Librarian’s Choice: My favourite books for under 5s

This blog comes from Debbie, a Community Librarian in the east of Leeds.

As anyone with small children will know, the Summer Holidays bring many challenges, including how to keep little ones entertained for the entire 6 weeks…that’s a massive 1008 hours. With that in mind, I thought I would compose a list of my all-time favourite books for under 5s. As a Librarian and a mother, I have read countless children’s books over the years. Here are the 5 books that have stood out to me and I have returned to time and time again.

Each peach pear plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Deb Each peachThis is my favourite children’s book of all time. Written and illustrated by the magical duo Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This booked is packed with wonderful illustrations of fairy tale characters such as Tom Thumb, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Mother Hubbard and many more. There is a little ‘I spy’ rhyme on each page and children can look for the hidden characters. The rhymes are repetitive so children can quickly anticipate what will come next and can easily learn to recite the book themselves. The book is told in easy rhyme, ‘Each,Peach, Pear Plum I spy Tom Thumb, Tom Thumb in the cupboard, I spy Mother Hubbard.

Each, Peach, Pear, Plumb takes us through a journey to find the hidden characters, but the real joy comes from discovering the other secrets hidden on each page. Children can continue the story themselves, using the many characters for inspiration. I have spent many evenings cuddled up with my children with this book and this is a book I will never tire of. This is a charming, sweet book that you will enjoy reading with your child over and over again.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler

Deb The GruffaloThe Gruffalo is my next favourite book. Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler, the Gruffalo is a classic book that will be loved by children and grown-ups for generations to come.

This book captures the imaginations of young minds. We are introduced to the characters- the Mouse, the Gruffalo, the Owl, the Fox, the Snake with the ‘innocent’ mouse as the main character. Throughout the book the Mouse shows his bravery and underlying cunningness to save himself from the various predators lurking ‘In the deep dark wood’. He is able to trick the various forest creatures into believing that he is in fact ‘the scariest creature in all the wood.’ The short rhymes and their repetitive structure make The Gruffalo a fun book to read aloud and children will quickly learn the words and be able to join in.

How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown

Deb How theThis is a lovely book with an inspiring message for younger readers. There are also many positive subtle messages that perhaps only the grown-ups will understand but using this a starting point to chat to children and develop the story gives this book many layers. The overall feeling for all readers in one of positivity.

It is so refreshing to see the damsel in distress (Rapunzel) ‘rescued’ by the library-and not the prince on horseback as we normally see. Lots of would be rescuers show their hand in this book, but alas only the library can save the day! The illustrations are bright, cheerful and engaging for readers and offer a fun and refreshing
background for the tale. The book is told in rhymes and a cast of multi-cultural characters that help set this book aside from most other ‘fairytales’. As a mother (and a Librarian), I am very impressed by the messages in this book as these echo the lessons I try to pass to my children,

“So don’t just wait for your prince to show.
He might turn up, but you never know.
Pop down to your library and borrow a book
There’s so much to find if only you look.”

Eat your peas: A Daisy book by Kes Gray and illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Deb Eat your peasMy daughter loved, loved, loved this book. This is the book I had to read over and over again.

Eat Your Peas is a funny tale of the battle of wills between Daisy (who really does not like peas) and her mum. Daisy’s mum tries everything to get her to eat her peas
resorting to bribing her with treats such as staying up later and skipping bath time. However as Daisy continues to refuse her peas, Mum’s promises start to become more and more elaborate, including offers of chocolate factories, elephants and bikes. But still Daisy refuses to eat her peas. Finally Daisy makes a suggestion. ‘I’ll eat my peas if you eat your Brussel Sprouts’. Simple. Except….Daisy’s mum replies ‘but I don’t like Brussel Sprouts.

This common problem of disliking certain food makes the story easy to relate to for
children. The repetition in the book is a fun way for the children to be involved often
calling out ‘but I don’t like peas’. The pictures a clear and vibrant and would be suitable for children of all ages.

