My Reading Life – February 2024


Time to wrap up the short month of February. The year seems to be skipping by already. But if I can count my achievements in books read then it’s going well. Last month I set myself the target of finishing Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, which I am pleased to say that I did. In a similar way to when I read Tess of the Durbervilles some years ago, it felt like I had been on an emotional journey, and was quite exhausted but filled with “such a good book” feelings.

Echoing the story of David Copperfield, Kingsolver wove in the ups and downs (more of the latter) of Dickens’ David to the sad and sorry tale of Demon. Born to a mother already addicted to pills and booze, his childhood was doomed from the outset to be a struggle. Demon faced his lot with realism, learning fast that if he needed help, then he’d better look within himself than expect or rely on the kindness or duty of others, be they the good-hearted Peggotts next door or the overworked social workers assigned to his case. The rotten luck and bad treatment that Demon encounters seems to be endless but Kingsolver’s’ ability to capture the voice of a disenchanted, world weary 11 year old who still retains a kernel of pluck and spirit keeps you in the story’s thrall. Come to this book with fortitude, as you will need it as you join Demon’s journey.

To provide lighter relief from the dark days of Demon’s life, I took refuge in a string of other books. The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was the perfect foil. I can’t even recall how long this book has been sitting patiently on my Kindle bookshelf. I have a vague recollection of buying it when it was one of the 99p specials after a good friend recommended it. It’s Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday and he really doesn’t want all the fuss of the party the nursing home has planned for him, so he opens his ground floor window, steps gingerly out into the flower bed and hot foots it away as fast as his slippers and 100 year old body can carry him. As Allan makes his escape, the time-shift story flicks back to his youth and through his life. Although school wasn’t his forte, he learned early on how to use explosives and became quite an expert at blowing things up. And so his adventures begin. Chance decisions bring him into the path of some of the most memorable figures of 20th century history like a centenarian Forrest Gump. You can’t help but be pulled in by Jonasson’s epic caper. It reads a bit like a fireside yarn spun by your favourite Grandpa, happenstance and incredulity dripping off the page. If you haven’t read this yet, get hold of a copy and enjoy. This was my first 5 star book of the year (before I turned the last page of Demon).

Keeping it light, I borrowed from my niece the second in the All Four Stars series about Gladys Gatsby, 12 year old restaurant critic for the New York Standard newspaper. In the second instalment, The Summer of Stars, Gladys has to try to keep up with her secret side hustle while attending summer camp. That would be difficult enough, but when her fellow critic tries to steal her assignments and sabotage her reviews by giving her a fake assignment to find New York’s best hotdog, Gladys has her work cut out. Tara Dairman makes this KidLit book as entertaining for its target audience as well as their aunts. This one was just what I needed. And needless to say I wanted a hotdog myself by the time I’d finished this one.

In early February, a long road trip with my sister was the perfect opportunity to use one of my Audible credits and buy a recent release to listen together on the journey home. Piglet by Lottie Hazell had come up in my Bookstagram feed a few days earlier and the donuts on the cover sold it for me. Piglet (the nickname of our female MC) is soon to marry Kit and is in the throes of last minute wedmin while juggling her day job as a cook book editor. Each scene plays out with food at the centre, whether around the dining table, a test kitchen or restaurant, it’s a series of meals rather than chapters. Though this sounds like it should very much be my cup of tea (with a biscuit please), it just didn’t hit the spot. Just 3 stars for this debut.

Back to the dusty to be read shelf at home and I sought out a long-term resident. One for my Baby by Tony Parsons had resided on my shelf since I lived in London the first time around, a Tesco bargain with discount sticker still on the cover (£3.84 in those days was a steal). Time to come on down and have its day. Opening in Hong Kong (a place where I spent 6 months in my early 20s as a junior lawyer) I was immediately drawn in to the scene on the Star Ferry, remembering numerous trips back and forth in Hong Kong’s harbour. Alfie Budd bumps into his perfect woman, the One for him, who will become his wife. But their life together is short-lived as his wife dies barely two years into their marriage and Alfie returns to London to pick up the pieces of his life. He’s a bit of a grumpy chap, Alfie, bumbling along back in his parents’ house. As Alfie mourns his lost future with his wife, his own father throws decades of marriage away by leaving his mother and shacking up with his mistress. The story follows Alfie’s string of ill-advised couplings with his students at the foreign language school where he has found a job. I spent much of the book wishing that he would open his eyes to what was right under his nose. And wishing I was at the end of the book already. This wasn’t one of those rare gems lurking on the shelf. This was one of those that I should have abandoned and ditched. You win some, you lose some.

Rounding of the month, I had been spending time at the gym listening to another audiobook, Atomic Habits by James Clear. Funnily enough it was particularly helpful at cementing in place my new habit of going to the gym or doing some other activity before 9am. Clear breaks down the thinking behind how it’s the actions, the habits, which are more important than the goals themselves. And further, that to become long lasting the habit you wish to foster should become part of your self-identity. It was an interesting listen, but the kind of thing I will probably have to listen to twice for it to fully sink in. There’s one habit I already have well and truly nailed: reading books wherever, whenever, and however.

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