It’s been a long old time, not least because I’ve gone a bit blog-crazy and set up two new ones to incorporate my latest passions: running and crafting (the two don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, I know). However, I haven’t stopped reading (nor have I perfected the recipe for adding a few hours to the day, sadly); below are my must-reads and my to-avoids of 2019 so far – see if you agree…!
Tom Hanks: ‘Uncommon Type’
I adore Tom Hanks – he always comes across as humble, hilarious and witty, so when I saw he’d tapped out a book on one of his many typewriters I knew I’d have to give it a go. It’s a collection of short stories ranging from the everyday to the (literally) out of this world. They’re simple, they’re straightforward, they’re just darn lovely. What I loved about these stories was their easygoing nature; nothing took itself too seriously, it was a pleasant read at the end of the day to ease myself into rest for the night. Definitely a must-read if you want the calm and chilled story.
Deborah Rodriguez: ‘The Kabul Beauty School’
I love the ‘Coffee Shop’ books by Deborah Rodriguez, and ‘Kabul Beauty School’ has been sat on my shelf a shameful amount of time. It’s insightful, it’s funny and it’s heartbreaking, but what a wonderful way to get to know one of the perceived most dangerous areas in the world. I would never have associated Afghanistan with the need for manicures, but what Rodriguez shows you in sparkling style is how even the humble haircut can change a life for the better in the most troubled of times. She doesn’t deny the harsh realities of living in a war zone, but this is complemented with the rays of sunshine poking through the clouds. It’s a gem and an enlightening experience.
Ben Elton: ‘Blind Faith’
I LOVE Ben Elton; his writing is never overly-intellectualised or complicated, but it is so incredibly precise in aiming its satire right at you and making you reevaluate your entire life that it feels like I’ve been stripped and judged to my very soul. ‘Blind Faith’ is no exception: I genuinely can’t take the world seriously any more. I can’t see an ill-fitting outfit without thinking of the citizens in the book defending their right to flash everything. I can’t go on social media without reflecting on the absurdity of communitainment advice. And when the royal baby name came out? I couldn’t help but wonder if Archie Happymeal might be on the cards. Read this for a real examination of our cultural values, delivered so obviously yet subtly; it’s a masterclass in exposing people without them realising it, and Elton is certainly a magician in revealing what was there all along.
Elizabeth Gilbert: ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
Another one sat on the shelf for longer than it should have been, this wasn’t overly complex but it was thoughtful and written so as to make you reassess your life without preaching at you, which is a dandy old combination for me! It’s a treasure trove of wonderful sayings, quotes and mantras designed to help enrich your life and put a smile on your face; I challenge anyone not to come away without some form of gentle resolve for their everyday existence.
Matt Haig: ‘How to Stop Time’
Haig’s book follows what seems like an enviable character: he doesn’t age. But the downsides become a heartbreaking journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Yes, the climax seems a little odd after such a drift-along gentle plot on the whole, but it serves the purpose to fly our characters into love, happiness and acceptance; and perhaps its readers, too.
Aidan Chambers: ‘Postcards From No-Man’s Land’
Granted, the target audience for this is probably a lot younger than man, but as a former teacher I’ve always taken a keen interest in what teen fiction is coming out now, and as a Carnegie Medal winner it piqued my interest. Don’t get me wrong, some of it was touching and beautifully written, but for me, particularly with my ex-teacher hat on, it tried to do too much too subtly. I’m not exactly daft and I struggled with why it was ‘postcards’ when it seemed more of a reflection/diary, and I’m so glad it was spelled out Ton was a boy early on as even when rereading I couldn’t pick up on those clues. There were just too many threads being pulled at: sexuality (big disappointment: potential homosexuality quickly overshadowed by heterosexuality, this felt like it undermined itself), war, identity, death…Each issue was so vast and weighty that none got their full worth recognised; it was clumsy and clunky to get through, and not an experience I’d repeat.
Mary Renault: ‘The King Must Die’
I read this because everyone kept comparing the wonderful Madeline Miller (a la ‘Circe’ and ‘The Song of Achilles’) to her predecessor; how could I resist? Boy, I wish I had: I don’t know how I got to the end of this but it’s incredibly literal style, paired with expecting you to know things have happened when you’ve not been told, completely lost me. I’ve got another Renault on my shelf, but I’m not sure I’ll manage another dose of cold, stark history lesson, so I might give it a miss!