Yes, the Booker Prize winning The Sellout is a funny book, a book that makes you laugh (sometimes guiltily), a stinging satire devoid of political correctness that goes to the heart of America’s race relation problems. Sadly, it’s also a novel that somehow lacks direction; that appears to go nowhere, in which the author occasionally seems to revel in his own jokes. It’s packed with cultural references that I struggled to understand and I suspect I’m not the only one. For the last reason alone, it’s a puzzling choice as the first American winner of the British based Booker Prize since their rules were changed to include American books a few years ago.
Ready to escape the grey, cold winter for a few hours? Try this sensual and sensuous Italian classic set in the 1860s amongst the arid hills, frescoed palazzos and turquoise seas of Sicily. It’s the story of the aristocratic Salina family’s decline, of ageing and mortality, of politics and passionate love all mixed up into a fabulous Italian literary feast.
President Obama, interviewed by chief book critic of The New York Times Michiko Kakutani, talks about books and how they help ‘exercise the muscles’ that allow us to imagine what’s going on in the lives of other people. An interview worth reading.
Bookstoker Young Readers
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.
I was inspired to pick up this set of books after hearing snatches of the Radio 4 adaptation this year, and reading reviews of Artemis Cooper’s new biography of the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard – about whom I knew little apart from the fact that she was unlucky enough to have been married to the old devil himself, Kingsley Amis. How glad I am that I did, particularly in the dying days of this particularly dismal year. The experience of reading the Cazalet series (The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change) is like stepping into a warm bath. Comforting, life-affirming, immersive – and you absolutely don’t want to pull the plug.
As much as I love Christmas, I’m not so sure about the shopping part of it. My heart sinks when I look at the number of Christmas presents I need to buy over the next few weeks. I do enjoy buying books for people though, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as finding the perfect book for someone you love. We’ve been trawling the bookshops and the newspapers to find the most interesting or beautiful (or both) books out there, and hopefully help you find the perfect book for someone. Here’s what we found.
Michele, Meg, Jane and Julie
Twenty books to choose from, four in each of the five categories: Novel, First Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Books – there’s is definitely something for everybody on the Costa Book Awards short-list. And it’s a great place to start you Christmas shopping.
In the Novel category we have Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, which we loved, and Rose Tremain’s The Gustav Sonata which we weren’t so keen on (full reviews are in the links).
There are also some interesting debut novels to look out for: Susan Beale’s The Good Guy, Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon, Guinevere Glasfurd’s The Words in My Hand and Francis Suppford’s Golden Hill.
Winners in each category will be announced 3 January and the overall winner of Costa Book of the Year on the 31 January.
In post World War II Switzerland, a lonely boy and his bitter, distant mother live in a tiny flat in a nondescript town. Events in the past throw dark shadows over their lives, but what exactly has happened is a mystery to 10-year-old Gustav. The novel, divided into three parts or ‘sonatas’, takes us back to happier times before the war, to a devastating event that breaks the spell, and to Gustav’s life as an adult.