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Best Books of 2024 So Far

Manny and The Baby by Varaidzo Varaidzo’s ‘Manny and The Baby’ flips between 2012 and 1936; Bath and London.  In 2012, we meet Itai who’s trying to learn more about his recently deceased father through a collection of tapes left in a flat (never before discussed in life) located in Bath. In 1936, we meet ‘The Baby’ an aspiring dancer and mixed race woman who finds family in her older sister Manny and their found community in London. Whilst Itai’s story remains in 2012, The Baby’s traverses a number of years and incidents which are connected to Itai’s present. A standout quality is the way that Varaidzo wove this tale, bright and expressive through a love of music, the liberation of women and the arts. Each character is flawed in such a tender way that you can’t help sympathise with their plight and each reasoning behind decisions made. The sense of found family is present in both storylines- you can’t help but love the little worlds that have been created. You root for Manny in her endeavour to write in a man’s world, The Baby’s desire to be adult enough to hang out with her sister’s creative friends, Ezekiel’s desire to play Jazz in a society that doesn’t quite understand him yet. And the romance of it all! It’s hard to put this book down once you open the first page.   Blessings by Chukwuebuka Ibeh Through a simple yet affecting prose, Ibeh  crafts a coming of age story of young and queer Obiefuna. Most of the book is set in a boys only boarding school. Those familiar with the politics of boarding school will appreciate how perfect a backdrop it is to explore friendship, school sibling dynamics that blur into romances rife with power imbalance, and sexual awakenings led by an innocent curiosity that does not always make sense. That this book is at its height in a time when we are witnessing the further rolling back of LGBQTIA+ rights in African countries made for a bittersweet reading experience. Ibeh, with an expertise that is impressive for a debut, extends so much grace to all the characters, reminding us of the human instinct to savour love and community, even in impossible conditions.  Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain by Aniefiok Ekpoudom  ‘Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain’ is a history of grime and rap travels up and down the UK to really teach us about the roots of these genres and who inspires our favourite present day artists. Ekpoudom has been rooted in this life for years through his reporting, so it makes sense that he’d be the one to chart this great epic. Ekpoudom connects migration and the role it plays in the movement that is music brilliantly. He doesn’t shy away from introspection of the genres tackling the heartbreaking (Cadet and Pa Salieu) and the healing (the early Birmingham Pirate Radio scene). Ekpoudom’s pen tackles this tale in a narrative fashion, weaving reported storytelling and interviews to create pages of history that chart the progression of grime and rap in places that might be unexpected to some, like Wales. It has always been apparent that these genres have been territorial but ‘Where We Come From’ looks at the people living in these territories and their histories.  Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalofun by Wole Talabi A sexy, fast-paced science fiction novel that follows a nightmare god named Shigidi and a succubus named Nneoma on a high-stakes heist to steal the Brass Head of Obalofun from the British Museum. Talabi explores big picture ideas like sovereignty, national borders, archiving, community and belonging with the same curiosity and imagination as the ones framed more interpersonally like ageing, sex, desirability, grief and love (both the accepting and the fear of it). So much is covered in this work, and it is done with a tongue-in-cheek tone that makes sure to not tilt over to cynicism. It gave me one of the funnest reading experiences I’ve had in a very long while.     Parasol Against The Axe by Helen Oyeyemi   Helen Oyeyemi is known for the weird and wonderful and ‘Parasol Against the Axe’ fits in quite nicely with that sentiment. Set in Oyeyemi’s home since 2014, Prague, this novel is a story, within a story, within another story; “Paradoxical Undressing,” she calls it. The story changes each time a new perspective is introduced such that the plot is ever changing. Prague, the city the novel is set in, is anthropomorphic, which adds another layer in what already feels like an incredibly immersive reading experience. Oyeyemi's Parasol Against The Axe is pure maximalism fit into a 200 or so page novel. The details, the twists and turns and the back stories revealed to us up to the very end, make this a bizarrely rich novel. Womb City by Tlotlo Tsamaase Debut novel ‘Womb City’ by Motswana novelist Tlotlo Tsamaase is an afro-futurist take on a world where one is able to divorce their mind or consciousness from their body. Citizens of womb city are subjected to new bodies every few decades and the circumstances their previous owners live through including crime. It deals with issues of identity like autonomy, race, gender (not as a binary but rather, as a spectrum of expression), motherhood among many others. The biggest criticism of ‘Womb City’ is that the plot is bumpy at best. Certain sections of the book feel far more engaging than others. But what the novel lacks in good pacing, it makes up for in a cool (and timely) idea, and exceptional attention to detail in the world building.       Revolutionary Acts: Love and Brotherhood in Black Gay Britain by Jason Okundaye A debut compilation of six biographies of a generation of Black and out gay men in Britain. The amount of care, time and effort that went into the research and reporting it took to put this book together shines through- there is an incredible amount of detail. It is candid, compelling and at times really tender. Okundaye deliberately (re)frames the stories and historical events such that these men are firmly at the centre, instead of the outside-looking-in approach often invoked for marginalised population groups. ‘Revolutionary Acts’ is a work of intergenerational dialogue- the exchange feels active on the page, which is, again, a testament to Okundaye’s brilliant interview work.   A Kind Of Madness by Uche Okonkwo This collection of short stories, set in Nigeria, explores ‘madness,’ a word that has come to mean many things. From mental illness, to severe loneliness, and from dangerous envy to everyday errancy, Okonkwo explores varying circumstances in which madness is often ascribed. Central to the story are relationships (an ill mother, a nosy neighbour, a friend from an entirely different background as you) and how they can inspire a kind of madness in us. This is a collection in which Nigeria is a character itself- its norms, beliefs, and identities are key to the writing choices in a way that might make one describe the book as “authentic.” Although the book revolves around taboo, you don’t get the impression that the author is trying to be didactic. She isn’t trying to offer a teaching moment, instead, just explore what we might actually mean when we call someone mad.

The best books of the year so far, picked from our bookshelves of the month

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