We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and illustrations by Helen Oxenby

Deb Bear HuntThis classic book is a favourite in many homes, nurseries, schools and libraries. There is a perfect mix of rhyme and repetition which engages children from the off and the anticipation of what will happen next is enough to keep children interested in the story from start to finish.

The story sees the determined family of 4 set off on their own bear hunt and tells how they overcome several obstacles in their way, until at last they manage to track down the bear. The story is simple and fun and easy for children to join in with. The descriptions of the obstacles in their way ‘swishy-swashy grass’ and ‘thick oozy mud’ lends itself to interactive and fun storytime session, with children being able to act out the story as they go along. Reading is meant to be fun and this book certainly is that.

Librarian’s Choice: Enjoy a bit of Fantasy Horror

This blog comes from Lisa, a development librarian based at Central library.

I thought summer would be a good time to go for something different and write about a few of my favourite horror/fantasy books, so here goes:-

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

Lisa NOS4R2I didn’t know until fairly recently that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. He’s clearly inherited the writing gene and I’ve since enjoyed several of his books. NOS4R2 is a not-very-festive Christmas story featuring a terrifying child abductor called Charlie Manx and a resourceful girl called Vic McQueen who initially escapes his clutches but then encounters him again later on in life. Things are typically not as they seem in this world and the author deftly mixes real world events with horror and fantasy elements. I like his writing style, and found myself really immersed in this story.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Lisa Night WatchI got hooked by this one and had to go on to read the whole series. It’s set in Moscow and is about the precarious balance between the “Others”, who swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. Agents of the Dark oversee nocturnal activity and those of the Light do the same during daytime. Legend tells of a supreme Other who will emerge and threaten this balance and in this first book, that’s just what happens. This series seemed quite different from others I had read and I really enjoyed the language and the Russian cultural references scattered amongst all the action.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M R Carey

Lisa Girl withA friend recommended this book to me and I was fascinated by it pretty early on. It’s probably best not to go into too much detail but if you like dystopian thrillers you’ll love this! It begins with Melanie, an unusual young girl who is picked up from her cell every morning for her lessons at gun point and strapped into a wheelchair. She loves to learn and clearly has much to give, so what’s going on and why are people so afraid of her?

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Lisa Let the rightSet in Sweden, this is an intriguing, haunting novel that’s not like the rest. Oskar is a 12 year old boy who struggles to fit in at school and is constantly bullied; however things change when he meets his new neighbour, a strange yet interesting girl named Eli who only seems to go out at night. Then a body is found that’s been drained of blood… If you enjoy reading this, you’ll find the Swedish version of the film is definitely worth a watch.

The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro

Lisa The StrainI was hoping I’d like this one as I’m a big fan of del Toro’s work. One of the early scenes in this book really got to me – when an aeroplane lands at JFK airport, then stops dead and all communications are cut. There is no way in and no way out for the passengers. It’s up to Dr. Ephraim Goodweather from the CDC to find out what happened and to try and stop what’s coming. This is pretty spooky and gripping from the start. It’s also written in quite a cinematic style so you can really picture the scenes, hardly surprising that it was made into a TV series.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Lisa American GodsOne of my favourite authors, Neil is so prolific that it was hard to choose but I love American Gods. Shadow is released from prison early when his wife dies alongside his best friend in a car accident and life gets stranger for him from that point on. He accepts a job offer from the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know all about him, and is led into a world of ancient and modern mythology exploring the origins and influence of gods and spirits. I was absorbed in this from the beginning – I find the power of belief, how it spreads and what it can lead to really interesting; plus it’s a fantastic tale! The recent TV adaptation is definitely worth checking out as well.

Librarian’s Choice: Books for my holiday

This blog comes from Alison, Reader and Culture Development Manager for the library service.

