As you know, to celebrate my recent 29th birthday, I wrote a list of things I’d like to do before I turn 30. Reading a book a week for the next year was one of them (and honestly, it is probably my favourite challenge on the list) and I love that it has piqued your interest.
It seems you love book reviews and recommendations just as much as I do (of course you do!) so I’ve decided I’ll share some snippets, suggestions and reflections on each book as the year goes on.
Here’s the first eight! And if you’d like to join me, here’s a link to a simple spreadsheet I made to keep track of your reading adventures. Enjoy!—
1. The Diary of a Young Girl / Anne Frank
I read Anne’s diary for the first time when I was about 11. This time around, it was a far more intense experience. Back then, I remember feeling very connected to Anne; her observations, her frustrations, her desires. I could see myself in her. I also kept a daily diary about friends and family and boys and the changes in my body and the happenings in my world.
This is what makes this book so much more difficult to read 18 years later. She didn’t get to fulfil her dreams and desires, or even to see past the age of 15. And I did and I have.
I also know now what happened after that final diary entry, something that I certainly could not fully comprehend at 11. Saying all of that, this book is still such an enjoyable read, albeit shadowed by the era it was written in. How articulate, wise, positive, connected, creative and soulful Anne was! What a powerful woman she might have become. Such an important piece of writing, for so many reasons.
2. Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary / Ruud van der Rol
If you do decide to pick up Anne’s diary, I definitely suggest taking this ‘photographic remembrance’ as your companion along the journey into The Secret Annexe and war-torn Amsterdam. Without going into brutal detail (there are plenty of resources available that provide that side of the coin), this book helps to paint the picture of what life was like – and how quickly things changed – for Jewish families in Europe in the 1940’s. I don’t have kids, but I can imagine that this book would be a great way to introduce the unimaginable to children.
3. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy / Helen Fielding
Just to switch gears a little, I would now like to declare my undying love and infatuation for Bridget Jones. I adore the books and movies equally; to me, they are genius. I don’t know why it took me so long to read this instalment, but I laughed my arse off the whole way through.
We’ve got our girl Bridget, now a widow (NO! MARK DARCY! WAH!) attempting to master Twitter, the dating game in her 50’s and life as a single Mum.
On a side note, the upcoming movie isn’t actually based on this book which is interesting. And Hugh Grant is out and Ed Sheeran is IN! But until the flick is released next September, get your Bridget fix and read this book.
4. The Violin of Auschwitz / Maria Angels Anglada
This short work of fiction is incredibly moving in its simplicity and elegance, whilst navigating an incredibly macabre subject matter. We follow the heart-wrenching tale of violin maker Daniel, imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp, as he finds himself in a cruel wager that challenges his identity, his craft, his life.
I wouldn’t say that this book is riveting in a frenzied, page-turning kind of way, but more in a meditative sense; It felt tender, quiet and illuminating. A little glimmer of hope contrasted against a whole lot of horror. I really liked it.
5. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere / Pico Iyer
If the purpose of this book is to encourage the reader to actually go and sit their arse down and invite in the experience of stillness for themselves (wherever they are in the world), well then for me it was a total winner.
While it’s certainly not a ‘How To Meditate’ book, it gently reminded me of the joy and importance that space and stillness has in my life. Iyer provides us with bite-sized chunks of memoir, insight, research and stories that I’ve been passing onto clients, friends and family since reading it. Another quick and soothing read, this TED book is a gem. One to keep handy I’d say.
6. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear / Elizabeth Gilbert
I’m a Liz Gilbert #fangirl from way back and I’ve been looking forward to this release for MONTHS. It did not disappoint! Less density than I expected, but that was the best part; the lightness and playful perspective on creativity is what makes it so memorable and magical.
I must say, some of the greatest compliments I have received this year (or perhaps – ever!) have been comparisons between this book and my eCourse Wild, Well & Creative. I am truly so passionate about and EXCITED for this creative revolution that I can see brewing… So anything that encourages others to explore their creative nature without all the seriousness and self-judgement gets a BIG FAT TICK from me.
7. All The Light We Cannot See / Anthony Doerr
There is no doubt that this book is one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read. Set in France and Germany in World War II, the story follows the journey of a young, orphaned German soldier and a blind French girl whose lives become intertwined during the ferocities of war.
Doerr’s skilful use of intricate symbolism and narrative to communicate the many threads of technology, propaganda, myth, humanity, empathy and survival is genius. There are endless layers here, yet everything comes together so beautifully. I can’t even begin to imagine the years of research that would have gone into this book!
However, I struggle at times with highly decorative, descriptive writing and this book is filled with paragraphs dripping in adjectives that I admittedly did skim over at times. (Interestingly, this is how I think I write fiction… And it frustrates me! Ha!) But while it is lengthy, nothing stays stagnant and the characters and narrative pull you back again and again and again. I loved it.
8. Travel Writing / Peter Ferry
This novel asks us some delicious questions: Where does the line between fact and fiction blur? What does it mean to be a storyteller? What role do our relationships, travel, truth and nature play in our lives? And the oldest and greatest of all questions… What is LOVE?
I liked this book a lot. It’s fun and clever. The author is the narrator (literally – so is this fiction or is it not? Hurrah!) and I loved how it weaved memoir with mystery and travelogues with observations on the mechanics of creative writing itself.
Yes, there were probably a few pieces in this puzzle that didn’t quite work, but I loved the concepts fuelling it; it’s a style of fiction that I am really drawn to.
So far, I’m loving this challenge! Reading a book a week for a year is proving easier than I thought it would be.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? If you’ve got some great book recommendations, let’s hear them below in the comments. We’d all benefit from that. And as always, please feel free to share this post with anyone who you think might be interested.