Reading My Way Through A Year Like No Other

Well, what can I say about 2020 that hasn’t been said already? If ever there was a need to read for escapism it was this year. So, you’d think that my annual reading total would’ve rocketed. You’d be wrong. In fact, this year I read 53 books, only two down on last year’s number and like previous years, roughly one a week.


Lockdown earlier in the year was when we probably had the best weather which is ideal for reading in the sunshine but also great for gardening and going local walks which is why I think my reading habits didn’t change dramatically. My taste in writers and genres was much the same too.


I read several great memoirs – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Only Gaijin in the Village by Iain Maloney, Hungry by Grace Dent, My Heart’s Content by Angela Hughes and If You Don’t Know Me by Now by Sathnam Sangerha (as recommended by the excellent The Big Scottish Book Club superbly hosted by Damian Barr – catch up with it over the festive season on BBC iPlayer if you missed it).


Fiction favourites? It’s an eclectic mix and it’s always hard to pick only a handful but the ones that will stick with me are Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong, When All Is Said by Anne Griffin, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan and Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes.


Special mention must be made to Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. A worthy winner of the Booker Prize with characters I cared about, especially wee Shuggie and his memorable mammy, Agnes.


I hope books have helped you cope with the strangest of times too. Any recommendations for me to look forward to reading in the new year?

 

The Right to Write

Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, examining any other way of life is always difficult when you’re on the outside looking in.  Last week, I toured west Belfast in the area where ‘The Troubles’ were rife and although our guide was excellent in giving us an insight into the violent and turbulent times, there’s no way that I could claim to have a true understanding of the reality of being a resident on the Falls or Shankill Road.

I’ve also visited the ‘red light’ areas of London, Hamburg and Amsterdam as a tourist. Again, I was interested in the issues associated with these areas but I can’t begin to appreciate what it’s like to be a woman (or man) working in the sex industry just by walking down streets and gawping in windows.

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That’s why I was intrigued by Kirstin Innes’s debut novel, Fishnet, and me and my pal Jill headed into Glasgow for the launch to hear more about it. The novel is “about sex work, sisterhood and everyday economics, and is the result of three years’ worth of research.”

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Kirstin in conversation with Kaite Welsh.

During the Q and A, Kirstin admitted that she’s still not convinced that she has the right to write about such controversial subject matter with authenticity. But she did extensive research which challenged her notion of feminism and her preconceived ideas about prostitutes, or sex workers as she prefers to call them.  Words such as “empowered” and “choice” were used in the discussion but neither of these words sprang to my mind when I read The Herald newspaper report today of the brutal murder of Romanian-born Luciana Maurer and rape of two others by Steven Mathieson.

I haven’t read Fishnet so I can’t comment on whether it’s a true reflection of the world I read about in newspapers,  like Kirstin, I wouldn’t know. But to say that Kirstin doesn’t have the right to write about the complexities of being involved in sex work would mean that writers would have to stick to ‘write what you know’. If this was the case, the world of fictional novels would be a very dull place indeed.

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There seems to be a theme from this post and the last one – me in a stripy top and drinking!

The event was thought-provoking, it prompted Jill and I to reflect on labels such as ‘sex worker’ as opposed to‘prostitute’ and also our feminist stance on the way women and sex are depicted in fiction. But our evening wasn’t all about deep and meaningful discussions; we don’t see each other often as Jill moved to Michigan 12 years ago so we made sure there was time for lots of laughs over dinner and drinks.

Do you feel there are any subjects that are ‘off limits’ in your writing?