What I’ve read: The Jan-Feb edition…

March is upon us, the daffodils are out, buds are emerging, lighter mornings and evenings are upon us, all around rumours of Spring abound. In this sensing of a new season it feels fairly fitting to round up the books I’ve read so far this year.

Anatomy of Dreams- Chloe Benjamin.

Not as good as the last one I read by her but still a fairly intriguing novel looking at themes around whether we can control our dreams, what is real and people pushing the edges of research boundaries.

The Hidden Life of Trees- Peter Wohlleben

I so desperately wanted to like this book, it’s all about trees, how they interact with each other and how they fit in with the world around them. It has some pretty cool tree facts in there, I didn’t know trees feed each other and rely on each other in quite the way they do in a healthy forest environment. Sadly though the writing was fairly dull and it could have been half the size or a quarter of the size and still have had the same impact. Ah well.

Miss Jane- Brad Watson.

A beautiful novel about a woman in rural America growing up without normal sex organs, how she grows to manage her condition and interact with the world around her. I really enjoyed reading this It has beautiful descriptions of the natural world and is incredibly tender. Worth sitting down with.

Home Fire- Kamila Shamsie

Such a good book. I find it hard to describe but it’s all about the tensions within a family whose father died on the way to Guantánamo, the brother has left to join the media arm of Isis and whose sisters are fighting about the responses they have to the situation. All against the backdrop of being observed by the Home Office and living in worlds where much is assumed but little is heard. It’s heartbreaking, tense and fairly disturbing.

How to Own the Room- Viv Groskop.

A romp (she’s really funny) through a whole load of women speakers and how they own the rooms they are talking to. So helpful to reflect on how different women do it and a massive encouragement to keep on believing I have a right to speak and be heard in whatever room I am in.

View from the No12 Bus- Sandi Toskvig

Sandi’s take on a memoir offers reflections inspired by stops on her regular bus journey and the memories sparked by them. She’s funny and it kind of works. My big take away was a load of sadness and rage because of how much homophobia and sexism she has had to face in her life. I forget how rare openly out families existed in the public eye during the 80s and 90s, and maybe the 00’s. Brighton is such an echo chamber bubble at times that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in accepting and loving people as they are, and how the challenge will always remain to not treat people as ‘other’.

Unfollow – Megan Phelps-Roper.

This one pretty much blew my mind. It’s Megan’s story of growing up in the Westboro Baptist community and how she found herself leaving it a few years ago. It’s a very disturbing read (especially if you’ve ever been in a fairly full on religious community). It was a book that challenged my perceptions of these people who have picketed around the world with their message of hate for gay people. They don’t come across as cartoon villains, stupid people to be dismissed. They are a group of intelligent lawyers who back in the 1970s/80s fought for the civil rights movement. It seems strange that such love and such hate can coexist together.  Megan describes a full bodied picture of a family bound by love, care and fun. She doesn’t shy away from talking about the tight family rules and the iron fist of control as well, but it seems within that controlled environment there were many moments of joy and delight.

I found it fascinating that this wasn’t a family who tried to protect their people from the world around but their confidence was in having what they saw as a better story, they had a deeper, stronger pull of familial ties. They also had a load of fairly controlling behaviour to ensure that everyone thought along the same lines and was clear about their own particular interpretation of the Bible. Group discussion and open leadership only led to the family line becoming more clear and more convincing for her. Interestingly she only started to think about leaving when the leadership structures changed, the community became less loving, women were kept out of the main elders meetings and there was less openness within the decision making process. This lack of love within the community eventually convinced her that this wasn’t a group following the Bible anymore. A relationship with someone on Twitter, who she had interesting and fun chats with, also helped to change her mind about the community she was part of.  There are so many fascinating insights into how kindness and care from people outside the community (the ones she had been taught to see as outside the kingdom of God) helped to convince her that there was another, potentially better way to live.  Read it, be disturbed and ponder how we can be better humans.

Shadow Doctor- The Past Awaits- Adrian Plass

Oh I love this man and his writing. This one is a follow up to last year’s Shadow Doctor book. It’s a great companion because it answers all the questions I had at the end of the last book which ended way too soon for my liking. It follows a man and his apprentice style friend who drop into people’s lives in fairly unusual ways and are often used to bring hope and freedom to them. It was a book that made me ache to be in deeper communion with God again. I have no idea if you would feel that or if the close connections between my understanding of God and Adrian Plass’s writing about God over the years have made this book quite so helpful for me. I’d love to know what you would make of this series.

The Flatshare- Beth O’Leary

It’s rare for me to read any kind of vaguely romantic fiction but I quite enjoyed this one.  The concept is that Leon and Tiffy share a one bedroom flat but never see each other because Leon works nights and is away at weekends. They take different sides of the bed and start to get to know each other based on the various possessions they have, the details of what they’ve left in the flat before they go to work and post it note communication. Throw in a gaslighting ex for Tiffy and a brother in jail for Leon and it’s a fairly good read of how they eventually meet and their lives become intwined. 

And there you have it, over to you, what have you enjoyed reading recently?


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