Our bookshelf episodes are the ones where we compare notes on the books we’ve been reading outside of book club. In this episode Laura has been reading the latest from Animal Life, the latest novel from podcast favourite, Icelandic author Audur Ava Olafsdottir. A short, quiet novel, but one that struck a chord. She’s also been happily working through The Mirror Visitor Quartet by French author Christelle Dabos. What is it about this epic fantasy series that has her so happily hooked?
Kate has been catching up with Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, the smash hit that tells of scientist turned tv-cooking show presenter Elizabeth Zott. Also on her stack is I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai, the New York Times bestseller that has been described as ‘A twisty, immersive whodunit perfect for fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.’ And for a non-fiction palette cleanser she’s been reading Saving Time: Discovering Life Beyond the Clock, by artist and writer Jenny Odell. To read it, fellow time-philosopher Oliver Burkeman comments, ‘’is to experience how freedom might feel’.
Listen in for all this plus the current reads and books we can’t wait to get to, including Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell, Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. And just why are Laura’s book club struggling with Salman Rushdie’s latest, Victory City.
Listen via the media player above or your preferred podcast app by clicking on this podfollow link.
Hello, and welcome to the Book Club Review. I’m Laura.
I’m Kate. And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get people talking.
Today we bring you bookshelf. An episode dedicated to the books were each reading outside of book club, the ones we get to pick and choose for ourselves.
As we put winter behind us and enjoy the lengthening days, we’re diving into reading with new energy and assorted through our toppling book stacks to bring you our particular standouts.
On my stack, I bought animal life by podcast favourite Icelandic author Odur Ava Olufsdottire. It’s a short, slight novel, and follows the musings and memories of 40 Something midwife, Don Hilda, in one stormy week leading up to Christmas. It sounds uneventful, and it is, so why did I enjoy it so very much. On the other end of the scale, I’ve been reading the mirror visitor quartet by French author Christelle Dabos. In the past three weeks, I have managed to read not one not to buy the first three books in the series, which is something in the region of 1500 pages or tall. And I’m actually well into the fourth and final book, The storm of echoes, so you’ll have to keep listening to hear why I’m so hooked.
You will I’ve been catching up with lessons in chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, the smash hit that tells us scientists turn TV cooking show presenter Elizabeth the song. I’ve also been reading I have some questions for you by Rebecca Mackay, The New York Times best seller that has been described as a twisty immersive who done it perfect for fans of Donna Tartt’s, The Secret History. And as an antidote to all this fiction, I picked up saving time discovering life beyond the clock by artists and writer Jenny Odell to read it fellow time philosopher Oliver Berkman comments is to experience how freedom might feel.
We’ll also run through the books we’ve currently got on the go. And the ones we can’t wait to get to all that’s coming up here on the Book Club Review.
Laura, more Odur Ava Olafsdottir?
Yeah, we’re getting better at pronouncing her name.
That’s what I was gonna say by now we should be.
I don’t know who designs her book covers, but they are so great listeners, you’ll have to Google it. The latest title is animal life. But Olafsdottir came on our radar with the publication in English of Miss Iceland. And it was 100% the cover artwork that lured me into that book. And I think we’ve got the same cover artists at work here. Let’s start a writes quite short, sometimes a little bit obscure novels about day to day life. And this one, as I said in the intro, is in some ways her simplest yet it’s one week of time, nothing much happens. There’s no real plot hook. But we’re introduced to this really charming character who I grew to love and no less than one, I don’t know. 180 well spaced pages. Her name is Dom Hildur. And as it says on the front flap, in the days leading up to Christmas, Dom Hildur delivers her 1900 and 22nd Baby beginnings and endings are her family trade. She comes from a long line of midwives on her mother’s side and a long line of Undertaker’s on her father’s. The Undertaker’s I feel like are less relevant to the story, which largely centres around her great aunt and the long memoir, amusing philosophical tract that she left a domme Hildur after her death, and which DOM Hildur had no knowledge of beforehand, but was somewhat how tasked with working through it and seeing if it could get published. But she can’t actually make head or tail of this. And so as she’s going about her day to day life, which I should say this huge storm headed her way, she’s thinking about her great abs experiences. She’s thinking about the legacy of these midwives who travelled all over Iceland and all weathers to deliver children. And we’re getting snippets of her own past in a way that I think some people would find super unsatisfactory. So for example, very light touch. We know that at one point, she herself was pregnant with her partner, and the baby was a stillborn. And so there’s another woman who goes through that tragedy in this novel, again, just really passing in. So DOM Hilter is brought in to just offer comfort simply through her presence, I think and understanding and later she runs into this partner, and it was obviously the end of the relationship. I’m getting goosebumps talking about it, but it didn’t affect me like that at the time, because she herself, I think, has already been through the grieving process. And so while it’s a source of grief, it’s not a present grief. She lives alone in this bonkers old apartment that belonged to her great aunt and there’s a thread where Some of her friends, well, it’s a colleague who’s a midwife, but who also works on search and rescue. For whatever reason, they get involved in renovating the apartment with her, her sisters popping in and out, I should say her sister’s a meteorologist. So she’s very concerned and upset about the storm weather coming. And throughout the novel, there is this low grade anxiety about climate change, which you know, we have when we reflect on it. So I found that in some ways, a little bit challenging because it brought it front of mind. And then there’s this random Australian man who was meant to be coming to Iceland for the holiday with his teenage son, but the son didn’t come and so he’s renting an Airbnb upstairs. I love this book. I love talking to you about it. It’s her style. It’s the way that she thinks about the world and how that comes through in her characters. And yet, it’s so simple to and I think lots of people wouldn’t enjoy it that much. But I personally feel like I’m on a bit of a journey with Olufsdottir now having read everything she’s written, at least that has been translated into English. So I would recommend people seek it out, though it’s very different to miss Iceland.