I thought I would share my list of books for my holidays. I read all year round of course but holidays are my special time for really immersing myself in books. I deliberately pack light so that I can pack as many books as I can to take with me. Thank goodness for libraries – it would cost me a fortune otherwise!

I have two teenage daughters so we tend to take books that all of us will enjoy and can share between us, as the reading habit is strong in my family.

Ali The OneThe One by John Marrs

This first one is a cheat really, I have read this recently but I am taking it so my children can read it. I loved it so much that I read it in two sittings, staying up into the small wee hours of the night because I couldn’t put it down.

How far would you go to find ‘the one’? One simple mouth swab is all it takes. One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others.

Ali Call me by your nameCall me by your name by Andre Aciman

I actually read this some time ago but am going to re-read it again this summer as it is due out as a film later this year and I want to refresh my memory before I  see the film.

Call me by your name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blooms between 17-year-old Elio and his father’s house guest, Oliver, during a restless summer on the Italian Riviera. What grows from the depths of their souls is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration, and an experience that marks them for a lifetime.

Ali EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This is another book to be made into a film this year. I am a great believer in reading the book before the film comes out as the book is usually (but not always) better than the film. I want to imagine the characters in a book my own way before a director gives me their version.

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her 17 years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone? Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Ali Eleanor OliphantEleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

I actually should have already read this one too, but I brought it home recently and my daughter pounced on it before I could get my hands on it, saying “ooh, this looks interesting!” She has now finished it and assures me that it is brilliant so I look forward to reading it on my sunbed.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Ali SummerSummer of Impossible things by Rowan Coleman

I had the good luck of meeting Rowan at an event recently where she was talking about this book. I enjoyed the Time Traveller’s Wife back in the day, so I am looking forward to Rowan’s take on time travel in this novel.

If you could change the past, would you? 30 years ago, something terrible happened to Luna’s mother. Something she’s only prepared to reveal after her death. Now Luna and her sister have a chance to go back to their mother’s birthplace and settle her affairs. But in Brooklyn they find more questions than answers, until something impossible – magical – happens to Luna, and she meets her mother as a young woman back in the summer of 1977. At first Luna’s thinks she’s going crazy, but if she can truly travel back in time, she can change things. But in doing anything – everything – to save her mother’s life, will she have to sacrifice her own?

Ali Broken SkyBroken Sky by Lee Weatherly

This was the winner of the 14-16 age group in the Leeds Book Awards this year and I have wanted to read it ever since but have not managed to get round to it.

Amity is a teen pilot, battling in one-on-one combat to maintain peace in a world where war has been replaced by dogfights. But when Amity discovers the organisation she works for is corrupt, she begins to question everything. In this society of double agents, suspicion and betrayal, nobody is quite what they seem – including Amity’s first love.

Ali NevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff

My mum and sister are avid science fiction readers but I have never quite got into the habit even though I enjoy science fiction films. This book has been recommended by a couple of people so I am going to give it a go to see if it will start me in a new direction in reading.

Mia Corvere is only 10 years old when she is given her first lesson in death. Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world. But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya. Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult. The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

That is by far not the whole list, but some holiday choices also have to be down to serendipity. For that I will peruse the library shelf on my last day at work.

 

 

 

Librarian’s Bookshelf

This blog is from Stu, a community librarian in the east of the city.

Stu's Bookshelf

If you ask most people who work in libraries what they love most about the job, or why they came to it in the first place, they can probably answer in a single word: books. I’m no different. I learned to read before I even went to school and have been a total bookworm ever since; I studied English Language and Literature at A-level, then English and American Literature at University. I have literally thousands of books in my house – more than some of the smallest branch libraries in Leeds – and love to read widely around a whole variety of subjects. Above is a snapshot of a random bookshelf of fiction in my house. Right now, I’m going to give you a guided tour of some of my favourite things on it:

The Poems of Emily Bronte: you can see the Haworth moors from the window of the house I grew up in, and I spent a lot of my childhood on my aunty’s bleak hilltop farm with the wind rattling the rooftop and snow piled as high as the windows in winter, so I’ve always had an affinity for the Bronte sisters. Emily in particular is my favourite, and this is a fantastic collection of all her best poems. It’s a little stilted by the standards of today – bound as it is by the poetic conventions of Victorian England – but there’s no doubting the power of the language, and the way she evokes the beauty of the harsh Northern landscape is utterly sublime.

