Non-fiction

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Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean

A soothing journey to the bottom of the sea

Imagine you’re out in a small dinghy fishing with your best friend. While you bob around, watch the stars and wait for the big catch, you swap stories about fishing, extreme weather, stunning nature, anecdotes about island life, fascinating facts about life in the oceans, art, poetry and much more. That’s what Shark Drunk is like. I loved this meditative gem of a book which will teach you things I’m willing to bet you didn’t know and leave you pining for a life in the slow lane. I’ve been fortunate enough to interview Morten Strøksnes, see what the author says about his book here.

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Grief Works

Compassionate and constructive on mourning

I confess to approaching this book with trepidation. Bereavement will happen to all of us, some more tragically than others, but it is still the kind of bad news that most people would rather not read about. In the event, I was wrong to worry. Renowned grief psychotherapist Julia Samuel has 25 years of experience and you can tell. It’s almost as if you can feel her presence in this book. She’s compassionate, interested and non-judgemental and writes about death and mourning with a comforting yet pragmatic voice. Read the Full Review

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The Descent of Man

Essential reading for fathers/sons/husbands/boyfriends/mothers of boys/fathers of boys

As bigoted, chauvinistic, bare-chested horseback riding men seem to be taking over the world, it’s a relief to read Grayson Perry’s call for a gentler masculine ideal in The Descent of Man. Perry, a transvestite British artist who (apart from his much-hailed art) is known for dressing up in pink baby dolls, might not be the obvious person to go to for advice on masculinity, but in his book he gives us just that, and with wisdom, honesty and humour.

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Venice, An Interior

A Sliver of Venice

A heavenly combination of one of my favourite authors writing about one of my favourite cities: Javier Marías’ little essay on Venice. For reasons unknown (a failed love affair?), Marías spent a great deal of time in Venice in the 1980s. His reflections on how history and geography have shaped Venice and Venetians are captivating. ‘Venetians see life from “the view point of eternity” ‘, not surprising perhaps when you grow up in place that’s hardly changed for 500 years? The decay, the dark back alleys, the smells, the sense of doom, the colours of the water (‘blood red, yellow, white’ by day, ‘like ink’ by night) combined with dazzling beauty, Marías perfectly evokes the city’s atmosphere and hands you a delicious sliver of Venice.

Venice, An Interior is translated by Margaret Juul Costa and published by Hamish Hamilton, 64 pages.

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The Book of Tea

The Art of Life

Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life.

This is not just a book about tea. It is an exceptional book about life, philosophy and beyond. Japanese philosopher and historian Kakuzo Okakura initially wrote the book 110 years ago, aiming to dispel the Western myths of Japanese barbarianism. He recalls the origins of tea, its philosophical ties to Zen and Taoism and the nuances of tea as an allegory for a philosophy of life. A unique book full of a wit and sagacity that makes it impossible to ignore and one of my favourite discoveries this year.

The Book of Tea is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 54 pages.

 

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Just Kids

The making of two artists

Ever wondered what is was like to be a hip New York City artist in the late 1960s? Well, no need to wonder any longer, Patti Smith will take you right there in this fascinating autobiography. Just Kids is the story of rock and roll chick Patti Smith’s love affair and artistic collaboration with photography’s bad boy Robert Mapplethorpe, from their first chance meeting in a shop to his death-bed only two decades later.

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102 English Things to Do

How to be English

To be enjoyed by English, Brits and non-Brits alike. This amusing collection of observations is part humorous analysis of being English (listen to the shipping forecast, be self-deprecating/ironic/ apologetic); part practical advice (decipher: ‘AONB’, cockney, ‘tea’, ‘be disgusted, Tunbridge wells’, and ‘Lord Lucan’); travel guide (browse Charing Cross road, experience Glynebourne/ Coronation Street/Notting Hill Carnival) and endearingly, proudly English (recite/sing alternatingly Invictus/ Jerusalem/be eccentric). Makes a lovely little gift too.

102 English Things to Do by Alex Quick is published by Old Street Publishing, 226 pages.

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Between the World and Me

An eye-opener

Once in a blue moon you come across a book that changes your perspective. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ open letter to his 15-year-old son about race relations in America, is such a book. An eye-opening account that – at the risk of sounding patronising – everyone ‘should’ read.

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