Excluding what I’ve been reading for work, I think I read about a dozen books in January. (If you’re really interested in what I’m reading and working on, you can follow me on Pinterest.)
Given I work in publishing I’m not going to write anything negative in these monthly posts. Although there were a couple of books which I read last month that I found disappointing, there wasn’t one which I really disliked, and I’d rather encourage all of you to buy a book or borrow one from your local library than put you off. Given that we’re all so time-poor these days, I’m only going to be picking my top three every month. If you manage to read them, let me know what you think. You can find me on Twitter here.
Every year I keep intending to read more non-fiction. I don’t think I did too badly in January. Four out of the twelve books I read were non-fiction, and two of those make my top three reads this month.
This memoir, written by a neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of just 36, is just as good as all the reviews have said. Kalanithi wanted to be both surgeon and writer, and he managed it, though this – his first and only book – was published by his widow after his death. Who knows what changes Kalanithi might have made to the text had he lived longer, or what he might have gone on to write, but I think asking those questions misses the point. This is about what it’s like when a doctor becomes a patient, when someone used to knowing all the answers and being able to fix people and solve problems is left powerless and with only questions instead of answers, and above all it’s about asking what life means in the most profound of ways. It’s about medicine, yes, and what it meant for Kalanithi to be a doctor, but it’s also about love and family.
I happened to be reading First Bite as the furore about so-called ‘clean eating’ reared its head again in the New Year. It couldn’t have been more timely, as many of us – including myself – were either on Dry January or Veganuary or giving up sugar, wheat or dairy, or something else entirely. Perhaps most importantly, food writer Wilson is both an interested and interesting researcher. Here she examines what it is that makes us the eaters we are today, from socio-economic and cultural factors, to gender or what our mothers ate while pregnant. Just common sense, you might think, but trust me, there are plenty of revelations here. One of the central theses of this book is that tastes can be unlearned just as much as they can be learned. At a time when many of us have so much choice about what we can eat and yet are likely to be at our most picky, I’m telling everyone I know to read this book.
Once you start reading this book, you simply cannot put it down. At over 500 pages though, it’s probably best suited for a flight or train journey. Doerr’s second novel, it won the Pulitzer Prize and a host of other awards. Focussing on two characters, a blind girl living in Saint-Malo (France) and an orphaned German teenage boy who becomes an army engineer, the novel moves inevitably towards the moment where the two will meet, during the allied bombing of Saint-Malo in 1944. Marie-Laure is the better realised of the two characters, and when writing about her, Doerr’s attention to detail is stunning. The German sections are slightly weaker, but the book is none the less absorbing for it and it’s definitely made me want to look up Doerr’s first novel, About Grace. A writer to watch.
Finally, I’d also like to mention two books to look out for in February that I was lucky enough to read last year: