Happy New Year to you from Fargate From the Madding Crowd. I’ve spoken to a few people recently who are making a new year’s resolution to spend more time reading in 2017.
I am here to help with great book recommendations, and remember, this is your fortnightly book club, and I’d love to hear from you with your reader reviews or book prescriptions for your fellow Sheffield booklovers.
Get in touch via twitter @AnnaCaig or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The deadline for reader reviews of Animals is January 12. The next book will be Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, deadline for reviews January 26.
Read of the fortnight
Animals , Emma Jane Unsworth
As the new year begins, and many people embark on an alcohol-free dry January, our read of the fortnight is a cautionary tale of the effects of too much boozing. Unsworth’s book is a story of drunken exploits and irresponsible behaviour, described by Caitlin Moran as ‘Withnail with girls’.
The protagonist of the book, Laura, is a recently-engaged Mancunian 30-something who really should know better, torn between her friend Tyler, the ultimate ladies-behaving-badly drinking partner, and her fiancé Jim, and what she sees as the impending sobriety of matrimony.
We follow Laura as she attempts to write a book, plan a wedding, and generally grow up a bit. But she just can’t help herself, and every time Tyler calls, she jumps up and drinks.
I’ll be honest, often there isn’t much more to this book than a series of alcohol-soaked anecdotes. And anecdotes about people you don’t really get to know, at that. It’s a bit like being in the pub hearing lurid stories about people you’ve never met. This is the literary equivalent of a sketch show. Even the main characters of Laura, Tyler and Jim never become fully formed.
But while the drunken exploits do get somewhat repetitive, and Animals is not a book where you get under the skin to any deeper truths, it is entertaining and easy to read. And if you’re trying to kick the dreaded drink yourself, at least for a month, then observing the mess Laura makes of her life will provide the perfect incentive to abstain.
Unsworth’s writing does have the odd moment of beautiful clarity. A bit like a drunk that expresses the odd unexpected profundity. On the minefield that can be relationships, both romantic and platonic, she offers some moving insights. And it is great to see that most underrated of relationships, the female friendship, put centre stage and celebrated. While Laura and Tyler’s relationship may not be the most functional, and certainly not anything to aspire to, it is refreshing to see their friendship with each other prioritised above all other relationships, and playing the most prominent role in these women’s lives.
But one word of warning, this book is very sweary and isn’t for the faint-hearted. Unsworth delivers frequent expletive-laden attacks.
So, if you’re putting the bottle aside for a month, Animals is the book to make you feel both like you’ve had the wildest night out, and the ‘never again’ of the worst hangover, all without touching a drop.
Reyt As Rain reads... books to make it better
Rachel says: I’m hoping you can help my daughter Charlotte find some new reading material. She seems to have read everything in the library, and the bookshop’s older children’s section. She’s Harry Potter-mad, has read the series three times, and would happily keep reading on repeat if her teachers weren’t on her back to broaden her literary horizons. So we’ve broadened with Bear Grylls and Maze Runner, we’ve lengthened with Rick Riordan, and we’ve stretched a tad too far with the Brontes; she’s only 10 after all. Where can we head to next in our search for exciting, magical reads for Charlotte?
Anna says: Charlotte sounds brilliant. And I am a firm believer that the books we read, and love, before the age of about 16 become part of who we are in some fundamental way. So, no pressure to choose some good ones then!
This can be a difficult age to choose books for, because their reading age and ability is often coming on in leaps and bound, faster than their understanding of the world around them. Finding books that are challenging and interesting to read, but that don’t contain more adult themes, can be a tricky business.
The old classics can be the best to go for in these situations, as the language is often more sophisticated, but the content remains suitable for children. My first recommendation is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, an incredible book that has an unfair reputation for being twee and saccharine. The excitement here comes from the exploration of the lives of these wonderful characters.
This is a story of girls surviving poverty during the American civil war, as well as navigating the usual turbulent waters of puberty. The feisty, kind, brave and hilarious Jo March is one of the finest literary creations, and role models for a young girl you could ever find. Magic indeed. It sounds like your Charlotte deserves a bit of Jo March in her life. Don’t get me started on Amy March though, who even now I have subsequently read vast amounts of horror and murder stories, remains the most horrendous baddie ever to grace the pages of a book.
My second recommendation is a brilliant book called A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. This is a science fiction adventure book that is perfect for 10-year-olds, as it encourages a broader way of looking at the world around you, exploring alternative possibilities for how space and time could work. It tells the story of Meg Murry, a hugely intelligent 13-year-old misfit, and her adventures across several worlds to track down her missing scientist father.
There is some romance, and some darker themes, but nothing that I would consider too much. It is a great book to bridge that gap where children are becoming more grown-up, but are not ready for adult fiction quite yet. And to be honest it’s such a cracker you’ll probably want to read it yourself too.
What book would you recommend for Charlotte?
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie
Katie says: Do not be fooled by the title, this is not a typical Christmas story. Even in the dedication Christie promises her brother-in-law that this book will contain ‘a good violent murder with lots of blood!’
In classic Christie style the book begins with an old multimillionaire bully who has unexpectedly summoned all his relatives back to the family home for Christmas. True to her promise, a very bloody murder does take place and reassuringly our old friend Hercule Poirot is asked to help solve the crime. The dialogue between Poirot and Superintendent Sugden makes the plot fast moving and easy to follow, even if they do divert from the case occasionally. I loved Poirot’s envy of the policeman’s moustache. ‘[Poirot] said, and there was a wistful note in his voice: “It is true that your moustache is superb.... Tell me, do you use for it a special pomade?”’
The end has a twist in the tale that, despite having read most of the Poirot and Marple books, I still wasn’t expecting. I love Christie’s writing. I love how clever and intricate her plots are; how she transports you into her world with her fantastic descriptions of the characters and setting; and I love how even after a lifetime of reading and watching her work she can still surprise ‘the little grey cells’!