‘Must Reads’ for A-Level Students

This blog comes from Lauren, a student who was with us recently for work experience.

A-Levels are hard. On top of the abundance of essays, exams and coursework deadlines, there is also the expectation that one is well read. This can sometimes feel like a heavy weight to hold on your shoulders. However, reading for pleasure is easy if reading is made pleasurable. This short list of modern classics is aimed to enrich you with intellectual ideas that will hopefully compliment your studies and entertain all those looking for a good read throughout the summer.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Lauren A ThousandCalling all fans of The Kite Runner! Khaled Hosseini’s second novel provides the perfect counterpart to his debut, again focusing in on the social and ethnic rivalries within a modern war-torn country. The story follows two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, whose lives are thrust together by conflict, loss and fate. The two soon form an unbreakable bond likening to that of sisters, enduring the hardship of Taliban rule together as a team. There is something undeniable about Hosseini’s narrative style throughout his work which makes even the most unbearable of events readable and I could honestly not put this book down. Although utterly heart-breaking, the political relevance of this novel helps further an understanding into the context surrounding fiction set in contemporary Afghanistan, providing invaluable insight into the complexities of modern Afghan society; this is especially useful to those studying The Kite Runner at A-Level. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a novel perhaps even more profound than The Kite Runner, one that will stay with you forever and a definite must read for all.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Lauren PerksThis brilliant book is a coming of age tale based around the challenges of the teenage years. Written as an epistolary entirely in the format of letters, the novella is set in early 1990s America and explores the themes of mental health, first love and self-discovery through the perspective of protagonist, Charlie, a socially awkward introvert. When faced with the world of first dates, mix tapes, school dances and adulthood, Charlie initially hates high school, but the story follows him on his journey of self-acceptance as he embraces his status as a ‘wallflower’ whilst himself through the help of fun-loving best friends Patrick and Sam. The film adaptation is equally as wonderful; the soundtrack features many of my all-time favourite songs, including music from The Smiths and David Bowie. This novel is beautifully written and deceivingly deep. I think it is important that young people take on board the messages within it and are encouraged to be brave, daring and sometimes a little wild.
“There comes a time when you have to see what life looks like from the dancefloor”

1984 by George Orwell

1984Written in 1949, Orwell creates a nightmarish dystopian future whereby everyone and everything is watched over by ‘Big Brother’ and controlled by its tyranny (clearly channel 4 were particularly inspired by this). This novel has had a profound effect and 1984 has now become shorthand for totalitarianism. It encapsulates the power of mass media and its ability to manipulate public opinion, the truth and even history. Great for writing about in exams and an even better conversation starter, this political thriller is truly unforgettable. Arguably one of the most thought provoking texts in modern literature, 1984 is an undeniable ‘must read’.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Lauren MatildaRoald Dahl is one of the unconditional loves in my life. His body of work is legendary and I could go on all day about how he inspired me throughout childhood etc etc… and I really don’t think we should forget this as ‘adult learners’. It’s important to take some time away from academic reading and indulge in some of Dahl’s delightfulness from time to time. Regress back to childhood with this wonderful piece of fiction about a six year old girl that we all secretly wish we could be. I certainly wish I was storming through double multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens! And I’m seventeen! The horrid Ms Trunchbull is contrasted wonderfully with the lovely Miss Honey and it is impossible not to become overly emotionally invested in Matilda’s crazy life. I encourage everyone to pour some excitement back into their lives with this magical classic.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Cadbury

This is a short blog to say how sad I was to hear that Helen Cadbury died last week. I was lucky enough to meet Helen several times, when she was talking about her books in our libraries. Helen was the author of two crime novels about PCSO Sean Denton with a third in the series out later this year. Her first volume of poetry is also due out later this year.

Helen was always very supportive of libraries and did events in not just Leeds but many across the country. She had a warmth and a way of speaking to an audience that made it very difficult to wrap an event up as the audience always wanted to linger to talk to her more.

The first time I encountered Helen was at an event in Bramley Library when she was talking about her first book to the Crime Readers group there. We held the event while the library was open. This can bring its challenges and indeed I cringed as one member of the public insisted on browsing the bookshelf just behind Helen’s head while musing loudly about the books to a friend. Helen took this in her stride, dealing with the situation with good grace and humour.

