For as long as I can remember, I have loved books. My earliest memories are of one of my parents reading to me. From fairy tales to Famous Five, the stories and characters of my childhood are intertwined with my own story – like old friends I’ve never quite left behind. Books are more than glue and parchment. They are a promise of another place, a way of seeing the world I may not have thought of, an adventure waiting to be experienced. They are part of the fabric of my life and I absolutely couldn’t exist without them.
Every few years a book comes along that I want to sing about from the rooftops, that I love so much I actually go into a kind of mourning when it finishes and feel irrational jealousy towards everyone who hasn’t read it yet. These are the kinds of books I secretly wish I had written myself, and I want everyone I know to love them as much as I do.
The way my life looks at the moment, with two small people dictating the majority of my day, it doesn’t allow me many spare minutes strung together to read prolifically as I used to (I think I’m one of the few people who miss my commute on the London tube – a solid 45 minutes every day when nothing was required of me and I could just read). As often as not my night time reading now is a baby book, as I search frantically (usually fruitlessly) for a potential solution to whatever parenting dilemma I find myself in. Although I wouldn’t change the chaos of my life for anything, I do miss the lazy, uninterrupted Sunday afternoons on the couch with a book and a cup of tea.
So I thought that on a wet Wednesday, with the tropical rain falling steadily and resolutely outside, I’d share a few of my favourite ever books. They are not lofty tomes; their literary importance is not recorded anywhere other than in my own heart. I enjoyed them and have returned to all of them again and again – like meeting up with old friends. If you’re between good books and browsing the shelves in your local bookstore (or the virtual shelves in the Amazon Kindle store), at a loss as to what to read next, consider one of these. Perhaps you will love them as much as I do.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Behind the sweet and humorous title of this book is a moving story that will make you smile and cry in turns. Written in the form of letters, the book is set in 1946 and tells the story of a group of people – The Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation of World War II. It is full of unforgettable characters who conquer tragedy, hunger and hardship with hope, ingenuity and community spirit. I loved that through this book I learned a lot I didn’t know about the occupation of the Channel Islands during the war – how alone and vulnerable the people living there must have felt, cut off from any communication, not knowing if their side was winning or losing, and fighting their own battle to keep the faith that the dark days of occupation, oppression and hunger would pass. Please, please, read this book!
by Curtis Sittenfeld
The inspiration for the lead character of this book is Laura Bush, wife of George W. Of course, we have no way of knowing how close to or far from the truth it is, but some of the events in the book did in fact occur in Laura Bush’s early life, and the idea of this being an insight into the mind of the wife of one of the most controversial presidents in US history is certainly a provocative one. At the heart of this book is a story of a marriage: its peaks and troughs, its challenges, its near-demise, and ultimately its steadfastness. I dog-eared many of the pages as I read this book – so many insightful observations about the reality of marriage, which I wanted to be able to return to again and again.
No Mom Jeans
by Melissa Fiendell
Thank you, thank you, thank you Melissa Fiendell, for writing this book. In the wilderness days after my first baby was born, as I floundered around in the dark looking for someone to help me make sense of who this woman in the mirror in front of me had become, this book came to my rescue. It is not a baby book. It is a mummy book. It is a girly book. For me it was a reminder that although I was now responsible for another tiny life, the person I was before was still in there and I had to take care of her too. Full of really useful tips for new mummies: what to wear in the few weeks postpartum; quick but stylish ways to wear your hair; how to baby proof your house without making it look like a nursery; how to speed up and smooth out the “leaving the house” process with a newborn; what to pack in your baby bag – for a trip to the shops, a weekend away or a longer journey… Although falling into the light and fluffy category, this book gave me something that my fuzzy brain couldn’t find anywhere else when I was a new mum (and again after I had my second baby) – good, practical advice about how to function in my new world. I loved it and want every new mum to get a copy immediately!
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini
You do not read this novel. You live it. I was so gripped by this book that on my daily commute I would actually find myself walking down the street with my face still buried in its pages, my heart in my throat. This is a story about two women, Mariam and Laila, who are thrown together and must survive together in war-torn Afghanistan where life is desperate and constant struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. For those of us lucky enough to live in safety, the everyday hardship these women face is unimaginable. I think now of what is happening in Syria and other parts of our war-torn world, and its almost impossible to believe that countless people are living this struggle again and again and again every single day. Let them not be forgotten. Though this book takes place in an unspeakably dark world, it also sings of the amazing human capacity for forgiveness, survival and love.