* This post contains a gifted item.
I didn’t do a reading round up last month, thanks to the time I spent enjoying a digital detox in April. That means I have a bumper load of books to get through this time, covering both April and May (and the tiniest little bit of June). People often ask me how I find time to read so much – the truth is it’s probably at the expense of other things, like staying up to watch the latest TV drama, or involving myself too much in social media – particularly in the evenings. I think we all tend to make time for the things that matter most to us, don’t we? That said, there never seems to be enough time to get through all the books in my massive reading pile!
I did make a good dent in it in April though (see ‘digital detox’) and my first book choice was very much influenced by my involvement in the local John O’ Groats Book Festival, and a session I was doing with author James Robertson. Having never read any of James’s work before, I was keen to get more familiar with his writing, and loved reading his novel And the Land Lay Still in advance of the event. At almost 700 pages long, it’s quite an epic, charting the lives of an ensemble of characters across several decades in 20th century Scotland. It’s also quite a political novel (not something I’d normally be drawn to), but James entwines the personal and the political in such an interesting way that I found myself totally absorbed in all the various stories – which ultimately weave together as the book concludes in 1999. It’s one of those novels that left me feeling like I’d learned a few things, and keen to seek out more of James’s novels in the future. He’s certainly a very skilled storyteller (also working as a poet and the general editor of Scots language imprint Itchy Coo, which produces books for young people written in Scots).
My next book was something a bit different and probably of more interest to the writerly folks out there amongst you. Save the Cat was a book I’d heard about on a podcast, and offers a sort of formula for storytellers – primarily aspiring screenwriters but all very transferable to novel writing and other types of story too. The idea is that all successful films follow a certain structure – or a series of ‘beats’, as the (now sadly decased) author Blake Synder proffers in the narrative. If you’ve ever watched a Disney movie the ‘whiff of death’ moment will be very familiar to you – I found it incredibly interesting to delve into the categories and winning formulas common to many favourites from the silver screen. Of course, for some it will be too manufactured and storytelling-by-numbers but I still think books like this can give fascinating insights. I picked up a lot of useful writing craft inspiration in here, and it’s also been invaluable in looking back over the latest draft of my own novel and assessing whether my story is missing any fundamental ‘beats.’
My next book was Anxiety Free by Sam Owen, a manual for people wishing to free themselves from worrying and anxiety (i.e. me, and countless others living in our fast-paced, anxiety-inducing society). Owen suggests a three-point formula to overcoming anxiety, which basically boils down to identifying the cause of the anxiety, finding solutions and taking effective action (with a backdrop of ‘strengthening habits’ like positive thoughts, positive emotions and self care). If it all sounds a bit simplistic – it is – but reading the book offers a lot of common sense advice to foster ‘strengthening habits’ like controlling use of social media and finding leisure activities to mentally soothe you. And while I can’t say that the book has completely cured my own anxiety, it does offer a useful foundation, with some really insightful moments. A good read for anyone hoping to live life feeling a little bit more calm.
My next book – Becoming by Michelle Obama – was a real stonker. Charting Michelle’s life from humble beginnings to First Lady of the United States of America, this is an exquisitely written autobiography which is deserving of all the accolades thrown its way. Two of the themes that will stick with me are Mrs Obama’s authenticity and her desire, channelled through hard work, to make a meaningful difference in the world. Unfortunately, Michelle states quite categorically in the book that she has no intention of ever running for office, which feels like a huge loss somehow. I do hope we see more of her in the public arena in future. For now, though, read this and be inspired.
Back to mental health for my fifth book, and The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee. If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Dr Chatterjee and generally find myself nodding along with almost every single thing he says and does. Similarly here – as he takes us through a framework for combatting what the World Health Organisation calls ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century’, with practical tips for living well and resetting our minds, bodies, relationships and purpose. I already adhere to a lot of the principles outlined in this book and can attest to their benefits. It’s fantastic to see that there are health professionals out there raising awareness of the kind of ‘lifestyle medicine’ that can have a really powerful impact on our lives.
I rounded off May by reading Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, the third outing in the Outlander series – and one of my all-time favourite sagas. I always feel a bit lost after finishing an Outlander book, and no wonder really – after immersing yourself in Claire-and-Jamie world for over 1000 pages it can be a little hard to move onto something else. This book sees our romantic heroes reunited after Claire returns through the standing stones to 18th century Scotland to find Jamie – whom she thought had perished at the Battle of Culloden. Unfortunately, trouble seems to follow wherever time travel and tide takes them – and this adventure sees the lovers setting sail on the high seas to distant lands once more.
Last (but certainly not least) for this round up is D-Day Dog by Tom Palmer (and thankyou to Barrington Stoke who sent me a gifted copy of this dyslexia-friendly book to read with my ten year old). Particularly poignant in light of this week’s D-Day commemorations, this is a lovely tale for youngsters about friendship, and the complex nature of understanding war. It follows Jack, who heads off on a school trip to Normandy feeling conflicted about the campaign and the use of animals in battle – particularly in regards to his relationship with his own dog. It’s a well written, thought provoking and sensitive novel – and a moving tribute to the service people and animals who sacrificed their tomorrows for the rest of our todays.
That’s it for this reading round up, has it given you any bookish inspiration? I’ll be back with more from my never-ending reading pile next month. In the meantime, have a lovely June!
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links which means I will receive a small commission should you choose to purchase via them.
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