When Helen’s second book was selected for Read Regional for 2016, she visited Pudsey library to talk to the readers group there about the book. Helen’s honesty about her writing and writing process provoked a readers group discussion that I am sure the group will remember for some time.

The last time I saw Helen was at an event she did about writing at Central library in Leeds. Again her candidness about her books and writing and indeed about her recent cancer treatment made the event a memorable one for those that attended.

I will miss Helen, and my deepest sympathy goes to her family for their loss.

To catch a rabbit

Helen To catchTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. In this gripping story of migrants, love and the sex trade, Karen and Sean’s enquiries begin to throw up the same names. While Sean comes up against a corrupt senior officer, Karen finds she’s falling in love. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, both of them risk losing all they hold precious.

Bones in the nest

Helen BonesThe Chasebridge Killer is out; racial tension is rising and the mutilated body of a young Muslim man is found in the stairwell of a tower block in Doncaster. As he gets drawn into the case, Sean Denton’s family life and his police job become dangerously entwined. Meanwhile a young woman is trying to piece her life back together, but someone is out there; someone who will never let her forget what she’s done.

 

Librarian’s Choice: Gripped from the start

This blog is from Louise a library assistant working in Morley Library.

Something that often comes up between us readers are our reading style or habits. On the counter I love to hear about when and where people read. Right before bed, only on the bus, over a lazy breakfast or in the evenings instead of the television. For others it is only ever on holiday or any moment snatched to oneself, in the middle of a crowded break room, or the middle of the night while the rest of the house breathes gently.

It would also seem that there are two distinct camps of readers, those who will diligently finish anything they begin, no matter how terrible and arduous, the sense of completion perhaps being the biggest reward and those who try on novels like dresses, knowing before the left arm is fully in whether or not this will be a keeper.
I am definitely in the latter. Two pages in and I want to be swept away, I have to have that complete immersion to invest my time in the world in between those pages.

In this way you kiss a lot of frogs, start out on a lot of journeys, sometimes go a little while without really getting anywhere but I feel strongly that reading is a passionate pursuit that requires total belief in the voice of the author.

Three such stories that I stumbled upon recently are:

Louise EncirclingEncircling by Carl Frode Tiller

David has lost his memory, a newspaper advert invites his friends and families to write in with stories, memories of their own to help him remember who he is. Those who respond begin to talk about David, about his family but most urgently themselves, very subtly the whole community is painted into the narrative. Set in rural Norway, with an absolute dynasty of characters, this is the beginning of a trilogy that spans generations and has enough room and depth to show the complexity of our relationships with others and with ourselves. With such a range of voices, Tiller has given us the chance to really explore what makes a story from every perspective.
Despite its scale this reads like a dream, these characters became my family for a time. Book Two is also available to borrow and Book Three is in the pipeline for translation in the near future.

Louise Post Office GirlThe Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Set in Austria at the end of World War 1, a country utterly wracked with financial ruin, Christine works without cease in her lonely role in a post office. Just about getting by, every day the same, following mechanical routines, she is unaware of the scale of her unhappiness until one day she receives a surprise invitation from her wealthy American Aunt to join them in a Swiss resort.

Arriving at the fashionable Hotel with her simple garments mended, and luggage borrowed she is struck with awe and a burning sense of shame at her poverty. As in the fairytale Cinderella she is transformed becoming for the first time truly aware of a sense of herself, surrounded by wealth, beauty, freedom, frivolity, she blossoms into the society around her. Then without warning she is sent away, back to her old life. Left with only dreams of the life she has been allowed to glimpse.

This novel is completely astonishing, so very moving, and timeless in it’s messages of futility and hope.

louise Plot 29PLOT 29 by Allan Jenkins

Part garden diary, part memoir, Allan Jenkins (Journalist and Editor of Observer Food Monthly) shares with us a year in the life of his allotment, the beautiful details of sowing seeds, tending young plants, making good the soil and at times hacking it all back and starting again. He starts to unfold the story of his beginnings, rescued from his mother and placed in a Banardos children home, his brother Christopher who has always needed protection, and their new life with a brand new mum and dad. Plot 29 begins as a place to expand, to grow more and becomes a place of stability and healing.

