Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Wondering what book to read next? It is always so much easier with a book recommendation.
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A quick recap on January
February book recommendations
6. Shuggie Bain - Douglas Stuart
My Shuggie Bain book review is short and sweet. You need to read it. If you aren’t already aware of this book, it was the Booker Prize winner for 2020.
Set in 1980s Glasgow, the book revolves around main character Agnes Bain.
Agnes is an alcoholic who likes the finer things and always strives for a better standard of living, in her own way.
Shuggie is her youngest son. To begin with the family lives with Agnes Bains mother and father in a tower block flat. There are 3 children in total, a girl and two boys. Shuggie is considerably younger than his older siblings.
We are told that Shug, who is the father of Shuggie is Agnes’s second husband. He is violent and beats and abuses Agnes. Her drinking often escalates because of the way he abandons her for hours on end to work the taxi rank.
Eventually Shug manages to arrange a new home for the family. He has never liked living with his in-laws. They end up in a run down home located far outside the city next to a closed mine.
The story takes Shuggie from a toddler to a fifteen year old living alone. There are 4 sections of the book each covering a period in time. You assume from the flash forward at the beginning that things have not ended well for Agnes.
The story deals with themes of poverty, being gay, being different as a child, the love a child feels for a parent even when they hurt them. Family ties, frustrated dreams, loss, and hope.
I know that for some people this book is too bleak. But I saw the light ahead for Shuggie, and remembered that whilst Agnes had fatal flaws, she was doing her best with often poor support from the men around her.
7. Enid Blyton - Barbara Stoney
I grew up reading Enid Blyton stories.
I loved The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, The Five Find Outers and The Mystery Island Series.
As a child I think the appeal was always that the characters were all children. Adults rarely intruded.
The children got to do amazing things like going away alone in a caravan. Cooking their own dinners. Swimming in the sea and pleasing themselves. And of course how could I not mention the feasts.
I don’t really remember the Noddy books which apparently brought her the most money and fame over time.
The biography starts with her parents who lived as young adults in the same area that I do, South East London. So there was an interest for me in the locations of their homes. Beckenham and East Dulwich both get a mention.
The book goes into the fact that Enid's father left the family when Enid was around 10 years old. She was the eldest of 3 children and very close to her father.
They shared loves of nature, literature and music among many other things.
Her father really encouraged her in all of her interests, which included writing from a very early age.
Her mother always felt she should be helping more around the home, and they didn’t really get along at all.
After her father left the family home to live with another woman the children were told to never mention it to anyone outside the house. What a burden to put onto such a young girl.
The book covers the rise of Enid from a young teacher to the author she was by the end.
She wrote over 600 books in her life. Had endless fans in her young readers, but also endless critics.
Many librarians felt that her books were limited in the vocabulary they used and the circumstances they covered.
They also criticised the social standing of the characters Enid created, all of whom were middle class.
The fact that Enid included the racist Gollywog dolls in her early work has rightly been criticised by many.
Her work ethic was often mentioned too. She prioritised her work over her children by standards of the period.
From an early age the children (she had two girls) had a live in nurse then nanny and eventually both went away to boarding school.
She worked every day from 9-5pm then stopped to have an hour with the girls. I am sure that many male parents have spent a lot less time with their families but of course this would not merit a mention because of societal standards.
8. Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami
Men Without Women is a collection of seven short stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami all themed around the way men behave to and around women.
I always enjoy the way Murakami creates tension and suspense in his stories. Often there are elements that are never explained at all, which leaves the reader to make their own conclusions.
For example in Samsa In Love the main character appears to have just awoken in a different body.
I wondered if he was supposed to be a werewolf but from some further research the story is a response to an earlier one The Metamorphosis and he was supposed to be an insect. All very surreal!
All the stories feature elements of obsession, isolation, alienation as well as the way all humans feel a little mad at times.
9. Black and British: A Forgotten History- David Olusoga
David Olusoga is a British historian, writer, broadcaster, presenter and film-maker. He was awarded the OBE and is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester.
He is well known to many for his role as a TV presenter on many BBC history documentaries.
Black and British: A Forgotten History is a book on the history of black British people.
As he addresses in the book many white people in the UK believe that there were no black British people until after WW2 with the arrival of the Windrush.
As this incredible book shows there have been black British people since the Roman empire arrived.
Black and British provides heart breaking detail on the involvement of Britain in the global slave trade.
You cannot fail to be horrified at the information on how people were treated as worse than cattle.
I felt like I knew a fair bit about slavery before I read this book but it taught me things I had never heard of before.
For example after abolition in the UK (1833) Britain formed the West Africa squadron and tried to stop other countries from continuing where they left off.
They ran ships designed to stop slavers from stealing people, and yet much of the time their involvement led to more death than successful intervention.
The book covers a huge time period. It goes from the time of the Romans very quickly up to the Black Georgians and onto more recent history.
