The world of graphic novels nowadays is more expansive and innovative than ever. Outside the big hitters from the likes of Marvel and Doctor Who, there is a whole myriad of quirky and fascinating work that seems to be getting more and more niche by the minute, so much so that it can be difficult for someone new to the genre to know what’s worth reading. However, with the new American and Canadian ice hockey season just getting underway, one series that deserves spotlighting is Ngozi Ukazu’s Check, Please!, a nostalgic and heartwarming story about a university hockey team, pies, growing up, and above all, friendship.
I’ll be honest, 2020 wasn’t a great year in books for me. Lockdown should have been the perfect opportunity to crack on with some reading and finally meet my Goodreads goal of a book a week (last accomplished in 2015), but that didn’t really happen. While the books I read last year were mostly great, the desire to sink into a good book was clouded by the constant anxiety of the state of things. It’s hard to commit to a book a week when you feel like you’ve got hundreds of other, more important things to sort out to keep everything ticking over as the world shifts around you. So, with the situation still constantly shifting, how do you get out of that hole and start reading great literature again?
I have the answer: Wuthering Heights. Hear me out.
Ferenc Karinthy was a novelist, playwright, journalist and apparently water polo champion from Hungary. He died in 1992, leaving over a dozen novels behind, but it wasn’t until 2008 that his work was first translated into English. And so it was that Metropole began its march across Europe, a dystopian novel fittingly about the rapid acceleration of globalisation, the blurring of nationalities and the loss of identity. With its stark and bludgeoning writing style, it’s a reading experience as confusing and bewildering as the megacity dystopia it depicts.
It’s a curious thing to be told by an author, who has written a book on a subject, that the truth of said subject is only ‘concealed by explaining it’. That a major branch of the world’s fourth largest religion has ‘nothing to say, nothing to teach’. Philosophies and schools of thought in the west have been much more characterised by grand abstraction and complex conceptual frameworks, authors whose ability to think is much greater than their ability to commit their thoughts to paper. Alan Watts' The Way of Zen provides a detailed historical view of the origins of Zen Buddhism and an almost artistic summary of the Zen approach to reality. Though old and many such books have come in its place since, it remains one of the best introductions to Zen in English.
I’ve tried to write about this book several times since I first read it back in June; every attempt I make seems to fizzle a few sentences in. I read Charlie Jane Anders’ first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, during a particularly depressing summer, and it sparked something hopeful in me that I thought I’d lost. It’s a book about talking to animals and building supercomputers, and it is beautiful and charming and kind, in as much as a book can be kind. I loved Anders’ vision, her aesthetics, her narrative voice.
So I had been eagerly anticipating her follow-up release, The City in the Middle of the Night, for quite some time, and after I’d read it I loved it too. I’m writing this because I want to explain why. Maybe this time I’ll even manage it.
It’s been a year to really get you thinking, and think I did. For almost half of the year I was on furlough, leaving me with more free time on my hands than I had had in years. Time that I spent thinking and reading, and reading and thinking, and thinking about what I’d been reading – which led me to reading philosophy. I’m going to share with you a couple of the books that really stuck with me in the hopes that you can read them too and start to see philosophy, like I have, as an anchor in a choppy sea and a safe place to call home.
John Steinbeck is one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, the works of his that first spring to the minds of most would be Of Mice & Men and the devastatingly brilliant The Grapes of Wrath. After becoming a mainstay of school syllabuses across the world, thousands have fallen in love with his quintessentially simple writing style, and his ability to weave out the lives of real working people cast in the shadow of The Great Depression. With a stunning eye for small details within nature and people, few have been able to depict the downfall of The American Dream in a way which is as equally touching as it is disturbing. We tend to remember him for his tragic endings - George being forced to kill his only friend, or Rose of Sharon breastfeeding a starving man in a barn – but little is said about Tortilla Flat, the novel with preceded Of Mice & Men and one of the most understated and completely joyous masterpieces of literary history.
2020 has been a year where a lot of us have had to learn how to spend time with just ourselves. Over lockdowns and restrictions, we’ve had to learn new ways to be productive as well as new ways to not be productive. We’ve had to learn how to take things slowly amidst so much uncertainty. Above all, we’ve had to learn to be kind to ourselves. And it’s in this strange and quiet environment that Rónán Hession’s Leonard and Hungry Paul has come into its own. In what is astoundingly his first novel, Hession offers us a maturely crafted and heart-warming story of ordinary people doing their best. With a beautifully written focus on life’s littlest details, the book feels like a guide in how to simply exist and enjoy the present moment around you, even if that just means sitting in a park or playing a boardgame.