Archive for June, 2022

June 28, 2022

Handmade: Learning the Art of Chainsaw Mindfulness in a Norwegian Wood by Siri Helle

by Team Riverside
cover of Handmade book

Hardback, Granta, £12.99, out now

A Norwegian woman inherits a tiny cabin in a remote location.  There’s no running water, but there is a river.  There’s no electricity, but there is a woodburning stove.  And there’s no toilet, but there is Siri Helle’s determination to make a loo in a hut, with her own two hands.

Don’t be put off by the ‘mindfulness’ in the title: I like mindfulness probably much more than the next person, but there is enough discussion of chainsaw technique and what proper tool sharpening consists of to make it clear that this is not a ‘wellness’ book.  It really is about building a toilet shed, and learning how to do it along the way.

Helle is a journalist and agronomist in Norway.  There are thoughtful reflections on the lack of practical and manual skills taught in formal education, and what this might mean about our relationship to making and to our hands.

I am not really sure how to classify this book – it is nature writing, crafts, travel?  Culture or philosophy?  Probably all of these things.  I do like a genre-defying book.  I borrowed it from the library on spec and really enjoyed it as a good holiday read.  It’s very relaxing to read about other people working hard outdoors!

This is definitely one that I will be buying for multiple people come Christmas.  It’d be great for anyone who: is a maker or who wants to be one; has a love of the outdoors; is thinking about their relationship with their own body, and how they use it. 

Review by Bethan

June 19, 2022

Bestsellers 12th – 19th June

by Team Riverside

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Bella Mackie – How To Kill Your Family

Ruth Ozeki – The Book of Form and Emptiness

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Tee Dobinson – The Tower Bridge Cat

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Elif Shafak – The Island of The Missing Trees

Sally Rooney – Normal People

The Secret Barrister – Nothing But The Truth

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Tom Chivers – London Clay

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

John le Carre – Silverview

June 12, 2022

Bestsellers 5th June – 12th June

by Team Riverside

Pat Barker – The Women of Troy

Jonathon Lee – The Great Mistake

Riku Onda – The Aosawa Murders

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

Sally Rooney – Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Oliver Burkeman – Four Thousand Weeks

Malcolm Gladwell – The Bomber Mafia

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice

Elif Shafak – The Isand of The Missing Trees

Miranda Cowley Heller – The Paper Palace

Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and The Sun

Alice Oseman – Heartstopper: Volume One

Phil Knight – Shoe Dog

Marion Billet – Busy London

Elizabeth Mcneal – Circus of Wonders

June 9, 2022

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

by Team Riverside

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

A complexly wrought debut novel by Julia May Jonas, Vladimir is the story of an unnamed female professor whose husband is facing allegations of sexual harassment from his students when she develops an obsession with Vladimir, a promising writer in his own right, who has recently joined the department.

Vladimir forms part of a spring of recent American campus novels along with Lee Cole’s Groundskeeping and Elif Batuman’s Either/Or. The campus setting is alternately lampooned as a greenhouse for elitists and treated as a microcosm for wider society. At first, I was wary of the already well-trod subject matter, abuse of power in academic settings, campus debates over free speech, writer’s feelings of envy towards each other. But Vladimir’s morally ambiguous narrator is far from a cliché. She refuses to see herself as a victim of her husband’s actions, speaks dismissively of his accusers and act manipulatively towards Vladimir, playing on his vulnerability as a man with a troubled wife and a young child.

As an unreliable and, at times unlikeable, narrator she is incredibly well drawn. As the novel develops her ideas and behaviour become increasingly horrifying and last third of Vladimir was wild and unpredictable. Vladimir is complex and surprising debut and I highly recommend it for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh and Rachel Cusk.

June 7, 2022

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush by Patrice Lawrence and Camilla Sucre

by Team Riverside
cover of Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush

Paperback, Nosy Crow, £7.99, out now

Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush is a completely gorgeous picture book for young primary school age children.  The story is by Riverside favourite Patrice Lawrence (we are particular fans of her young adult mystery, Eight Pieces of Silva).

Ava loves spending time with her Granny.  They sing together and love to spend time with each other.  When Ava needs help to decide which admirable person to dress up as for school, it’s obvious that Granny should help her work this out.  Granny tells Ava all about wonderful women like Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks and Winifred Atwell. 

She starts to talk about her own life, coming to the UK from Trinidad and making her life here.  Ava realises that maybe she doesn’t have to look very far to find someone who has shown real courage.

