Books I’ve read January – April 2022

It turns out that moving, going through a whole load of change, grieving the loss of a lot of things, experiencing a fair amount of culture shock, coping with being a regulating system for your youngest child and generally ripping up everything you know and trying to form a new life in a new place is pretty exhausting and not all that conducive to having the brain space to sit down and read (or use full stops and new sentences). 

I have read some books this year, not as many as I had hoped or usually do, but there you go. Here’s my thoughts on the ones I have. 

Are we having fun yet?- Lucy Mangan

I love Lucy, I loved her Guardian articles years ago, I love her sarcasm, wit and general observations on life. I loved reading this book, it made me laugh out loud and want to read chunks to the husbandface. It’s about a mum with two kids juggling life and work and school runs and the mental load etc. So if that’s you then I imagine you’ll love it. It’s middle class london life, Motherland territory so if you aren’t in the mood for that then steer around it. It’s a treat though for anyone in a very specific stage of life. 

The Man Who Died Twice- Richard Osman

Does what his first one did, lots of warm comforting intrigue, mild suspense, fun characters and very much a sink into an arm chair with multiple cups of tea for the afternoon cosy kind of a novel. There is a bit of mild peril/death etc but it’s a lovely read. (I know, I’m not sure how he does it either) 

Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney

I wondered why I went for this one, I think it’s because Sally is an excellent writer and although I have really not enjoyed much of her first two books I wanted to give her another try. I may have worked out my issues with her characters and really enjoyed this one, possibly because they are further on in life, have some existential angst and some of the relationships actually work out. It’s a beautiful book, a treat to read and with some timely observations on life. 

Platform 7 – Louise Doughty

I couldn’t remember much about this one, except it was in that vein of novel that had a gaslighting horrid man in it. It blurs in my mind with all the others but was a fairly engaging read all the same.

Ways to be me- Libby Scott/Rebecca Westcott

The prequel to Can you See Me? A really helpful novel explaining what it’s like to be PDA (pathological demand avoidance, which is the trait of autism we think our youngest fits with). SO relatable and very much a soothing book to read to remember we aren’t alone and to have words to describe some of our life. Worth a read to see the world from the perspective of an 11 year old who is autistic with PDA. 

The Best Things- Mel Giedroyc

Oh Mel I wanted so much to like this. I read it and tried to engage but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s about a rich family falling apart and whilst I kind of liked the main character in the end there was too much fatphobic talk for my brain to deal with. I really wanted this to be a book version of Schitts Creek but it just wasn’t. Ah well. 

I am an Island- Tamsin Calidas

A beautiful, heartwrenching, harrowing read about the life of Tamsin who moved from London to a remote Scottish Island to take on running a croft. It’s so wonderfully written and deeply moving. She documents the break up of her marriage, the hostility of some of the people on the island and a deep dive into foraging off the land in a period of extreme ill health. It has moments where if it had been a novel you would have thought she was being too harsh on the main character, she faces a whole load of hard horrid times. Of course, being a nature memoir it has a chapter on cold water swimming. I couldn’t put it down and was moved and inspired by her life. Although I have to confess I’m getting a little tired of the chapter on cold water swimming in every nature memoir I read, I’m either going to have to take it up or put a chapter in my memoir about cold water paddling… 

4000 Weeks – Oliver Burkeman

An amazing book about the startling reality that we aren’t in control of our lives, we can’t do everything or achieve everything and we can’t control the future for us or our children. What now? 

I think I underlined most things in this book, it reassured me, it reminded me of freedom found when we accept that we are not in control and we can’t achieve all we want to.

He writes things like this: 

“Convenience culture seduces us into imagining that we might find room for everything important by eliminating only life’s tedious tasks. But it’s a lie. You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.”

“The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control—when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do lists have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life; when nobody’s angry with you for missing a deadline or dropping the ball; and when the fully optimized person you’ve become can turn, at long last, to the things life is really supposed to be about. Let’s start by admitting defeat: none of this is ever going to happen.”

“choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.” 

(I would LOVE this to be my parenting manifesto) 

I want to read it again because it was so helpful for remembering that all I have is now, this present moment. I really need to know that in the ways I relate to my boys. In spending my whole time fearing about an unknown future but enjoying them, helping them, engaging with them today, in the present moment, not because it gets them to some future thing but because it’s worth it right now. 

So much of parenting leads us out of the present moment and towards the future.  I am not in control of that future and frankly there are too many unknowns to even think that what we give them now will necessarily be relevant in their future (except maybe teeth brushing). Anything that helps me stop doing things to get to a mythical point in the future when everything is fine and bring me back to living this moment right now has got to be a good thing. Also it’s a book that reads like Ecclesiastes and I liked that. 

Gilead- Marilynne Robinson

The letters of an ageing pastor to his young son. Finally I read it. I loved it’s gentle warmth, it’s wistfulness and the wisdom, love and grace that oozes from the page. I’m glad I got round to sitting with it. 

The Storyteller – Dave Grohl

Dave tells stories about his life, much of this I adored and loved. I loved his relationship with his Mum, the tales of rock and roll living, the love of music. It ticked all my music memoir boxes. There was something a bit lacking though by the end and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was just a little too much of the rock and roll excess lifestyle, maybe I wanted more details of the Nirvana phase, maybe something else. Still, ignore me, it was fun and moving and light enough to breeze through in a couple of sittings. 

Girl A – Abigail Dean 

I am not sure why I read harrowing novels about horrid situations, maybe because they are gripping enough to get me back into the habit of reading again, maybe they are a quick win on my book list, maybe they are better than scrolling through facebook. Anyway, this is the perspective of Girl A on the horrid abusive father she had and the way she escaped and formed a new life, and what happened to her various siblings and their perspectives on the horrid past. Not a fun read. 

The Road Trip- Beth O’Leary 

Ah, I love Beth O’Leary, fun easy to read novels with intelligence, heart and lovely characters. Another great one. Perfect holiday read. 

Apples never fall- Liane Moriarty 

I kind of liked this one about a family in Australia as they grapple with the disappearance of their mother. Lots of flicking back to their pasts, how they were formed to be the way they are now and a pretty compelling story line. Worth a read. 

Changing our minds- Naomi Fisher 

A manual on self directed learning. I really enjoyed this, it was easy to read which helps me a lot when reading non fiction. It wasn’t too prescriptive and is one I want to return to lots to remind me of why on earth we are embarking on this unschooling journey (and why I’ve given up my blissful 6 hours off each day to try and live out our values when it comes to school). It’s a compelling read and worth it if you are contemplating ripping up the script the world has given you when it comes to education and trying something new. (or you know, don’t pull at that thread and enjoy your 6 hours a day when your kids are at school… once you pull the thread it’s hard to go back…). I won’t offer her arguments here, you can read those for yourself if you want to take the blue pill (or is it the red one?). 

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