Blog - 36 books in a year: January
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36 books in a year: January

27th February 2012 - Laura Crosby


Laura Crosby, from our Cabot Circus, Bristol branch, resolved to read 36 books this year, including plenty outside her usual areas of interest, and to report back each month on what she'd discovered. Here she tells us what she made of January's reading list.

If you've already had the pleasure of reading the first blog on my 36 Books in a Year challenge, then skip ahead. If, however you have not, then you may want to look here before reading on.

Like Bees to HoneyNow you're all aware of the first book I read this year, thanks to my first blog spoiler: it was the incredible Like Bees to Honey by the wonderful Caroline Smailes (fiction).


What it's about
Nina, with her son Christopher in tow, flies to Malta for one last visit to her aging parents. After being disowned years ago, this will be her final chance to make peace; but Malta holds more secrets and surprises than Nina could possibly imagine....


What I thought
Smailes has made this a masterpiece using great syntax, amazing descriptions of the weather (it doesn't sound like much, but believe me...), and incredible characters. You can feel her love for words constantly throughout this novel, as she breaks the language barrier between English and Maltese by regularly throwing in Maltese words, phrases and sentences depedning on who's in dialogue at the time.

I'd like to mention the religious references. Now, don't run away because it's not how you think. They do play a big part in this, but not overpoweringly so. She has a God, and she has a beer with Jesus from time to time, as does her Christopher, so it's light hearted and quite welcoming, though wonderful when intense.

Smailes has put such a huge amount of research into this book, and you can tell. I especially like the way she uses extracts from a travel guide to Malta at the beginning of each chapter. And then there are the characters; other than her Christopher, you get to meet some other folk, but through means other than physical. She letter writes to her Husband (whom she left to return to Malta to fight her demons), but you never see a reply from him; though this doesn't deter from any emotion you may feel towards him.

There are also characters from the 'other side' who are all on a mission to help Nina, and at the same time overcome their own grief. Within this novel, you get to touch the architecture, feel your skin sear from the sun and taste the Maltese food. You will not regret reading this: you'll find love, loss and redemption wrapped up in a beautiful, soulful package of grief and the final overcoming of that grief.

Oh, and if you've ever wondered if Jesus likes reality TV, then you'll find that in here too.

The beautiful cover artwork was created by Becky Adams.


What I learnt

In a clichéd way, I hold my partners hand just that little bit tighter, I make sure my parents are aware of my unconditional thanks and I throw my brothers some extra texts and emails. I guess I learned that it's never too late, until it's too late. And even then, you might get thrown a bone.


The Diving-Bell and the ButterflyMy second book of January was The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (autobiography).

What it's about

This book describes what Jean-Do's life is like after suffering a massive stroke that left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome. It also details what his life was like before the stroke.

What I thought

It's hard to give a review of this per se. At best, it wouldn't be very long because there's little I could say in a whole overview. You may have already read the book, or at least know about it. It's about a man who found himself, through a severe stroke, only able to communicate by blinking his eyelid. Over time, he and his speech therapist, known fondly to him as his 'guardian angel', work out an alphabet which helps her figure out what it is he's saying through his blinks.

It seems this month appears to be about realising how life can be so easily taken for granted. But it's what we all do, isn't it? It's almost human nature; to under appreciate everything in life until you have a wake up call, much like Jean-Do, that inevitably creates a smaller world in which you have nothing if not appreciation. Through the written word, carefully composed by his guardian angel, he tells little anecdotes about his life, and of the people he knows. He delicately describes tastes he remembers, and feelings he creates. I dare you to ever become disillusioned with life again after reading this.

What I learnt

I learnt that life is what you make it. I learnt that, even though everyone has their issues, there's always someone with bigger problems. Its not that you should feel glad about that, but you could at least maybe take some solace in the fact that, actually, you're probably going to make it. I am in so much awe and inspired hugely by Jean-Do and what he did. I am also much more empathetic toward people I know with life threatening situations, who maybe can't do anything about it, but they sure as hell get out there and try. Hats off to you.


Ox-Tales: WaterI know I said in my first blog that I would read and review Birthday Stories, edited by Haruki Murakami, as my second fiction choice, but I didn't. Ellie, our fab kids' bookseller, suggested that I keep it for March, as that is when our branch in Bristol is one year old! So I'm tucking it away until then. Instead, I have chosen the Oxfam Ox-Tales series.

What they're about
They're a series of four short story anthologies, with contributions from all sorts of bestselling authors.

What I thought

The themes of the collections are intended to represent the four aspects of Oxfam's work. With one for each of the four ancient elements to raise money for Oxfam, these small collections really are something. Some of them are just brilliant short stories, whilst others are excerpts from novels, which somehow all relate to one of the elements. Not only do the books all look brilliant as a set, but the royalties all go to Oxfam. What could be better? My favourite one is Ox-Tales: Water, but then I always was a water fan. Please check these out, they're incredible.

What I learnt

I actually learnt quite a bit about Oxfam as well as discovering great fiction. Within each of the four collections, there is a section where the projects of Oxfam are highlighted to create more awareness of what they do. I also learnt that there's so much more of this world than we all acknowledge daily; we should all want to get out there, and recognise some more of it. But until then, I'll have to stick to reading great books like these.


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