I have a little room at the top of the house where it’s quiet. I tried to make it a space where I would always want to be by filling it with my treasured things – pictures, mementos, all my books are up there – but then I made the mistake of putting in a ridiculously comfy giant armchair. It’s a very sunny room, always warm (to stifling) because the immersion heater is hidden in one of the cupboards. There have been many many occasions when I am supposed to be working when the call to nap just becomes too much. I love snoozing on that chair, it’s like hibernation.
Lined along the back of my desk – which looks down on the garden with all its distractions of birds at the bird tables and neighbours’ cats – and then, inevitably, trying to scare the neighbours’ cats away from the birds at the bird tables before there’s a massacre – I have copies of each of the foreign editions of all my books. I’ve been published in about 25 countries now. I love seeing how they’ve translated the titles and what choices they made for the covers. They have been anything from amazing pop art (Sweden) to a very graphic line drawing of a half-naked woman in black and white, that looked like it might be porn (Turkey). I’m immensely proud of all of them and it’s always exciting when a new one arrives in the post.
Also on my desk is a card my best friend sent me when I re-signed with Penguin after delivering my first book (Getting Rid of Matthew). It’s a photo of a woman from, I would guess, the 60s, dancing, and in the air in front of her is a Siamese cat that looks like it’s flying. On the photo, in marker pen, she had written “Jane and Ollie (my Siamese lookalike cat) celebrate her new contract’. It’s been there so long that the writing has completely faded and disappeared but it always makes me smile because it reminds me of how excited I was that I was getting the chance to have 2 more books published. I’ve just signed up for another 2 books with Penguin – which will be numbers 6 and 7. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
The pictures on the wall are a mixture of personal (a photo of my dad and his 2 brothers taken in the 1930s, my framed letter from Blue Peter telling my 9 year old self I’d won a badge); work related (a poster showing all the books that were Richard and Judy picks the year Getting Rid of Matthew was one, a Dutch poster advertising Got You Back); and things that I just like to look at (a photo of Central Park). I pretend the Blue Peter letter is there ironically. Secretly I consider it one of my greatest achievements.
I wrote to tell them I thought my dog might be related to one of theirs because they looked alike, and they sent me a badge for that. Gotta love Blue Peter.
Skeletons by Jane Fallon is published by Penguin and costs £7.99.
The next stop on the tour is She Loves To Read – head over there tomorrow for your next Jane Fallon instalment.
This morning, when I got back from my run, my phone was flashing. The message was from Elizabeth, my old school librarian. “Happy World Book Day!”, it read. It made me smile that my friends know not to text me “Happy Birthday!” or “Happy Xmas!” but they will text me about books, because books are the best thing.
I know everyone has different tastes, and mine tend to cover quite a few genres, so I thought I’d put together a list of books I love, and try to find something for everyone.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
What is it? Teen fiction.
What’s the story?
From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first.
Then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In this celebration of nonconformity, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
You’ll love it if… you like strong, quirky leading characters who refuse to conform.
Foucault’s Pendulum /
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
by Umberto Eco
…or anything by Eco, really, but these are two of my favourites.
What is it? Adult literary fiction. The kind of book where, when you’re reading it, you wonder if the author has actually read every other book that has ever been written.
What’s the story?
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Yambo, a sixtyish rare-book dealer who lives in Milan, has suffered a loss of memory-he can remember the plot of every book he has ever read, every line of poetry, but he no longer knows his own name, doesn’t recognize his wife or his daughters, and remembers nothing about his parents or his childhood. In an effort to retrieve his past, he withdraws to the family home somewhere in the hills between Milan and Turin. There, in the sprawling attic, he searches through boxes of old newspapers, comics, records, photo albums, and adolescent diaries. And so Yambo relives the story of his generation: Mussolini, Catholic education and guilt, Josephine Baker, Flash Gordon, Fred Astaire. His memories run wild, and the life racing before his eyes takes the form of a graphic novel. Yambo struggles through the frames to capture one simple, innocent image: that of his first love.
Foucault’s Pendulum – Bored with their work, three Milanese editors cook up “the Plan,” a hoax that connects the medieval Knights Templar with other occult groups from ancient to modern times. This produces a map indicating the geographical point from which all the powers of the earth can be controlled—a point located in Paris, France, at Foucault’s Pendulum. But in a fateful turn the joke becomes all too real, and when occult groups get wind of the Plan, they go so far as murder in their quest to gain control of the earth.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy books that make your brain chew.
Fear & Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
What is it? Philosophy.
What’s the story?
Kierkegaard discusses the problem of faith and its relation to humanity, through the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Dealing with issues of ethics, despair and the human condition, Fear & Trembling holds up a mirror to who we are and asks us to question our values and how they were conceived.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy reading philosophy that sometimes gets a bit knotty.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
What is it? Romantic comedy with a twist.
