LIKE Christmas crackers, stockings and chocolates, reading material is a winter essential.
The Olive Press’s Kirsty McKenzie gives her recommendations for books to keep you entertained as you recline on your sofa this winter.
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy
Sun, sea and a spiky mother-daughter relationship. Set in post-financial crisis Spain, Hot Milk tells the story of 25-year-old Sofia Papastergiadis who has travelled to Andalusia to find a cure for her mother’s unusual ailments. The Mediterranean setting isolates Levy’s characters and allows the plot to descend into a surreal other-reality. Levy presents remarkable occurrences with such frankness that the reader has no choice but to accept them as fact. The writing is strong, strange and unapologetic – much like many mothers.
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Not since Don Quixote has a Spanish novel enjoyed such huge success as The Shadow of the Wind. Inspired by the 19th-century literary giants Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo, Zafón weaves a plot packed with tragedy, mystery and romance. In 1940s Barcelona, civil war survivor Daniel Sempere discovers he possesses the final copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Someone has been destroying the author’s work book by book, but why? Despite its notoriety, the novel is unpretentious, its characters are memorable and the narrative is wonderfully unpredictable.
Normal People – Sally Rooney
When the BBC adaptation of Normal People aired last April, over 16.2 million people rushed to view the show, such is the popularity of Sally Rooney’s work. The novel follows the passionate but tortuous relationship between two Irish teenagers Marianne and Connell. From school, to Trinity College Dublin, the pair struggle to navigate the power dynamics of social status, class and competing intellect. So beautiful is the writing, the novel evokes surprising nostalgia for the heartbreak and angst of adolescence. But, at its core, Normal People conveys the stifling intensity of being young and in love.
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
This is the tale of Santiago, a young Andalusian shepherd who travels in pursuit of a treasure trove he dreams is hidden beneath the Egyptian pyramids. A coming-of-age narrative, Santiago experiences sacrifice and consequential growth on his journey and ultimately, his search for treasure will lead him to his life’s purpose. Coelho combines philosophy with spirituality and demonstrates the importance of following your dreams with nothing but faith and determination. The quest is universally relatable and, unsurprisingly, Coelho’s bestselling work.
Three Women – Lisa Taddeo
Journalist Lisa Taddeo spent almost a decade embedding herself in the lives of three strangers. For eight years, she inhabited the respective homes of Lina, Maggie and Sloane. As Taddeo rummages scrupulously through their personal lives, these seemingly average American women display remarkable openness and honesty. An intimate study, Three Women delves into the grey areas of physical and emotional connection. Taddeo writes with lyricism and an understanding of the human condition that teaches the reader as much about themselves as the book’s three case studies.
Delight – J.B Priestley
Every chapter of Delight provides a reason to be grateful for the minutiae of everyday life. Amidst the chaos of 2020, this is a lesson worth revisiting. Frying sausages outdoors, drinking a G&T alone, fountains, having an incredible idea and smoking in a piping hot bath, are just some of the joys Priestley divulges. His wicked sense of humour reminds the reader there is always something to smile about, whether in his post-war context or amidst the current pandemic.
The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
The White Tiger was only the fourth debut novel to win the Man Booker prize. Aravind Adiga tells the darkly humorous tale of Balram Halwai, from the end of his childhood in a rural Indian village through his journey first to Delhi, where he works as a chauffeur to a rich landlord, and then to Bangalore, the place to which he flees after killing his master and stealing his money.The novel examines themes of caste, religion, corruption and poverty.The White Tiger offers a story of wit, suspense and questionable morality, told by a volatile but captivating narrator.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black British author to top the UK book charts in June after Black Lives Matter protests galvanised readers. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race demonstrates Britain’s problem with structural racism and holds the hierarchy to account in each erudite essay. “White privilege,” writes Eddo-Lodge, “is a manipulative, suffocating blanket of power that envelops everything we know, like a snowy day.”
The Power of Not Thinking by Simon Roberts
It is the current zeitgeist… that AI will have taken most of our jobs within two decades and computers and robots will run the world. Not according to Simon Roberts’ book The Power of Not Thinking: How our Bodies Learn and Why we should Trust Them. His take is; forget it! Us humans have got a few centuries left. At least. Embodied knowledge is vital and it simply cannot be transplanted for so many reasons. And Roberts should know having spent many weeks working with Google on its Waymo driver-less car project in Arizona, as well as teaching executives at Duracell and telling News International a few things about running their global publishing business. Big Data simply doesn’t have all the answers, he insists. The way we learn to ride a bike, drive a car or simply listen to our gut on a big decision: This cannot be emulated by computers or AI. At least thus far. The business anthropologist insists that so much is about people themselves, brainstorming and learning together. Clever, witty and intriguing, you’ll sleep easier at night after reading it.
Call Me by Your Name – André Aciman
Based in 1980s Northern Italy, André Aciman’s critically acclaimed novel Call Me by Your Name is synonymous with summer. Elio, a 17-year-old American-Italian becomes infatuated with an archaeologist named Oliver who comes to live at his parents house on the Riviera for the summer. In 2017, the film adaptation propelled Timothée Chalamet to stardom and scooped the Oscar for best screenplay. The sequel is underway, with Aciman collaborating on the script, so now is the perfect time to get acquainted with this heady tale of passion.