The Bedside Bookstack – April 2023

What’s teetering on the bedside bookstack this April.

Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie, 2022, Bloomsbury

Maryam and Zahra are best friends. They go to a good Karachi High School. Zahra is bright and ambitious but even with her grades, only a scholarship will get her to a British University. Maryam doesn’t worry too much about any of it. She comes from a wealthy family and is going to inherit and run the family business. But one night and two men change the neat trajectory of those plans.

Fast-forward 20 years and both women are successful professionals living in London. They’re still best friends but their politics pull in different directions. This is a great examination of loyalty, ethics, lifelong friendships and what keeps people together as they grow into very different people.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, 1969, Virago Press

Maya Angelou’s autobiography reads with the rhythm and sound you’d expect from a poet. It covers childhood to late teens as she and her brother live with their grandma and uncle, then move in with her mother, spend time with her father, move back to her grandma and then back again with her mother. She writes of the small girl she was, trying to get on with life as she knew it despite rape, trauma, separation and the endemic racism of growing up as an African American female in the South.

I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue by Elias Greig, Allen & Unwin, 2018

This witty little number is the perfect pick up, put down and leave around the house book. The sub-title, Sketches from the other side of the bookshop counter, cleverly captures its essence as a collection of pictures and encounters from Elias Greig’s time as a book seller in a Sydney book shop.

It’s written as a script and you get to laugh along at how outrageous the general public is until you see yourself standing at the counter too (there’s a definite theme of tired mothers) and are momentarily chastened and reminded of how little it takes to have good retail behaviour and decent manners. I’d say a great gift for booklovers and bookshop champions.

Also check out A Circle Married to a Straight Line, his glorious commuter essay in the Sydney Review of Books, if you want a sample of his style and a reminder of all the things that an essay can be.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, Titan Books, 2020

10 years ago, Lewis and 3 friends shot some elk. As Blackfoot men, they’d all hunted before but this trip was different. Now, strange things are happening and Lewis starts thinking about that day again and it feels like he’s the one being hunted.

This is a visceral and pacy read but all the blurbs talk about Stephen Graham Jones as a horror writer. I’m not great with scary stuff, so I’m reading on because it’s such a good read but I’m going slowly and almost with my hands over my eyes because I want to get out if it gets too scary.

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, Penguin Books, 2010

This book is the dual narrative of Ella, an unhappy American housewife, and the 13th Century Sufi poet Rumi and his companion Shams of Tabriz. It’s a tricky balance trying to hold the 21st and 13th Centuries in parallel and it didn’t work for me. Unfortunately, I was interested in reading about Rumi but not Ella, and I was on holiday, so I ended up putting it down and reading about neither.

If you’re curious though, give it a go. I might even have another peek. ‘International Bestseller’ doesn’t usually come from nothing and I’ve enjoyed her other books.

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