I like many others feel there is a real lack in the way history is taught in the UK.
There is so much that isn't covered and David Olosuga strongly makes the case that we can’t learn about the good things in isolation.
People need to know about the terrible things that our white ancestors did to black people globally and in the UK.
I don’t need to be the one to say that many white British people have a real issue with the shame and guilt that comes as part of the inherited legacy. That does not mean we can avoid it.
Although I am only covering the book in my review I would highly recommend the four part series of the same name, that goes along with the book which is available on iplayer
It features a project that took place recently to trace the living relatives of many key black british people and shows blue plaques being put up in historically significant places from York to Sierra Leone.
10. Girl, Women, Other - Bernadine Evaristo
I just felt so sad when I got to the end of Girl, Women, Other and there were no more wonderful stories to read.
I also loved the ending.
After a little time to reflect I think what I loved was the element at the heart of this book. Amazing strong black women, who all brought different lived experience to the stories.
Not all the characters were immediately likeable. I didn't take to Shirley really. But you could understand her. The trials of being the only female in her family, the expectation of being better behaved than her brothers.
Also I wasn't a huge fan of Carole or Yazz and the crew.
For me the standout characters were Hattie, Amma and Boomi.
And I liked Winsome despite her 'naughty' behaviour
Having already reviewed David Olusogas book Black and British - A Forgotten History on this blog I feel there is so much in Girl, Women, Other that could have come straight from its pages.
For example the racism that Winsome and her husband experience when they try to set up home in the Scilly Isles and the hasty retreat they make back to London.
As an adopted South Londoner it was also quite interesting to read about the places I know well seen through the eyes of the characters. Penelope's snobby discourse on East Dulwich (not Dulwich proper) try telling the house prices.
I remember when I saw that the Booker prize had been split for the first time ever, between Margaret Atwoods Testaments, the long awaited sequel to The Handmaid's Tale and Girl, Women, Other.
Some people were outraged that the judges had made such a move instead of crowning one winner.
Would it have happened to two male authors?
These books are as different as day and night. One is futuristic, terrifying, the opposite of human. The other is full of love, relationships and history.
You can't compare them. They are both excellent.
I think if I'd been on the panel I may have gone with Girl, Women, Other.
11. The Practise - Seth Godin
The Practise by Seth Godin is a little different to his previous books. The whole premise is that we are what we do. If we want to be professionally successful in a certain area then we need to do the work and we need to share it with an audience of peers.
Although Seth is a marketing expert don’t buy this book expecting to learn how to market. This isn’t that kind of book. Seth is all about creativity and the fact everyone is creative whether they term themselves a creative. Humans are just innately creative.
Somewhere along the line we started to believe that people who draw or paint are artists and no one else is.
The Practise is for anyone who wants to make a professional commitment to doing something. Whether that is writing, rapping, cutting hair, using clay. It doesn't matter so long as you keep doing it, and keep sharing your work.
It talks about ways to keep going, such as using streaks to motivate us.
This book is very easy to read as its split into around 200 short sections, almost like reading a post on social media. You could easily read 4 or 5 sections in about 10 minutes.
It is also highly quotable
“ The Magic is there is no magic. Start where you are. Don’t stop’
12. Essentialism - Greg McKeown
A very quick summary would be if you are looking for books that will help you to get more done in your career by doing less, then this could be for you!
A very short audiobook on the legendary anti slavery campaigner Fredrik Douglas, who was himself a slave at the time he began his career on the anti slavery circuit. One of the best speakers of all time, his speeches could attract thousands of attendees.
This was a great short read (listen in my case) from the founder of one of Australia's top companies to work for. Tristan White founded TCP (The Physio Company) in the early 2000s and within a decade it had gone on to win this acclaimed workplace award over many more established companies. Tristan talks through how they do things at TCP which unsurprisingly includes putting people at the heart of everything and paying careful attention to the values that people have before hiring them.
This is such a hard book to explain, but that doesn't mean I didn't really enjoy it. The title comes from the poem Hope Is The Thing With Feathers by Emily Dickinson. The plot is a father of two has recently lost his wife. He sees a crow that visits their flat and acts as a spirit guide, protecting the family from demons and other imaginings of the father in his grief. The language is poetic, often brutal and depressing, but others beautiful
“Ghosts do not haunt, they regress. Just as when you need to go to sleep you think of trees or lawns, you are taking instant symbolic refuge in a ready-made iconography of early safety and satisfaction. That exact place is where ghosts go.”
13. A Different Kind of Murder. The Story of Lord Lucan- Laura Thompson
14. Fire and Blood - George RR Martin
15. A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James
16. Daphne Du Maurier - Margaret Foster
17. Nudge - Thaler and Sunstein
Thanks for reading
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Shona Chambers Marketing is a Marketing Agency based in SE London.
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