We all have those books which sit on the shelf months after purchase, or are picked up in charity shops, or hastily bought on a near out of date Waterstones card. Yet, once read, it’s often these books which surprise and intrigue us. Some of our own treasured books include: an eccentric guest list which gets held hostage; a dissection of our human need for superheroes; a local murder which pans out to reflect the global politics of the sixties; and an ethical guide to buying good food which doesn’t exploit the world. So take your pick, you can’t say we don’t give you an eclectic range:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
An unspecified South American country. A birthday party thrown at the vice president’s home. A guest list including a world class opera singer, her biggest fan, a Japanese electronics tycoon, and his sympathetic translator. A no show from the president. This is the set up for this brilliant, unforgettable novel. When terrorists break into the house looking for the President, they decide to take the entire party hostage instead. The hostage situation ultimately does more to promote foreign relations than a party ever could and provides an absolutely spellbinding premise for a novel. Bel Canto won both the Orange Prize (now the Baileys) and the PEN/Faulkner. Don’t miss it!
Heroes by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
In 2013, Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s The Pike won pretty much every prize going. Her earlier book Heroes boasts all the innovation, verve and extensive research of The Pike with even more irresistible characters. Her subjects – Achilles, Odysseus, Alcibiades, Cato, El Cid, Francis Drake, Wallenstein, Garibaldi – were not necessarily good (quite the reverse in some cases), but they were all great, charismatic enough to persuade those around them that they were capable of doing what no one else alive could do. The Independent hailed it as ‘compendious and stupendous’ and warned that ‘it will leave you quite flushed and breathless, wondering what kind of world produced such men.’
The Way The Crow Flies by Ann-Marie Macdonald
The Way the Crow Flies begins with a bang – with a body found in new grass, watched over by crows. It tells the story of Madeleine McCarthy, a high-spirited child living on an air force base. As the very local murder intersects with global forces, the tragedy’s participants are bound together for life. When I imagine the early 1960s I imagine the world of The Way the Crow Flies. Ann-Marie Macdonald expertly conjures the era’s optimism infused with the excitement of the space race but overshadowed with the menace of the Cold War. It will move, entrance and horrify you all at once.
We’ve recently reissued Rose Prince’s first book The New English Kitchen because we felt so sure it was a book for our times. Why not dip into The Savvy Shopper too? It is an indispensable guide to buying the best food – food that doesn’t exploit people, animals or the environment. Rose Prince was asking questions about the quality of food we eat and the provenence of our meals long before the rest of us. This book is an absolute must-have.
Words by Louis Patel
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