Books and me: On my shelves with Jordan Cleary

Jordan Cleary from Winchester Library tells us about his favourite Young Adult (YA) books, LGBTQ+ stories, and the importance of representation in our reading.

Where is your favourite place to read?

I don’t read as often as I would like, but when I do get a chance to read, I like to do it in what I call a reading nook. It’s actually just a chair in the guest bedroom next to a bookshelf, but I like to call it that so it sounds more elegant than it actually is. I’ve tried reading in bed before, but I just can’t get comfy. Whichever side I lean on, one of my arms goes dead, so I usually just go to the nook.

Before I worked at Winchester Library, I was at New Milton Library which meant an hour commute on the train every day. I used to get through so many books because there’s not much else to do on a train and it was a good amount of time to just sit down and get stuck in a book. Now I work in Winchester and my commute is about 5 minutes. It’s much more convenient for me but I do miss having that dedicated reading time.

How do you read?

In an ideal world I would read about 20 maybe 30 books a year. We don’t live in an ideal world, so I read roughly 5 books a year. I don’t like reading in small chunks, I like to have proper sessions where I can just get my head in a book. I don’t like dipping in and out of a story because I like to really spend some proper time with the plot and the characters. I usually finish a book in three or four sittings, so if I don’t think I have enough time to read, I just won’t. I have tried audiobooks before, but I always find myself having to skip back because I’ve lost track of what’s going on in the story. So, for me, it can end up being more stressful than just reading. I do always carry a book with me though in the hope that I might find an hour spare.

I personally would never dog-ear a book; I really like to treat my books with care. Though I did once have my collection of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries by Robin Stevens displayed on a windowsill before I knew how badly books can be sun damaged. Each cover is a different bright colour, so they looked really nice all in a row on the windowsill. But the sun aged the paper and bleached all the colourful covers. Never again have I put a book on a windowsill. But I’m pragmatic in so far as, if you have bought a copy of your own book, I don’t care how you treat it. It sounds sentimental, but I actually think it’s really nice how we leave traces of ourselves in the books we read. Whether it’s a note in a margin, a coffee stain, or a folded page, the book can take on qualities of us and almost become a memory in itself.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been getting into graphic novels a lot because that’s one of my stock areas at work and YA is one of the genres that I really love. I’m reading the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman at the moment. It started off as a webcomic and is actually running as one still, but it became so popular that it began being published in volumes as a graphic novel. It’s a really sweet love story about two teenage boys in a British sixth form. There’s a lot of YA romance out there but I found Heartstopper quite different because it takes the story at quite a deliberate pace. I think where it started as a webcomic, the relationship is allowed the space and time to evolve in a far more realistic way. It also carries on after they fall in love as well and it’s really far more about their relationship after getting together which is quite rare in YA I think. It touches on a lot of different topics that are so important for us to learn from, from eating disorders and mental health, to homophobia, it’s the kind of book I wish I had as a teenager.

Reading patterns

My reading goes in cycles. I’d say I’m primarily a fan of fantasy, crime, and YA, though I do like natural science and true-crime books too. I picked up my interest in true crime mainly from my mum. Before I went to university, we would quite often stay up watching forensic documentaries and true crime stories. Right now in my genre cycle I’m in a YA phase, but I’ll probably come back to reading crime soon, it’s dependent on my mood.

I often check book blogs for recommendations, especially because I like LGBTQ+ novels and books that are quite off the beaten path. Although I don’t really believe we should pigeonhole a book based on its cover, it is often the first thing that jumps out at you about a book and covers often do a good job of telling you what kind of a read it’s going to be. If a crime novel has a dark, gritty aesthetic then you know that’s going to be quite a different book to the fluffy one next to it. It’s a good way to pick a book if you don’t have much time.

First loves, best loves

When I was younger my favourite author was Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series. They’re beautifully written, setting heavy novels and they have maps to help the world building in the front too; I love a good map in a book! Dragon Rider is another one of her novels that I loved when I was a bit younger. It’s about a boy trying to help a dragon find its home and they fly all over the world together, it’s very sweet and probably where my love of fantasy came from.

The lack of variety of books when I was growing up was a big problem in the early to mid-noughties. I grew up in a time where Section 28 was still enforced which meant that local authorities and government-maintained schools couldn’t promote or endorse LGBTQ+ content or represent those families. Even though it was repealed in 2003, it took quite a long time for schools, libraries, and councils to catch up and take up an equality angle. So, even in secondary school, I don’t remember being taught or shown stories that reflected me or others from the LGBTQ+ community. I’m sure they were out there somewhere if you knew where to look, but when you’re that age and coming out you don’t really know where to turn. I think unless those things are shown to you it’s quite easy to think that there are no books anywhere that actually represent who you are. But publishing houses are improving greatly at that and I think it’s great that schools and libraries are able to wholeheartedly promote these books and showcase these stories now. I didn’t have that growing up and it’s something that I feel like I really missed out on. I’m 26 now but I’m still reading a lot of YA fiction, I feel like I’m catching up on the books I would have read growing up if I had had the chance to.

Overlooked delights

I think children’s books are quite an odd genre because often it becomes dominated by celebrity authors who are marketed really well but aren’t necessarily popular for the quality of the books. I would really encourage people to explore some of the lesser-known children’s authors that are writing incredible books. The last children’s book I read was Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Many people may not have heard of him because he’s a debut novelist, but it’s a brilliant urban fantasy about the ‘bureau of supernatural affairs’. One of things I love about this book is that it features a black girl, Amari, as the main character. Too often when people of colour are included in books it’s as a supporting role. But Amari is prominently shown in centre stage of the front cover as the main character. It’s a children’s book, of course, so it doesn’t get too heavy, but it does touch on classism and bullying in a really interesting way and it explores that through some of the fantasy elements too. I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for an alternative to Harry Potter.

