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Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week? Nov 12/13

Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week? Nov 12/13

I am writing to you from the other side of my first week’s trading, and what a week it has been. I have learnt many things, particularly in terms of stock replenishment, a mystery area which I am still getting to grips with. And so, while I wait for stock to arrive that was meant to be here three days ago (no comment), let this weekend’s newspaper book reviews be our soothing balm…

First up is a new book by Lady Anne Glenconner. You may remember that her first book Lady in Waiting sat in the bestsellers charts for weeks and weeks. Telling the story of her life, it mainly focused on her time as Princess Margaret’s lady in waiting, yet it was the little titbits that she proffered about her life with her husband, Colin Tennant 3rd Baron Glenconner, that were most intriguing. For example, on their wedding night when they were honeymooning in Paris, he took her to a brothel so she could ‘learn how to do things properly’. She very politely declined that particular lesson.

Now it seems in this new book, Whatever Next? we learn more details about their marriage, including the violence that he subjected her to, once beating her so badly on the island of Mustique – which he owned – that she had to hide from their guests for ten days. This assault also left her permanently deaf in one ear.

From that last paragraph, this book might not sound like a barrel of laughs, and to be honest I came late to the first book when I was ghosting a duchess myself earlier this year and was surprised how much I enjoyed it because 90-year-old Lady Glenconner does have a way of telling a story which is most entertaining and in no way pitiful.

Reviewing in The Sunday Telegraph, Lynn Barber wrote: “Lady Glenconner has suffered more than her fair share of tragedy… but she believes in putting a brave face on things. When asked for the secret of a healthy old age, she advises people to sit up straight, to lift their feet when walking and not shuffle, and to make lunch their last meal of the day. But most important, as we can see from this book, is to be as open-minded and entertaining as she clearly is.”

Glenconner came from privilege (the Holkham Estate was her family seat), yet her life was anything but easy – she lost one son to drug addiction, another to AIDS, and almost a third to a terrible motorbike accident. It was only thanks to her tenacity and care that he was able to walk and talk again.

Each of the newspapers have carried reviews of this book this weekend and most of them have declared that it will be a bestseller much like its forebear. Mums, aunties, grandmas all over the country will be delighted to unwrap this as a Christmas present.

• Whatever Next? by Anne Glenconner (Hodder & Stoughton) £22

And so, it was with interest that I read in The Times’ Saturday Review that he has a book out about his specialist subject (no, not women’s feet).

Cinema Speculation is described by reviewer Anne Bilson as: “pure unfiltered Tarantinalia: a motormouthed mash-up of cinema history, conjecture and memoir that, like his screenplays, doesn’t so much flow as pepper you with a mishmash of fact and opinion. The result is, for the most part, insanely readable for anyone interested in film trivia, less so for everyone else.”

It seems to me that you would only come to this book if you were that film buff in the first place, and if you are, or indeed you know one, this would be another perfect Christmas gift.

Reviewing in The Observer’s New Review, Xan Brooks wrote: “As with his pictures it’s garrulous, indulgent and in desperate need of an edit. But it’s also bracing and heartfelt, positively ringing with life.”

Bilson in The Times concludes: “Reading Cinema Speculation is like being trapped in a bar with a passionate cinephile pelting you with a barrage of astute observation, informed conjecture, random listicles and utter nonsense.”

This might be your thing, others might prefer to read it with a stiff drink in hand to numb the pain.

• Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) £25

Some of the answers might come to us in The Climate Book, a collections of essays curated by Greta Thunberg.

Greta, of course, would disagree with any of us feeling that the issue is too much for just one person. She has dedicated her – so far – short life to persuading us that it is exactly our individual responsibility and that it is the collective act of individuals that will stand any chance of creating change. My own philosophy is to do what you can to create change within your own wingspan, if Thunberg signed up to the same philosophy, her arms must be big enough to reach around the globe.

Now she has pulled together some of the most respected and informative voices from around that very same globe to remind us of the urgency of saving or repairing this world in which we live, and persuaded them to write some essays that give us some idea of how those in power might achieve that.