What’s the story?
Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realisation that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.
You’ll love it if… you like novels that tell an excellent story and make you laugh out loud.
The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
What is it? Tense crime fiction.
What’s the story?
He slips into homes at night and walks silently into bedrooms where women lie sleeping, about to awaken to a living nightmare. The precision of his methods suggests that he is a deranged man of medicine, prompting the Boston newspapers to dub him “The Surgeon.” Led by Detectives Thomas Moore and Jane Rizzoli, the cops must consult the victim of a nearly identical crime: two years ago, Dr. Catherine Cordell fought back and killed an attacker before he could complete his assault. Now this new killer is re-creating, with chilling accuracy, the details of Cordell’s ordeal. With every new murder he seems to be taunting her, cutting ever closer, from her hospital to her home. And neither Moore nor Rizzoli can protect Cordell from a ruthless hunter who somehow understands—and savors—the secret fears of every woman he kills.
You’ll love it if… you like thrilling crime novels that stay with you after you’ve read them.
The Mathematical Experience
by Phillip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh
What is it? A discussion of the history of mathematics.
What’s the story?
The Mathematical Experience discusses the practice of modern mathematics from a historical and philosophical perspective. It is frequently cited by mathematicians as a book that was influential in their decision to continue their studies in graduate school and has been hailed as a classic of mathematical literature.
In accordance with its title, it attempts to describe, in light of the turbulent history and philosophy of mathematics, the experience of being a mathematician. It focuses on the proof, without going fully into the rigorous how-to details, gives examples of some famous proofs, as well as the outstanding problems of mathematics, and goes on to speculate on what a proof really means, in relationship to actual truth.
You’ll love it if… you’ve always secretly loved mathematics even though you’re an arts major.
The White Goddess by Robert Graves
What is it? An alternate history of sorts; a new look at poetry and myth.
What’s the story?
This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’s vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explores the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy poetry, mythology and folklore, or if you’re interested in the history of magic.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
What is it? Young adult romance.
What’s the story?
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
You’ll love it if… you like your protagonists raw and realistic, and you don’t mind crying in public.
Shadows of the Mind
by Roger Penrose
What is it? Popular science / philosophy of mind.
What’s the story?
Penrose contends that some aspects of the human mind lie beyond computation. This is not a religious argument (that the mind is something other than physical) nor is it based on the brain’s vast complexity (the weather is immensely complex, says Penrose, but it is still a computable thing, at least in theory). Instead, he provides powerful arguments to support his conclusion that there is something in the conscious activity of the brain that transcends computation, and will find no explanation in terms of present-day science. To illuminate what he believes this “something” might be, and to suggest where a new physics must proceed so that we may understand it, Penrose cuts a wide swathe through modern science, providing penetrating looks at everything from Turing machines to the implications of Gödel’s theorem maintaining that conscious thinking must indeed involve ingredients that cannot adequately be stimulated by mere computation.
Of particular interest is Penrose’s extensive examination of quantum mechanics, which introduces some new ideas that differ markedly from those advanced in his earlier work, especially concerning the mysterious interface where classical and quantum physics meet. Furthermore, he contends that in consciousness some kind of global quantum state must take place across large areas of the brain, and that it is within microtubules that these collective quantum effects are most likely to reside.
You’ll love it if… you’re fascinated by quantum physics, artificial intelligence or philosophy of mind, but haven’t necessarily studied any of them.
Gypsies Stop tHere / No Gypsies Served by Miriam Wakerly
What is it? Two novels about an important issue in today’s society.
What’s the story?
Gypsies Stop tHere – A modern novel set in an English village. Kay moves to the countryside to escape guilt-ridden memories of her husband’s death. Once there, she becomes embroiled in an age-old conflict between the locals and Romany Gypsy Travellers. This book provides an entertaining way to find out more about an important and topical social issue.
No Gypsies Served – Two years have passed since Kay successfully campaigned for the Appley Green Gypsy Site, and four years since her husband was murdered. Life in the village was going so well, until the phone call and letter. Then comes the disastrous site opening. Worst of all, Dunstan, who she realises is her best friend and ally, is giving her the cold shoulder for some unknown reason.
Dunstan is taking an emotional trip down memory lane, into childhood as a Gypsy on the road, and his eventual break from his people. Why is he so angry with Kay that he keeps away from her? Chances of a longed-for reconciliation look slim…
You’ll love it if… you’re interested in Romany culture and the issues faced by Travelling communities.
Bookends by Jane Green
What is it? Chick lit.
What’s the story?
Catherine Warner and Simon Nelson are best friends: total opposites, always together, and both unlucky in love. Cath is scatterbrained, messy, and — since she had her heart broken a few years back — emotionally closed off. Si is impossibly tidy, bitchy, and desperate for a man of his own. They live in London’s West Hampstead along with their lifelong friends, Josh and Lucy, who are happily married with a devil-spawn child and a terrifying Swedish nanny, Ingrid.