Stu Ask the DustAsk the Dust by John Fante: Bukowski fans, walk this way…..He’s not a particularly well-known name, but John Fante was Bukowski’s hero, and his nihilistic brand of downbeat LA tales – mostly featuring the semi-autobiographical protagonist Arturo Bandini – were also a great influence on Bret Easton Ellis. This is the tale of an aspiring screenwriter, down on his luck in the early years of Holloywood, and, like the best of Buk, it’s pathetic, tragic and hilarious in equal measure. Ask the Dust is also notable as it contains one of my favourite lines in all American literature – “It was a great problem, requiring immediate attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.” Most of Fante’s stuff is excellent, but this really is a high point. For the dedicated searcher, Chump Change by Dan Fante, his son, is another overlooked classic.

Hell by Dante: otherwise known as Inferno, this particular translation of part 1 of Dante’s Divine Comedy is by Dorothy L. Sayers, who’s far more widely known for her crime writing. I’ve read a few different translations of Dante but this is my favourite by far as it retains the playfulness and bawdy humour of the original, which can be lost in some of the more po-faced translations of earlier years. For a book about a journey through Satan’s underworld, it’s a lot funnier than you’d expect it to be, although it goes without saying that it’s pretty harrowing too.

The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett: Beckett was a literary colossus who wrote plays, poems, short stories and novels in both English and French, and excelled at every form he tried. This collection contains his entire dramatic output, from more famous plays such as Waiting For Godot and Endgame to more experimental works like Breath. My personal favourite is Krapp’s Last Tape, in which an old recluse looks back over his life by having a dialogue with his younger self, via listening and then responding to audio diaries he’s recorded over the years. There’s an amazingly powerful production of this starring an ageing Harold Pinter – Beckett’s most famous disciple – available online.

Stu GravitysGravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon: how the hell this guy hasn’t won the Nobel Prize for Literature is an absolute mystery for me. A man of singular vision, and possibly the greatest prose technician in the English language since James Joyce, his oeuvre is absolutely unique and nigh-on impossible to describe. For this gargantuan, head-frying classic, try reimagining Moby Dick as a World War Two espionage thriller, written in the style of Ulysses. On acid.

Stu TortureTorture Garden by Octave Mirbeau: words fail me when trying to describe this oddity from 1898, so here’s what Phil Baker of The Sunday Times had to say about it: “This hideously decadent fin-de-siècle novel by the French anarchist Mirbeau has become an underground classic. A cynical first half exposes the rottenness of politics, commerce and the petit-bourgeois; in the second half, our totally corrupt narrator travels to China and meets the extraordinary Clara. She shows him the Torture Garden, a place of exotic flowers and baroque sadism. There are satirical and allegorical dimensions, but it remains irreducibly horrible…..” Well worth a look if you want something totally left-field, but it’s not for the faint of heart!

Stu Malcolm xThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley: this is a stellar bit of biographical writing and is essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in 20th Century American history or the history of the Civil Rights movement in general. This works best when read immediately before or after The Autobiography of Doctor Martin Luther King, which is sadly absent from this shelf as some miscreant absconded with my copy a few years back. It’s fascinating to look at them side by side so you can see two completely differing solutions to the same problem.

