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So here we are. Strange days, hey world? With many of us facing the prospect of more time at home, attention is turning to things we can do if we don’t have to commute/don’t feel that great/just want to lose ourselves for a while.
I’ve always loved reading ever since I was little but for the longest time it fell by the wayside, especially with the advent of online life and Netflix just for starters. Instead of picking up a book I’d spend an hour watching something and with a super short commute previously of just 15 minutes and currently no commute at all, reading became a forgotten pastime.
A few months ago though I found myself craving it again. I don’t have an e-reading device since I spend enough time behind screens as it is, instead I joined the local library and tend to use that as my book source. I thought I’d share some of my favourite recent reads in case you’re on the hunt for some distractions.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack The Ripper – Hallie Rubenhold*
Ok, this may not leap out at you as the most uplifting of books but bear with me. Pete bought me this book in its hardback edition for Christmas and I practically inhaled it. I only normally read novels but this book is utterly absorbing. Most of us have heard of Jack The Ripper; most of us knew there were 5 victims, prostitutes, down-at-heel women.
What this book does though is unpack each of the women’s stories in a totally compelling way, showing that far from the myths that have built up, many of them were married, some well off. They were wives, sisters, daughters, mothers. They DESERVE to be known as more than just the victims of Jack The Ripper and Rubenhold does a marvellous job of helping them take their correct place in the history books.
Ideal For: True life crime lovers
Modern Girls – Jennifer S. Brown*
This was one of my purchases from the Tenement Museum in New York and as soon as I saw the synopsis I knew it would be for me. Set in New York in the 1930s, the story alternates between Rose, a Jewish mother who emigrated to New York some years earlier, and her headstrong eldest child Dottie, born in America and working towards her own future in her late teens. She’s a modern American woman, working as a bookkeeper, forging her own path but still living at home and having to abide by Jewish customs.
When both women find themselves pregnant at the same time, the story shares an incredible bond between mother and daughter, how their lives will change and the impact of rising tensions in Europe on the brink of war.
Ideal For: Period drama/family saga lovers
Vanishing New York: How A Great City Lost Its Soul – Jeremiah Moss*
This was another purchase from my January holiday to a city I’ve been visiting for 20 years (this was my sixth trip) and one which is my second favourite place in the whole world, after London. I feel co conflicted when I think about how much cities change (the same has happened in London too). On the one hand I know they have to grow and adapt as the decades pass, and people like me are part of the gentrification problem. On the other hand, I’m a romantic historian at heart and feel very nostalgic for cities that no longer exist – the grit, the grime, when areas felt distinct and not just carbon copies on every street corner.
Moss writes with the passion of someone who bleeds New York and at times, it verges on the overly emotive. He takes each area and addresses how it changes (from a single episode of Sex and the City where Samantha moves to the Meatpacking District changing its demographic almost single-handedly) and it’s such a thorough and thought-provoking read, evocative and truly challenges the way we think about our impact on the places we call home. As he says “just because a community doesn’t look like your community, doesn’t mean it isn’t one”.
Ideal For: New York, city, historical anthropology lovers
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng*
I first came across Celeste Ng following the hype over Little Fires Everywhere back when it was released in 2018, bought it from an independent bookshop when we were on holiday and speedily gobbled it all up. She has such a beautiful turn of phrase, but for me I actually loved Everything I Never Told You even more than Little Fires Everywhere.
Set in 1970s Ohio, the story centres around 16 year old Lydia, daughter of James and Marilyn Lee – he, first generation American to Chinese immigrant parents, her, the blonde, blue-eyed all-American girl. Lydia is found dead in a lake near their home and as the story unravels we learn of family secrets and tensions told through the lens of race, prejudice and gender stereotyping. It’s a whodunnit of sorts but with so many subtly nuanced complex layers.
Ideal For: Beautiful story-telling/novel lovers
A few weeks ago I was invited to a press breakfast for the launch of a new book by comedian and social media phenomenon, Tova Leigh. To my shame, I hadn’t heard of her, I suppose that comedy isn’t really my thing and not being part of the “mum” world, I don’t tend to follow people online who create content around that area. Yet having just turned 40 and understanding so much of the societal expectations of women – mums or not – I was intrigued and popped along to see what it was about.
Within just a couple of minutes of meeting Tova and hearing her start to talk about her book, I knew it would be for me. She spoke openly about a previous divorce, meeting her new husband, how having 3 children in quick succession changed their lives and how, in her 40s, she thought “fuck it” and embraced some very radical ideas as to how she was going to tackle life moving forward. It’s a brilliantly written book that in turn had me laughing out loud and also nodding along – it’s relatable on just about every page, and you don’t need to be a mum, married, in your 40s, you just really need to be a woman to be able to take something from this inspiring, funny, heart-warming read.
Ideal For: Pretty much any woman
I hope you enjoyed this little round-up, I’ve tried to include something for everyone no matter what you enjoy reading and honestly I’m so delighted to be back losing myself in the pages of a good book.