Some picks from our January Biography and Memoir newsletter:
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I have a library friend (let’s call her ‘Barbara’). ‘Barbara’ has the amazing ability to appear silently beside me in the shelves, and casually say, Oh, that’s a great book!, and then silently vanish again. And the books she recommends are always great. Without fail, they are beautifully-written, genuinely engaging, and somehow just the perfect read I was looking for at that time, no matter whether I knew what I was looking for or not. Mystery, history, love story, contemporary fiction, or just plain good reads – often they are very far from what I think I am looking for, but invariably they are just exactly what I need.
She did it with Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong a couple of years ago, then again last year with Louise Penney’s Det. Insp. Gamache series, and she did it again just last week. Moonlight in Odessa is a book that I would never have given a second glance to, and yet it’s one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in ages. An unprepossessing cover, a not-at-all engaging publisher’s blurb, and a meh-sounding title; yet once started, it proved impossible to put down. The plot is simple and linear (not a car chase, zombie or parallel universe in sight); but there was just something about it. Same with the characters, and with the setting. I even found myself wistfully browsing travel sites, and googling “Odessa opera house” just to put myself more in the picture. (I thought I’d better not go googling “Odessa women” at work, just in case I got more than I bargained for …)
I don’t know if ‘Barbara’ is aware of this gift, but it is a true and precious one. The ability to know someone and to find and recommend books for them is rare (think about all those times someone you thought knew you quite well tries to foist a completely inappropriate book on you, and then gets all stroppy when you have to confess that you didn’t really like it), and should be celebrated. So thanks, ‘Barbara’, and may you keep appearing silently beside me among the shelves for many months and years yet …