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Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week Oct 22/23


Which Books Should You Be Reading This Week Oct 22/23

Not three weeks ago, I filed my latest book with Wendy Mitchell to our publishers, Bloomsbury. The working title of this book is One Last Thing, and the subtitle is Conversations on Life, Death and Assisted Dying. I have spent the last six months concerned with the subject of death to write this book, and the thesis is we need to talk about it more. Yet, when it came to reading Rory Kinnear’s sensitive review of comedian Rob Delaney’s book, A Heart That Works in the Guardian, I started back-pedalling on my assertion that we need to talk about death.

Delaney has written a moving memoir about the death of his two-year-old son, Henry, from a brain tumour. Perhaps you, like me, read those words and think ‘oh I just couldn’t read that, it sounds too sad.’ But in his review, Kinnear makes a persuasive argument for why you should.

The sadness is clearly inescapable. He talks of the pain Delaney describes ‘wittily, unflinchingly, confrontationally… greater than most of us have to bear, and try not to allow ourselves to contemplate.’ But it sounds like a marvel to me that Kinnear also describes this book as ‘vital and very, very funny.

When his father-in-law hugs them, post Henry’s diagnosis,’ Kinnear writes, ‘and wishes that he could be ill instead, Delaney doesn’t hesitate: “We do too, Richard.”’

Kinnear comes to the same conclusion in his review as Wendy and I did in our book, we need to talk about death more, and so, be brave and make a start by reading this one, and then buy Wendy’s next year when it comes out!

• A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney (Hodder and Stoughton) £16.99

It has been Eleven-Plus results week here in my house which, for those who don’t have this agony to live through, is the culmination of months and months and months (and months) of nagging your child to do practice papers so they might pass and get into grammar school (or ‘girls and grandma schools’ as my daughter thought they were called when she was younger). She passed (hurrah!) but a couple of her classmates didn’t which made her very sad indeed. One of them was a boy whose parents arrived here from Afghanistan, my daughter told me that they didn’t have much money for tuition so he’d received hardly any compared to his peers. He sat the exam and missed a pass by just eight points and despite my elation for my daughter, I was reminded of what a rotten system this is.

Author Malorie Blackman passed her eleven-plus too, but her parents (who were part of what’s now known as the Windrush generation) could not afford the bus fare to send her to grammar school, and so she walked, six miles each day to get herself an education. But schooling wouldn’t prove to be the only thing that came hard to her. She was, according to her memoir, Just Sayin’, a lonely child who sought the company of books in her local library rather than her peers, after she left school she went to evening classes to hone her writing skills, and scoured bookshops searching for the kinds of diverse books that were missing from her own childhood. Failing to find them, she went on to write her own bestseller, Noughts and Crosses, but not before receiving 82 rejections from agents and publishers. It’s no wonder when she queued to meet The Colour Purple author Alice Walker at a London bookshop she asked her to write ‘Don’t Give Up’ on the inside cover.

Blackman has faced many ups and down, not least health issues after being diagnosed with sickle cell anaemia, it’s a shame her autobiography wasn’t titled to reflect her sheer grit. Reviewing in the Saturday Guardian, Patrice Lawrence described this book as ‘engrossing and often shocking… what she goes on to tell us certainly shows how she was able to succeed: absolute determination, powered by rejection and by the love and support of others.’ Sounds a perfect recipe for resilience to me.

• Just Sayin’ by Marjorie Blackman (Cornerstone) £16.99

The books every newspaper review section are discussing this week are the two new novels from Cormac McCarthy. Fans of his have waited 16 years for a new piece of work, and so there is much excitement at his first fiction since Pulitzer Prize winning, The Road.

Yet the reviews are in and they are mixed. In this week’s Sunday Times, the headline described him as a ‘mediocre Hemingway’ which, to be fair, I wouldn’t take as an insult.

Both books concern a pair of siblings, Alicia and Bobby Western, who are in love with each other. The Passenger (the first to be published) takes place in 1980 when Bobby is grieving her suicide, and the second book, Stella Maria, tells Alicia’s story. This one is out on November 20th, a whole month away, and yet Claire Lowdon, reviewing for The Sunday Times, say the pair make much more sense if you read the second one first. How intriguing. One has to wonder whether this is an artistic decision or, (cynical journalist here) a commercial one.

‘The Passenger is set in and around New Orleans,’ writes Lowdon. ‘Reading it is like immersive theatre: one of those elaborate warehouse productions where you stumble about from tableau to tableau, trying to piece the story together. Treat Stella Maris as the programme notes and you’ll have a better chance of not getting lost.

Like other reviews I’ve read of The Passenger, Lowdon has her criticisms (hence where her mediocre Hemingway comparison comes in) but what I find incredible is that McCarthy is still turning out books that get people talking – love ‘em or loathe ‘em – at eighty nine years old. Similarly, recently I read Joyce Carol Oates’ Babysitter, which is a perfect, yet utterly dark piece of work awash with sado-masochism and paedophilia, but feels as fresh as if it were written by someone many, many decades younger (Oates is in her ninth decade too).

How many of us can say we will still be top of our game at that age?

• The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (Picador) £20

And finally, I had hoped to have my website up and running by now so that you could click and buy the books I have selected from this weekend’s book reviews, but there have been a couple of behind-the-scenes glitches (blame the accounts’ departments) which has meant that has not been possible this week. However, if you have enjoyed this digest and would like to purchase any (or all) of these books from me and support a small business trying to grow then please email me directly and I will try to help:

Otherwise, let’s hope it’s all up and running next week!

See you then.


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