I see reading as an intrinsic part of my writing life – and as one of my greatest joys, regardless of being a writer. With a new little girl due on the 4th of April I know that reading might be more of a challenge in the coming months, so I’ve been glutting on some wonderful books, both non-fiction and fiction. Here’s a sample of what I’ve been enjoying this month.
A special thank you, once again, to my faithful Seb for modelling the books so beautifully. He even gave the Dala Lama and Desmond Tutu a sunlit bow in acknowledgement of their wonderful story.
The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abrams
This was the read for my ‘Moms on Fire’ book club this month and it came at just the right time. My last month of pregnancy, with all the aches, pains, insomnia and feeling sorry for oneself that comes with that along with two weeks of sinusitis and flu made me put the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s ‘pillars of joy’ to the test. There’s nothing earth-shatteringly new about the book but, as with all meaningful reflections on human life and purpose, the reminder is important. These two extraordinary men, both in their 80s, meet (perhaps for the last time) in India, where the Dalai Lama is exiled, and reflect on the nature of true joy. Douglas Abrams weaves together their voices and discussions in a fluid, easy style. I was left with much to think about, in particular the reframing one’s thoughts when one can’t reframe one’s circumstances, the importance of finding humour in the every day, even when things are tough, building one’s family wherever one is and the enduring power of gratitude.
When I was a teenager, I had the joy of hearing Desmond Tutu speak at my girls school in Oxford – reading his words in this book felt like I was a schoolgirl once again, sitting at his feet, listening to the words of a gentle, self-deprecating, deeply committed man.
You can find out more about the ideas behind this very special book on this website.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I’ve lost count of the number of times this book has been recommended to me as one of America’s great novels. I finally took this out of the school library where I live, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and it didn’t disappoint. An aristotelean tragedy in structure with its unity of time, place and action, driven by the motif of opera, the novel explores the coming together of the most unlikely individuals in the extreme situation of a hostage crisis. At a time when so many barriers are being erected between human beings, this book, though written quite a while ago now, could not be more timely. It underlines that our common humanity is stronger than our cultural differences – an idea which The Book of Joy also explores.
Dumplin‘ by Julie Murphy
A few months ago I had a wonderful Skype chat with HarperCollins with my new publishers in the US and they recommended this wonderful Young Adult novel. They felt that it dovetailed with my own book, Wishbones, coming out in May. I am flattered but he comparison. Julie Murphy captures her teenage protagonist’s voice perfectly in this coming of age novel in which a young girl grapples with the challenges of accepting who she is, inside and out, and her relationship to the world – her community, her mother, her best friend and the boy she’s falling in love with. It’s real and funny and touching.
We Are All Made of Glue by Marina Lewycka
Last year I had the great honour of sitting on a panel with Marina at The Sheffield Literary Festival. I’ve read several of her novels and, every time, I’m blown away by how accurately and humorously she satires English society. She also explores how easily – and how completely – we can be drawn into the lives of others, with both hilarious and tragic consequences.