Style Observer

SO Readers - Sharon Leach

Author, screenwriter and the Jamaica Observer's books editor

Sunday, January 13, 2019

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I posited in SO 's New Year's issue to consider education as the new six-pack. There's no better source, we reckon, than between the pages of books.

We asked quite a few lovers of the written word to share their book list...

We turn more pages next week


As the Books editor for the Jamaica Observer , each year I'm inundated with numerous titles, local, international and from the region — some good, others not so much — about which I've been given the responsibility to share on the pages of Bookends . If they are worth my readers' time and efforts, that is. As much as I love that job (and, let's face it, I wouldn't want to live in a world where books aren't the backdrop), there's a downside, which is that, oftentimes, my personal reading suffers. 2018, in particular, was bleak with me only managing to read a piddling 10 books. (When I think about President Obama's year-end list of books! 29! I am mortified by how much I formed the ass last year.)

To be fair, 44th POTUS is no longer the leader of the free world (egad!) so, I'm guessing he had a bit more time on his hands... although his lists were still very impressive even during his time in office. Whatever, man...(Pop across to Bookends for a gander at the complete list of books, films and music he enjoyed in 2018)

Fact: I spent the earlier part of the year writing my third book, and when I write I try to go for a sort of tabula rasa by not reading other authors, thereby avoiding undue influence. And then, let's be honest, Netflix was operating at the height of its powers last year, so there was all that catching up to do, once I sent my manuscript off to the publishers.

Still, this sounds as though I'm making excuses. I'm really not. This year, I will return to reading two or three books a month, which is my normal. #readinggoals

I write to excavate what I know, but I read to find out what I don't. Without reading, therefore, there is no writing. For someone who makes their living by words, like me, reading is not just for pleasure; it is oxygen. Reading is breathing in, writing is breathing out.

So, this year will see a return to serious reading. But what to read? There are so many books, so little time. I read mostly fiction of varying genres and essay collections, but there are the occasional trade books and memoirs. In my Kindle alone, there are over 155 books languishing, whilst I have almost 500 unread books on parchment paper, each patiently waiting their turn. The predicament is, as you can imagine, real because, like the hundreds of titles in my Netflix queue, half the struggle is deciding which one is next on the agenda.

1 I've started 2019 with a book I bought in the last week of last year: The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson, a Southern writer who penned another book I loved, Gods in Alabama. The premise of this book is a graphic novelist from a respected white family gets accidentally pregnant by a black stranger at a comics convention. She feels she needs to keep her pregnancy a secret, but comes to find she isn't the only one in her family keeping secrets.

2 The Polished Hoe, by recently departed Barbadian Austin Clarke, is a book I've had for donkey's years and which I found in a little bookshop in Vancouver (gasp! The inscription says I bought it in 2007!), but dusted it off a few days ago and put on my nightstand because another writer I have massive respect for, Vladimir Lucien, recommended it. It's a narrative that's really a confession for the murder of the owner of a sugar plantation in the 1950s. I read largely women authors because I find male authors often tiresome, grandiose, and way overrated, but I've made a commitment to read more men who are worth my effort.

3 Which is why I've also recently purchased Tell No One About This: Collected Stories 1975-2017. My friend, the writer Jacqueline Bishop, told me about this book by Jacob Ross, an author originally from Grenada who I only knew to be an editor at my publishers, Peepal Tree Press in the UK. It's a collection of short stories (my favourite genre) on a wide range of themes, and I'm so excited that he is going to be a part of Jacqueline's interviews that we're publishing in Bookends in a few months.

4 This is the year of reacquainting myself with Zadie Smith ( White Teeth). Last year I read Glover's Mistake, by her husband, Nick Laird, and absolutely fell in love again with the British and their effortless facility with language. Zadie's Swing Time has been in my Kindle since the Christmas before last, so I reckon I'll dive into that as well. The last thing I read by her was On Beauty, which I adored. Swing Time is about two childhood friends from London who can tap dance. Zadie has grown so much as a writer and here, again, she has lots of things to say about race, class and gender, but I'm guessing she's going to say it even better than she has before.

5 Another Zadie Smith book is in the works for me this year, as well: her latest collection of essays, Feel Free. I've read some of her essays and I am fascinated by how her mind works. She has opinions on a wide swath of issues, from culture to politics, and she writes about them in such brilliantly unexpected ways.

6 Something that doesn't happen often is receiving a book for review in Bookends that I actually want to read for my personal pleasure. Seriously, it's like spotting a rainbow-coloured unicorn in boots. But Dwight Thompson's debut Death Register, though! I hate making pronouncements, but I think he's set to become a big deal in Jamaican letters, if the sneak peek I took of this novel about homophobia, colonialism, secret societies and misogyny is anything to go by. I'm also looking forward to featuring him in Bookends this year.

7 Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy is a handbook for fiction writers, recommended again by Jacqueline Bishop, and which will serve as a refresher course on making my work impactful.

8 I can't tell you how much I already love this book, How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs. I read one of the stories and, on the strength of that, I ordered the book as a Christmas gift to myself. Alexia is a of course a Jamaican (it's always fun to discover a Jamaican writer doing it big internationally) and her voice is so authentic about Jamaican immigrants and the ones they leave behind back a yaad.

9 Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay is in my Kindle because, well, it's Roxane Gay. I follow her on Twitter and she, too, has a fabulous mind and an endless curiosity about life. Plus, anything with the word feminist in the title, in my world, deserves a look-in.

10 And because I love a good story about transgression, I'm going to be reading Indecent, by Corinne Sullivan. I came across this title last year and it checks so many boxes for me. Small-town girl with little teaching experience is offered a position at an all-boys' prep school in Westchester, New York. Said naf also has little experience with boys. Popular student catches girl's eyes and she's drawn to him. But wait, she's a teacher, isn't she? Whatever could go wrong? Yeah, this is heading my summer reading list this year! Whoo-hoo!

Bring on the books, books and more books...

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