I’ve set myself a goal of reading 60 books this year. I don’t know whether I will reach that target. Probably not. But it’s nice to have a goal, especially when that goal involves reading.
People always ask me ‘do you enjoy EVERY book you read?’, because I suppose it appears that way. No, is the answer, but I certainly shout louder about the ones that I love. And I think that’s the way it should be.
Having said that, I did enjoy every book I read in January, and here they are…
First, We Make The Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson (Bantam Press, 26th April 2018)
This is written by the woman behind the ‘I quit sugar’ craze (a craze I must say I cannot and will not get behind) and is her first book about mental health. Sarah Wilson has a variety of mental ailments including anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar and OCD, and I found her account both affirming and powerful. She comes at the topic from a place of hopefulness, which is so important. She asks how do we use and hone our anxious minds to become better, more creative, kinder, more ambitious, more productive people? The book is laden with scientific findings, practical advice and anecdotal evidence, which I felt backed up the emotional heart of it in a really powerful way. I read a lot of books about mental health and this was honestly one of the best of them. It left me feeling empowered, and that’s really an incredible gift.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Blackfriars, out now)
Wow. This book blew me away. At first you think you’re reading a thriller, the blurb and the first chapter take you down that road, but soon, through some pretty clever narrative on Ng’s part, you realise that the family story beneath the plot is what’s fascinating. The narrative goes back and forward in time. I don’t normally like that device, as I find it creates a disconnect from the story, but it worked perfectly here, and you gain insight into the inner workings of each member of the family. The reader ends up understanding each of the characters far better than they do one another, and it’s both excruciating and powerful. The book is almost lyrical, utterly tragic, and seamlessly conveys the danger of parental expectation and the damage that can be done when a person does not feel like they have a voice. I am recommending it to anyone who will listen.
Shtum by Jem Lester (Orion, out now)
This is the story of a 10-year-old boy with severe autism and his father, the narrator, who loves his son so completely but cannot carry on with life the way it is. Jonah, the 10-year-old, doesn’t speak – in fact he doesn’t do anything for himself, and the book depicts the battle with their local authority to have him placed in a specialist live-in school for children with autism. It’s so sad but incredibly eye-opening. There’s clearly a misrepresentation of autism in the media that it’s just a case of social-awkwardness and a special ability. But in reality it’s far more hopeless than that, and Shtum does an incredible job of getting that across. I can’t say I loved the reading experience, but I can fully appreciate what an important book it is.
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline, out now)
I love memoirs. Gaining an insight into the lives of fascinating people is such a pleasure. (Quick shout out to probably my favourite ever: Claire Tomalin’s A Life of My Own). Maggie O’Farrell’s depicts her life through her 17 seventeen brushes with death – an entirely unique way of telling her story and done with her trademark grace and wit. The juxtaposition between life and death throughout the book leaves the reader feeling uplifted – a difficult feat given the sometimes shocking and gruesome subject matter, and a true testament to O’Farrell’s writing prowess. I don’t want to talk too much about this book, because no one can the way the author does herself. I recommend it though. Strongly and wholeheartedly.