At the beginning of last year I resolved, among other things, to read more and I’m happy to say it’s one of the few resolutions I’ve maintained long after the last embers of 2016 died out. Now that 2017 has rolled around my love of books has only intensified and I thought I’d share some of the titles I’m looking forward to reading with you.
My most recent job has seen the last part of my commute home take place from London’s Waterloo station, which just so happens to have a Foyles book shop. I often have around 20 minutes to spare between trains and the lure of this branch’s bookshelves is too much for me to resist.
Here are some spoils from my most recent inter-train haul.
1.THE MOTH SNOWSTORM, NATURE & JOY by Michael McCarthy
I spied the spine of The Moth Snowstorm poking out from between the natural history tomes on the first floor. I read a pretty renowned natural history book last year and really struggled with it so I was feeling somewhat despondent about delving further into the subject matter. However, something about the cover appealed and when I began reading the first paragraph I realised: this is my kind of nature writing.
As you can see my copy is already a bit dog-eared because I’ve been carrying it around in my handbag for the past few weeks, snatching the chance to read chapters when I get a seat on the Tube, which is rare these days!
When author, Michael McCarthy, was seven years old his mother Norah – to whom the book is dedicated – suffered a breakdown. The year was 1954 and mental health was treated away from everyday life in asylums and, in this instance, on the say-so of the Catholic Church. While Norah was undergoing radical treatment, Michael and his brother John went to live with their Aunt in Sunny Bank, Liverpool and it is here Michael’s unlikely, yet enduring, love affair with nature was born.
…I ran out of the house at Sunny Bank to play and encountered the tall bush covered in jewels, jewels as big as my seven-year-old hand, jewels flashing dazzling colour combinations: scarlet and black, maroon and yellow, pink and white, orange and turquoise. The buddleia was crawling with butterflies…in their greedy quest for nectar.
Electrifying, they were. Filling the space where my feelings should have been. And so, through this singular window, when I was a skinny kid in short pants, butterflies entered my soul.
The book makes the case for protecting nature because of the joy it gives us and why that joy is important to preserve. Themes of love and loss permeate its pages and refer to the natural world and the author’s own family life. In the midst of species and statistics, references to the human emotions they elicit have me hooked. This is a world I can relate to. I’m about 2/3 of the way through – so far, so good.
2.AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN by Rabih Alameddine
I’m more ignorant than I’d like to be about life in the Middle East so when I read the blurb on the back of this book I was instantly intrigued. As I gaze at my own bookshelf I imagine the one our protagonist, Aaliya must see in her Beirut apartment. Described in the blurb as Godless, fatherless, childless and divorced, Aaliyah is her family’s ‘unnecessary appendage.’
A lover of language, every year she translates her favourite new work into Arabic and then hides it away for no one but her to be pleasured by its pages. I’m really curious to find out more about her character, particularly exploring the rebellion against a sense of worthlessness imposed on her by her family; by society and that deeper connection with literature and how it can take her beyond her apartment walls and the social constraints imposed upon her by others. The novel promises flashbacks to Lebanon’s Civil War as well as to Aaliyah’s own turbulent past and I’m interested to see how the character will develop.
3.THOSE WERE THE DAYS by Terry Wogan
I picked this up as soon as I saw the author’s name emblazoned on the cover. If you’re from the UK or Ireland you’re bound to have heard [of] Sir Terry Wogan – veteran radio and television broadcaster with a quick wit and devilish sense of humour. If you’re not from these shores see if you can find him on YouTube or the BBC radio iPlayer – he is – was – a delight and a riot in equal measure.
Terry Wogan tragically passed away at the beginning of 2016 making this – his first foray into fiction writing – all the more poignant. I’m a wee bit hesitant to read this, lest I love it and lament the stories he could have shared with us, had he only had a little more time.
Those Were The Days is a collection of short stories set in the Cattle Market bank branch, recounted by Bank Manager Tom as he reminisces about the lifelong customers who have since become his friends. I’m looking forward to settling down on the settee with a blanket, a glass of wine and some tissues.
4.A QUIET PLACE by Seicho Matsumoto
I’m a fan of stories that keep me guessing right til the end and the premise of A Quiet Place is right up my street. Set in Japan the tale of a wife who dies suddenly while her husband is away on business unfolds. When he returns something about his wife’s death doesn’t sit quite right with Tsuneo, who begins to probe into where she died – a shop in an area she, to the best of his knowledge, didn’t know.
As the story progresses it seems that Tsuneo may not have known as much about his wife as he initially thought and her recent past indicated a secret double life. I’m excited to get stuck into this one.
5.THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP by Hiromi Kawakami
Another Japanese story here, which I picked up after reading Kawakami’s Strange Weather In Tokyo. You can find out what I thought of that here. Although I have been attempting to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle, (who am I kidding when I buy 6 books in a row?) I remain a devotee to the cult of pruck. Pruck is the Northern Irish term for items that catch your eye in a shop, which you buy and bring home, even though they serve no discernible purpose.
Mr Nakano’s thrift store is packed to the rafters with other people’s pruck, each item and its owner with a story to hide or tell. The blurb promises a beguiling story of love found amid odds and ends, which makes a nice change from the earth-shattering love stories which so often dominate the bestsellers’ list.
6.AUTUMN by Ali Smith
Full disclosure, I picked this up purely on the basis that its cover is beautiful, #sorrynotsorry. It reminded me of the books I used to see on my Nanny’s bookshelf when I’d visit her after school, all leather or fabric bound with the titles painted or stitched into the covers.
The first in a series of four books, Autumn is particularly timely in the wake of the millennials’ summer nightmare that delivered us our impending Brexit. In fact, it has been termed the first ‘Post-Brexit’ novel thanks to the speed at which Smith wrote and published it following the EU Referendum.
From what I can glean on the paper top cover, the story flits between Daniel – age 100 – and Elisabeth -my age – 32. Smith dips in and out of past and present day to look at where we’ve come from, where we’ve ended up and what, if anything, we’ve got to look forward to. I’m excited to read this one and wonder how much I’ll resonate with Elisabeth. I hope I haven’t lost my hopefulness by the time the last page turns.
And so we come to the end of this book haul. I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my shopping bag. Have you stumbled across any good reads lately? I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to feed my literature habit so do let me know in the comments below. There’s a new post coming your way on Wednesday. If I can remedy my current tech woes it will be a travel vlog. If not, I shall have to put that on the long finger and give you a wee surprise post instead.