Lots of things exciting things going on in the book world this month, so maybe this column should be called Book Ends rather than Page Turner this time.
On April 29, the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 will be announced! The longlist, released earlier in March, is stellar. It features some titles that I have personally raved about here before (Anna Burns’ Milkman, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, Ordinary People by Diana Evans, and my absolute cherished and favourite, Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall) and others that are quickly worming their way on to my To Be Read pile – Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods, a novella (yes) set in communist Romania with folk magic (yes yes), and Freshwater (Akwaeke Emezi), a bildungsroman following a young woman who comes to terms with being a spirit child, a combination of spirits and personalities in a single body. Emezi is also the first non-binary and trans plural person to be nominated for this award, and their inclusion is a good step forward (they were asked whether they were happy to be nominated for the Women’s Prize before the announcement and said yes.) I am notoriously bad at predicting shortlist – let alone winners – ahead of the fact, but on this longlistlist there’s not a single person I would not be delighted to see win.
I am reluctant in a way to publicise this, but I also want to recommend the Last Bookshop, located dangerously close to my workplace, on Walton Street. Split into two levels, one with remaindered books at the criminally good price of two for a fiver, and an extensive second-hand collection downstairs it has become The Place that I use when I want a little pick-me-up that won’t break the bank. My latest find was The Spies, a comic novella by Luis Fernando Verissimo, that manages to take literary plagiarism, grumpy academics and editors, and a rather mysterious brothel and turn it into a delightful romp of a book. It is a delight of a place, and I cannot recommend it too highly.
Virago are coming out with Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love by Naomi Wolf this month which – if you were lucky enough to drop into the Weston Library for their banned books exhibition back in January – promises to be both a delightful companion and also a deeper look into the difficult relationship between censorship, sexuality, and literature.
April also welcomes the Oxford Literary Festival for 23rd year running. Having been on both sides of the curtain, I can tell you the extraordinary preparation, logistics, team-work, and stress that goes with it, so if you see a bookseller during this period give them good luck. Suitably, the Festival this year has a focus on sustainable living and farming, under the banner of Pasture to Plate, and all of the standard favourite fixtures (Marcus du Sautoy, Ben Okri, and Joanne Harris to name but a few).
Whew. See you all in May, for the beginning of the Summer Reads season.