‘When I am disturbed, even angry, gardening has been a therapy. When I don’t want to talk I turn to Plot 29, or to a wilder piece of land by a northern sea. There, among seeds and trees, my breathing slows; my heart rate too. My anxieties slip away.’

As Allan digs deeper into his past, sends away for care records, gets nearer to the haunting truth of the the violence lurking in his past, his commitment to his Plot becomes what keeps him upright and able to move forward.

If you are a gardener or grower you will love the simple, enriching day to day description of life on Plot 29, the power of earth and seeds and of hard work to heal. Theres a real, brave, unflinching story here too, of identity, of family, of what makes us who we are, and what we become.

Librarian’s Choice: Cat Books

This blog comes from Julia, a community librarian based in the south of the city.

Cats. Beautiful, noble, fascinating, independent and enigmatic. Domesticated around 4000 years ago, they now rank highly amongst our most popular pets. Cats are everywhere, having taken social media and YouTube by storm and the word on the street is that Leeds is to get its own Cat Café later this year! It seems appropriate and timely, then, to have a look at just a few of the fabulous felines who feature as favourites in our selection of fiction (and non-fiction) for all ages. Of course, I’m mindful that in writing this blog, I may be perpetuating the ‘cat lady’ Librarian stereotype but, as those who know me will testify, I AM a ‘cat lady’ Librarian, so here goes!

The association of cats and libraries is not a modern phenomenon: apparently, cats were used in the libraries of Egyptian temples and in medieval monasteries to safeguard precious manuscripts, by keeping rodents at bay! One of the most famous library cats of more recent times was Dewey, who lived at the Spencer Public Library, Iowa, USA, having been abandoned there as a kitten, so the first book on my list is:

Julia DeweyDewey’s nine lives: the legacy of the small-town library cat who inspired millions by Vicki Myron

In addition to the story of Dewey himself, Librarian, Vicki Myron, shares a selection of other true-life tales of incredible cats and the people whose lives they enriched. These heart-warming and uplifting stories capture the amazing ability of animals to touch and enrich human lives.

julia street catA street cat named Bob by James Bowen

Another famous feline (now a movie star, no less!) to be found lurking in the non-fiction is Street Cat Bob. Homeless and in dire streets, Bob arrives on the doorstep of James, a busker and former drug-addict who has recently moved from the streets to supported housing, in London. And so begins an incredible friendship, as James gives Bob a home; but that small act of kindness has the most amazing repercussions for both their lives! The incredible story of the amazing relationship enjoyed by the pair has generated a series of inspiring books beginning with this one.

julia guest catThe Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Over on the fiction shelves, The Guest Cat is a beautiful little book (140 pages) recommended to me by a cat-loving friend. The cover alone is a delight to behold, the captivating cat’s eyes conveying something of the enigmatic, other-worldliness of the tale within. The writer is a poet, which is most evident in the gentle, graceful prose. As with the true-stories, this book also explores the unique and incredible impact that interaction with a cat can have on human lives. Cats are ‘free spirits’ and this one is no exception, subtly inviting herself into the home of a couple living in a quiet part of Tokyo, despite having a home of her own! As the visits become more frequent, the couple find themselves increasingly affected by their little guest.

Julia molly cat cafeMolly and the cat café by Melissa Daley

If you’re interested in the growing popularity of cat cafés in the UK, you might enjoy this lovely story told from the viewpoint of two-year-old tabby, Molly, who finds herself rehomed in a house with three cat-hating dogs, after her first owner becomes ill. Desperately unhappy, Molly runs away and so begins her journey through the streets as she searches for her forever home. A delightful, easy read, there are tears and laughter along the way and beautifully imaginative descriptions of feline ways!

