My friend Anna James and I frequently chat about great new books we’re reading. We’ve collaborated on a few videos in the past talking about new releases or the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Well, we’ve been plotting for ages to start our own book club and it’s finally happening.

In the great tradition of Oprah's Book Club in the US and Richard & Judy in the UK, we've formed a book club because we want to galvanize people into reading and discussing books that we love! We've selected 8 titles published in 2016-17 which are now out in paperback. At the end of each month from July-October 2017 we'll record a video where we'll discuss 2 books from the list. We'd LOVE for you to join in!

Watch this video intro to learn more:

- Anyone in the world can read along
- Let us know your thoughts about each book through email at, social media, our GoodReads group or making your own blog posts/videos reacting to the books.
- Also post any questions, reactions or topics of discussion you'd like us to talk about in the video

The books are:
Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao
The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

At the end of July we'll record a video on The Good Immigrant & Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan

Thanks for reading along with us!

The geeky act of making lists of favourite books is a pleasure I don't think we should deny ourselves. What better way to get a snap-shot of someone's reading tastes and pick up on recommendations for great books you might have missed over the year. I read 112 books this year, many of them newly published in 2016 and many of them highly enjoyable. However, these ten books all show great craft but also feel personally significant to me. Click on the titles below to read my full reviews of each book. You can also watch my BookTube video talking about these ten books:

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

Anyone who knows how Oates is my favourite author might think it is an obvious choice for me to put a new novel by her on my list, but this is truly an excellent book. The more I think about it the more layers it yields about the meaning of personality and romance. An unusual love story between a man with short term memory loss and scientist Margot that explores the elusive mechanics of the mind.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I can't ignore the significance of this novel coming out in an American election year when a campaign fuelled by racism and anti-immigration helped a politically-inexperienced misogynist enter The White House. This story about an escaped slave named Cora who travels a physical underground railroad to arrive in different states of racism America says something so significant about the times we live in.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The state of loneliness is a curious psychological phenomenon which seems natural to the human condition, but one which is only increasing in an age of so-called online connectedness. Laing's incredibly personal and well-researched non-fiction book looks at the lives and work of many great queer artists to see how loneliness manifests in different ways. This is an incredibly touching and moving book.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Although it may seem daunting to read a novel that is one continuous sentence it comes to seem quite a natural thing as you enter the consciousness of its Irish protagonist. It's a significant reflection of the times we live in as much as it is as a moving story of family and the working life. Reading it is an electrifying experience.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Great survival stories are both thrilling and heartening. This is a tale of a girl who survives a brutal civil war only to discover that her natural desire to love women goes against the religious beliefs of her family and community. She faces a very different kind of challenge to survive as she's pressured to settle down into marriage with a man and gradually assert what she really wants in life. It's a brutally honest and inspiring story which suggests strategies for unifying disparate communities which are bitterly embattled.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin

Creating finely constructed short stories that give the impact of a full-length novel is a difficult challenge. But this is something McLaughlin accomplishes consistently and beautifully in this memorable and significant debut collection. Even though I read it at the very beginning of the year many of these stories about people across all levels of Irish society have remained clear in my mind. You can watch me discussing this and other great books of short stories from 2016 here.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

Tremain's tremendous artistry for plucking an uncommon story from history and making it come alive is unparalleled. Here she writes about two boys in Switzerland in the time immediately following WWII, but moves backwards and then forwards in time to show the repercussions of political neutrality and hidden love. This is a beautifully accomplished novel.

Autumn by Ali Smith

There's no writer more daring and inventive than Ali Smith. Not only has she bravely planned a quartet of novels based around the seasons, but she's reflecting in them what's happening in society now. This novel focuses on the country's mood in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit vote and an uncommon friendship between young Elisabeth and a mysterious old man Daniel. In doing so she addresses the meaning of nationality, the state of the modern world and the nature of language. She does this with great flair, humour and passion.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Music has played a large part in many great novels this year – from Rose Tremain's novel to Julian Barnes' most recent novel “The Noise of Time” - but Thien skilfully shows how the art of composition and the compositions themselves fare under fifty years of living under the Maoist government. A girl follows her family's history in this complex, absorbing story which culminates in a depiction of the infamous student protests in Tiananmen Square. It's an epic novel.

The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

It's always an immense pleasure to discover an incredibly talented author I've not read before and one of this year's great finds for me is Sarah Moss. This novel takes a potential family tragedy and expands the story to explore the messiness of ordinary life in such a tender and poignant way. It also reflects back to the past to consider the meaning of loss using such a disarming style of narration which totally gripped me.


Have you read any of my choices? Which are you most interested to read? Let me know some of your favourite books of the year. I'm always eager to hear about books I might have missed reading.

