I’ve only read a handful of books over the past three months; fatigue from my (too) long commute set in and had me reaching for the crossword or a copy of Time Out instead of a book, and a string of busy weekends left me with few opportunities to re-stock at the local library. That said, those I did find time to read were well worth the brainpower – and the three titles below are my top picks. If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love to hear them in the comments. Merry Christmas one and all, and until next year!
’Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas – Adam Kay
If I had to sum up the follow-up to This is Going to Hurt in a few words, it would be these: well worth the wait. I’d saved a birthday book token especially for this and speed-walked to Waterstones the weekend after its release to buy a copy. I polished off this festive cracker – with all its tinsel-y trimmings – in a couple of sittings, chortling at the carol singers, misplaced chocolate wrappers and anecdotes from time spent on the wards instead of participating in, as Kay puts it, “the annual twenty-four hour TV-and-food-athon”. Amidst all the jollity, there are heart-wrenching scenes too – and it’s these which prompt you to pause for thought, and be grateful for the work those on the NHS’s frontline do day in, day out.
Black Klansman – Ron Stallworth
October 1978, Colorado Springs. When Ron Stallworth – the police department’s first black detective – spots a classified ad for the Ku Klux Klan in the local paper he responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. Two weeks later, the phone rings. “May I speak to Ron Stallworth?” “This is he,” I said . . . and so begins what is quite possibly one of the most audacious undercover investigations of all time. Ron enlists his (white) co-worker Chuck to gather intel in the flesh, while he conducts his own line of investigation over the phone. Together, they infiltrate the KKK – sabotaging cross burnings, shadowing marches and deceiving the KKK ‘Grand Wizard’ David Duke himself. Black Klansman illuminates the heroic actions of those who sought to right the wrongs committed by a divided nation, and is well worth a read (or a watch – though I can’t vouch for the film adaptation as I’ve not seen it yet).
The Penguin Lessons – Tom Michell
If you only p-p-pick up one book, make it this one: The Penguin Lessons is an endearing (and highly entertaining) memoir, and easily the most heart-warming book I’ve read this year. Whilst holidaying in Uruguay, Tom stumbles upon a beach full of lifeless, oil-soaked penguins. Against all the odds, one (later christened Juan Salvador) has survived. Tom can’t bring himself to leave Juan Salvador to succumb to an oily death, so he rescues him, cleans him up and prepares to release him further down the beach, away from the oil slick. Only little Juan Salvador has other ideas – and no matter how hard Tom tries, Juan Salvador won’t leave his side. Out of options, Tom smuggles Juan Salvador across the border into Argentina, where he works at a prestigious boarding school. Juan Salvador quickly makes himself at home, befriending everyone he meets and transforming the lives of those around him. If you’re prone to blubbering, make sure you have some tissues to hand – I was tearing up towards the end!
Titles | October – December 2019
Every Note Played (Lisa Genova) / ‘Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas (Adam Kay) / Let Me Lie (Clare Mackintosh) / Black Klansman (Ron Stallworth) / Bluebird, Bluebird (Attica Locke) /The Penguin Lessons (Tom Michell) / My Alphabet (Nick Hewer) / The Gift (Louise Jensen)