Earlier this summer, one of my colleagues had the inspired idea of setting up an informal book club. Three Doodle polls later and we’ve read Normal People (did the economical verging on unimaginative prose grate on anyone else?) Educated (which I loved; more below) and are soon to discuss My Year of Rest and Relaxation (which I wasn’t overly keen on, but am still weighing up). I’ve not enjoyed every book, but I have enjoyed reading outside my crime and memoir comfort zone. If anyone has any book club recommendations, I’m all ears!
On my trains, there’s a fairly even split of bookworms and people who treat their commute as an extension of their working day. I can’t help but sneak a glance at others’ books. What are they reading? Why are they reading it? What made them pick Reservoir 13, Nox or Sapiens? (I haven’t read any of them. Should I?) Was it the eye-catching cover design, or the pithy blurb? Was it the Goodreads rating, or a friend’s recommendation? Or plain old FOMO?
If the book you’re reading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, do you a) abandon ship – life’s too short for sub-par books, or b) plough on regardless – it might get better, after all? Until relatively recently, I couldn’t bear the thought of ditching a book partway through; I’ve slowly come to accept that if a book isn’t ticking all the boxes for me, it’s fine to put it down, to return it to the library half-read. But, as ever, the latest instalment in this series isn’t about the books that didn’t float my boat: it’s about those that did.
If I actually owned all the books I’d read this year, my (real) bookshelf would be overflowing, creaking at the joints under the weight of masses of thrillers and autobiographies. Fortunately, between Cambridge Central Library and the book swap box at work I rarely need (or have cause) to buy a book, so my bookshelf is, for the time being at least, under control. (That said, I did bag a few bargains, including Nelson Mandela’s Dare Not Linger at a charity book sale at work earlier this month.) Honourable mentions for this quarter go to Kristen Lepionka’s What You Want to See (an electrifying sequel to The Last Place You Look) and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (which completely lived up to the praise it had received).
If there’s one teensy, tiny silver lining to the big, black cloud that is delayed trains, it’s more reading time. I’ve read some truly cracking books over the past three months, and inevitably not all of them could be included in this post. As such, honourable mentions go to: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (an immensely enjoyable read and a worthy winner of the Pulitzer), Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (the definition of a literary masterpiece) and The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (a truly heart-warming and hilarious page-turner).
Once a fortnight, or thereabouts, I head over to my local library, re-usable bag in hand, to stock up with a fresh pile of books for my commute. (When you devour two or three books a week, it’s hard, if not impossible, to justify paying £7.99 for a book that you’ll finish in a couple of train journeys.) True to form, I’ve read a lot of crime fiction over the past few months – but I’ve also squeezed in a (token) classic (which reminded me why I usually avoid them, sorry F. Scott Fitzgerald), crossed a few books off my lengthy TBR list and finally got round to reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Since starting this series, I’ve endeavoured to read more widely, to hop out of my crime fiction comfort zone and dip my toes into short stories, memoirs and other unfamiliar genres. I’m willing to give almost any book a punt, but if there are typos, shallow characters or plots that make watching paint dry seem like a more promising proposition, I’m very rarely prepared to give that author a second chance. (I gave one to Jo Nesbo, in the hopes that Blood on Snow was a blip, but sadly Midnight Sun was no better.) I’ve been ever so tempted to abandon a couple of books partway through, but there’s always a niggling voice in the back of my head telling me to just plough on and see if it improves: in for a penny, in for a pound, as the saying goes – or in for a page, in for the whole printed work, as the case may be.
Tomorrow, it’s World Book Day – a day which I looked forward to as much as, if not more than, non-uniform days when I was at primary school. World Book Day brings back memories of childhood favourites such as Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry, Michael Bond’s Paddington and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox; of dressing up as a character from a book for the day; and of eagerly exchanging book tokens for exclusive World Book Day books. These days, I’m more likely to be found with my nose in a crime thriller or an autobiography, so in honour of World Book Day, I’ve decided to devote a post to a handful of autobiographies that I’ve enjoyed over the past month or so.
Commuting can be tedious, but it can also be an opportunity to indulge in your hobbies – and for me, that means ploughing through as many books as I can whilst shuttling between Cambridge and London King’s Cross. I’ve been trying to read a wider variety of books this year – my usual thrillers and crime fiction, alongside biographies, chick lit, historical fiction, short stories, fantasy, classics and romance novels. I set out with the aim of reading fifty-odd books; I’ve read almost double that. (It’s a good job Cambridge Central Library is so well stocked.) If, like yours truly, you’re a huge fan of The Apprentice and are already mourning the end of another series, I urge you to grab a copy of Unscripted and a cuppa, ready to relive a decade’s worth of cock-ups, gaffes and blunders. Here are my top picks from this quarter, in no particular order . . .
Since the last instalment in this series, I’ve lapsed a little on the reading front as life inevitably got in the way. I moved back to Chester, then down to London and finally up to Cambridge, all within the space of a couple of months. It was beginning to feel a little like a live version of Location, Location, Location, to tell you the truth – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve landed a job I enjoy, where I’m paid to do one of the things I love most: surround myself with books. Over the past few months, I’ve read books for all sorts of reasons: some simply because they were sat on the bookshelf; others because I really wanted to see what all the hype was about. Some I really loved; others fell flat. I’m sorry to say it, but The Girl on the Train just didn’t do it for me. (Maybe the film is better. Any opinions?) A Nurse in Time had potential, but fell short of the mark. Fortunately, after a few duds (the biggest by far being The Lie), things picked up and I read book after book that I absolutely loved.