Stu RainRain On the River by Jim Dodge: this little gem is, alongside The Complete Poems Of Raymond Carver, my favourite book of poetry, and it’s so well-thumbed that it’s starting to fall apart. I can’t think of any other poet who has brings such beautiful clarity to his images with such economy of language, and he gets right to the heart of what he wants to say every single time. “Naked beyond skin/we lift our palms to the moon/our bodies trembling like the limbs of a tree/a heartbeat after the bird has flown.” Unbelievable stuff.

Stu War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: some books are canonical for a reason. You know all those lists you see where they claim to show the greatest novels ever written, and this is always top? They’re absolutely right.

All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky: like most people, I discovered her when Suite Francaise was rediscovered and republished in 2004, over sixty years after the author’s death at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz. Since then, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on of hers that’s been translated into English. This is a typically sharp bourgeois tragedy about a man in love with a girl considered beneath him by his wealthy, snobbish and tyrannical family. As with all her work, the characters are beautifully and perceptively drawn, the story told in crystalline detail and the prose is exquisite.

And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave: it was perhaps inevitable that a man who so renowned for his lyrical skills should turn his hand to fiction, and this is his brilliant first foray into it from way back in 1989. For anyone familiar with his music – especially the stuff from the 80s – this is pretty much what you’d expect, that is to say, a hefty slice of dense Southern Gothic, with the ghosts of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor haunting every page. As you’d expect from him, it’s full of blood and guts, devils, demons, hellfire and the wrath of a vengeful God, but it’s savagely funny to boot. A deserved underground classic.

Librarian’s Choice: Holiday Reads

This blog comes from Rose, Central Library Manager.

Whatever type of holiday you are planning this year, at home or abroad, it is always a great time to relax and enjoy some wonderful books. If you’re planning to lie on a sun lounger or sit in the garden a good book (or several good books) is a must have for a great holiday. These are a few on my summer reading list which will take you on a journey across India, challenge your views on racism and intrigue with a psychological thriller.

Rose Her last breathHer last breath by Tracy Buchanan

Food writer Estelle Forster has the perfect life. And with her first book on the way, it’s about to get even better. When Estelle hears about Poppy O’Farrell’s disappearance, she assumes the girl has simply run away. But Estelle’s world crumbles when she’s sent a photo of Poppy, along with a terrifying note. Estelle has no idea who’s threatening her, or how she’s connected to the missing teen, but she thinks the answers lie in the coastal town she once called home, and the past she hoped was long behind her. Estelle knows she must do everything to find Poppy. But how far will she go to hide the truth – that herperfect life was the perfect lie?

Rose Sister, SisterSister, sister by Sue Fortin 

Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life. Alice thinks Claire is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family. One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac. Two sisters. One truth.

Rose Into the waterInto the water by Paula Hawkins

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool.

Rose I see youI see you by Clare Mackintosh

When Zoe Walker sees her photo in the classifieds section of a London newspaper, she is determined to find out why it’s there. There’s no explanation, no website: just a grainy image and a phone number. She takes it home to her family, who are convinced it’s just someone who looks like Zoe. But the next day the advert shows a photo of a different woman, and another the day after that. Is it a mistake? A coincidence? Or is someone keeping track of every move they make?

Rose The ministryThe ministry of utmost happiness by Arundhati Roy

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ transports us across a subcontinent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety – in search of meaning, and of love.

Rose Small great thingsSmall great things by Jodi Picoult

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

 

 

 

 

 

Librarian’s choice: Dog Books

As the owner of one of those troublesome, mischievous, beautiful, loyal creatures known as dogs, I thought I would write about some of the interesting books I’ve recently come across on the subject of our canine companions. When you look through the library catalogue, there are so many great books covering everything you might want to know.

Here is just a small selection:-

Lisa Clever dogClever Dog by Sarah Whitehead

Clever Dog is an easy to read, fun book focusing on behaviour and communication, with plenty of handy tips, examples and case studies bringing her theories to life. Plus it’s also the first book that made me think about my dog’s learning style! I think we’re both mainly visual.