julia cat cafeThe home-made cat café by Katrina Charman

Continuing the cat café theme, this book is the first in series of stories written especially for children (9 years+). Isla is desperate for a cat, but although her mum works as a nurse for a local vet, Isla is not allowed a pet of her own, so she must make do with visiting the animals at the vetinary surgery. She is particularly fond of a homeless cat, she sees there, so when Isla’s lonely grandmother comes to stay with the family for the summer, Isla has an idea …and then the idea just snowballs! Immediately engaging with fun characters and cute illustrations, this book will purr-fectly appeal to children who love animals.

julia paractical catsOld Possum’s book of practical cats by T.S. Eliot

This collection of delightful cat poems, takes me back to my own school days when my recitation of ‘Macavity the Mystery Cat’ earned me a prize in the High School Reading Aloud competition! Eliot originally wrote the poems in the 1930s to amuse his godchildren and friends; then in the 1980s they were adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber for his West End musical, Cats! These colourful characters created and so exquisitely described by T S Eliot are utterly captivating. Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Mr. Mistoffelees… each cat has his/her own fascinating story which will delight readers of all ages. These all-time literary favourites are available from Leeds Libraries in a variety of publications.

julia adolphus tipsThe amazing story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo

One of Britain’s best loved story-tellers, Michael Morpurgo is well known for a whole host of children’s books, many of which feature animals among the central characters. The main part of this story is set during the Second World War, the impact of which, on a family and community, is explored through the diaries of schoolgirl, Lily Tregenza. Lily has a cat called Tips whom she loves ‘more than anyone or anything’ but just as the family and their neighbours face evacuation from their homes, Tips goes missing. A tear-jerking, heart-warming tale of love and friendship, with a brilliant surprise ending, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is recommended for children aged 9 years and above.

julia mogMog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

Mog, the loveable family pet, around whom Judith Kerr created a whole series of books, was a firm favourite in our household when our children were young. And these charming, timeless stories with gentle humour and beautiful illustrations are just as enjoyable today. Mog’s comical antics are based on Judith’s observations of her own cats and the series of engaging stories takes us on a journey through Mog’s life with her loving family (tissues at the ready for the final instalment!) Whether you’re meeting Mog for the first time or sharing your own childhood favourite with the next generation of youngsters, this tale of the forgetful tabby who saves the day, will not disappoint.

julia i love catsI love cats by Emma Dodd

This picture book is perfect for pre-schoolers who will delight in the lyrical rhythm and abundance of adjectives as a little girl searches for her ideal pet cat. How can she possibly choose from the many and varied kitties of every shape, size and personality? Colourful pictures, giggles aplenty and a heart-warming ending make this story just right for sharing at bedtime or anytime!

julia cat in the hatThe Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

And finally, no blog about literary cats would be complete without the instantly recognisable feline favourite from the pen of Dr Seuss. The Cat in the Hat is now 60 years old, but his unique brand of moggy mayhem and tomfoolery still has youngsters chuckling to this day. The simple rhyming words with colourful illustrations to assist understanding, encourage children to read this classic for themselves – the very purpose for which the book was written! So, hold on to your own hats as you join the mischievous cat and his crazy companions, Thing 1 and Thing 2, on their riotous adventure in the home of Sally and her brother.

Librarian’s Choice: The books that got me back into reading

This blog is from Louise, a librarian based at Central library.

I used to read, a lot. Days would be lost with my eyes tied firmly to the pages in front of me as I awaited what would happen next, early favourites included the adventurous tales of Robin Hood and the multiple ‘scrapes’ encountered by red-headed orphan Anne Shirley. Teenage years followed with a dip into the teen horror genre and Stephen King, who I found way too scary but had to read because all my friends were. As young adulthood overtook teens it was into the world of ‘chick lit’ I fell. My reading tastes continued to grow and change as I aged and there was always a book in my bag to be opened and indulged whenever the chance arose.
And then it stopped.

Something major in my life happened that pretty much stopped dead my love of literature. I became a parent. Instead of reading by lamplight my nights were spent with a fractious babe. Sometimes I could barely remember what day it was never mind where I was up to in the plot. Instead of finishing a book in a couple of days it was now taking me a couple of weeks to even get to the middle and by the time I’d gone a whole year without finishing a book I realised I’d lost the habit. To me that’s what reading always was, a good habit that brought pleasure, escapism and knowledge.

