In this series we ask authors, Guardian writers and readers to share what they’ve been reading recently. This month, recommendations include the audiobook version of a Victorian novel, nonfiction books about hoarding and funny fiction. Tell us what you’ve been reading in the comments.
I’m reading many books at the moment, as I’m judging the Christopher Bland prize which is a Royal Society of Literature award for the best debut by a writer over 50. I assume I can’t tell you yet which ones of those I liked best yet but turns out old people – I can say that as I’m one of them – have all sorts of creative juices left in them.
I’m also listening to North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Not to go on about age, but my failing eyesight means that I’m turning more and more to audiobooks, and big Victorian ones really appeal, particularly when they’re read, as this one is, by Juliet Stevenson. So far I’m liking Gaskell’s “Industrial Revolution Pride and Prejudice” but I’ve come to it really because of Stevenson, whose audiobook readings I’ve been a superfan of ever since listening to her rendition of Middlemarch, which is I think the best solo acting performance I’ve ever heard.
Jews Don’t Count by David Baddiel is now out in paperback (HarperCollins £7.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.
During February I have read several books. Two that I would recommend are The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen. Although published about 80 years apart they are both sensitively written. The characters come from very different backgrounds of class, race and time, but the books help you to get under the skin of their protagonists.
I enjoyed Things I Didn’t Throw Out, a slim but charming memoir in which Polish author Marcin Wicha retraces the life and times of his late mother, Joanna, via the vast haul of books she left behind when she died. They include cookbooks dating back to the Stalin era, faded midcentury hardbacks, an English language primer from the 1980s and numerous volumes on psychiatry and self-help pertaining to her work as a counsellor in Warsaw. Ably translated by Marta Dziurosz, this tender homage to one woman’s bibliomania doubles as a brisk overview of Poland’s postwar history. On a related note, I’m currently reading Rebecca R Falkoff’s Possessed: A Cultural History of Hoarding, which blends psychiatry, psychology and literary criticism – an erudite exploration of a fascinating phenomenon.
On the fiction front I’ve just finished Pankaj Mishra’s Run and Hide, a novel about three Indian friends who transcend their humble provincial origins to join a rarefied milieu of cosmopolitan movers and shakers. It’s an emotionally astute if occasionally overwrought portrait of the social climber’s fraught psyche: the narrator contends with impostor syndrome, a gnawing homesickness and a constant sense of precariousness, suggesting that the price of upward mobility is profound existential loneliness. Dance Move, a very fine new collection of funny and poignant short stories by the Northern Irish writer Wendy Erskine, was more satisfying at the prose level for its understated simplicity. Erskine’s stories are set in school discos, tanning salons and shabby hotels; she’s great at conjuring a sense of place without breaking sweat – her touch is as sure as it is light.
The best book I’ve read in recent weeks – indeed, one of the best I’ve read in a long time – is Percival Everett’s taut and wickedly funny novel, Erasure, which tells the story of an African American writer who struggles to achieve mainstream recognition because his work is considered “not black enough”. First published in 2001, this perfectly pitched satire is still every bit as relevant today. Everett’s latest novel, The Trees, will be published in the UK by Influx Press next month, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading it.
I have recently read Circe by Madeline Miller, having read The Song of Achilles previously. I like her relatable style of writing that makes the characters feel more human than godlike. We sympathise and care for them as they have faults, secrets and worries, as we do. Also, being only vaguely familiar with the myths, I have learned more about some of the characters from Greek mythology.
I have also recently read Any Human Heart by William Boyd. I had already read Trio, but I much prefer Any Human Heart. The story takes us through most of the 21st century, following the life of Logan Mountstuart. Like Circe, this book resonated with me by showing human nature at its worst and best.