Readers’ corner, June and July 2022

Every month I take a look at the books I’ve been reading, and an article or two that I’d recommend from my travels on the internet.

Here’s what’s been keeping me busy since my last post:

The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams (Chatto & Windus)

Hands-down the best book I have read in a long while. It is not set against the backdrop of a world gone mad (to use a Hollywood-esque phrase). Instead, it is set against the backdrop of the lengthy making of the first Oxford English Dictionary from 1887 onwards. The book tells the story of the life of Esme, whose father is one of the people working on the dictionary. It is gentle, sad, happy and utterly absorbing. Just get it, and read it.

Where did I lay my hands on it: My local library

What to do when someone dies – Nicci French (Penguin)

Another month, another crime drama/mystery. A woman’s husband is killed in a car crash, along with an unknown woman. Was he having an affair? The novel tells the story of his widow’s increasingly unravelled attempts to find out what happened. I didn’t see the end coming. A quick and intriguing read.

Where did I lay my hands on it: My local library

An Island – Karen Jennings (Karavan Press)

This book was long-listed for the 2021 Booker prize, and I can see why – it is superbly written and deals with many of the big issues of our time: governance, colonisation, refugees, dictatorship. It takes place over four days, telling the story of what happens when an ageing and solitary lighthouse keeper finds a body on the shore of his island. But be warned: it is bleak. Read only when feeling strong.

Where did I lay my hands on it: On loan from my mother, who took it out of her local library

The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

Another novel set over a short period of time, this one details the events in a maternity ward in Ireland, at the end of the First World War, and during the ravages of the “Spanish” flu. The main character is a nurse, suddenly in charge of the ward, and living through some intense medical dramas. The parallels with the Covid-19 pandemic are striking, though the author’s note says it was written before the pandemic. I found the ending a bit melodramatic, but loved the book.

Where did I lay my hands on it: The book belongs to my mother

Recommended online reading

The Red Hand Files

I can’t remember where I first came across an email subscription called The Red Hand Files, written by musician Nick Cave. He answers questions from readers in writing so beautiful and so idiosyncratic that it takes your breath away.

Two examples:
A recent offering, about God.
And an older one about how Cave is often confused with actor Nick Cage.

No matter how busy I am, when a Red Hand File arrives I drop everything and read it. Try it yourself: you won’t regret it.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your communication needs (writing, editing, coaching and training, social media).

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Main photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

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