Two children and one house move later I’d had enough, I wanted reading back but it appeared I’d forgot how to become engrossed in a book once more and repeated efforts left me feeling a failure when I couldn’t get past chapter 3. And then I remembered a book that I’d read 15 years previously and still had squirrelled away in a box somewhere. True Tales of American Lives by Paul Auster. 180 stories chosen from his National Public Radio programme are the stories of everyday people living in twentieth century America. There were only 2 rules to have your story included, it must be true and you must be previously unpublished. The resulting stories cover everything from grief to romance, adventurous to the hum drum, humourous, sad and ridiculous but all of them real. The best bit, most of them were short. Some barely a page while others took up 5, the book was one that could be picked up and put down without plot lines or character getting confused. This book got me back into reading while being one of the most authentic but multi-voiced books I have ever read. Some of the stories I couldn’t remember from my first reading 15 years previous, but others were like old friends just waiting to be reacquainted.

Louise The MothIt was also talking about my love of this book that had my next read recommended to me. The Moth: This is a True Story
by Catherine Burns.  Like True Tales, The Moth gathers together a selection of stories though this time there is definitely more of a fantastical element to the tales, with accounts of space walks from astronaut Michael J. Massimino, to the American doctor spirited away by a group of nuns to the bed side of Mother Theresa. Again the stories are short but always engaging and easy to read wherever you are.

These are the two books that got me back into reading, these are the two books I would recommend to anyone and everyone, whether you are already a voracious reader or someone looking for a way into a wonderful new habit.

Here are some other short story collections to kick off your reading habit.

Lou The not deadThe not-dead and the saved and other stories by Kate Clanchy

None of us are perfect, in the way we love, age, or view the world. ‘The Not-Dead and the Saved’ offers us an opportunity for reinvention: of ourselves, those we have lost, and the world in which we live. From a man doomed to spend his life trying to find solutions to cancer; to a new mother haunted by a swaddling, tablet-eating great-aunt; to an intrepid literary agent who travels to the Yorkshire Moors to discover the next big thing, and ends up eating Anne Brontë’s rock cakes, we meet a host of characters who are desperately, creatively, and often hilariously trying to evade the underlying truths of their lives.

Lou Sweet HomeSweet home by Carys Bray

A surreal supermarket, fictional parenting books, a gingerbread house and an alternative to IVF steeped in Nordic mythology are deployed in 17 very different notions of home, as Carys Bray explores loss, disappointment, frustrated expectations and regret through dark, funny stories which strike at the heart of family life.

 

Lou The visiting privelegeThe visiting privilege: new and collected stories by Joy Williams

Joy Williams has been celebrated as a master of the short story for four decades, her renown passing as a given from one generation to the next even in the shifting landscape of contemporary writing. And at long last the incredible scope of her singular achievement is put on display: 33 stories drawn from three earlier, much lauded collections, and another 13 appearing here for the first time in book form.

Lou Those were the daysThose were the days by Terry Wogan

Welcome to the party. Pull up a chair, take your ease, and join Tom, king of the Cattle Market branch, for a bite to eat and a glass or two of wine. Come and meet his customers: many of whom have become his friends, and many more of whom haven’t. Either way they’ve some fine tales to tell. Join Tom as he reminisces about the places he’s been, the people he has met, the laughter and the tears of daily life as he made his way from humble bank clerk to the heady heights of Branch Manager. ‘Those Were the Days’ is a collection of short stories by national treasure Sir Terry Wogan, filled with his famous humour, and charm.

Lou American HousewifeAmerican housewife by Helen Ellis

Meet the women of ‘American Housewife’: they wear lipstick, pearls, and sunscreen, even when it’s cloudy. They casserole. They pinwheel. They pump the salad spinner like a CPR dummy. And then they kill a party-crasher, carefully stepping around the body to pull cookies out of the oven. Vicious, fresh and nutty as a poisoned Snicker, this collection is an uproarious and pointed commentary on womanhood.

Lou Single, carefreeSingle, carefree, mellow by Katherine Heiny

A tender and ruefully funny look at varieties of love, secrets, and betrayal in ten exquisite stories that form a guided tour of the human heart.