Lisa Dog TalesDog Talk by Bruce Fogle

Dog Talk has some lovely photos of the author’s own dog at various stages throughout his life, smiling the whole time! This one provides bite size segments of information but goes deeper into the relationship between humans and dogs, looking at subconscious needs. There are some quick ways of teaching basic commands and also of dealing with aggression and other unwanted behaviours, although I think some of his advice is a little old fashioned.

Lisa Being a dogBeing a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

This book is like nothing else I have ever read, and that’s saying a lot! Its main focus is on the dog’s nose and how they experience the world through smell, although the author has done some smell research herself, so it does also go into the human sense of smell. The writing style is really accessible and quite humorous but there’s some seriously scientific research in here, and some myth-busting.

Lisa Rescue MeRescue Me – Dogs Trust

Thought I ought to include this one as our dog came from Dogs Trust! The adoption process was straightforward but fairly rigorous and they’re always available for advice afterwards. The book is very clear and step by step with case studies and lots of useful information for anyone thinking of adopting a dog. Believe me, it’s worth it!

Lisa Test your dogTest your dog’s IQ: how clever is your canine? by David Taylor

I was given this for a Christmas present one year and of course I’ve tried out some of these tests on my own dog and my sister –in-law’s two dogs. There are lots of fun activities in here for all ages – one we tried was covering the dog with a blanket and timing how long it takes for them to free themselves. Not long with ours it turns out, which apparently means she’s intelligent!

Lisa Dog ShamingDog Shaming by Pascale Lemire

This is a great book for cheering you up – dog photos never fail to make me smile, especially when they’re posing with a sign blaming them for having done something ridiculous or naughty. It’s basically a book of photos so won’t take you long to read, but I can guarantee at least some of them will raise a chuckle. I particularly liked the dog who chewed the face off an antique stuffed panda bear, and was pretty surprised by the dog who ate a starfish!

Librarian’s Choice: Women in Music

This blog is from Allison, an Assistant Community Librarian based in the west of Leeds.

As the music festivals are now in full swing, I thought a few good music related reads were in order. To narrow it down, women in music took my interest. There are plenty of good books to choose from at Leeds Libraries. Here’s a starter selection that you can read in the comfort of your own home without mud, queues for porta-loos and overpriced food and drinks. Although, if you are getting out to a festival, happy camping!

Allison M TrainM Train by Patti Smith

I anticipated this would be an emotional read. I picked it up a few times before finally straying from the first chapter. I wondered how deep it would be and if it would feel too intrusive. Autobiographies don’t shove things under the carpet; they take hold of the carpet at one end, waft it in the air and let the ‘dirt’ fly where it may. I also knew this was going to be a read that would make me repeatedly pause and search the influential figures in her life. I am not sure now why I saw any of this as reasons to delay reading the book.
My predictions weren’t wrong. Not even half way in and the words became misty for me as she shared simple but moving memories of her deceased father. But the real hits came from the one liners that she deals about her late husband; her ‘angel with the lank brown hair and eyes the colour of water’. When she commands him to come back because he’s been ‘gone long enough now’ it makes me want to have been there to offer comfort on that long flight to Tokyo.
Of course, my mind was kept from wandering to the maudlin side too much by my desire to research the historical characters of fiction and nonfiction that have inspired Ms. Smith. She spoke so poetically about the scientist Wegener that I just had to know more. I knew this would happen but it is not in any way a bad thing; she herself rightly describes books as ’portals to the world’. What I didn’t expect is that I would be checking travel advising sites for ‘small favoured’ hotels in London and that my heart would fill up as she talks about ITV3 detective shows, ironically meeting Robbie Coltrane and elderberry water with popcorn. How did she do this; turn even small details into emotional gems? Her dialogue with statues and table ‘thieves’ is intellectual clowning at its best and her devotion to coffee is commendable. I smiled as my own imagination took over by picturing fictional coffee fanatic Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks being the one sat in her spot in her favourite cafe.
While I won’t rank any of the other books in order of preference, M Train comes out as my absolute favourite. I lingered before embarking but once on board, the ride was both comfortable and thrilling. I read the book in one day; one scorching, humid day off from work. It was Frida Kahlo’s birthday and here I was reading about Patti Smith visiting the artist’s home in Mexico. Every detail in this book became even more poignant. I did also get quite star struck when she mentioned travelling to Leeds. Patti Smith, THE Patti Smith, wandering around in my hometown; although I just know she would have blended right in to the places and the crowds without any fuss. She came through Leeds on her way to visit Sylvia Plath’s grave; adamant that she’s wasn’t leaving her best pen there! As I get to the end chapters it is here she describes losing her husband and her brother within a month of each other. By now it doesn’t feel intrusive. I know exactly why she is telling us and I am thankful.
Throughout the book, Ms. Smith is led by her dreams (and coffee) and we follow her. Her words are as beautiful as ever, elegiac yet uplifting and lyrical. I could hear her music; I’d like to imagine it being all around her as she travels the world. By the end of the book, I had the lines from a nursery rhyme in my head: ‘see a fine lady upon a white horse, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes’. I now know that I must seek out her 2010 offering, Just Kids; without hesitation.

