I made a random choice to begin my 2022 reading with The Book of Leeds, A collection of 10 short stories written by ten writers based in Leeds and also set around Leeds in the United Kingdom. Like most short story collections, some of the stories were hits and others were misses.

Among the ten stories, I particularly enjoyed Findling Polish, Manoeuvres, The Falling and Twenty-Five Reasons. A lot of the stories tell the stories of migrants in Leeds. Characters who either moved to the UK as kids or were born there. The prejudices that the characters face are laid bare as much as the xenophobia that is sadly a familiar problem to this day. Another theme that recurs in the stories is how Leeds United and its Elland Road stadium plays a pivotal role in the lives of Loiners. The prejudices against different cultures and the central role that Leeds United play in the social fabric of the city is most highlighted in Manoeuvres where a young lad is in awe of a football hooligan and the adverse influence sees Mark, the young lad cross lines that he knows are wrong and puts him at risk. Finding Polish is my favourite story in the collection and it is about an aspiring loan shark who forces an old debtor to confront a past that the old man does not wish to revisit. It is a humane story that humanizes supposedly tough men. A common complaint about short stories is how abrupt and incomplete most of them are. The ones I have enjoyed in this collection do not have this problem. Each of them peaks appropriately and provide closure adequately in each case. The only problem I had with Twenty-Five Reasons is that it is sexist and humorously paints an unsavoury picture of men; a speed date where each woman gets to encounter twenty-five men within a very short period in quick successions. All twenty-five men meant by these two female friends are bumbling idiots. Not one of them has a redeeming quality.  All men being scum is a generalization that should not be encouraged.

The Book of Leeds is a decent collection but nothing extraordinary or outstanding in it. I am sure the year has better reads in store.


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