March Book Haul
March was a fabulous month for reading – cold and windy days followed by cold and wet nights. The only thing for it was to cosy up under the blanket, pour a cup of tea or a glass of red wine depending on the mood, and tuck into a book.
Good to Great by Jim Collins (2001, Harper Collins) was the only non-fiction book I read this month and I really loved it. I had expected it to be dry, dense and full of business-speak, but there was none of that here. Collins’ style is accessible and conversational, and the anecdotes he uses to explain the success of eleven great companies were clear and powerful.
Though geared toward the business world, I took a lot away for my personal life, from the Stockdale Principle of confronting the sometimes brutal facts of reality while at the same time believing that you can and will prevail in the end to identifying the answers to three questions. Those being ‘what can you be the best at?’, ‘what drives your economic engine?’ and ‘what are you deeply passionate about?’.
One of his final concepts that really resonated with me was of a flywheel:
Those who launch revolutions, dramatic change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.
I definitely recommend this one.
In mid-March I attended the Stylist book club in partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing to hear Meg Rosoff discuss her book Jonathan Unleashed (2016, Bloomsbury). It was an entertaining read and a great night.
From the book jacket:
Jonathan Trefoil’s boss is unhinged, his relationship baffling and his apartment just the wrong side of legal. His girlfriend wants to marry someone just like him – only richer and more organised with a different sense of humour.
On the plus side, his two flatmates are determined to fix his life – or possibly to destroy it altogether. It’s difficult to be certain as they only speak dog.
Poor Jonathan. He doesn’t remember life being this confusing back in the good old days before everyone expected him to act like a person. But one thing he knows for sure: if he can make it in New York City, he can make it anywhere.
Will he get out of advertising, meet the girl of his dreams and figure out the gender of his secret crush?
Given how it’s going so far, probably not.
From the book jacket:
Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a web-design drone and serendipity coupled with sheer curiosity has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. And it doesn’t take long for Clay to realise that the quiet, dusty book emporium is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few fanatically committed customers, but they never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes perched on dangerously high shelves, all according to some elaborate arrangement with the eccentric proprietor. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has lugged in his laptop, roped in his friends (and a cute genius girl who works for Google) and embarked on a high-tech analysis of the customers’ behaviour. What they discover is an ancient secret that can only be solved by modern means, and a global-conspiracy guarded by Mr. Penumbra himself…who has mysteriously disappeared.
This was one of my favourite reads this month and I want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!
The cover of Muse (2015, Jonathan Cape) by Jonathan Galassi was what caught my eye at the library. How could I resist this elegant woman in her red dress, black heels and gloves, sporting a fabulous updo, structured bag and sleek portfolio?
From the book jacket:
Paul Dukach is heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York, whose shabby offices belie the treasures of its list. Thanks to his boss, the flamboyant Homer Stern, Paul learns well the ins and outs of the book world: how to work an agent over lunch and swim with the literary sharks at Frankfurt book fair; how to marry flattery with criticism when combing over the manuscripts of brilliant, volatile authors. But though things can be shaky in the age of conglomerates and ebooks, Paul remains obsessed by one dazzling writer: poet Ida Perkins, whose outsize life and audacious verse have shaped America’s contemporary literary landscape, and whose longtime publisher – also her cousin and erstwhile lover – happens to be Homer’s biggest rival.
When Paul at last meets Ida, at her secluded Venetian palazzo, she entrusts him with her greatest secret – one that will change all of their lives forever. Enriched by juicy details only a quintessential insider could know, written with both satiric sharpness and sensitivity, Muse is a hilarious and touching love letter to the people who write, sell – and above all, read – the books that shape our lives.
While Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was a slow-burner for me as I got used to her writing style and the endless parade of characters, I enjoyed the Bring Up the Bodies (2012, Fourth Estate) from the word go.
From the publisher’s website:
With this historic win for Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel becomes the first British author and the first woman to be awarded two Man Booker Prizes (her first was for Wolf Hall in 2009).
By 1535 Thomas Cromwell is Chief Minister to Henry VIII, his fortunes having risen with those of Anne Boleyn, the king’s new wife. But Anne has failed to give the king an heir, and Cromwell watches as Henry falls for plain Jane Seymour. Cromwell must find a solution that will satisfy Henry, safeguard the nation and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge unscathed from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.
An astounding literary accomplishment, Bring Up the Bodies is the story of this most terrifying moment of history, by one of our greatest living novelists.
Cannot wait for the The Mirror and the Light to come out!
Right at the end of the month, I snuck in Eleanor Catton’s debut novel The Rehearsal (2009, Granta), and it was the hardest book for me to get through. Indeed, I almost set it down three chapters in, but rallied and I’m glad I finished it.
From the book jacket:
A high school sex scandal jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own potency. The sudden publicity seems to turn every act into a performance and every space into a stage. But when the local drama college decides to turn the scandal into a show, the real world and the world of the theatre are forced to meet, and soon the boundaries between private and public begin to dissolve…
When I looked at the stack of books on my nightstand at the beginning of the month, they all seem so different, but now I see so many parallel themes.
- Young people on the cusp of adulthood who don’t yet understand how the choices they make today will impact their future
- Awkward youths with a love of comic books and alter egos cast as the hero of sweeping adventures
- A love of words and books, and the obsession we can fall into over authors and the hidden meaning within their works
- The exploration of mentor/mentee relationships and the complex motivations on each side
I so enjoyed this month’s book haul and am looking forward to a new pile for April.