I thought I might address the elephant in the room and give all the usual excuses for my terrible blogging etiquette, but I’m not going to bother and just pretend like I’ve never been away. (See what I did there? By not addressing it, addressed it. Done!)
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my LOVE of writing and books here on the blog, but I’ll say it now, I love love love books. Actual books, paper ones, ones that line my shelves two or three deep and smell like other peoples houses. I’m never getting rid of my books. If I get rid of a book, it must have been totally shit, like Fifty Shades of Shit shit, otherwise it’ll still be on my bookshelf when I die. I tell Rob I’m growing a library. ‘OK babe’ (eye roll). If you get to the bottom there’s a romantic (in a literary way) story about a couple who grew a library – read on!
Its nearly the summer hols! Whoop whoop. Cries of delight and sheer desperation at the same time. If you think you’re actually going to get through a whole book these hols, you know you’re deluded, right? Unless . . . unless, your darling other half works in education! Oh yes that’s right, when term time ends, family time begins and that mainly means (in my world), ‘children meet Daddy, Daddy meet children, now off you go and spend some quality time together whilst I sunbathe/paint my nails/read a book/go shopping/drink coffee (alone)/have a facial and all manner of things that I feel deprived of when Daddy is working (I might have all day every day to myself but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, you can get literally NOTHING done in six hours!)
So this is not my all-time top ten list of amazing reads. It changes all the time. I could pick up a book next week and it could become my number 1. I’m also quite into experimental and post-war writers but I’m not sure they’re really the stuff of lazy summer days by the pool (If you want a head-fuck though, I suggest House Mother Normal by BS Johnson).
The books are listed in no particular order but what I will say though is if you loved Girl On a Train, you’re probably not going to like anything here. On the plus side, I hear Paula Hawkins has a new book out you could try. Similarly, and I’ve already made my feelings known, Fifty Shades of Gash is not making it here.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
So there might be a little order. This is definitely numero uno! It’s an epic novel that essentially takes a ‘coming of age’ story line and pumps it so full of charm, grace and grit that you really don’t want this boy/man’s story to end even after 854 pages (I said it was an epic!). Chapter 2 begins with ‘things would have turned out better if she had lived’ and that one line underscores the whole plot, Theo Decker’s entire journey. You should join him on it!
Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Technically, a kids book but I think you’ll get just as much enjoyment from it as any child – especially the pictures! Maybe you’ve seen the film – the book is better (as always!). One of the guys on my MA brought this book to our very first session to talk about the pictures. (I took a picture of me and the kids – really I had nothing else to talk about – I was the token ‘mum’) The myth goes that the author, Ransom Rigg, who’s obviously fucking cool with a name like that, spent years rummaging through strangers’ photo collections looking for weird and wonderful photographs that had been manipulated through light, tricks of the lens and other photographic mysteries until he had a bunch of them that he used in the book. Apparently then all the photos in the book and real and salvaged from someone’s dusty shoe boxes long forgotten in the basement (in the states, of course).
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
It’s been a while since I read this one but I remember it makes you feel hot. If you’re stick of the British weather, then read this, it will warm you up! Can’t quite remember the plot except it had a bit of murder and adultery in it – what’s not to love! Klaussmann also wrote Villa America, which is equally good and I can guarantee will having you googling the Florida Keys to see how expensive it is to go. *Also makes you feel hot*
Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark
Do I need to say it again? Better than the TV series. It’s a really weird and wonderful novel and I loved it. I’m going to borrow a quote from that old timer Julian Fellowes here:
‘My topic for a gathering, my page-turner, my mind-improver, my talking point and my train reading are all one and the same book: Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell . . . I am literally unable to put it down’.
And there you have it.
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
Oh Muriel, my new best friend Muriel! I do heart thee and I wish you were still alive for me to stalk you.
If you haven’t yet experienced Muriel, you really need to. Quick, witty, sharp, insightful and way ahead of her mid-century time, Ms Muriel Spark is fabulously entertaining in almost every book. Her works are short, sweet and fit nicely in your handbag.
Don’t let your Year 11 experience of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie put you off – teachers were such bores back then – give her another go and if you’re feeling a bit experimental, a bit daring, try The Driver’s Seat. Again, kind of head fuck territory but awesome satire of the state of the post-war world. Hint: You can only appreciate it fully the second time round!
