour darker than black, well, then that’s the word I’d use to describe Pike. Because Jeez-us Christ, this is dark. And violent. Ohhh, my God, so much violence. Brass-knuckle beatings… shotgun blasts to the belly… slit throats… You name it, Pike’s got it. Fortunately, it has a whole lot more besides, making this one of the most impressive, affecting debut novels I’ve read in a long while.
Some books, you actively seek out. Others find you. Some you read on recommendation—just hearing the title, and the way someone says it can be enough. A single adjective. Hell, sometimes even an Amazon algorithm turns out something special.
How I came by this book, I really can’t recall. It just appeared by my bedside one evening. But as soon as I picked it up, I knew that it was one I wouldn’t put down until the very last page. It just had that feel, you know?
Last year, I took an online writing class with an author named D. Foy, based on a mode of writing he’d dubbed Gutter Opera. The class turned out to be one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had, and I started to take a keen interest in Foy’s work. I’d already read, and loved, his first novel, Made to Break: a fantastic, beautiful book, which captured the chaos and yearning of misspent youth by way of some the most startling, “purple” prose I’d read in years.
Fast forward a year or so, and Foy’s latest opus, Patricide, popped through my letter box. As soon as I tore open the package, I knew this was set to take things up a notch. The image on the front cover, for a start, which depicts Icarus* as derived from The Four Disgracers by Hendrick Goltzius (1588), is an utterly striking one, and so I immediately set aside the three other books I’d been dutifully ploughing through in order to get going.
It’s been a busy ol’ year—what with my return to the learning factory and such—but I have managed to maintain a modicum of momentum in my reading. Listed below are the best books I read, in the order in which I read them (more or less) in 2015. I’m also aware of how time-poor everyone is, and how sometimes you don’t want to read an in-depth, carefully constructed review… which is precisely where the #5WordReview comes into its own. Enjoy!
Some kids are natural born readers. Many others develop a love for books because of the time that their parents spend reading with them. For others it starts with a single book that sparks just enough of a reaction to get them to read one more book, and then another, and so on.
As a teacher, to know that you’ve inspired a love of reading in a child is a wonderful thing for so many reasons… not least the fact that a child who reads will come to my classroom with a more expansive take on the world and an exponentially greater vocabulary.
Okay. Before I begin, let me just say something: this is not going to be your typical sort of traditional book review. It’s not going to be like most other reviews, in which you get a précis of the book’s plot, and a bunch of reasons why the reader liked or disliked it. I mean, I guess I’ll do all that, out of courtesy for other, potential readers or whatever, but really this is less a review of the book and more an expression of love and gratitude to its author, Lidia Yuknavitch.
One of my favourite things at the moment is the Penguin Modern Classics series. Little books with a silvery-grey cover, each containing two or three short stories by one of the twentieth century’s most noted authors—authors who sought to push boundaries, be they social, sexual or linguistic. It includes works by luminaries such as Kafka, Joseph Conrad and Dorothy Parker, as well as lesser known names like Ryunosuke Akutagawa and M.R. James.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve become rather used to seeing Richard Thomas’s name appear in my news feed. It seems hardly a week goes by without one of his stories finding a home—not surprising, really, given that he’s one of the most prolific and hard-hitting writers out there. Operating primarily within the neo-noir genre, Thomas has put out, to date, over a hundred pieces of fiction, including a novel, Transubstantiate, and two short story collections, Herniated Roots and Staring Into The Abyss. He’s also an extremely skilled editor, a gifted and generous mentor, and as highly respected for the advice he shares in his columns about writing as he is for his own fiction.