Another Year of Books, 2015.

I was recently asked to suggest a few books for next years book club list.  It’s difficult to choose, so I selected some of the books that have been most memorable to me over the last year or so.  If I repeat myself over one or two, please forgive me, it’s just that I really, really loved the book, and believe that everyone should read it!

  • We are all completely beside ourselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and short-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It’s the story of family life, told by a young college student as she reflects on her childhood, and wonders what happened to her older brother and sister?  It’s an interesting story, with an emotional twist (no I’m not going to give it away here!) well written (I thought!) and I liked it a lot.
  • Tiny sunbirds far away, coverTiny Sunbirds Far Away, by Christie Watson, won the Costa First Novel Award (always a good sign in my opinion).  Blessing and her brother Ezikiel adore their larger-than-life father, their glamorous mother and their comfortable life in Lagos. But all that changes when their father leaves them for another woman. Their mother is fired from her job and soon they have to quit their air-conditioned apartment to go and live with their grandparents in a compound in the Niger Delta. Adapting to life with a poor countryside family is a shock beyond measure.  There is so much in this book, from the difficulties a city girl faces when she is removed to a very primitive rural life, the gangs her brother gets involved with, her mother’s relationship with an expat employee of the multinational oil company drilling nearby, her grandfathers conversion to Islam, to her grandmother’s work as a county midwife and her thoughts on FGM.  This book is just jammed full of ‘issues’; thought provoking, touching, funny and a good read. A great book!
  • The Hare with the Amber EyesThe Hare With  Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, won Costa Book Award Winner for Biography and Galaxy National Book Award Winner (New Writer of the Year Award).  Non-Fiction.  The author inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, netsuke from an uncle. His search to find out more about them leads him to discover an amazing family history, over five generations from a wealthy 19th century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna,to near poverty by the end of WWII; the collection of netsuke, hidden from the Nazi’s in Vienna, was all that was left of their empire. A touchingly written family story, and an interesting personal account of European history.  
  • flowers for AlgernonFlowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.  After I complained about not liking any Science Fiction books that mention ‘plexiglass’ and a main character called ‘Xargle’, my son gave me this book to read.  Originally published in 1959 it won Hugo Award for Best Short Story, and Nebula Award for Best Novel.   It is a terribly sad book, telling the story of Charlie, a ‘simpleton’ as he is given experimental treatment by a team of neuroscientists and psychologists, that he hopes will make him ‘smart’.  Algernon is a mouse, the only other living organism to have received the treatment so far, and the ‘smartest’ mouse in the world.  Written as a series of progress reports from Charlie himself, we chart his progress as his IQ rises, and his realisation that his so called ‘friends’ were actually mean, cruel bullies.  Eventually Charlie’s IQ soars way above his Doctors, and he begins his own research into his condition, but as Algernon begins to fail, Charlie knows his time is limited.  Classic Sci Fi, no plexiglass, and barely a computer in sight.  A thought provoking and insightful tale, which I’m sure would promote a great book group discussion.  (In support of my Sci Fi credentials, I would like to mention that I have read the complete works of John Wyndam and enjoyed them all)
  • HowToBeBothHow to be both, by Ali Smith.  Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014, winner of the Novel award in the 2014 Costa Book Awards, and the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Two stories which run in parallel, one set in renaissance Italy based on the life of painter Francesco del Cossa, and the other set in contemporary Cambridge which tells the story of 16 year old George, a girl who is coming to terms with the death of her mother, and who recalls visiting Ferrara with her mother to see the Frescos by the elusive painter Francesco del Costa.  The book was published in two versions, one with Francesco’s story first, and another with George’s story first.  Beautifully written, thoughtful, and complicated, Ron Charles of The Washington Post writes “This gender-blending, genre-blurring story, bounces across centuries, tossing off profound reflections on art and grief, without getting tangled in its own postmodern wires. It’s the sort of death-defying storytelling acrobatics that don’t seem entirely possible — How did she get here from there? — but you’ve got to be willing to hang on…This sounds like a novel freighted with postmodern gimmicks, but Smith knows how to be both fantastically complex and incredibly touching.”
  • don't let's go to the dogs tonightDon’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight , by Alexandra Fuller.  Won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize in 2002 and was a finalist for The Guardian’s First Book Award.  The Author was born in the UK, but her family moved to Zimbabwe when she was about three years old. This is her first book, a memoir of her childhood growing up in East Africa after the collapse of British Colonial rule there.  Her follow up book, Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfulness, (which I have read) is a re-telling of this period of her life, told through the story of her parents; eccentric, impoverished and alcoholic expats.  I was interested to read about the turbulent history of a country, through the lives of those who lived through it, and hoped the first book would shed more light on a story written in touching and honest style.
Ok, so if I were asked to narrow down my selection to just two books, my choices are:
  • How to be Both by Ali Smith;  because I don’t think this book is getting the publicity it deserves, and
  • The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal: because I recommended it to another book club who didn’t like it as much as I did, so I’d like to see what you make of it.

I’d love to know what you thought of these books, or if you have any recommendations for more books to add to the list.

Happy Reading!


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