Monday 25 December 2023

Christmas round-up by Adèle, Celia and Linda


Christmas greetings to all our followers! 

To mark the day, Adèle Geras, Celia Rees and Linda Newbery (left to right above) have each chosen three books - two they've read and one they plan to read in the New Year. 

What would your choices be? Tell us in the comments!

Linda's choices

Don't Even Think About It - why our brains are wired to ignore climate change, by George Marshall. 

Do you wonder why people aren't talking about the multiple threats of climate emergency all the time? Or why politicians repeatedly fail to address climate breakdown as a top priority? Don't they get it, and what would it take to make them treat the climate emergency as if it is an emergency? This is permanently on my mind, so I grabbed the book when I saw it in an Oxfam shop window. George Marshall, with the help of various specialists, explores the psychology of how we respond to dangers and why climate breakdown somehow doesn't make the cut. There are various explanations, including: "It provides us with none of the defining qualities that would give it a clear identity: no deadlines, no geographic location, no single cause, solution, or enemy." Even when people have faced a climate-change-induced disaster such as flooding or wildfire, they're more intent on getting back to 'normal' than on acknowledging its cause and probable repetition. So how will we confront the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced? Marshall's book is almost ten years old, but just as relevant and pressing as when it was published. It should be required reading for politicians, especially those attending COP summits and failing to reach effective agreement on curbing emissions.

Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo by Michael McCarthy

In this poignant, wide-ranging book, Michael McCarthy gives a chapter to each of our summer visitors, or 'springbringers' as he calls them: cuckoos, nightingales, turtle doves, the various warblers, swifts, swallows and house martins. He examines their habitats and behaviours and how they're part of our culture, represented in folklore and literature. For each bird he meets someone with particular devotion and knowledge, accompanies them to experience that special intimacy and to appreciate how much would be lost if the species were to continue its decline or even be lost for ever. "During my quest for them they were not all gone, the summer migrant birds: some of them had made it back from Africa, and for that unforgettable springtime, the world was still working. But for how much longer?"

The book I can't wait to read in 2024:

Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

This book and its key concept have gained such traction in the environmental movement that even without having read it, I understand its central concept: namely that governments must wrench themselves away from the goal of endless economic growth on a planet with finite resources. Instead, Kate Raworth suggests viewing the economy as a ring doughnut. The central hole, representing poverty and destitution, is a space into which no one should fall; the outer rim of the doughnut represents an 'ecological ceiling', the limit of expansion, so that wealth and resources beyond that are turned back in, to the benefit of all. "Today we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive: what we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow."  Like many great ideas, it's so simple as to make obvious sense. I've heard Kate Raworth speak and have heard others embrace these ideas, so it's about time I read the book for myself.

Adèle's choices
A Memoir of my Former Self 
 by Hilary Mantel  

We have recently lost two wonderful writers. Hilary Mantel died in September 2022 and Antonia Byatt (my next choice) in October 2023.

This posthumous collection is a joy for Mantel's many thousands of fans. It has all sorts of delicious things in it, including her film reviews and sundry articles that I somehow managed to miss when they were first published. There are pieces about her health, about her stay in Saudi Arabia  (particularly interesting for those who love Eight Months on Ghazzah Street) as well as many other gems. It's the perfect book to sit on a bedside table. However tired you're feeling, there's always a small piece of Mantel's characteristic wisdom, humour and out of left field view of things to enjoy before you got to sleep. A very comforting and hugely enjoyable book.

The Virgin  in the Garden
  by A S Byatt

I read this novel when it was first published in 1978. It was the first of a series of novels that became known as the Frederika novels, after one of its main protagonists. I was knocked out then and now, picking it up again after nearly half a century, I am still open mouthed with admiration and love.

