Wednesday, 15 July 2015

July Reads: Part One

1. Girl In A Band has been the summer's must-read music memoir, and I enjoyed it. Gordon does have a tendency to name-drop, which can be irritating but is of course what we all read rock memoirs for. If you're after gossip about the implosion of her and Thurston's marriage or anecdotes about Kathleen Hanna and Courtney Love, you've come to the right place, but this is nicely balanced with insights into Sonic Youth's work and her background in visual art.

2. When Dave Gorman put out a plea on Twitter to people willing to play a game with him, Dave Gorman Vs. The Rest Of The World was born. He travels around the UK playing everything from poker and darts to Settlers of Catan, finding out about his opponents and, in many cases, learning the rules of strange and arcane games.

3. I really enjoy Sloan Crosley's first collection of essays, so was thrilled to happen upon the follow-up, How Did You Get This Number, in Bristol at the weekend. From the story of a visit to Alaska to an insightful essay about being alone abroad, it's perfect for dipping in and out of.

4. Gang Leader For A Day was utterly fascinating. A sociology PhD candidate at the end of the 80s, Venkatesh wanted to research urban - and specifically black - poverty in the USA. So he did what no other sociologist had ever bothered to do: he went into the projects and spent almost a decade hanging out with the people there, growing especially close to gang leader T.J.

5. Pretty Girls* is superbly written, with taut plotting that had my stomach in knots and characters that I rooted for and believed in, even when (or perhaps because) they were not always sympathetic. However, it's bleak as fuck and stomach-churningly graphic on the topic of violence against women, so approach with caution.

6. Commuting to and from London, Rachel wiles away the time by sneaking drinks and fantasising about the lives of a couple whose house her train passes. But when someone goes missing, Rachel first finds herself drawn into the mystery and then actively trying to insert herself into the case. I think my reading of The Girl On The Train was spoiled by all the hype surrounding it, declaring it the read of the summer and the new Gone Girl. Needless to say, it was neither. Whilst well written, it lacked tension until the very end and the twist was identical to a number of other thrillers I've read recently, so was easily guessed. Also, writers, can you all just stop writing all your fat characters as pathetic, lonely, chaotic and alcoholic? Between The Seed Collectors last month (which I otherwise loved) and this, I felt like I wanted to give these authors a lesson in fat positive activism.

7. After The Girl On The Train, it was a relief to pick up In A Dark, Dark Wood*, a genuinely chilling example of the grip-lit genre. Nora cut all ties with her past life after having her heart broken at 16. Now 26 and living in London, she is surprised to receive an invitation to the hen do of her former best friend. The action cuts between Nora lying injured and with amnesia in hospital, and the hen do itself a few days earlier, at an isolated house in the Kielder Forest. The oppressive atmosphere of the forest adds to the creeping sense of danger and the characters are all utterly believable. Heartily recommended.

* These books were kindly provided by the publishers via Net Galley in return for an honest review.