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January Bookshelf: Reading recommendations to indulge in some escapism this month

A recommended reading list to offer you that much-needed respite from January blues and exam season. Travel from sun-drenched Italian villas to windy mountain tops in Wales with this wide ranging selection of books set around the world.

By Jasmine Cundiff, First Year Law and German

From sun-drenched Italian villas to windy mountain tops in Wales, this January bookshelf sweeps across a range of landscapes and life experiences, providing some escapism from the January Blues.

Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman

Definitely one of my favourite books ever, reading it is like immersing yourself in the sounds and sights of the Italian summer, perhaps a perfect escape from the January drizzle. It tells the story of Elio, a knowledgeable, yet inexperienced seventeen-year old who falls for Oliver, his father’s house guest.

Though their romance only lasts for 6 weeks, it is a life-changing experience for both. Aciman provides a uniquely sensitive insight into insecurities, painful miscommunications and limited time, which makes characters relatable, yet the beautiful Italian backdrop also provides inspiration for the imagination.

I think the aesthetic of this book automatically makes you feel a lot more cultured. Aciman includes references to Greek philosophy and snippets of Italian, French and German; this book is a wonderful insight into the interaction between human knowledge, culture and experience.

Call Me By Your Name and Hot Milk. | Epigram / Jasmine Cundiff

Hot Milk - Deborah Levy

A story that transports you to the idyllic beaches of Southern Spain, and into the problematic life of the protagonist. Sofia and her mother Rose have travelled to an exclusive clinic in the effort to cure Rose’s mysterious illness, which limits Sofia’s independence, as she has been her mother’s primary carer. Mother and daughter become almost one unit as a result of Rose’s constant dependency on her daughter.

Adjusting to life in a rented Spanish beach house brings Sofia into contact with new experiences, including stinging jellyfish, an enigmatic doctor and a mysterious German dressmaker.

Set in the aftermath of economic crisis, this book gives a multi-faceted insight into a character who is coming to terms with her past, navigating the present and exploring future possibilities.

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

A thought-provoking tale of the path to spiritual enlightenment which has inspired generations. Siddhartha is the son of a wealthy Indian Brahmin. He enjoys all of life’s material privileges, and yet is deeply dissatisfied with his life. In renouncing his luxuries, Siddhartha contemplates the meaning of the world around him and his own relationships.

Hesse provides an insight into the rich internal life of an individual trying to distinguish between what is meaningful and what is excess, in the effort to attain peace of mind.

The spiritual lessons learnt from this book may inform our attitude towards the new year. We may keep or re-evaluate our ambitions for 2021, by examining what makes us happy in the present moment.

Epigram / Jasmine Cundiff

Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart provides a devastating depiction of the brutal and inhumane crimes committed by European colonialists as they forcefully occupied South-Eastern Nigeria. Achebe depicts the life of Okonkwo, a renowned warrior who is greatly respected throughout West Africa. However, his situation rapidly deteriorates after he accidentally kills a clansman, and is condemned to exile.

Returning from exile, he is horrified that his colonised village will never be the same again. Through depicting both pre-colonial and post-colonial life, Achebe highlights the exploitive and destructive impacts of colonialism. He presents the loss of rich village traditions as they are uncomfortably replaced with European customs.

The book gives the perspective of the Africans who were colonised and importantly counters the tales written about and told by Western colonialists.

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Skirrid Hill - Owen Sheers

Skirrid Hill is a collection of poems dealing with a variety of themes including memory, identity, growing up, relationships, history and separation. The title ‘Skirrid Hill’ refers to a Welsh mountain, linking to Sheers’ Welsh heritage.

Some poems, including ‘Farther’ and ‘Flag’ are more rooted in a natural setting. They depict human interaction with the Welsh landscape and explore ideas of Welsh identity and the relationships between the generations.

Other poems such as ‘Night Windows’ and ‘Show’ appear more artificial, depicting relationships between individuals and dealing with ideas of femininity and masculinity. Overall, this is a thought-provoking collection, which makes interesting comments on our life experiences.

What are you reading this month?

Featured Image: Epigram / Jasmine Cundiff