Counter Arts Book Club 2024

The new list is out! **Last Updated April 26th**

Sadie Seroxcat
Counter Arts

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May: ‘Earthlings’

For all of you avid readers out there!
I may still be catching up on the last novels in the current year’s list — it’s been a busy few months, the outstanding reviews are just needing finished off — but that hasn’t stopped me looking ahead and putting together a fresh list of twelve titles for 2024!

So, below you’ll find a synopsis of each book (courtesy of publishers and Goodreads), and again the list is mainly comprised of novels (plus one nonfiction, one poetry and one essay collection), but I’ve made an effort to keep them a reasonable length for quick reading. Number of pages is included in the information given, but ‘Ariadne’ is the longest at 400 pages and most are actually closer to the 200 page mark. I know we all have busy lives, so I’ve tried not to overload anyone who wants to jump in and read/review for us.

Also the same as you’ll see on this year’s list, below, I’ll be updating this piece throughout the whole of next year, providing links to any relevant work submitted by Counter Arts writers alongside review essays from myself, Marc and/or Reece for each title.

I’ve assigned each title to a month.
Sometimes the title fits with associations the month has been given,
eg. June being Pride Month, I chose to assign ‘All The Young Men’ — read the description below and you’ll understand why.
You are definitely not limited by the assigning of books to specific months. You (the reader) should feel free to read these titles whenever you like and in whatever order you like. Submit reviews whenever suits you, they will still be added to the list as soon as they are published on Counter Arts.

Just please do join in with reading something from this selection and also contribute your thoughts on it if you would, either by writing a review essay, or by leaving your thoughts in the comments section.

January

A Study for Obedience — Sarah Bernstein

196 pages, short novel.
Booker and Scotiabank Giller prize winner 2023.

“A young woman moves from the place of her birth to the remote northern country of her forebears to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has recently left him.

Soon after her arrival, a series of inexplicable events occurs — collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly born lamb; a local dog’s phantom pregnancy; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed with some intensity at her and she senses a mounting threat that lies ‘just beyond the garden gate.’ And as she feels the hostility growing, pressing at the edges of her brother’s property, she fears that, should the rumblings in the town gather themselves into a more defined shape, who knows what might happen, what one might be capable of doing.”

Review essays:

February

Legends &Lattes’ — Travis Baldree

296 page novel.
Hugo and Nebula award nominee 2023

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won’t be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.

Review essays:

March

Children of Paradise’ — Camilla Grudova

208 pages, short novel.
Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist nominee 2023

When Holly applies for a job at the Paradise — one of the city’s oldest cinemas, squashed into the ground floor of a block of flats — she thinks it will be like any other shift work. She cleans toilets, sweeps popcorn, avoids the belligerent old owner, Iris, and is ignored by her aloof but tight-knit colleagues who seem as much a part of the building as its fraying carpets and endless dirt. Dreadful, lonely weeks pass while she longs for their approval, a silent voyeur.

So when she finally gains the trust of this cryptic band of oddballs, Holly transforms from silent drudge to rebellious insider and gradually she too becomes part of the Paradise — unearthing its secrets, learning its history and haunting its corridors after hours with the other ushers. It is no surprise when violence strikes, tempers change and the group, eyes still affixed to the screen, starts to rapidly go awry…

Review Essays:

April

Time Shelter’ — Georgi Gospodinov

304 page novel.
First published 2020. Translated by Angela Rodel.
Winner of the International Booker Prize 2023

“..an enigmatic flâneur named Gaustine opens a ‘clinic for the past’ that offers a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s sufferers: each floor reproduces a decade in minute detail, transporting patients back in time.

As Gaustine’s assistant, the unnamed narrator is tasked with collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the past, from 1960s furniture and 1940s shirt buttons to scents and even afternoon light. But as the rooms become more convincing, an increasing number of healthy people seek out the clinic as a ‘time shelter’, hoping to escape from the horrors of our present — a development that results in an unexpected conundrum when the past begins to invade the present.”

Review Essays:

May

Earthlings’ — Sayaka Murata

247 pages, first published 2018
Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)

“Natsuki isn’t like the other girls. She has a wand and a transformation mirror. She might be a witch, or an alien from another planet. Together with her cousin Yuu, Natsuki spends her summers in the wild mountains of Nagano, dreaming of other worlds. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the two children forever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what.

Now Natsuki is grown. She lives a quiet life with her asexual husband, surviving as best she can by pretending to be normal. But the demands of Natsuki’s family are increasing, her friends wonder why she’s still not pregnant, and dark shadows from Natsuki’s childhood are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of her childhood, Natsuki prepares herself with a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it?”

