Books of the Month


You know, my day doesn’t seem compete if I haven’t read something. More precisely, haven’t read something from a book. A favourite type of weekend, when I worked full time, was to curl up in my comfy red chair and read for the two days. Sometimes I would finish a couple of books. I would often feel the pull of my art things, but it was so comforting to escape into a world that someone had conjured for me. I still read widely and prolifically.

I love lists and record keeping, so no surprise to know that I keep a list of books I read, alphabetically by author. In early January each year I count up the tally from the previous year, and consider what my favourites were.

So, for 2018…..I read 82 books. Not as many as 2017 (89) but more than 2016 (77).

My favourite for last year?

Adrian Walker: The last dog on Earth. It’s set in a dystopian future, which I often find very disturbing. However it was recommended by my good buddy, Janis, and she has great taste in books. I am so pleased I did. It has a humanity about it, which is often missing from novels like this. And it’s worth reading for the character of the dog, who narrates every second chapter. He is a foul mouthed wonder!

Other great reads (The links will take you to much more satisfying reviews than I am going to give you!):

Diane Ackerman: The Zookeeper’s Wife. A true story, a biography of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Christian zookeepers in Warsaw during WW2. Another period that I try hard not to read, but find myself drawn to. I love Ackerman’s writing, and again I am glad I read it, to discover the courage of the people of Warsaw, both Jews and Gentiles. The zoo was used as a refuge and a pipeline for escaping Jews. I was fascinated to read about how the Jews who lived outside the ghetto had to learn how to be Christian. Not knowing simple greetings or to cross yourself when you went past a church could lead to denouncement. There was a support network established, and the zoo was a key part in it.

Elizabeth Gilbert: The signature of all things. I was almost put off this too. Not because of the period, but because of the author. I enjoyed “Eat, Pray, Love” but thought that this one would be in a similar style. Instead it had things I love…an intelligent woman at its centre who found her own ways to live her life, botany, evolution, the role of women in science, and Alfred Russell Wallace!

Sophie Laguna: The Choke. Another not for the faint hearted, but beautifully written. This, from the review linked to above,  sums it up well

The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can’t be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

And a very different read……Peter Godfrey Smith “Other minds: The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life”. Yep, fascinating research into octopus intelligence. Godfrey Smith says this in his introduction:

Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lieu so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour. if we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings it is not because of shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.

His italics, my bolding. He makes a fascinating case for octopus and, to a lesser extent cuttlefish, being another line in the evolution of intelligence.

2019 is off to a flying start. I have already read books that have delighted me.

Mohsin Hamid: “Exit West”. Another distopian future, but this time Hamid gives us solutions that celebrate our humanity and connection.

Bill Hayes: “Insomniac city: New York, Oliver and me” A beautifully written tribute to his lover Oliver Sacks. But it is as much a love story to New York too, and the wonderful, quirky people Hayes meets in his wanderings. This may end up as my favourite for the year.

Olivia Laing: “The trip to Echo Spring”. Laing has made an art form of musing in print, and she does this beautifully as she muses on the lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemmingway, John Cheever and John Berryman, looking at the impact that their alcoholism had on their lives and writing. The Guardian article in the link above rightly says the book is “part literary criticism, part biography, part travelogue, part memoir”. Another book to read for the insights and the beautiful writing.

Min Jin Lee: “Pachinko”. A family saga. Intriguingly the family is Korean, who migrate to Japan in the 1930s. It is a fascinating look into life for Koreans who live in Japan, because they are never allowed to assimilate into Japanese life. ‘Zainichi’, the term for Japanese Koreans, means ‘foreign resident staying in Japan’. Min Jin Lee refers to Japan as “a beloved stepmother who refuses to love you”. The women are strong and determined to support their families. Woven through are issues of shame and honour, fate and suffering. Which makes it sound very gloomy. It’s not, but it is an eyeopener.

So, I hope you can find something there that you might like to read. What suggestions would you make for me?