What were you reading when all the events of 2016 took place? Looking back on my reading year, here’s what brought me a bit of comfort in those weird and wonderful times:
Brexit – well I never saw that one coming. The book on hand was Britt-Marie Was Here – another winner from Fredrik Backman, the author of the sensationally successful A Man Called Ove. This novel is set in small town Sweden (still a member of the EU by the way), so a bit of a geographic link there.
The election build-up in America – would it never end? I got through a whole heap of reads like The Portable Veblen. Nothing like an American novel on squirrels and dysfunctional families to get one through the voting road show.
Leonard Cohen died. I took solace in a murder mystery The Lewis Man by Peter May. All grey skies and peaty remains and the odd bird on a wire. Perfect.
Trump got elected – I was on holiday in Cape Town and indulging in a very South African read The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew. One of those Alexander McCall Smith type reads – with recipes thrown into the mix as well. I just buried my head in the sand, something like the ostriches in the book.
When the Kaikoura quakes hit, I was still on holiday. It was a weird feeling to be so far away from New Zealand at that time. I’d moved on to a short, whimsical read that I picked up in an independent bookstore – The Reader on the 6.27. Translated from the French, this is an enchanting novel about the love of books and reading. It served me very well at that time.
John Key resigned while I was reading The Muse. This is a great novel to immerse yourself in by the author who wrote The Miniaturist. I preferred this second book (and the first was not bad at all either). If you are an art lover and would like a change of scene to Spain, this should go onto your list.
Finally what was I reading at the end of the year? One of those crumbling mansion, upstairs downstairs, governess novels – The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan. And dipping in to the silliest book I found all year Knit Your own Moustache. No I am not making this up!
How about you? What books sustained you last year? What books are carrying you gently into 2017?
Every year Grattan Institute releases a summer reading list for the Prime Minister. It recommends books and articles that the Prime Minister, or any Australian interested in public debate, will find both stimulating and cracking good reads.
I read this and thought the library could help other well-known people choose good holiday reading.
Public libraries are keystone public institutions for any thriving community, and as such can be leaders in making cities better places to work, play, and live. Here, Dudley shows how public libraries can contribute to ‘placemaking’, or the creation and nurturing of vital and unique communities for their residents.
This year I’m choosing Happy Holiday Reads with jaunty yellow and orange covers. It’s as good a starting place as any. The kind of book that, when you pick it up, screams out: Sun, Barbies, Vitamin D, Cherries and Margaritas! Just looking at these books is going to put the spring in your step that you need in order to make your way to the nearest pool lounger.
Hard as it may be to believe, my first choice is a sunny book written by a Swedish author: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Set in Iowa, it has a death in the very first chapter. Sarah arrives in a small derelict Iowan town on an extended visit to a penfriend who is as fascinated by books as she is. The friend has just upped and died and Sarah knows no one else in the town at all. Enter a fascinating array of characters, disarmingly introduced much-loved reads and a bit of romance. Kick back with that margarita and enjoy the ride!
Moving right along with the theme of sunny covers, happiness and… death, my next choice is One Hundred Days of Happiness. No spoiler alert necessary here, because you are told on the very first page of the book that Lucio Battistini is going to die, and the book is structured into one hundred chapterettes, one for each of his remaining days. These turn out to be the happiest one hundred days of his life. This book will make you savour the sweetness of holiday times with the poignant awareness that nothing lasts forever.
Pretty soon I’m going to be winging my way to visit grandchildren in South Africa – my book of choice for the flight is There Will Be Bears – a Young Adult novel. That is correct. My first YA book. Ever. The last time a colleague recommended a YA book to me and I issued it to my account, within ten minutes the February earthquake struck. I took it as a sign. I borrowed There Will Be Bears a week ago, and so far so good. It has as its theme the closeness of relationships between grandchildren and their grandparents (tick). It is a small light read (tick). It has a very yellow cover (tick).
And finally, I am going to sneak in Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling – despite the absence of either yellow or orange on the cover. Retracing the route he took in Notes From a Small Island, Bryson returns to England to see what, if anything, has changed on what he calls “The Bryson Line”. This is a guaranteed feel-good holiday read. But should none of these appeal, maybe have a look at my Best Reads of 2015 list.
But don’t give up on colour-coded reading yet, now could be your time. Go Team Yellow!
We had two hours of sunshine over a six day Christmas holiday in a Catlins bach. Small wonder my mind turned to thoughts of the weather in fiction.
And I’m not talking about your everyday gentle Mediterranean breeze here. I’m talking about weather with attitude. The sort of unwanted bad stuff that pulls out a chair at the table and settles in for the long haul. The sort of weather that drives couples in enclosed spaces to the edge of their tolerance, when even a good argument seems preferable to scanning the skies, yet again, for a tiny patch of blue.
And, indeed, there are novels where the weather is like an additional character in the plot, where you feel that the weather is partly responsible for everything that goes wrong and a few of the things that go right. Here’s my selection of great weather reads:
Caribou Island – David Vann’s novel about the dangers of attempting to fulfil someone else’s obsession, set in a bitterly cold climate.
The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles’ novel reveals the effect that strange environments and great heat can have on relationships.
Four out of five of these books have been made into films. Which begs the question: is extreme weather an asset, visually and atmospherically, in both novels and films? But don’t take my word for it, here’s Ernest Hemingway on the subject:
Remember to get the weather into your god damned book – weather is very important.
As far as our little Catlins trip went, in the end we did not have a marital spat, instead opting for a drive in the pouring rain to Gore, for a cappuccino. And in that one sentence resides everything you need to know as to why a film will never be made of my life!