Reviewing for the Observer’s New Review, Dorian Lynskey, describes this book as having an ‘angry moral pulse.’

“The cumulative effect of all this writing about heatwaves, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, epidemics, species extinction and melting ice sheets walks a fine line between galvanising and paralysing,” he writes. “…but as David Wallace-Wells outlines, the global response to Covid-19 proves that we can rise to an emergency if the will is there.”

Except, the threat of a global pandemic had been hanging around like a particularly damaged bit of the ozone layer long before it reached crisis stage – and we ignored those warnings too. And yet here we are. It is hard to believe that lessons will be learnt, but perhaps the ‘galvanising’ part of this book that Lynskey describes is the fact that there are a lot of talented people on this planet who have great ideas to save it – so implementing some of those ideas means we may have a better idea of what exactly we need to demand those in power do.

• The Climate Book created by Greta Thunberg (Penguin Books) £25

It’s also because in store at The Book Room I have an incredible curation of short story collections put together by author/poet/short story writer Sarah Salway, and in the next few weeks I’ll be posting links to the interview I did with Sarah where she explains more about her latest short story collection, Not Sorry, as well as why she has chosen the books she has.

But for now, our attention turns to another compilation and that is The Penguin Book of French Short Stories (Vol 1)


Inside this 500+ page tome are 48 short stories spanning a time period of 400 years and, as you would expect, it features many of the usual culprits like Victor Hugo, Proust, Voltaire, Flaubert and even a classic version of Bluebeard. But editor Patrick McGuinness’ idea of what makes a short story is much more flexible than we might consider ourselves, there are poems inside, ‘three-line novellas’ and one short story that runs to 31 pages. There is also plenty of sex, you might be pleased to know.

There is also a Volume Two which brings us up to the present day with an equally beautiful cover. Both were Spectator Books of the Year 2022.

Matthew Reisz reviewing in The Observer writes that it is unlikely that readers will enjoy everything in the book, but I don’t think that is necessarily the point with a short story collection, the same with people, right? We can’t like everyone, each story we read can’t speak to us in the same way, but there will certainly be gems among this collection and Reisz promises us at least ‘quality and variety’ and if you were lucky enough to be gifted both volumes well, that would be 2023 sorted, wouldn’t it?

• The Penguin Book of French Short Stories (Vols 1 & 2) (Penguin) £30 each.

Let’s end with a bit of fiction, shall we? I hadn’t been particularly inspired by the cover of Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel Demon Copperhead, a reimagining of Dickens’ David Copperfield set against a backdrop of America’s opioid crisis, but they do say never to judge a book by it’s cover and I am prepared to be wrong.

This book is described by Elizabeth Lowry reviewing for The Guardian as ‘the book she (Kingsolver) was born to write.’

It follows the story of Damon Fields, who is known as Demon and nicknamed because of his red hair. He lives with his drug-addicted mother in a trailer park and before long is picked up by social services and shipped out to various new homes where, among many ups and down he then succumbs to his own opioid addiction, and it is, of course, love which will eventually pull him out of those depths.

“As a narrator,” Lowry writes, “Demon is every bit a likeable and nuanced as David, and the humour and pathos of his voice are enhanced by a slangy southern spin.”

It seems to me a risk to emulate a great like Dickens, but then Kingsolver is a great in her own right and that is perhaps how she pulls this off.

Lowry concludes: “David Copperfield wonders ‘whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life.’ Demon Copperhead poses a different question: what is heroism, anyway? When you’re a child born into a life without choices, this powerful reworking suggests, being a hero sometimes consists simply of surviving against the odds.”

• Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber) £20

You can of course pop into The Book Room and order any (or all) of these books from me – I am usually able to get them for you within 24 hours (don’t get me started on deliveries again). You will find me inside The Bloom Foundry at 55 St John’s Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 9TP. Otherwise you can email me:  and I would be more than happy to post them to you.

Until next week…


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