In the run up to Christmas I’ve been posting an Advent Book Recommendation every day, over on Twitter (#adventbookrec), but of course, on Twitter, it’s impossible to say much about them, so I’m putting a couple of posts together on here.
This is the first six. Do let me know your thoughts, and what would be on your recommendations.
1.The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
You’ve maybe heard me talk about this one before. I read this at school. We were the first year to take GCSEs instead of O levels, and instead of any Shakespeare, we studied this. Our final piece was to write from the POV of one of the characters – I chose David Strorm.
It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future, where anything that doesn’t fit ‘the norm’ is cast out to survive (or die) on its own. This goes for farm animals or people – calves are slaughtered, babies are left to die – and with radiation poisoning still around (which is never overtly mentioned), this isn’t an uncommon happening. David has a secret that if he doesn’t hide, will be the end of him. Then he meets Sophie – I girl with an extra toe – who’s in the same danger as him.
It’s about difference and acceptance. The power of friendship and the danger of narrow-mindedness. It reminds me of a pre-cursor for X-men, but without any superhero/power-ness.
2. Flower for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
Only quite a short book, but a very powerful read, and quite sad.
We meet Charlie, a floor-sweeper with below average IQ. His workmates make fun of him, but he’s not clever enough to realise they are. Told from his POV, the prose at the beginning is written as he would say it, and complete with spelling mistakes that he would make.
After scientists carry out tests on the eponymous Algernon (the mouse), to increase it’s intelligence, Charlie becomes the next test subject. As his intelligence grows, so the prose changes, becoming more fluent, using more sophisticated grammar, no spelling mistakes. Charlie’s life changes, but is it for the better? And will it stay that way?
I don’t want to tell you too much about it – it’s such a journey and is so well told. You take Charlie to your heart as if he’s your best friend and you’re trying to protect him.
3. The End of Mr Y – Scarlett Thomas
CONFESSION ALERT: I only picked this up because it had really cool black sprayed edges. But then the blurb got me, and then the story did, and now I’m really really glad it has cool black spray edges and I picked it up.
It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever read, and is so difficult to describe, and one of the things I admire the most about it, is the imagination. A rare cursed book, giant mice, troposphere, science, philosophy and time-travel.
I’m not going to try and describe it any more than that. Just go and read it.
4. Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Another one that’s difficult to describe!
It’s about time-travelling, prisoner-of-war, optometrist, Billy Pilgrim. It flicks from the Dresden bombings and the Second World War, a Tralfalmadorian zoo where he’s a specimen, America, a post-apocalyptic city. It’s sarcastic, funny (in a black humour way), sad, thoughtful, memorable.
It’s a science-fiction, historical, anti-war, part-memoir book that everyone should read.
5. Song of the Sea Maid – Rebecca Mascull
And a complete change.
Song of the Sea Maid is a historical novel set in 18th century with a curious orphan girl, Dawnay, who grows up to be something unusual in that time – a female scientist.
Beautifully written and with an attention to historical detail that makes the story so much more real and rich, it’s a delight to read and feel these places brought to life by Mascull’s wonderful prose.
Dawnay is an intelligent and determined young woman in science – a place so often over-populated by men -and made me curious as to real-life scientific discoveries by women. It’s also about courage, love and ultimately, I feel, finding home.
6. Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A friend gave me this book. ‘It’s about the Spanish Civil War,’ she said. ‘You’ll love it.’
It sat on my bookshelf for a good six months before I picked it up – in my head I had no interest in the Spanish Civil War. But it’s about so, so much more than that, and when I did finally pick it up and read it, it became one of those books that I wanted to put into hands of others.
It’s about a lost manuscript, a Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a missing author, and a villain. It’s escapism with mystery, love, tragedy, adventure and loss. The writing is beautiful, the characters so well-drawn and individual – I especially loved Fermin.
So that’s my first six, I’ll post the next six up at the end of the week, but you can follow #adventbookrec on twitter as well.
Thanks for reading!