Task 1: List the 3 books you’ve read this year you’re most “thankful” for (your favs) or the one book you’ve ever read that changed your life for the better.
I'm not really a "this book changed my life" kind of person - too much stubborn and with too much personal inertia for that - but I liked the idea of working out which books I'm most thankful for having read this year.
This has been a transition year for me: returning from Switzerland after sixteen years, to a town I adopted as my own more than thirty years ago; moving from a long-held position of authority to having no authority at all; switching from constant travel and endless meetings to spending days where there is nowhere I HAVE to go and no one I HAVE to talk to.
So this year, I'm most thankful for books that have helped me think about life's choices and their consequences. Books filled with empathy and compassion that also see life clearly and don't look away from the messes we all make for ourselves and others. These are the kind of books that have helped me stay calm this year.
The three that stand out are:
I selected each of them as a "Best Read". Here's what I wrote about each of them at the time.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Anything Is Possible"is how readable it is. I found myself having to ration out the book so that I wouldn’t consume it in a single sitting.
Yet this isn’t page-turning in the conventional sense. There’s no complex and clever plot to unravel, no sense of threat or intrigue to tease yourself with page after page. There is just life as we all live it.
What makes it compelling is not that I want to know what happens next but that I want to know these people and, in the process, I want to know more about how their experiences mirror mine.
Each chapter focuses on someone who was in the supporting cast of characters when Lucy Barton was recalling her childhood in *My Name Is Lucy Barton”, In “Anything Is Possible”, each of them gets to be centre-stage for a while, the prime mover in their own universe. Each universe exercises a gravitational pull on at least one of the other universes in the book. We get a guided tour of their universe with the authorial voice capturing every emotion, memory and reaction with an empathy so deep you could drown in it.
"The Trick To Time" by Kit De Waal is a is a deeply empathic book about the nature of grief, the enduring impact of loss and the effect of time on emotions, memory and our own sense of identity.
It tells the story of how the main character, Mona, came to be who she is. It is told in two parallel timelines: Mona as she reaches her sixtieth birthday, living alone in a seaside town in England, making dolls and providing some mysterious service to some of the women who visit her shop and Mona as a little girl, growing up in Ireland and then moving, in her late teens, to Birmingham to make a new life for herself.
The thing that most engaged me about the book was understanding how the little girl playing on the beach, and the young woman going nervously to her first dance in Birmingham, became the calm, strong but sad woman who makes wooden dolls in the present day.
The writing is beautiful without being flowery. From the beginning, I understood that there was more going on than I yet knew about and that understanding filled me with pleasant anticipation of a real story worth waiting for. It was a story that caught me by surprise time and again, up to the final chapter, but each surprise made more sense of Mona's life and actions rather than feeling like a magic trick.
"The Queen of Blood Everything" is one of the best books I've read this year. It tells the story of Dido Jones and her relationship with Edie, her unconventional mother.
Daughter of a flamboyant, convention-challenging. larger-than-life mother and absent any knowledge of her father, Dido has no greater desire from the age of six to thirteen than to be normal and in a "real" family. She satisfies this desire initially by adopting the family next door, weaving herself into their lives so thoroughly that her presence is taken for granted.
Starting with six-year-old Dido moving from a London squat to an Essex village in the exceptionally hot summer of 1976 and carrying on into Dido's adult years, "The Queen Of Bloody Everything" captures the language and attitudes of the times perfectly, displaying them to through the eyes of a child and the adult remembering being that child.
It is a riveting read, filled with strong, believable characters, realistic dialogue that is crammed with life and truth and scenes that capture moments of triumph, deep cringe-worthy embarrassment, abuse and loss and sometimes, a little bit of hope.
I strongly recommend the audiobook version of "The Queen Of Bloody Everything". Kelly Hotten's narration is perfect.