Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What have we been reading recently?

The best thing about January is getting to read all of the books that we got for Christmas. Here's what we've been reading over the last couple of weeks.

Sian: Let's just ignore the rest of the books I read over Christmas. It's all about The Goldfinch. Kat's reviewed it and I did nothing but read over the weekend because I was so caught up in this dense, magical book. Theo's world is so easy to get caught up in. The final chapter felt out of kilter with the rest of the book, but it's such a splendid read. Now my book hangover has worn off, I've started reading Grace Williams Says It Loud, which is beautiful and quirky and I'm fairly sure it's going to have me in floods of tears.

Frances: My reading has been bookended by Hollywood. I started the year with Esther Williams's autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid (her branded swimsuits are still sold at For Luna) and she really does tell all in this book. Why can't more books start with a mention of taking LSD with Cary Grant?

I also read Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, which - despite it's legendary status - I just found hard work. My book club is reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and while I loved that she encouraged women to be ambitious and was vocal in her suggestions about the way the world of work could change, I was frustrated at what a limited section of society she was dealing with in her suggestions. There's something of a theme emerging in my current reading: next on my list are Her Brilliant Career by Rachel Cooke - the stories of ten different working women in the 50s - and Lisa Cohen's Three Lives, the biography of three exceptional women of the 20s and 30s.

Holly: Right now I am having a rollicking time with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I’m loving all the ridiculous dramatics so far. The poor inhabitants of the Heights are constantly exploding with rage, sinking into despair or plotting revenge, it looks exhausting but they just keep at it. Especially Heathcliff, who proves himself to be the biggest emo drama queen in all of Yorkshire and yet he still finds the time to be exceptionally good at villainy.

I can see why it’s such an enduring beloved classic; behind its beautiful prose and delightfully awful characters, it’s basically a 19th century Eastenders. I do love rediscovering that regardless of when or where in history, people will always enjoy a good bit of salacious drama; no matter what form it comes in.

Sara: Set in the near future, The Circle follows Mae Holland as she joins the world's biggest social media company ('The Circle') which has subsumed all other tech companies. It's basically Facebook, Twitter, Paypal and Google all rolled into one. Everyone has a single online identity so there's no more trolling or fraud, while cameras everywhere are reducing crime. The Circle's aim is total transparency.

We see the sprawling campus, the glass walled dining rooms, the high spec dorms and the endless parties on the lawns through Mae's eyes. Like her, we're swept away by it all; unlike her, we come to see the dark heart at its centre, the loss of privacy, the constant intrusion of beeps and pings as people are encouraged to prioritise their online lives. They applaud the slogan "Privacy Is Theft" and we realise this story can't end well.

Put down your phone/laptop/tablet and read this book. It's brilliantly written, very funny, and ominously prescient. It's Orwell's 1984 but it's happening now. It will make you seriously consider how you use Twitter and Instagram - well, for a while, until a cute cat photo comes along - and it's stayed with me since I finished it.

Laura B: I started the year by finishing The Goldfinch, which I'd saved for my special holiday reading. I was engrossed from start to finish. I then moved on to Where'd You Go, Bernadette, after a glowing endorsement from Sian - it's a quick and joyous read, really clever and funny. I then devoured The Universe Versus Alex Woods, a book I'd snobbishly put off reading because of its Richard & Judy Book Club endorsement - I am ashamed of my actions, dear reader, not least because it turned out to be brilliant. In fact, it keeps popping into my head when I least expect it.

I then went non-fiction with Mark Forsyth's The Elements of Eloquence. Subtitled 'How to turn the perfect English phrase', it's a fascinating, witty journey through the figures of rhetoric, with examples from Shakespeare to Katy Perry. This is the book I'm pushing on everyone I know this month. I loved it.

And now, I'm thoroughly enjoying The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer - I'm about halfway through and keen to curl up tonight and finish it. I've had a completely wonderful month of reading - here's hoping the rest of the year follows suit!

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