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Archive for December 2014


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Disembodied Father Christmas head, nailed to the door of my room in the Starfire Hotel, Lagos. A terrifying warning to others?

Oh my lord, where has this month gone; where has this year, decade, century gone? As a child I remember being enormous alarmed when my parents explained to me that as I got older, I would experience time moving faster and faster, and I am equally alarmed now that I am an adult to find that they were absolutely right. On one hand I am only 36 and (barring incident, accident, misfortune or stupidity) likely to have a good many years in front of me; on the other hand they are flashing by like lightning and I WILL SOON BE DEAD and what does it matter anyway, as soon after that (in the great scheme of things) our earth will be nothing but a cinder orbiting the burned-out void of what used to be our sun? &c. &c.

On that cheery note, happy new year! 2014 has been a wonderful year for me personally, and an absolutely calamitous one globally (and for many of the people I hold dear). I hope that 2015 will be kinder to all of us.


Fancy Christmas tree in fancy waterfront Muscat restaurant where I unexpectedly spent Christmas night

For the record, here is my complete list of books read – and where I read them – in 2014. Those marked with an asterisk have been my favourites, though that’s not to say that many of the others weren’t also excellent.

Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Jess

December 31, 2014 at 6:39 pm

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Reading ‘Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls’ in various parts of Nigeria

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The book: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris

The place: various forms of national and international transport

I always quite like changing my mind about a writer. Like, when I read Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty when it first came out, lugging the enormous paperback with me to Antigua and back at Christmas 2004 (my other book of choice was Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which demonstrates why I am so devoted to Kindles these days) I really disliked it. So pretentious! All the characters were awful! And Tories, what’s more! Ugh ugh. A few years later, staying wit friends in London, I flicked through bits of The Line of Beauty to remind myself of why I had found it so disagreeable, and ended up reading the whole thing again. So incisive! So well-written! So subtly ironic! Not only was there the pleasure of finding a new book to enjoy, there was a smug delight in being so magnanimous and humble and able to change my mind. Hurrah for Alan Hollinghurst, and hurrah for me!

Likewise David Sedaris. A friend pushed Me Talk Pretty One Day on me year ago, while we were on holiday in Albania, and it was fine, but wasn’t the humour a bit forced? Wasn’t Sedaris a bit too self-consciously kooky and off-beat? Wasn’t it all, perhaps, a little too knowing? And maybe it was – I’d have to reread it to be sure – but whatever it was I didn’t like about Sedaris in 2001, it’s gone now. I managed to not quite laugh out loud on a plane between Abuja and Lagos, but it was a close thing. (It was the stuffed owls that did it.) If Sedaris hasn’t quite gone to the top of the list of Authors I Would Like To Have A Beer with, he’s certainly in the top ten, and possibly even the top five. Perhaps I will have to have an entirely imaginary authorial soiree to accommodate them all.

(NB: I am reading an actual, paper book, with pages and everything. That would be because I left my Kindle on a coach between London and Chepstow last Friday. “Again?” you ask, whereupon I can proudly say NO, NOT AGAIN because last time I left my Kindle on a train between Chepstow and London, which is demonstrably a completely different matter. Thankfully my aunt was on hand to provide me with succour in the form of plane-appropriate reading materials.)*

(My other means of reading is my smartphone, which a) is tiny, b) is often banned for use on planes, and c) has a shattered screen that I have inexpertly mended with tape, so it is not an ideal set-up. However I did manage to get through Laurie Penny’s fantastic Unspeakable Things, despite multiple technical difficulties:


*Footnote from the future: some kind soul actually handed my Kindle in this time around, and thanks to heroic efforts on behalf of my mother, it was returned to me. Pre-Christmas miracle!


Nigeria is growing on me.


Some sort of bright yellow (and very loud) weaver bird, in the trees at the Abuja Sheraton


Terrifying behemoth (presumably oil derrick or similar) under construction in Lagos


Old colonial church (presumably), Lagos


Nigeria takes advertising to a new level


Central mosque, Abuja


For the Love of Lagos

Written by Jess

December 9, 2014 at 7:26 pm

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Reading ‘London Triptych’ in Actual London

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Inexplicable but awesome lightning flash mosaic in one of those grim underground stations out near Heathrow

The book: London Triptych, Jonathan Kemp

The place: London 

Things that only happen in novels, #1 in an occasional series (maybe): hearing someone screaming and then realising that that person is you.

(I liked the book much more than that rather unfair quip may seem to imply.)

Written by Jess

December 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm

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Reading ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ in Whitebrook

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Old photo from July 2013, as I forgot to take a new one

The book: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel

The place: Whitebrook, South Wales

It will come as no surprise that I adore Hilary Mantel and indeed revere her as semi-divine. However my primary allegiance is to her historical fiction – Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, obviously, but also (and possibly most enduringly) A Place of Greater Safety – and while I greatly admire her contemporary fiction (and memoir), I find it sufficiently different that it feels like a different author altogether. Mantel’s historical fiction is extraordinarily lush, thick with image and metaphor. When I read Wolf Hall (in Juba, late 2010) I described the experience in my journal as like dipping into a series of treasure chests; when I read Bring Up the Bodies (also in Juba, in 2012) it felt more like putting my hand into an immensely swift river. Mantel’s contemporary fiction, on the other hand, feels arid, barren and deeply unsettling (this isn’t a criticism; I mean this as a semi-synaesthetic impression). It seems to be set in a world that is hostile and alien and essentially frightening – whereas her historical fiction seems to recognise a world that is – for all its cruelty – profoundly beautiful.

Written by Jess

December 2, 2014 at 8:18 pm

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