Allison Girl in a BandGirl in a Band-A Memoir by Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon writes with a broken heart; the opening chapter describes Sonic Youth’s last gig intertwined with the end of her marriage to Thurston Moore. Throughout, she scatters seeds of information that we can peck at to discover reasons for the breakdown of the relationship. However, I prefer to graze on more fulfilling morsels that she throws out to us. I wouldn’t read this book for marital gossip but instead for an insight into insightfulness. She knows her stuff. She knows music, she knows about people and she knows herself…without always realising it.
“I’m not a musician” she tells us. Thankfully, under any self-doubt was a heap of fearlessness that helped her share her talents with the world. Kim Gordon seems the type of person I would be happy being friends with, simply because she is just so cool. And what makes her cool is that she hates cool; that’s quite cool. What captures me more is her perceptiveness about people. Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Karen Carpenter, Henry Rollins and her own family, she has looked them all up and down. She then deduces their personalities and without appearing a tell-tale she explains, we listen and we nod because we recognise that what she is telling us is probably correct. There seems an innate bluntness to her deductions.
For all fans of her music, this book also goes deep into the writing, the recording and performing. It also skims the art world and she takes us with her as she wanders in and out of her childhood. In the final chapters she reflects on rock and roll parenthood:
“…even if they were in their forties or fifties, they still had a banked fire in them, raised finger, a sneer, hidden under years of living.”
Swoon. I am available for a chat and a pint anytime you are, Kim Gordon. I promise not to ask what it’s like to be a girl in a band; I just know how much you hate that.

Allison Clothes Music BoysClothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys- A Memoir by Viv Albertine.

All the names are here: Vicious, Jones, Levene, Lydon, Letts, Hynde, Harry, Sioux and so on. The places and the stories we’ve heard are all transmitted to us first hand. We remember so much in our own little time pockets. This is a book, however, that requires you to leave your preconceived notions at the door before you step inside. If you think you know punk (which everyone over a certain age thinks they do), if you think you know women in punk or if you just think you know women please note the advice that I whispered to myself- ‘shut your gob’ and read it. It wasn’t the punk paradise of tales that captured me; I got drawn in more when her life inevitably moves on. Domesticity often spat on her worse than any punk crowd yet it’s her honest vulnerability and resilience that made it raw to read.
Nice quick chapters. She gives you a guide to skip to the subjects you want to read about, easy. Even if you just want to know about The Slits; it’s all here with warts and all, easy. However the content doesn’t always make for an easy read. But, come on, what did you expect? A Bunuel quote that Ms. Albertine uses pretty much sums it up:
“l’m not here to entertain you, I’m here to make you feel uncomfortable”.
She did make me feel uncomfortable but I needed to be in order to relate. She also mesmerised me, made me cry, laugh and cringe at times. Most importantly, her words made me think. So here’s to all those who may not have ‘aspired to be musicians’ but thankfully became ‘warriors’. Give it a read, you won’t get the feeling you’ve been cheated.

