Some books we've enjoyed curling up with recently
One of the odd things about living in Burma is missing the seasons changing at home. There are three distinct seasons in Burma: warm and breezy (now), hot and sticky (next), super wet (after that). But there's nothing quite like the transition between seasons at home in the UK. And there's something magical about the clocks changing in October. The extra long Sunday morning, the first dark, cosy tea-time on Sunday afternoon. The fact that it just happens. That we can play time. That we all just do it, and nobody decides to live for the next six months on the old time. Or maybe they do?!
Anyway, here are some book recommendations for the longer evenings ahead. Most of these have been out for ages, and you probably read them yonks ago, but if there is something new in here for you then huzzah!
The Consequences of Love
by Gavanndra Hodge
Gavanndra is a columnist for The Times. She also writes for the Telegraph, Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Independent... all the biggies. She's a glamorous, high-flying journalist and mother of two. She is also the daughter of a heroine addict and drug-dealer to the 80s aristocracy. She spent long-evenings as a young child clearing up drugs paraphernalia in her nighty while her father and clients lolled around on the floor of her sitting room in a drug-fuelled haze. She also witnessed her little sister die suddenly and violently in front of her aged 13. This is Gavanndra's astonishing account of her childhood, and how she has managed to build an illustrious career and raise a happy family against all the odds.
"When people meet me, they do not see the daughter of a philandering junkie, they do not see the girl who watched her sister die in a hotel room in Tunisia, they see an articulated, educated, confident woman. They see success, not skin-of-the-teeth survival."
The Most Fun We Ever Had
by Claire Lombardo
This is a lengthy but addictive saga about four sisters, their parents, and the pulls and pushes of the family dynamic. Lombardo effortlessly expresses the easy understanding between siblings, the complexities of close familial relationships and the deep impression that children carry of their parents throughout their own adult lives. It covers births and deaths, betrayal and unbreakable loyalty, alcoholism and abortion, sisterhood, motherhood, marriage. It is epic in scope and size, and you'll feel a little bit lost without them when it's all over.
"Her kids would never fully understand her, just as she'd never fully understood her own parents and just as she, in close proximity to this girl, once a tiny baby who'd grown inside her body, would never fully understand her kids."
"It endeared him to her. How she loved him, missed him, wanted to kill him. If someone asked her to poetically describe her marriage, she would articulate that particular feeling, one of simultaneously wanting him pressed against her and also on another continent."
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones
Roy and Celestial are African-American newlyweds whose marriage is torn apart by a wrongful conviction which lands Roy in jail for 12 years. Told largely through the letters between them, we watch their dreams and hopes disintegrate into despair and their relationship fray under pressure. It is deeply compassionate, wildly frustrating, and an incredibly thought-provoking read.
"When something happens that eclipses the imaginable, it changes a person. It's like the difference between a raw egg and a scrambled egg. It's the same thing, but it's not the same at all. That's the best way I can put it. I look in the mirror and I know it's me, but I can't quite recognize myself.”
In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin
by Lindsey Hilsum
Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin spent three decades in war zones, providing first-hand reports of what was happening to ordinary people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Libya and Chechnya. Her heady insistence on finding the truth, regardless of the danger it put her in, resulted in some of the most powerful portraits of war ever printed, but cost her her mental health, family stability and ultimately her life when she was killed by artillery fire in Homs in 2012. Written by a friend and colleague who draws on Colvin's notebooks, diaries and emails, this is the deeply moving account of somebody whose husk of bravery, glamour and humour hid a troubled, sensitive and complex core, which presumably accounted for her desperate and insatiable need to tell the stories of the suffering.
"It has always seemed to me that what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars."
“An eye for detail, the ability to conjure a scene, and scant regard for her own safety were to become trademarks of her journalism.”
Anatomy of Scandal
by Sarah Vaughan
Coming soon to Netflix, this is the gripping story of a high profile politician involved in a rape trial, and the impact this has on the women involved: his wife Sophie, the trial's formidable QC Kate, and the victim, Olivia. Written presciently before the me-too movement, or the Epstein scandal, it feels extraordinarily relevant. You will wallop it down: it's brilliantly written, fast-paced and totally compelling.
“The image persists of those preening, entitled young men. I see their smooth, smiling faces now: the faces of men who will sail through life: Eton, Oxford, parliament, government.”
by Sarah Cain
This is a profile of introversion, and is an absolute must-read: if you aren't an introvert, chances are you are married to one, have a child who is one, or work with one. Most of us are either wired as introverts or extroverts, and this affects the way we think, act, react to certain situations and people. But understanding why, and the world's preference for extroversion, is a total revelation.
“Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”
The History of the World in 21 Women
by Jenni Murray
These are 21 women who, if they aren't already, deserve to be household names. They are collectively responsible for great leaps in medical science, for building and ruling parts of empires, for pioneering movements in the arts, for fighting for justice and change. If you're looking for more female role-models, this is a great place to look. It has 21 bitesize chapters, one for each truly great woman who you will be glad to know more about. It's also a joy to be able to hear the very familiar voice of Radio 4's Jenni Murray behind each one.
On Clara Schumann's Piano Trio Opus 17: "I've always found it an intensely feminine work but not at all in a soft, sweet or romantic way. For me it's the piece of music in which every woman who's tried to juggle children, home, husband and a demanding job will hear her own life reflected; at once tender and loving and stomping about in a frustrated fury."
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Hodge
Well it's an absolute classic isn't it. Without giving too much away to new readers, this is a culinary tour through the eyes of a caterpillar. Exquisitely illustrated. Probably won't occupy your whole evening.
"On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, AND one slice of watermelon."