June

All the Young Men’ — Ruth Coker Barnes

355 page nonfiction/memoir
Published 2020

“In 1986, 26-year old Ruth visits a friend at the hospital when she notices that the door to one of the hospital rooms is painted red. She witnesses nurses drawing straws to see who would tend to the patient inside, all of them reluctant to enter the room. Out of impulse, Ruth herself enters the quarantined space and immediately begins to care for the young man who cries for his mother in the last moments of his life. Before she can even process what she’s done, word spreads in the community that Ruth is the only person willing to help these young men afflicted by AIDS, and is called upon to nurse them. As she forges deep friendships with the men she helps, she works tirelessly to find them housing and jobs, even searching for funeral homes willing to take their bodies — often in the middle of the night. She cooks meals for tens of people out of discarded food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets, stores rare medications for her most urgent patients, teaches sex-ed to drag queens after hours at secret bars, and becomes a beacon of hope to an otherwise spurned group of ailing gay men on the fringes of a deeply conservative state.

Throughout the years, Ruth defies local pastors and nurses to help the men she cares for: Paul and Billy, Angel, Chip, Todd and Luke. Emboldened by the weight of their collective pain, she fervently advocates for their safety and visibility, ultimately advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis.

This deeply moving and elegiac memoir honours the extraordinary life of Ruth Coker Burks and the beloved men who fought valiantly for their lives with AIDS during a most hostile and misinformed time in America”

July

My Body’ — Emily Ratajkowski

239 pages, essays
Published 2022

“Emily Ratajkowski is an acclaimed model and actress, an engaged political progressive, a formidable entrepreneur, a global social media phenomenon, and now, a writer. Rocketing to world fame at age twenty-one, Ratajkowski sparked both praise and furor with the provocative display of her body as an unapologetic statement of feminist empowerment. The subsequent evolution in her thinking about our culture’s commodification of women is the subject of this book.

My Body is a profoundly personal exploration of feminism, sexuality, and power, of men’s treatment of women and women’s rationalizations for accepting that treatment. These essays chronicle moments from Ratajkowski’s life while investigating the culture’s fetishization of girls and female beauty, its obsession with and contempt for women’s sexuality, the perverse dynamics of the fashion and film industries, and the gray area between consent and abuse.”

August

Poor — Caleb Femi

140 pages, poetry collection
Published 2020
Chosen as a Book of the Year by New Statesman , Financial Times , Guardian , Observer , Rough Trade and the BBCShortlisted for the Rathbones Folio PrizeLonglisted for the Jhalak Prize — and much beloved by our Film(&TV) section editor Reece Beckett!

“What is it like to grow up in a place where the same police officer who told your primary school class they were special stops and searches you at 13 because ‘you fit the description of a man’ — and where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without ever touching the ground?In Poor , Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage, writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his South London youth, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.Above all, this is a tribute to the world that shaped a poet, and to the people forging difficult lives and finding magic within it. As Femi writes in one of the final poems of this ‘I have never loved anything the way I love the endz.’

September

Ariadne— Jennifer Saint

389 pages, novel, mythology
Published 2021

“As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur — Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother — demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods — drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?”

October

If I Survive You’ — Jonathan Escoffrey

272 pages, novel
Published 2022
Booker Prize shortlist 2023

“1979. Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But they soon learn that the welcome in America will be far from warm.

Trelawny, their youngest son, comes of age in a society which regards him with suspicion and confusion, greeting him with the puzzled question ‘What are you?’

Their eldest son Delano’s longing for a better future for his own children is equalled only by his recklessness in trying to secure it.

As both brothers navigate the obstacles littered in their path — an unreliable father, racism, a financial crisis and Hurricane Andrew — they find themselves pitted against one another. Will their rivalry be the thing that finally tears their family apart?”

November

A Minor Chorus’ — Billy Ray Belcourt

172 pages, novel, LGBTQ+, First Nations Canadian
Published 2022

“In Northern Alberta, a queer Indigenous doctoral student steps away from his dissertation to write a novel. He is adrift, caught between his childhood on the reservation and this new life of the urban intelligentsia. Billy-Ray Belcourt’s unnamed narrator chronicles a series of encounters: a heart-to-heart with fellow doctoral student River over the mounting pressure placed on marginalized scholars; a meeting with Michael, a closeted adult from his hometown whose vulnerability and loneliness punctuate the realities of queer life on the fringe. Amid these conversations, the narrator is haunted by memories of Jack, a cousin caught in the cycle of police violence, drugs, and survival. Jack’s life parallels the narrator’s own; the possibilities of escape and imprisonment are left to chance with colonialism stacking the odds.”

December

Our Wives Under The Sea’ — Julia Armfield

240 page, novel
Published 2022

“Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.”

  • *Note: I’m aware of the issues with Goodreads — I decided to link to that site for information rather than a sales site… but if you do want to buy a copy of any of these titles, do please consider using local, independent bookshops — online these can be accessed using Bookshop.org (this link takes you to the UK base of the site, but it is specific to your location).

If your new to Counter Arts and our Book Club, there are links below to the lists for 2022 (the year of conception) and last year (2023):

Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve found something in this new list to tempt you!

Stay safe. Stay warm. Stay well.
With love — Sadie

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Sadie Seroxcat
Counter Arts

Essays & Poetry. Chronic illness. Mental Health. Literature. Boost Nominator. 'Counter Arts', ‘Rainbow Salad’ & 'Seroxcat's Salon' sadie.seroxcat@googlemail.com