Allison Here she comesHere She Comes Now: Women in Music that have Changed our Lives edited by Jeff Gordinier and Marc Weingarten

First, I must say that I am duly impressed that one of the editors managed to compare the feeling he got when seeing Gloria Gaynor’s live performance of ‘I will survive’ to emotions felt by Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I love that book and for him to somehow squeeze that in so effortlessly made me smile. An over the top comparison? Not really, not when you realise that he wants to move away from the predictable stories about women in music. The book’s contributors are relaying to us how much music has enriched their lives and in some cases, saved them. They are all novelists, bloggers and poets who are writing about the ‘voice to listener’ experience. The editor starts the book with an apology for the many influential names that had to be left out but we understand; how big that book would be if they included them all, right? So, the writers do the cherry picking and what we get is a wonderfully eclectic crop of stories.
Allison Clock does not mince words as she declares her thoughts on those who hate Dolly Parton. She isn’t wrong in my view; I wouldn’t trust anyone who disses our Dolly. Sandy Denny’s life and tragic, untimely death is seen through the eyes of another writer. Rosie Schaap captures her ‘ghost friend’ Sandy with deep eloquence. Ian Daly writes a letter to PJ Harvey and we could almost feel intrusive reading it as it is so personal and profound. This book is for people who feel the same way about music as the writers. That is why I could relate to it. From a young age, I realised the power music had in my life; music will always be my sword and my shield.

Allison Black by designBlack by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir by Pauline Black

I remember seeing Pauline Black in music videos and magazines for the first time when I was barely sixteen. I feel so lucky that my era had such amazing female role models in music. I wanted to dress like her, dance like her and wished I could sing like her. She looked confident, cool and beautiful. I didn’t think of her as trying to be like the men of the group or the men of 2-tone; she was just being herself. 2-tone never seemed to bow down to the usual media selling tactic of ‘girl in a band’. Pauline Black always looked like she was soundly aware of any elephants in the room and that she wasn’t afraid to bring down to size anyone who pointed them out. After reading her book, I now know how that strength of character was built and why it shines through.
Black by Design is beautifully written with honest words. There were times that I could literally not put the book because my fingers were holding on so tightly in horror as certain childhood traumas were revealed. Most of her childhood milestones were met with challenges; these are my understating words. You will need to read her own account as my frustration and anger from looking in would not do any justice. She lets us be a part of it all as she seeks to unravel the threads:
“So, why did my mother chose a black child if she had so much antipathy towards black people? Didn’t it occur to her that my ‘colour’ was going to be a future issue, which couldn’t be swept under the carpet…”
“I cannot say that I wasn’t loved. I know I was. But I grew up feeling like a cuckoo in someone else’s nest.”
Pauline Black reads, she grows, she reads some more. As she reaches her teens her reading material becomes more radical; she thanks the Librarian of Romford Town Library for ordering books that provided her with the information she ‘required at sixteen’. She doesn’t stop reading; she studies and becomes a hospital radiographer.
Naturally, the meetings and formation of The Selecter then dominate with pictures that capture the essence of the time. One story comes from good old Leeds again and the infamous F club where she states: “In Leeds, everything came together, the harmonies, the Selecter sound, the songs, Gap’s dance routines, my stage persona and cockney patter.”
The rest is Sta-Prest history and the Queen of Ska occupies her throne. Without giving any spoilers, the reunions that dominate the last chapters will in no doubt take centre stage. I have seen Pauline Black in recent interviews and it is hard to believe that she is in her sixties. She is ‘not for resigning’ and she is still giving us goals to aspire to.