Another I would recommend is Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series which is aimed more at young teens. It’s set in an alternate London where, because of something they call “the Problem”, ghosts appear at night and attack the living. Young people are the only ones able to sense the spirits so agencies are set up for them to investigate “the Problem” and fight the hauntings.

For me, I would like to get into horror. I don’t really enjoy horror films because I find them too scary, but I’d really like to try the book alternative. I’d love to read some of the classic horror novels like The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Jordan Cleary is a Library Team Assistant at Winchester Library and the Vice Chair of Hampshire County Council’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network. Jordan was speaking with Isaac Fravashi.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

About the book

Across the globe, millions of computer screens flicker with the artfully coded world of T’Rain – an addictive internet role-playing game of fantasy and adventure. But backstreet hackers in China have just unleashed a contagious virus called Reamde, and as it rampages through the gaming world spreading from player to player – holding hard drives hostage in the process – the computer of one powerful and dangerous man is infected, causing the carefully mediated violence of the on-line world to spill over into reality. A fast-talking, internet-addicted mafia accountant is brutally silenced by his Russian employers, and Zula – a talented young T’Rain computer programmer – is abducted and bundled on to a private jet. As she is flown across the skies in the company of the terrified boyfriend she broke up with hours before, and a brilliant Hungarian hacker who may be her only hope, she finds herself sucked into a whirl of Chinese Secret Service agents and gun-toting American Survivalists; the Russian criminal underground and an al-Qaeda cell led by a charismatic Welshman; each a strand of a connected world that devastatingly converges in T’Rain. An inimitable and compelling thriller that careers from British Columbia to South-West China via Russia and the fantasy world of T’Rain, Reamde is an irresistible epic from the unique imagination of one of today’s most individual writers.

Reviewed by Bookwombs

Too long to read in one month! Lots of excess detail, but once it gets going, really gripping. Would have made a great film

star rating **

 

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The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and David & Stephen Baxter

About the book

1916: the Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where has the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man’s Land gone? 2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive (some said mad, others dangerous) scientist when she finds a curious gadget – a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a…potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever. And that is an understatement if ever there was one…

 

Reviewed by Women Who Read

A lot of the same. A clever concept but not a thrilling read”

star rating **

 

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

About the book

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

 

 Reviewed by Palestine Book Club

“Unusual structure – some found it irritating and confusing. Very thought provoking. An interesting story and good quality writing”

star rating **

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Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch (Book 3 of ‘Rivers of London’)

About the Book

Peter Grant is learning magic fast. And it’s just as well – he’s already had run-ins with the deadly supernatural children of the Thames and a terrifying killer in Soho. Progression in the Police Force is less easy. Especially when you work in a department of two. A department that doesn’t even officially exist. A department that if you did describe it to most people would get you laughed at. And then there’s his love life. The last person he fell for ended up seriously dead. It wasn’t his fault, but still.

Now something horrible is happening in the labyrinth of tunnels that make up the tube system that honeycombs the ancient foundations of London. And delays on the Northern line is the very least of it. Time to call in the Met’s Economic and Specialist Crime Unit 9, aka ‘The Folly’. Time to call in PC Peter Grant, Britain’s Last Wizard.

Reviewed by Totton 1 Reading Group

Very entertaining. I didn’t always know what was going on but got swept along by the humour and chaos. I liked the style of the book

Star rating ***

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Thud by Terry Pratchett

About the book

Koom Valley? That was where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls. Anyway, it was far away and a long time ago. But if Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch doesn’t solve the case of a murdered dwarf, he could see the whole battle again, fought right outside his office.

Review by Locks Heath Reading Group

It was an experience to have read, never having explored a Terry Pratchett publication before. There were so many characters making it very hard to start and the promised laughs were few and far between. However, after our discussions and analysis of the life situations touched on, one or two of the reading group members who gave up before the end (or never got started) thought they weould have another attempt. It was decided that “thud” wasn’t one of his best and those who “had a go” probably wouldn’t read another Pratchett story.We thought it merited 1 or 2 stars.

Star rating: *

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Feet of clay by Terry Pratchett

About the book

Someone is murdering old men, the Patrician has been poisoned, the clay workers have started committing suicide, and there is a werewolf suffering from pre-lunar tension.

Reviewed by Botley Book Circle

We had polarised opinions of this book. Generally felt difficult to get into. Quite enjoyable when the plot started towards the middle. Generated a new Pratchett fan.

Star rating: **

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Northern lights by Philip Pullman

About the book

Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

Reviewed by Queen Mary’s College Library Reading Group

For some it took a while to get into this novel, but it was worth the effort as even those who hate science and fantasy fiction found it a marvellous read. Pullman’s imagination and narrative skill were so clever and convincing that the reader soon accepted all the strange things in and aspects of the world he had created. The many and varied influences including Milton, C.S. Lewis and William Blake were all cleverly assimilated into this book. A cracking narrative pace left most of the group keen to read the next two books in the series.

**** 4 stars

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Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

About the book

Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork – not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic.

Reviewed by Ringwood Readers

Not everyone’s cup of tea. Soem of us thought it was very funny, others thought they could not get into it. The use of language was amazing.

**+1/2  2.5 stars

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

About the book

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Reviewed by Forest Arts Reading Group:

Excellent book. Really makes you think. Well written and endearing, we loved it, thank you!

Star rating: ****

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