It is 1953. We are introduced to the Potter family, who live in Yorkshire. Bill Potter teaches at a school which is about to put on a school play celebrating both the glories of Elizabeth 1st and the coronation of the young Elizabeth ll. The Potters have three children: two girls and a boy who suffers from autism. This is a family story, the story of a community, the story of a particular time. I am loving it just as much now as I did then, but now I appreciate something that may not have struck me so forcibly in the 70s.  Byatt takes her time. She never skimps. She describes things, in huge detail and because she does it so brilliantly, you do not resent the time it takes you to read the pages. A whole  chapter describing the décor of a country house; a long passage about what a butcher's shop looks like and smells like and  is like.  We come away from the book seeing more, knowing more, and aware of so many things that we hadn't previously thought of. Byatt knows an enormous amount and she's generous with her knowledge. In other hands, this might become tiresome, but she's also so good at emotions, and interactions between characters and her writing is leavened with humour and understanding of how a scene should be played. I say 'played' deliberately. This is a very theatrical book, which is just right for the subject. I do hope readers will read it now and follow the Potter family into other books. But a warning: Still Life contains the saddest death I've ever read in modern fiction. 

The book I  can't wait to read in 2024:

Young Jane Young 
 by Gabrielle Zevin

I feel quite proud of myself and this blog for being among the very first lovers of  Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by the same writer. It's been a huge bestseller and has spent something like half the year in the Sunday Times Top Ten. The success is well-deserved. 

I have heard wonderful reports of this book, from people in general and my younger daughter in particular and I trust her judgement completely. It's going to be a treat, I know. Zevin's track record speaks for itself. She's incapable of writing a dull book. Go on, treat yourself! 

Celia's choices

The Fever of the World: Merrily Watkins Mysteries
by Phil Rickman

I have been reading Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins novels, off and on, for a while now. I first discovered him when I was writing spooky stuff for Young Adults. The novels centre round his engaging main character, Merrily Watkins, the Diocesan Exorcist for Hereford, or Deliverance Minister, as they are currently titled. The Church of England moves with the times. The books interweave the vicissitudes of Merrily’s professional and personal life with her investigations into mysterious and suspicious doings in the border country in and around Hereford. In The Fever of the World, she is asked to help with the investigation into a mysterious death on the banks of the Severn. Like all his books, the case is not straightforward and may contain elements beyond the remit of the local police. Phil Rickman is very good at weaving together the everyday and familiar with elements of the ‘other’. He’s helped in this by his choice of location: the haunted and hauntingly beautiful border country between England and Wales.

by Stephen King

I haven’t read any Stephen King for a while now but I was led back to him by my fellow Writers Reviewer, Adèle Geras. He is such a consummate story teller; you know you are in a safe pair of hands from the very first page. The novel follows investigator Holly Gibney who made her first appearance in Mr Mecedes and also appeared in Finders Keepers, End of Watch and The Outsider. Of course, I had to go back and read all those, too!

The book I can't wait to read in 2024:

The Year of Living Dangerously
by Christopher Koch

The film version directed by Peter Weir, starring a young Mel Gibson and smouldering Sigourney Weaver, is one of my favourites. It follows a group of foreign correspondents in Jakarta on the eve of an attempted coup against Sukarno and in its depiction of corrupt dictatorship and ruthless repression it is as relevant now as it was then, maybe more so when every year feels increasingly dangerous. I’ve only just discovered that the film was adapted from Australian writer Christopher Koch’s 1978 novel. I’ve managed to get a copy and it’s top of my 2024 to-be-read pile.


Rowena House said...

Tempted by every title! Thanks especially for authors whose names I've not heard before. Determined to get back to reading more widely in 2024. Happy New Year to you all.

Jane Rogers said...

Thanks for the recommendations!
I haven't read many of these, but I have read 'Don't Even Think About It' by George Marshall, and I completely agree with Linda. It's a fascinating and (sadly) very convincing account of all the ways in which humanity is blocking knowledge of the irrevocable damage we continue to wreak upon our planet.
And it gave me some useful insights into why we don't want to think or talk about it. It's very useful reading both for doubters/deniers and for climate activists, because of the light he sheds on our psychology around the climate emergency. Plus, it's highly readable! said...

So many inspiring recommendations here, thank you! This year I was especially caught by The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak and A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coulthard; and next year I'd like to read more Ann Patchett having loved her Tom Lake. said...
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