A January well spent

Oh hey, hi, well, that was a long break.

As the end of January rolls around and we’re already one twelfth of the year into 2022, I decided it was time to pick up some writing again. Just simply for the pleasure of letting the words pour out of my brain. And what better way to start it than with a peek onto my January bookshelf.

By far the longest month ever, this January also included getting the ‘rona, the cancelling of many plans, having actual pennies left in my bank account by the end, and even more staying in than the month would usually have due to the mandatory isolation. So we watched a lot of TV and I flew my way through a lot of books.

The Appeal – Janice Hallett

I love it when people buy me books. There’s a lot to be said for someone taking the time to wander round a bookshop, looking at book covers and picking up titles that catch their eyes, knowing full well that the person they are buying for will absolutely love that read. This one came via The Teessider as a lovely festive surprise and it’s safe to say it was a proper, page-turning read.

The style of the writing definitely takes a bit of getting used to as the entire story is told through a series of emails, text messages and reports. But while that might sound a little bit hard to get your head around, once I got into it, I seriously couldn’t put it down! Extra points that it took place inside an amateur theatre group that at some points had me actually laughing out loud at the accuracy of the internal politics of such groups (spoken from 20+ years experience, so trust me).

A murder mystery, with twists a-plenty, I can definitely recommend!

A Theatre for Dreamers – Polly Samson

Set on Hydra, one of the Greek Islands, reading this actually made me physically long for balmy summer days, where the number of hours in the day just feel endless as darkness is slow to come and fleeting to last. It was only as I got towards the end that I realised it’s actually about a real-life group of writers, artists and creatives, who lived on the island in the 1960s, and now I want to read their books too so that I can fully immerse myself in the experience.

It’s a classic, lost young girl who has massive life-changing experience (in this instance, loses her mum and leaves behind a disdainful father), goes somewhere so vastly different from what she has ever known before, falls in love with everyone and everything there, worships at the feet of the island’s matriarch figure and all the ups and downs along the way through falling in love, being betrayed, being left behind… I’m sure you get the picture.

Where this absolutely kept me gripped though were in the descriptions of the island, so vivid you could almost taste the salt on your tongue from the sea and feel the hot sun beating down on bare skin. I put this straight back on my bookshelf to revisit again in another cold month, when I need to dream about summer days.

And then I fell into a nostalgic, cult novels from the 90s phase.

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

My copy of this book is absolutely beyond battered but how can you ever part with something that has been so well-loved? The first novel by Donna Tartt, each time I read it, absolutely staggers me that this was her first book. Unreal. It is such an amazing read and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve picked it up since the first time, back in the uni days, when everyone was reading it and talking about it and passing it on to someone else because you absolutely have to read this!

A murder mystery set in an elite college, you find out who gets killed and whodunnit in the first few pages, but as the story begins to unravel, it takes you on a journey like nothing else I’ve ever read before and since.

If you’ve never picked it up before, it’s an absolute must. And then when you’re done, read The Goldfinch, her third novel. She writes a new book approximately every 10 years so when they arrive, treasure them, because it will feel like an endless wait until the next one.

The Beach – Alex Garland

Wow I had forgotten how absolutely trippy this book is and you almost feel as stoned as everyone on the beach, but the pace is just absolutely relentless and once you’ve started, it’s very hard to step away and put it down.

I do think it’s definitely the one that shows its age the most, and not just because of some of the language that would be considered unacceptable now. I’m no expert on this kind of travelling, but I’m pretty sure that hard-core travellers have moved well beyond Thailand and there can’t be any beaches that aren’t known about…but at the time (and I remember it well) it was yet again, a book that everyone was reading and talking about obsessively.

It’s easy to see now how it was definitely written for the film it would later become and also feels kind of like a game too, especially Richard and Jed’s mystery expeditions through the jungle and up to the lookout points.

It’s interesting to go back and revisit these books I think, if only to feel the battered, well-loved pages and also the physical size of the books – so small compared to the standard size paperback now!

And finally, I come to the book I’m currently reading. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I’m just over the halfway point now and again, while it’s an interesting read, I do feel it’s aged in the nine years since it was published.

I think partly this is to do with the language, as it’s set in the past and I had just come from the mega-trippy, fast-paced pages of The Beach, but mainly this book has given me the weirdest dreams. The concept of going back to live each section of life differently, depending on which version of Ursula that I’m reading about has been messing with my head, well and truly!

The concept of it is very fascinating though. If you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right, would you actually do it…? Big life questions for a January read!

And that’s me done. For a first post back, it’s been a long one. Time to get back to my book now…

While I’ve linked to Waterstones for each of the reads, I would strongly encourage you to support your local bookshops and libraries where possible. More so than ever, since the pan-d, these places need our love. If you’re based locally to me in Teesside, I can highly recommend Drake the Bookshop, not only for the excellent choice inside but also for the lovely people who run it. Just delightful!

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