All’s well (sort of) until the sudden arrival of a college friend — the stunningly beautiful Portia, who’s known for breaking hearts. Though they’ve grown up and grown apart from Portia, the four friends welcome her back into the fold. But does Portia have a hidden agenda or is she merely looking to reconnect with old friends? Her reappearance soon unleashes a rollicking series of events that tests the foursome’s friendships to the limit and leaves them wondering if a happy ending is in store.
Fortunately, Cath has plenty to take her mind off Portia’s schemes — like her gutsy decision to leave her job in advertising to fulfill her dream of opening a bookstore. And then there’s James, the sexy real-estate agent who keeps dropping by even after the bookstore deal is done. With his irresistible smile and boyish charm could he be the one to melt Cath’s heart?
You’ll love it if… you secretly dream of opening your own bookshop.
Addition by Toni Jordan
What is it? Romantic comedy with a chilling twist.
What’s the story?
Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920). The number of poppy seeds on her orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she’ll take to eat it. Grace counts everything, because that way there are no unpleasant surprises.
Seamus Joseph O’Reilly (also a 19) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her cupboards without conducting an inventory, or leave her flat without measuring the walls.
Grace’s problem is that Seamus doesn’t count. Her other problem is . . . he does.
As Grace struggles to balance a new relationship with old habits, to find a way to change while staying true to herself, she realises that nothing is more chaotic than love.
You’ll love it if… you count things. Or if you love a nice unusual romance. Or if you like the kind of book that has you looking over your shoulder for the next three days.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Series by Stieg Larsson
(My favourite is actually the second book in the series, The Girl who Played with Fire. But they’re all great.)
What is it? Crime fiction.
What’s the story?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder – and that the killer is a member of his own tightly knit but dysfunctional family. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet’s disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves.
The Girl who Played with Fire – Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her. Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.
The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – Salander is plotting her revenge – against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back.
You’ll love it if… you enjoy tense thrillers with strong protagonists. Oh, and you’ll need a strong stomach, too.
I could go on forever, probably. But these are the ones I recommend to people the most often.
What are your must-reads? Have I missed anything amazing?
I was sitting in my living room, having just decided to take the evening off and have a nice long bath, bemoaning the fact that I’d read all the novels on the shelf and would have to take a non-fiction book in with me instead. (Non-fiction books are not for the bath. Non-fiction books are for the chair, or the bed, or the bus or train or office, but they are not for the bath.)
Someone knocked on my front door. I ignored it. They knocked again, more insistently. Reluctantly, I slumped downstairs and opened it. The postman handed me a big package. I brought it inside. Opened it.
The new Jojo Moyes! Something to read in the bath! And something that I knew would definitely be good, as well.
I pulled out the PR release and read the blurb:
Suppose your life sucks. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your stepson is being bullied and your daughter has a once in a lifetime opportunity… that you can’t afford to pay for.
So imagine you found some money that didn’t belong to you, knowing it would pay for your daughter’s happiness.
But how do you cope with the shame? Especially when the man you’ve lied to decides to help you out in your hour of need…
Jess is in hell – Ed has saved her family – but is their happiness worth a lifetime’s soul-searching?
It is predictably readable. It’s a big book, but I whipped through it like it was half the size. And I’m not quite sure what it is that makes you have to keep reading. I think it’s Moyes’ style of writing – she makes it so easy to accidentally read another three chapters instead of getting out of the bath when the water’s gone cold.
There is the unfortunate fact that Me Before You was so incredibly excellent that every other book of Moyes’ so far doesn’t quite match up to it, and The One Plus One is no exception to this rule. If you liked Me Before You, you won’t necessarily love this. But it’s a really, really great book in its own right, and if you’re looking for a few hours of heartwarming stories, sympathetically told, you’re in the right place.
I’d say the main thing that Moyes gets right in this novel is the way she so adequately describes what it’s like to have no money in Britain today. The sheer frustration of not being able to afford anything, of trying to bring up children who don’t steal or cheat or lie, when all around them people are breaking the rules out of sheer desperation. The difficulty of being an academically gifted child in an area where the education system doesn’t really allow the stretching of intellectual limits. The fear of knowing that, as a sensitive teenage boy who wears eyeliner and dyes his long hair black, you’re likely to be beaten up if you dare to walk to the corner shop.
It’s a very good book, and one that deals with important themes in today’s society. The difficulty of living in general, but also how easy it is to make a stupid mistake that has repercussions you could never have imagined. The power of the internet. The beauty of mathematics (I wish it’d gone into this a bit more).
A recommended read, perfect for curling up in a big armchair with a hot chocolate (or in the bath with a glass of wine). Jojo Moyes nails it again.