This was originally going to be one of those ‘sum up the year in books’ posts, but I basically did all my reading last year on and adjacent to the tour, so it has become a books I read on the cycle tour post. Often when searching for English language books, especially second hand, you can’t be picky (although we both rejected Pru Leith’s autobiography outright). When we did have a choice, we prioritized books from women, BIPOC and trans and non-binary folks. At once point I was carrying about 8 books in one of my panniers – which led to some very strange looks at campsites! These aren’t really reviews per say, just sort of a quick reflection on each one! There wasn’t really a book I regret reading, even the silly sci-fi.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Typically, the first book on this list is by a white man! It was the only thing that I fancied reading from Abi’s mum house when we were staying there as I recuperated from having my tooth pulled. I always like reading books set places I’ve lived, so that aspect was nice, as well as the way I could hear all the voices – interestingly whilst i couldn’t shake the film portrayal of some characters, other’s gained a life of their own.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This was one of the books given out for World Book Night several years ago, and we’ve had a copy of it on the shelves at my mum’s house for ever. Abi pulled it down, read it, and then thrust it at me being like ‘this is phenomenal’. This was phenomenal. I couldn’t recommend a book harder, it was hopeful, and devastating, and enveloping, and I can’t believe I went so long not reading it.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
We stole a few books from my dad’s office – i think they belonged to my step-sister (sorry Emily!) This was one of them. It was a compelling read, pulling you through – both an easy read, because you could just keep reading, and not an easy read at all, as it traces and weaves different narratives through generations. I read someone criticizing the ending as contrived, and I actually totally disagree – it was a clean and satisfying ending.
The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla
Again, stolen! (honestly we only left Cambridge with three books!) This is a foundational set of essays on race, (im)migration, identity, british-ness, funny and cutting and generous and each one well crafted.
Back in The Frame by Jools Walker
I was so excited about this book I coordinated getting it delivered to Abi’s brother’s house in Winchester which we passed through on our way to Portsmouth as a surprise for Abi and it was so worth it (and so frustrating that I didn’t get to read it first!) From excellent bicycle blogger Jools Walker, it was everything I wanted from a book about cycling, bikes, the cycling industry, mental health. We stan.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
We bought this in Orleans (along with the next two) at a bookshop with a really surprisingly good selection of english language books just before the massive heatwave in June which saw us retreat to a motel for like 10 days! This was a really interesting story, centred on the relationship between two girls as they grow up, apart, together. It was unlike anything I normally read, but I actually felt like it was this really complicated exploration of class, race, bearing witness, possibilities (the loss of possibilities.) It was quite heavy by the end, emotionally, but yes.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
After Half of a Yellow Sun we were searching for other books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and were delighted when this showed up. IT DID NOT DISSAPOINT. Can she put a foot wrong ? No. No she can not.
Azazeel by Youssef Ziedah
This book was totally different! It tells a story from the early days of Christianity, exploring faith and schooling me on an era of Christianity i only knew what the da vinci code had taught me. There’s some fairly graphic descriptions of fairly horrible violence which I really did not enjoy (I have a v.persistant imagination and like, over-empathise…) but abi read it before me, and prewarned me, and forewarned is forearmed!
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
So we’d been leaning towards a lot of Nigerian and Nigeria adjacent fiction, and like, every blurb was always ‘this writer is this generations Achebe’ or ‘this writer inherits Achebe’s legacy’ etc. and we were like, well this seems important context. I’d actually read some of this during my World Literature classes in the IB, but returning to it now, as an adult and with no one making me write an essay on it, was totally different. I can see how he is considered the father of Nigeria’s literary tradition, and straight away I wanted to read the next two in the series, but I also didn’t, I wanted to sit down for a moment, cos this book hits you hard right at the end, and there’s reading an analysis of it, and there’s like letting Achebe take you through his story, to its end.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Full disclosure. This book changed me in ways I cannot describe. It is probably my favourite book. It was transformational. I cannot fault it. I cannot even write about it intelligibly. I read their YA PET this year and it was also excellent, and I can’t wait for their next book to come out.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
Ok! Another complete change of tack! And good because if every book I read was as transformational as freshwater I would be a puddle of goo. Olivia Laing explores loneliness through (mostly white men’s) art. The first two chapters, on Warhol and Hopper, respectively just made me sort of furious – I doubt they experienced loneliness to anywhere the same degree as the invisible women who supported them. I mean like this fucking gallery literally threw away all of Jo Hopper’s donated artworks after she died and kept her husbands and like, if that isn’t the most devastating and heartbreaking thing to read. At least the more detailed exploration of Warhol allowed me to go full circle from not liking him, to appreciating him, to not liking again (but this time in a more informed way…) Later chapters though – particularly those about David Wojnarowicz’s AIDS activism – were really interesting, and sure the whole thing was well written and I’d probably be up for reading her newest book too.
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
This was a bit of a silly one really, in the tradition of easy to read sci-fi about a atwood-esque dystopian future where advertising is king – interesting to see what the concerns of the 50s were (how little they could have seen this play out eh)
American War by Omar El Akkad
This was the last book I read on the tour – I finished it just as we arrived in Budapest, and then we really had to focus on editing our book! It was a compelling, engrossing and challenging read, imagining a near future USA descending into civil war as a result of climate change.
A cycle tour is one of the few times I read a lot, and its one of the reasons I love touring – I guess it’s cos there’s not much else to do without wifi/data and eventually Abi and I run out things to say to each other…. I also really like the way having to hunt out books puts you out there, and gets you chatting and interacting, and sometimes you read things you wouldn’t normally.
Anyway, hope you’ve enjoyed this brief run down of books I read on our 2019 tour, and go support independent bookshops and buy these books! Or don’t! I’m really struggling to read at the moment, what with The Situation, and actually despite loving reading as a kid I really find it hard as an adult! (Saying that, when I got home I went on to read everything Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written and have no regrets.)