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Lord of the Flies meets some US pageantry shit. (I don’t watch reality TV but you know the shit I mean). It’s lighthearted, surrealist fun that leaves you with many more questions than you came with. With strong feminist themes and bang-on social commentary, this novel is more than some sexy desert island fun, it questions our cultures, femininity and sexuality through heavy satire and the sheer ridiculousness of the ‘queens’ predicaments.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein
Again, another one that I read so long ago that it’s definitely due a re-read. As the cover and title would suggest it’s dark, magical and fantastical and if you’re up for a bit of escapism then this is for you. Morgenstein describes her works as being ‘fairy-tales in one way or another’ and The Night Circus doesn’t disappoint. If you read this beautiful piece of writing you will probably want to don a bustle and corset and run off to tame the lions in the zoo.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Read this one just last week. As soon as I’d finished it, I scribbled a note to my lecturer at uni, saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t know why I think you’ll like but I think you will’ and sent it off to her. The truth is I don’t know why I liked it so much, written by Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally – I admit, that sort of put me off), a Jewish American, unfortunately now deceased inhabitant of New York, I really can’t see what we had/have in common. But its brilliant, it really is. Its made me feel better – almost – about getting older. She talks with clarity, frankness and hilarity about mustaches (on women), the menopause, wearing a bikini, divorce and bad cooking and now I feel foolish for indeed wearing a bikini at 36 when a woman much wiser than me says the cut off is 34!
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
I’ve tried without success to get the husband to read this – in fact when I was feeling at my worst, I desperately wanted him to read it as someone had managed to put into words the crippling and debilitating effects anxiety has on you, words that I just couldn’t form into sentences and convey coherently. But he’s clearly a philistine, so I gave up. I remember thinking, when I didn’t feel too hot, this book is helping, this book is making me better. If you have struggled or are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, this true story may just help things to look a little brighter, it might just give you an hour of respite from the viscous, swamp-like depths of these illnesses that you have no choice but to wallow in. Matt Haig has received high praise indeed for this soulful little number, here are a few of my faves:
‘Reasons to Stay Alive is one of the purest and most human and necessary books I’ve ever read. Please read it’ @northernluke.
‘Wish I could have handed it to myself aged 19’ @katiedawson23.
‘A small masterpiece that might even save lives’ Joanna Lumley.
AND, if your wife asks you to read, READ IT!
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker
This is a classic whodunnit. There is notably no other detective fiction here, because it’s just not my thing, but this is an easy read, a typically thriller-esque romp into love, murder, corruption, lies and deceit. There are plot twists galore and sets a racy pace from the outset. Dicker’s dialogue is colourful and intricate, as is the plot, as are the characters. If you like crime/thriller/detective fiction, I think you’ll love this!
(There has to be an 11! I just couldn’t find the book to take a picture of it.) The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. Funny as fuck. That is all!
There might have been a 12. A book called The Particular Sadness of Lemon cake (what a title, I want to eat lemon cake right now) but unfortunately, it fell into the bath, took two days to dry out so is still being read now. What I can say though is the writing is beautiful, warm, toasty and cakeish! (see how I switch between vulgar and poetic, what a skill!). Judgement on this one reserved for now.
If you do buy this book, this is the copy you need, purely because of the front cover. I want to eat it. (Interestingly, I’ve stumbled across a little blog called The Novel Cook – she (wrong of me to assume, maybe he!) had actually made this lemon cake.
So like all good books, this blog post must come to an end. I wish you all the most peaceful, relaxing, time-rich summer full of books, dreams and adventures – the ‘everything of possibility’ (bah, ha, ha!).
And I’ve not forgotten – here’s the story I promised you back at the top.
Not long ago I visited The Working Class Movement Library in Salford. Their collection is the private collection of books from one married couple who spent all their time, money and love on growing this collection and sharing it with the public. They actually let any old bibliophile into their terrace house in Old Trafford to read and borrow the books until the collection outgrew the house and Salford City Council gave them a beautiful, old (possibly listed) building right on the Crescent to carry on the good work they were doing. They’re both dead now but the collection remains taking over two floors and every nook and cranny of the museum. Maybe it’s just me and the romantic ideas I hold about books but I love that story.