With the onset of COVID-19, Norwegians found themselves suffering from a peculiar kind of cabin fever. Cabin-owners across the nation were no longer allowed to stay at holiday houses outside their home municipality, something that led Norwegians closer to civil disobedience than they had ever ventured before. This obsessive attachment to our holiday homes is explained well in The Cabin in the Mountains by Robert Ferguson. Enamoured with Norwegian culture, the English writer has lived in Norway since the 1980s, and is well equipped to present his compatriots with the many curious aspects of his adopted home country.
The terrible killing of George Floyd in America has reminded me of Ta-Neshisi Coates’ stirring Between the World and Me which I reviewed a few years ago. A must read.
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 of what it’s really like to grow up as an African American in America’s poorest neighbourhoods and a book that – at the risk of sounding patronising – everyone ‘should’ read.
As I’ve just found out, I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron can always be pulled out of the bookshelf and re-read. It’s the American screenwriter’s (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle) laugh-out-loud collection of essays about divorces, moustaches, the power of hair-dye, losing your eye-sight, why it’s pointless to bring a book to the hairdresser, and, yes, neck skin. Comic genius Ephron (the only woman in the White House JF Kennedy never made a pass on) knew a thing or two about turning tragedy into comedy and in her mid-sixties wrote a blisteringly honest book about ageing. She didn’t believe in upbeat books about old age. ‘Why do people write books that say it’s better to be older than to be younger? It’s not better.’ It might not sound like it but believe me when I say you’ll feel better after laughing your way through this book.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron is published by Doubleday, 228 pages.
Edmund de Waal’s moving exhibition The Library of Exile at the British Museum has reminded me of his magnificent book The Hare With the Amber Eyes which has stayed with me ever since I read it in 2011. If you haven’t read it yet, now would be a perfect time. It’s a memoir of de Waal’s family, the Ephrussis, Jewish bankers, grain traders and intellectuals. Pillars of early 20th century Viennese society and possessors of unimaginable wealth; grand palaces in Vienna, pink chateaus on the Cote d’Azure and priceless art collections. Then came Hitler. The Hare With the Amber Eyes is an absorbing book, not only in learning about the tragic destiny of the Ephrussis but also to understand central Europe in the run up to the Second World War. An absolute must-read.
The Five – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold won the Baille-Gifford prize for non-fiction in November. And what an incredible book this is, despite its miserable subject matter. Thankfully, there’s no revelling in the gruesome murders at all, in fact, this book is all about humanising the victims who’ve been so despicably treated by history. I was glued to the page from the start, impressed by the incredible research Rubenhold has undertaken and moved by the terrible plight of poor women in Victorian times. Highly recommended.
Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. And yet, despite the depressing title, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells lifted me out of my climate apathy and into hopefulness. After years of trying my best to escape the anxiety of looming climate change and focus on solving the worries inherent in career and personal development, I could not put this book down, so convinced was I by its insistence on action and the hope that awaits if we do act. David Wallace-Wells, the deputy editor at New York Magazine, delivers an incredibly well-researched and well-written analysis of the effects of climate change.
A collection of twenty-six essays like nothing you’ve ever seen before, Things that Are by Amy Leach manages to bring together seemingly opposed ways of approaching the natural world in a brilliant, moving, and hilarious victory. For the scientific and literary alike, for the philosopher and the poet in your life—or in your soul—this collection is a must-read.
Few things could hold me off from starting Margaret Atwood’s latest book, but The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig actually has. Zweig, an Austrian Jew whose wonderful novellas (The Royal Game, Amok, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman) many of you will know, was the world’s most popular author in the 1920s and 30s, until Hitler banned his books. The World of Yesterday is his autobiography, finished two days before his and his second wife’s joint suicide. It’s a lament for a lost world, a love letter to creativity and artists and an eloquent analysis of events that led up to both the first and the second world wars. The parallels with aspects of our own turbulent times are hard to ignore. Highly recommended.
Then, reading Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman might bring back a spring in your step. ClientEarth is a charitable law firm representing the interest of Earth and is made up by a group of clever lawyers who find creative ways of using the law to force governments and companies to abide by environmental legislation. Legislation is one thing, ClientEarth’s founder James Thornton reminds us, enforcement something else entirely. And you thought you didn’t like lawyers? Think again.
It feels timely for Norwegian historian and biographer Ivo de Figueiredo’s postcolonial family chronicle to be published in English on the eve of Brexit. A Stranger at My Table by Ivo de Figueiredo is the author’s autobiographical account of a family history that spans two centuries and four continents, and the result is an ambitious amalgam; an exploration of a family ‘caught in the half-life of empires’, as well as a personal memoir detailing de Figueiredo’s turbulent relationship with his father Xavier.