I’ve always been a bookworm, but where once I found the time, now it feels as though I am constantly distracted and find it difficult to quieten my mind long enough to take in the story. It may be the fact I have two children, or that life is busy, my iPhone scrolling addiction is ridiculous, or because by 9pm I am ready to sleep.
So, if like me, you constantly try to carve out small nuggets of time to read – and hopefully with Christmas coming up, there may be a few more opportunities – can I recommend these five to get you going?
Put the kettle on, curl up – and enjoy!
Educated by Tara Westover
This was one that sat on my bedside pile while everyone around me waxed lyrical about it. But then again, I do like to come to things in my own time! In this brilliantly written memoir, Tara recounts her escape from her Mormon fundamentalist family in rural Idaho. She has grown up in a family where her father, Gene, is a strict disciplinarian. He doesn’t believe in medicine or school, but does allow Tara’s mother Faye some independence as a faith-healer and later, as an untrained midwife. It’s a tough childhood and Tara was expected to live under the strictures of her father’s life rules. Without any formal education, Tara makes her way out of the family on a scholarly odyssey, which ultimately leads her to a PhD from Cambridge University. It’s an extraordinary tale of roots, learning and loyalty, written in a lyrical, meditative way. I loved this book.
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
I devoured Queenie in one entire sunshine-filled day over the summer – and enjoyed every minute of it. A comic debut, written by Candice Carty-Williams, the title character Queenie is a 25-year old living in South London (near where I used to live – so I felt nostalgic for all the geographical details!), who is on the verge of a breakdown after splitting with her boyfriend. We learn that her mum left her living alone at the age of eleven, a fact she finds difficult to open up about. The novel allows Queenie to face her truths without downplaying the reality of the situation she finds herself in – her relationships, her job and her family. But at the real heart of the story is the relationship she has with her four main girlfriends – and how Queenie, despite everything – comes to find herself. A feel-good read with heart.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Over the course of my life, I could name just a few books that have had such an impact on my heart as A Little Life. It is bleak, it is traumatic, but my God, it is stunning. Hanya Yanagihara has written a modern-day chronicle for friendship and our age of anxiety, but no, it’s not an easy read. It focuses on the friendships of four men, Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm – and it’s their love story that’s the salve keeping you connected. A wonderful tribute to the light and dark that comes with relationships – the support, the competition, the romance and the jealousy. Read it. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and namechecked by Oprah Winfrey as a favourite? Yes please! Tayari Jones’s masterful tale is about an African-American middle-class couple, Roy Othaniel Hamilton and his wife Celestial, who are going places. But after Roy is sent to prison for a crime we know he didn’t commit (no spoilers, it’s right at the beginning), their lives implode. It’s a really interesting – and beautifully written – book, looking at the way cultural perceptions and expectations are often at odds with personal aspirations for the black middle classes – and it also has a lot to say on traditional gender roles. If you can get past the slow first chapter, it’s a work of art. Well worth reading.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
This novel, written by the screenwriter who gave us Dead Calm and Mad Max 2, wasn’t one I would naturally gravitate towards. But after my mum – who is an avid reader – said ‘JUST READ IT!’ it was one I set my alarm early for every morning, just so I could get another half an hour in before the children woke up! Pilgrim is the code name for a US intelligence agent – and while there is way too much plot to even begin explaining, put simply, it has its feet firmly in a post-9/11 paranoia. It’s a brilliant piece of escapism, written in a pacey, exciting style that will keep you thinking long after you’ve closed the book.
*We have linked books for ease, but encourage you to borrow from your local library, where possible!