As Granny looks through her memory box, we learn her story, and the courage that it takes to go so far from your first home and make a new life for yourself.  I loved the emphasis here on family storytelling, and Sucre’s thoughtful illustrations bring the emotions of the narrative to life.  The colour contrasts between the muted new place when Granny is homesick, compared to the vivid colours of her remembered island home, become extra important when she meets her future husband and her new city becomes colourful for her.

I loved the romance of Granny’s relationship: “I met your grandad.  He was the conductor on the bus that took me to work every day.  At first, we would just smile at each other.  Then it was ‘good morning’.  Soon, in spite of the noise in the factory, I looked forward to my morning journey… And my journeys home, when he would cross the whole of London just to come and meet me”.

This reminded me that there is an exhibition I’m keen to go to at the London Transport Museum right now called Legacies: London Transport’s Caribbean Workforce.  The webpage has lots of lovely links to music and other resources which would complement Granny Came Here on the Empire Windrush too.

This is a sensitive and relatable book, tied to the lives of the Windrush generation and their families, but clearly speaking to timeless themes of making new lives and families far from home.  I loved the author’s dedication, which shone through the story too: “To those that come from across the world.  I hope you find love and peace.”

Review by Bethan

June 5, 2022

Bestsellers 29th May – 5th June

by Team Riverside

Bob Mortimer – And Away…

Elif Shafak – The Island of The Missing Trees

Akwaeke Emezi – You Made A Fool of Death With Your Beauty

Mieko Kawakami – All The Lovers In The Night

Douglas Stuart – Young Mungo

Lea Ypi – Free

Elizabeth Day – Magpie

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half

Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of The Day

Meg Mason – Sorrow and Bliss

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Alice Oseman – Loveless

Tom Burgis – Kleptopia

Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Bella Mackie – How to Kill Your Family

June 1, 2022

Do Right and Fear No-One by Leslie Thomas QC

by Team Riverside
cover of Do Right and Fear No One

Hardback, Simon and Schuster, £20, out now

This autobiography of an outstanding civil rights lawyer, who has specialised in inquests, doubles as an incisive and detailed account of many of the most important human rights cases of the last 30 years.  Thomas always puts the people involved at the heart of his account.  I felt that the book, while being candid about his own story including his legal learning curves and sometime errors, was an opportunity for him to foreground the lives of those whose stories are often ignored.

This is the story of a South London working class Black man who gets to the top of his profession doing cutting edge legal work.  Much of Thomas’s early life was lived in Battersea, Clapham and Balham, and Riverside readers will find many places they know.  As a Queen’s Counsel (senior barrister) Leslie Thomas has represented bereaved families in inquests in many deaths in custody and police shootings.  His work includes landmark cases such as those of Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan.  He has also played a critical part in legal examinations of disasters including such as the Grenfell Tower fire and Hillsborough, as well as developing a practice in the Caribbean, and all of this work is discussed in detail.  The chapter dealing with the second inquest into the New Cross Fire, moving in itself, also shows a moment of revelation for Thomas: “…it made me realise that what mattered wasn’t the lawyers’ political spin on the case, which is sometimes very easy to do, but what was best for the clients”.

One of the things I liked most about Do Right and Fear No One was its accessibility.  Areas that may be unfamiliar to readers, such as what the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights are and how they apply to real life, or how inquests work and what they are for, are explained clearly and concisely without this feeling patronising.  I found this so useful.  Demystifying the law is vital, particularly areas that people may feel no connection with until they erupt into their own lives – for example when they suddenly have to attend an inquest for someone close to them.

Thomas gives due credit to families, colleagues and others who he has worked alongside, placing his legal work in context.  For anyone who visited the outstanding ICA exhibition War Inna Babylon – the Community’s Struggle for Truths and Rights last year, Do Right and Fear No-one will be an essential read (see https://www.ica.art/exhibitions/war-inna-babylon). 

Thomas’s mother Pearl sounds like a truly remarkable woman, working all hours and supporting her children to do their best.  Talking about his father Godfrey, who he had a difficult relationship with at times, his account reminded me at times of David Harewood’s story in Maybe I Don’t Belong Here (https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/david-harewood/maybe-i-dont-belong-here/9781529064131).  Both men reflect on the racism their fathers faced, and the long-lasting effects this had on their health, especially in later life.

My one criticism of the book is that the publisher did not include an index.  This detailed book should be widely read and easily searchable.  Publisher: please commission an index for the paperback.  If anyone needs convincing of why indexes are great, see my review of Dennis Duncan’s excellent book on just this subject.

On a lighter note, I really liked Thomas noting that he used to talk fast “as South Londoners do” – this is definitely true of me.  This is a great read.

Review by Bethan