Christmas Choices: My Literary Hall of Fame 2018!
Deck the halls ... can you believe that another year is drawing (literally drawing for me!) to a close? I've been delighted to see my artwork spread its wings and fly to happy customers all over the globe, and also to progress with my debut novel. I'm currently midway through draft three - and my characters are still capable of surprising me! Ellen and Arbor is taking shape in a way that expresses exactly what I wanted my first book to say: a positive, playful tribute to taking your place within the world, whoever and whatever you are.
As December dawns, I thought it might be fun to compile a curated list of my favourite books this year. If you're still looking for present inspiration, I hope this blog post may help! After a year working part-time in my local library, I've really enjoyed branching out across both classic and contemporary works. Whatever your taste, there's a book just waiting to be borrowed by you!
Now that I have a (very!) thorough understanding of how the library reservation system works, I've been able to snap up several modern titles shortly after their releases. At the moment, I'm halfway through one book that has been hotly-anticipated all over the world: Becoming by Michelle Obama. As a card-carrying feminist, it always riles me when people conflate her life and opinions with those of her husband, and it has been fascinating to hear her tell her story in her own words. Her insights into not only politics but professional life, family dynamics and female ambition are just as intelligent as you'd hope: a real treat for anyone who's a fan of the former First Lady (and yes, she remains adamant that she will never enter the political fray herself!)
Another modern book - fiction this time! - that I've been recommending to anyone who'll listen is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Half-Westworld, Half-Downton Abbey, this twisty tome follows a protagonist who wakes to find himself in the midst of a country house murder mystery, and must live a day as a different party guest 'host' until he cracks the case! I'd recommend this unique take on a classic genre for anyone in your life who likes to think outside the box, or for the reader who thinks they've read everything! And if comedy-drama is more your thing, Liane Moriarty's laugh-out-loud Nine Perfect Strangers is just as quirky (although be warned: you'll never visit a spa again!)
William Boyd's Love is Blind is one of my ultimate picks from this year's releases. This period-set novel is so convincing that it would be easy to believe it was actually written at the end of the nineteenth century, and I feel I learned a lot from this book as a writer too. Boyd's immersive descriptions always enhance, never detract, and his use of dialogue is amongst the most naturalistic and skilful I have ever come across. In Love is Blind, a single man's story speaks to something bigger, and a novel like this would make a thoughtful gift for someone special (or, of course, a treat for yourself!) Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered is another 2018 novel that's full of nuance: travelling between modern times and the dawn of Darwinism, it's a politically relevant piece about finding the courage to hear (and speak) the truth!
Of course, it's not only new releases that have crossed my (library) desk this year. Sometimes only a classic will do, and I've encountered several in the last twelve months that are definitely ones to treasure!
Shadowlands by Brian Sibley is a biography of C.S. Lewis that could be perfect for the philosophical soul in your life. We may feel as if we know Lewis from childhoods spent searching for Narnia (I can't be the only person who checked the back of their wardrobe?!) But did you know about his later-life romance? Incredibly, Lewis was writing a book about his Christian faith entitled Surprised by Joy when he met Joy Davidman, the woman he would later marry! When the two writers unite and face life's challenges together, this true story is moving, subtle and deeply bittersweet.
And although I daren't write one word more about Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water (find my blog inspired by that book here!), suffice to say that this otterly wonderful memoir (sorry!) could 'brighten' Christmas for many animal-lovers!
My final recommendation actually walks the line between classic and contemporary: In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson. I highlighted this biography as my 'bookmark of the month' when I first read it, but even six months on it would make a fabulous gift for the feminist in your life (especially if she likes a sideline in gothic horror fiction!) Despite living two hundred years and oceans apart, reading about the lives of women like Michelle Obama and Mary Shelley makes it clear that intelligent, talented and passionate women still face challenges (especially when history seeks to overshadow their achievements with those of their husbands!). By listening to their stories, and reflecting on the wisdom they share through their work, perhaps the world can slowly 'become' a better place for all.
Maybe this time next year (or at least in 2020!) my own novel will join the ranks of published prose. For now, I hope you've enjoyed my whistlestop tour through my 2018 reading list - happy page turning (and let's hope it snows for a cosy Christmas of reading!)