What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

March 2020

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, March 03, 2020
Scott V: The School of Life: An Emotional Education—Despite all our years of institutional learning, we are never really taught how to live a fulfilled life. Enter: The School of Life—a collective of psychologists, philosophers and writers who want to rectify that situation. This is an anthology of their best advice, and the kind of book I wish I had read ten years ago. It’s wonderfully and terrifyingly insightful. You will come away understanding everyone else a lot better—as well as yourself and thus, in theory, you may be more forgiving. The book delves into art, relationships, capitalism, childhood and much more. One constant theme is how dominant Romantic philosophy has been in modern times, and how this is often not the best way of thinking. It does delve a lot deeper than your average self-improvement book but is still an easy and accessible read. With an introduction by Alain de Botton.

Victoria: I read the wonderful Here We Are by Graham Swift in two sittings. I couldn’t put it down and I didn’t want it to finish.  Set in a theatre on Brighton Pier in summer of 1959, a drama begins to unfold between three characters - Ronnie, Evie and Jack. Each have their own story to tell which Swift does so eloquently and subtly. Loved it.
Then onto Sebastian Barry’s new book A Thousand Moons. It’s probably best to read Sebastian Barry’s previous novel Days Without End before you read this, as it is the continuation of the story of Winona, a young Lakota orphan adopted by Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and it will give it more meaning. Set in a small town in Tennessee in 1870 after the civil war, this is a moving story of a woman’s journey through love and trauma. It is clever and subtle and told in Barry’s wonderful lyrical prose.
And finally—This is Happiness by Niall Williams ‘It had stopped raining…’ is the first line of this wonderful book by Irish writer, Niall Williams. If you have read his previous novel, History of the Rain, you’ll get why I was hooked straight away. All Williams’ novels are set on the west coast of Ireland where it nearly always rains. The narrator is a 78 year old man looking back at his younger days when he was twenty and had left the seminary knowing it was not where he was meant to be. Having nowhere else to go, he ends up staying with his grandparents who have lived in the same bog brick house without electricity all their lives. Here he meets Christie—a man who has been sent to survey the area for the coming of electricity. Williams language is poetic—you will find yourself wanting to read it out loud, and it will definitely make you smile.

John: Under Occupation by Alan Furst—Paris 1940. Ricard is a writer of detective fiction, who despite the horror of the Occupation, has made pragmatic choices and managed to avoid attracting the attention of the Vichy controlled police or the Gestapo. This may change when a dying man thrusts a diagram for the fuse of a torpedo into Ricard’s pocket. At this moment Ricard’s decision will change his future and there is no going back. Again Alan Furst delighted me with a great WWII thriller beginning on the streets of wartime Paris. Another beautifully crafted tale from a master of the genre. Fabulous.

Viki: Thanks to a customer special order I filled recently I’ve discovered a new author, Pierre Frei. When I say new ... German-born, 90 year old, sometime freelance foreign correspondent, Frei has been producing novels for a while—which is great there’s a lot still available and I’m planning a Frei binge. I’ve just finished Berlin. Set in post WW2 Berlin (a salutary follow up to my favourite book of last year Berlin Finale), there’s a serial killer on the loose in the rubble of a literally divided city. He’s killing German women working for the Americans, women who have beaten the odds and lived through the horrors of the Nazis, the war and the occupation, only to meet this rather anticlimactic end (as one woman thinks with her dying breath ‘how banal’). Rather than bother with the killer, Frei spends most of the book telling the full story of each of the victims—and through their lives creating a picture of how individuals (women in particular) survived the years of fascist rule and its consequences. Collaborators, resisters, fence-sitters—each mini-biography was incredibly involving, and a page-turning exploration of the question: ‘What would you do?’ Next on my Frei list is The Ugly German, in which a German spy assumes the identity of a dead American soldier to escape to America, only to find that his new identity is wanted for murder. Frei seems to range widely—apart from his interest in Germany and the war years, one novel, Black, set in 2170 sees a black female US President battling the arms lobby and white nationalists who are preparing to attack the ‘Black House’, another delves into conspiracy around the death of Princess Diana.

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