I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most.
~ Margaret Atwood
Since my last reading review post, I have worked my way through a further 12 books in hard copy, on Kindle and in audio format.
I thought it might be kindest to you, dear reader, if I spilt up this latest summary of reviews into two posts, so that I can avoid any fear of you passing out with fatigue while trying to work your way through comments on all these tomes in one go.
So here, for your delectation, are my thoughts on the first six….
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield: wise; practical; memorable
Punning on Sun Tzu’s famous work, The Art of War, Pressfield’s guide to overcoming what he calls Resistance is applicable to any life problem we might encounter. His focus is on powering through creative, artistic obstacles, but I found myself having ‘ah-ha’ moments about all kinds of common challenges, from trying to stick to a diet through to doing housework when I would rather be lounging about. Given its subject matter, one might expect a rather heavy read. On the contrary, it is engaging, lively and accessible. I was conscious that, by reading it rather quickly, I was not necessarily taking time really to think about how I might best use the wise advice on every page. But I was happy to take in the totality of this excellent work as a whole, knowing that it is something to which I will regularly return.
Read this if you love: getting practical help with personal discipline and focus.
For All the Tea in China, Sarah Rose: gripping; fascinating; enlightening
As a tea-addict, this book was the perfect choice of recommendation by my dear friend Clanmother. She knows me well, for I adored this remarkable story. A compelling mix of history, intrigue and education, Rose sets out for us an amazing tale of espionage, botany and commerce, highlighting the role of Robert Fortune in helping to broaden the tea trade into a global industry during the nineteenth century. As Clamother herself has said in her review on Goodreads, ‘I will never drink tea again without thinking about [this book]’.
Read this if you love: your history full of flavour and body, served in a beautiful vessel.
Indemnity Only, Sarah Paretsky: solid; engaging; of its time
I found this book on my shelves recently – I think it may have been there for over 20 years. My eye was drawn to it because I had just finished reading Paretsky’s thought-piece, Writing In An Age Of Silence (see my review of this book here). Having enjoyed her take on the writing world, it seemed a natural next step finally to read the first of her detective novels. I should say that, although I cut my reading teeth on Agatha Christie as a young girl, I have, over the years, moved away from reading crime novels. I find them oddly disatisfying: by their nature, everything has to be wrapped up by the end of the book and, instead of providing a welcome conclusion, this feels to me so very artificial, even in cases where the author is striving for realism. In this context then, I slightly forced myself to get through Indemnity Only, out of some weird loyalty to Paretsky I think. Don’t get me wrong – it is a perfectly good piece of crime writing, just not my cup of tea, so to speak.
Read this if you love: pacey crime stories with strong lead characters.
A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler: memorable; touching; beautiful
This lyrical novella focuses on the life of Andreas Egger, who, through the course of his life in a a remote Alpine village, experiences a range of joys and tragedies. The beauty of Seethaler’s writing lies in his depiction of the landscape, and the way in which it proves to be as much a character in Egger’s life as the people around him. The book’s tone is one of gentle eloquence, embracing a brimming stillness akin to that of the snowy slopes of a mountain, where one senses that anything could happen at any moment, but in most cases does not.
Read this if you love: being enveloped by a meditation on life, its meaning, its possibilities and its realities.
Silas Marner, George Eliot: poignant; tender; real
In many ways, Silas Marner is similar to A Whole Life mentioned above. It primarily concerns the life of one man – in this case, Marner – examining his place in the world and the impact of life’s vagaries on him. Eliot is famous for serving up to the reader images of life as it really is: fair and unfair; full of both good and bad fortune; the commonplace punctuated with the extraordinary. Into this very short book, she packs plenty of food for thought about the ways in which humans treat each other, how they fare for themselves, and how the fates play their part. Despite its mere 150 or so pages, it is full of reading. I picked this as my ‘book I should have read at school’, and I am so glad finally to have got round to it.
Read this if you love: classic, well-crafted and thoughtful tales about life’s realities.
The Knives, Richard T Kelly: unusual; engaging; modern
In the summer, I attended a recording of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, which included Kelly as one of the guests. He did not read from his book, as is common on these occasions, but instead presented an essay about the challenges faced by modern politicians, the fact that they are all human and (mostly) doing their best, and his wish that we try to put ourselves in the shoes of our political leaders before being too quick to criticise them. Having worked in Government for nearly 30 years, this and the premise of The Knives – a political thriller about a modern Home Secretary – appealed to me. In the end, although I finished the book, I had a sense that I might not have got through it if I had not already had that encounter with Kelly (I note a bit of an ‘author-loyalty’ theme emerging here). The ‘behind the scenes’ nature of the story was interesting, but I would have preferred the political intrigue to be rather more compelling. Overall, however, as a window on the hidden aspects of the everyday, it offers an unusual take on life along the corridors of power and proved an enjoyable read.
Read this if you love: stories that reveal the tensions and challenges of holding down important roles.
So there you go! More reading thoughts in my next post…. 🙂