The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
This is probably my favourite book of all time. I picked up this battered and worn old copy from a Little Free Library; I didn’t think anyone else would take it, and of course, I couldn’t resist reading it for what must be the tenth time.
Why do I love it so?
Because of Holden Caulfield.
When I first read it as a teen, I saw some of myself in him; his anxieties, his perceptions of the “phoneys” all around him, his loneliness.
Now, I see a different part of me in him; I have gone through grief (the loss of my best mate) just as he has done (the loss of his younger brother, Allie). If I had suffered such a loss at the same age as Holden, I probably would have ended up just like him.
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
This is about what happened to a small town in Wisconsin, USA, when one of its main employers, a General Motors car manufacturing plant, closed down for good; the effects it had on individuals, employees, families and the community as a whole.
This story is connected to me in a very personal way; I lived in a neighbouring town, Beloit, just a short drive away from Janesville, within Rock County, and in the exact same period of time that the book covers (2008-2013). I even visited the same job center that is featured here.
Whether you know Wisconsin or not is irrelevant to the story; this could be the tale of any town, anywhere, when an industry suddenly closes down and people are left struggling to find work, to earn money, to keep going. There is a massive ripple effect which spreads out to the whole community.
I was expecting this to be a difficult, depressing read, but actually, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Instead of despair, I felt inspired. Truly remarkable. This is essential reading.
Chop Chop by Simon Wroe
A day passed by after I’d finished reading my previous book, and I didn’t know what to read next. Then, serendipitously, Chop Chop appeared in the Little Free Library, shouting loudly READ ME! I mean, how could you resist that cover?
It’s about a young guy working in a restaurant kitchen, with a host of strong characters.
I wanted to like it. Parts of it made me laugh, but the pace was a bit too fast for me, and it reminded me of the time I spent working in a bakery, surrounded by angry French chefs.
Ultimately, though, I got bored, and abandoned the book half-way through, after this next one caught my eye instead…
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Now this is more like it, a big healthy dose of dystopian science fiction.
This one is about a spaceship full of the last surviving people, searching for a habitable planet on which to re-establish the human race after Earth has become a frozen wasteland.
They find a lush, green planet, but a sinister satellite (an ancient relic from a previous space exploration experiment) refuses to let them land. I want to avoid any spoilers, but suffice to say, they manage to send a probe down there and discover the planet isn’t quite as hospitable as it first appears.
I loved it.
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
Yes, this is a children’s book. Regular visitors to this blog know that I sometimes throw YA or children’s books into the mix; I enjoy the change of pace, and the opportunity to revisit books that I’d read as a child.
I’d planned to read this myself, but my two boys (age four and seven) were up at six on this particular morning, so I decided to conduct an experiment; would they sit and listen to this kind of story, before breakfast, on a school day, instead of our usual routine of reading books before bedtime?
The seven year old was playing with Lego, apparently not listening, and the four year old was playing noisily, while I started to read The Iron Man out loud. I felt a bit silly, reading it out loud to myself, and I had not expected to read the whole book in one sitting, but that’s what happened. Read more about this experience here.
How To Be Human by Ruby Wax
My expectations were high, but Ruby Wax knocks it out of the ball park; this is an amazing book. Believe the hype. Read it now. Your mind will thank you for it later.