In my Winter Reading Preview Post, I wrote about a number of books I planned to read before the end of 2016. It is a good job I am not employed as a predictor of the future, because I hardly stuck to this list at all.
Not to worry – I still managed to fit in plenty of engaging and high quality reads. Here are my reviews of the seven books finished since my last reading review post.
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Humourous; impressive; poignant.
What an incredible piece of sustained writing; so mature for one so young. This would be something to celebrate if it were not for the terrible weight of hindsight which the reader cannot avoid. It is, however, a text which is surprisingly easy and enjoyable to read. Anne’s detailed account of her days in the secret annexe is full of life and optimism, even when she writes about the family’s dangerous position. This book languished on my shelves for many years because I was too afraid to open it. I was worried that it would be too upsetting; too depressing to read. I could not have been more wrong. It is a celebration of the human spirit, and a shining example of how to make the most out of life, whatever one’s circumstances.
Read this if: you are even remotely interested in real lives; real problems; real perspective.
31 Songs, Nick Hornby
Personal; passionate; enlightening.
I have always liked Nick Hornby’s writing – I have fond memories of reading High Fidelity over 20 years ago. His passion for music pervades all his work. As a fellow music lover, I just had to check out 31 Songs, even though I came across it only this year – more than a decade after its initial publication. I thoroughly enjoyed the month’s worth of short essays, each centered around a particular track which held some special meaning for Hornby. It helped a lot to read this with the accompaniment of said tracks via a Spotify playlist. However, I would suggest that his lyrical style offers plenty of substance, even without the benefit of backing music.
Read this if: you love reading about music, and other people’s take on music.
Toast, Nigel Slater
Funny; wince-inducing; page-turning.
I am a recent convert to the foodie world of Nigel Slater. One of my friends encouraged my to buy his recipe book, The 30-minute Cook, and I have not looked back. I am one of those strange creatures who likes actually to read cookbooks, not just for their recipes, but for the accompanying narrative of the author. Nigel Slater is one of the most engaging and enjoyable food writers I have encountered. In looking for other recipe books of his to buy, I was reminded of his early-years memoir, which describes his childhood and young adulthood from the perspective of food. It was a quick read, mainly because it was extremely enjoyable – I always wanted to turn ‘just one more page’. He writes frankly, with the result that, in some places, I found myself wincing. But on more occasions, I was chuckling out loud.
Read this if: you like humourous, no-holds barred autobiographies, and/or books about the delights and pleasures of food and cooking.
Minimalism: Essential Essays, Ryan Nicodemus & Joshua Fields Millburn
Thought-provoking; action-promoting; life-changing.
I devoured this book in audio-format and found it to be so impactful that on finishing it, I immediately bought a printed version. The Minimalists, as Nicodemus and Fields Millburn style themselves, are on a quest to help us live a simpler and happier life, in whatever way that means for us as individuals. My sister and I have not stopped talking about their philosophies over the last few weeks. I have already halved the content of my wardrobe and changed my approach to ‘just in case’ items both at home and when travelling. I also now look at potential new acquisitions in terms of ‘need, want and like’. These are three examples of relatively easy ways to change. There are plenty more significant ideas to mull over in the coming months.
Read this if: you love ideas for thinking differently about life and how to live it.
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Powerful; beautiful; incredible.
I chose this book at the beginning of the year as my ‘book I previously abandoned‘ selection, and how very glad I am that I did. I cannot now remember why I could not previously get into this miraculous text – perhaps there is always a ‘right time and place’ for any book to be read. Well, if that’s the case, then it was certainly right for me to pick it up again recently. All the way through, I could not help but marvel at Robinson’s breathtaking prose. How could anyone write in this most remarkable of ways? The book’s premise is simple enough; an elderly pastor writes to his young son, anticipating that he will not be alive to pass on his thoughts and learning in person. In many ways, the text is simple too. But oh my goodness, what elegance and pleasure lies behind such simplicity. I can’t wait to read the other two books in Robinson’s trilogy.
Read this if: you love literary fiction of the highest quality.
The Pier Falls and Other Stories, Mark Haddon
Breathtaking; brutal; compelling.
Wow! This short story collection starts with a massive thump in the solar-plexus, where Haddon writes about the collapse of a seaside pier in a tale reminiscent of Thomas Harry’s poem about The Titanic featuring the perspective of the iceberg. Menacing and looming, the fated pier is the key character in this opening story. The rest of the stories unfold relentlessly, combining in a collection which is memorable, creative and intriguing. I’ll definitely be reading this book again, and probably again after that.
Read this if: you love being challenged and entertained by short story writing at its very best.
Deep Work, Cal Newport
Well-researched; insightful; practical.
An important part of living one’s best life is to spend quality time on those activities which add the most value, according to your beliefs and circumstances. Knowing what to change, however, is always easier than understanding how to do it. Cal Newport’s accessible and helpful book provides a generously wide range of strategies, tips and pointers which are all designed to help us focus our attention on the things that matter most and, as a result, produce high-quality results, in both our personal and professional lives. I have already adjusted my approach to e-mails, and will be looking to implement many of the planning tools when I resume work after the festive season – I feel raring to go!
Read this if: you like learning new tools and techniques that facilitate life development and enhancement.