This year is racing by! There has been a lot of depressing news lately so it feels all the more necessary to take the time to celebrate great books that have been published this year and recall that 2016 isn’t all doom and gloom. Since we’re at the midpoint here are ten of my favourite books so far. It’s been very difficult to whittle down this list as I’ve read 57 books so far this year and many have been excellent. (I should note Garth Greenwell's "What Belongs to You" would be on this list but I actually first read it last year) Click on the titles at the bottom to read my full thoughts about each of these outstanding books. You can also watch a video of me briefly discussing each of these books here:

Last year I ran a competition and it worked so well I want to do it again.
Here’s how to enter:
-    Leave a comment letting me know the best book you’ve read so far this year (it doesn’t have to be a new book).
-    Leave some kind of contact info (email or Twitter/GoodReads handle).
-    At the end of July I’ll pick one of your suggestions and send that person one of my favourite books from the below list below.
-    Open to anywhere in the world.

I’ll also read your suggestion by the end of the year. Last year, Poppy recommended to me the fantastic novel “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

Even if you don’t want to enter, please let me know what great books you’ve been reading this year or if you’ve read any of my choices.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
A Quiet Life by Natasha Walter

When we’re young we can have a simplified vision of the future. If we’re lucky enough to live with a loving family what more is there to hope for? But, as we grow, change comes both from outside forces and internal changes – neither of which we can control. Eleven year old Ijeoma dreams of living in a castle with her adoring parents, but she’s awakened to brutal reality in 1968 when her home in Ojoto, Nigeria is ravaged by a civil war that splinters her family apart. What follows is a highly original and moving coming of age story about the way she must adjust to the new environment around her and reconcile her homosexual feelings with the conservative religious attitudes of her community. More than this, “Under the Udala Trees” shows how we inevitably make damaging compromises in our lives which at a certain point become untenable: “There’s a way in which life takes us along for a ride and we begin to think that our destinies are not in fact up to us.” However, the story shows that with strength of character we can assert what we really want in life and make a place for ourselves in the communities we were born into.

It’s refreshing and surprising how I initially thought this novel was going to be primarily about war, but it turns into a much more personal story about a woman’s struggle with her sexuality. The civil war has a huge effect on Ijeoma’s life, but this book is more about the conflict homosexuals face in a country where it is dangerous and criminal to be openly gay. When the bodies of gay men that have been beaten to death in a homophobic attack are discovered it’s stated: “We called the police. They couldn’t even be bothered to do anything, not even to take the bodies away. ‘Let them rot like the faggots they are,’ one of the officers said.” This is a society where expressions of same-sex desire are cornered into the shadows. Her ardently religious mother Adaora tries to teach Ijeoma interpretations of the bible which she believes support how God thinks homosexuals are an “abomination.” This is something Ijeoma can’t help question as well as objecting to how the bible shows only a singular point of view: “Just because the Bible recorded one specific thread of events, one specific history, why did that have to invalidate or discredit all other threads, all other histories?” There is a multiplicity of perspectives and stories which have been winnowed out from history and religious texts. Ijeoma creatively integrates aspects of stories and local fables passed down by her family to establish her own understanding of the world.

Fela Kuti's ‘Shakara Oloje’ plays in a secret gay disco held in a church at night.

In addition to some devastating scenes, what makes this such a heartrending story is the way Ijeoma is forced to question her own nature because of the pressures from those around her. It’s a common feeling for any closeted person to at some point think like her: “I did want to be normal. I did want to lead a normal life. I did want to have a life where I didn’t have to constantly worry about being found out.” This inevitably leads to bitter compromises. But what’s surprising and uplifting about this novel are the opportunities Ijeoma does discover to meet people and have experiences which do allow her to explore her natural feelings. Even though “Sometimes we get confused about what happiness really means” the story offers a hopeful message about how we can better realize our desires in life from rare people that we meet.  It also shows how others can surprisingly change with time, love and patience.

I know some details of the Biafran War that took place in the late 1960s from historical programs and films I’ve seen or novels I’ve read which focus on this conflict. Adichie’s tremendous novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” which deservedly won the recent Baileys Prize ‘Best of the Best’ is an obvious point of reference. However, before reading “Under the Udala Trees” I hadn’t come across any story of this war or Nigeria itself that comes from a homosexual perspective and bears witness to the ongoing conflict faced by LGBT citizens in this country. In an author’s note at the end of this book Okparanta records how a 2012 survey found Nigeria to be the second-most-religious country surveyed and a new law passed by the president in 2014 criminalizes same-sex relationships and support of such relationships. Narrow-minded interpretations of religious texts are often at the root and used to justify this discrimination. However, it’s very surprising and encouraging to read how Chinelo Okparanta’s offers a hopeful strategy for reconciliations between religion and LGBT communities. By encouraging a shift to less rigid readings of the bible, religion can better respect the changing social spectrum of individuals in our society. There is a way that religion can move with the times rather than the times trying to fit itself into dogmatic translations of religion. This novel offers a significant message that urges integration over separatism (which would inevitably lead to more conflict).

“Under the Udala Trees” is a novel that voices a forceful, inspiring and necessary perspective and reveals a country’s hidden stories. 

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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