Because she’s hugely successful in her native country. I feel like she, it seems to me because I still haven’t actually got around to reading her. It feels like she writes these female characters that really resonate with you or poke you in.
That’s true. That’s true. Certainly with the later books. I mean, one of her first ones hotel silence, which is quite a strange little novel is actually about a middle aged man contemplating suicide, who travels to an unnamed state, I thought it was maybe a Balkan state in the aftermath of war, then instead of killing himself, he puts his handyman skills to use in this hotel, helping a young brother and sister rebuild. There’s a whimsy is not quite fair, but I think what enchants me about this author, too, is just that there’s something of Icelandic culture. I think, maybe it’s not culture, maybe it’s just her but there’s something different that she brings to my life and a different perspective.
Yeah, I definitely need to get to one of them sooner or later. Do you know about lessons in chemistry by Bonnie Garmus?
I do because it was recommended to us by Chrissy Ryan of Bookbar.
That’s right on that books to watch out for show right of course a while so I mean, it’s done incredibly well here. It was a book of the year Guardian, the times that Sunday Times, Good Housekeeping magazine, women and home stylist in America, Oprah Newsweek, New York Times, it’s been championed by people at Indian night, the hay festival, Amazon have been promoting it left, right and centre, you know, it’s on the radar, it’s about as much on the radar as it can possibly be. And everybody seems to love it with the result that I you know, kind of have been running a mile from reading it in that perverse way that I do when books that successful there’s something in me that’s like, Well, I’m not reading that. It’s like, I don’t know, whether I’m worried because they’re popular. I think it might be a little bit to do with my weariness about being disappointed. You know, when you have really high expectations about something because it’s been so champion, and also that slight weariness about a publicity buzz. And you know, is the book going to deliver I’ve been burned before, but I was flying back from my very enjoyable visit with you a few weeks ago. And I have this with me and I was on the plane and I’m not crazy about flying and I had finished my other book and I wanted something that was gonna just distract me. I felt like you know, not to heavier read a plane, there’s no time to tackle the weighty classics. I find you know, you want something like that’s really going to carry you away. I thought, Ah, this is the moment for lessons in chemistry. And so I picked it up and I started to read it and I am so glad that I did. Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott will be the first to point out that there is no such thing. But it’s the early 1960s and her all male team at Hastings Research Institute take a very unscientific view of equality forced to resign she reluctantly signs on as the host of a cooking show supper at six. But her revolutionary approach to cooking fueled by scientific and rational commentary grabs the attention of a nation. Soon a legion of overlooked housewives find themselves daring to change the status quo one molecule at a time. That’s obviously the blurb from the back. But this is the main character. Elizabeth is not who you absolutely root for be hard to say you identify with her because she’s such an extraordinary person. She is one of those minds that is most at home in their field of science. It’s what she loves, lives and breathes and lives for and yet, due to the misogyny of the male dominated scientific world at the time, there is not really a place for her no one takes her seriously. You know, they think that she should be organising the beakers rather than actually doing her own scientific research. And she’s also a bit of a what’s the word in the sort of Jigsaw of humanity. She’s a piece that doesn’t quite fit and So romantically it feels like a relationship isn’t going to be for her. And then through the contrivances of the plot, she does meet a scientist with whom there is a spark. And this then leaves her with a young daughter, without revealing too much you find out quite early on on the book that he is not going to be in the picture. And so she’s a single mother. She wants to be working as a chemist, but instead, she is forced out by the scandal of having a child out of wedlock. And then again, through contrivances of the plot, she ends up presenting this cooking show. And I would say, I mean, the writing is I was just thinking, it’s so readable, and the characters leap off the page, but at the same time, the writing is just perfectly fine. It’s not a book where you’re going to be marvelling at the beauty and originality of the sentences. It just does what it needs to do, which is to propel the story along. And I also found the kind of obviousness sometimes of the feminism slightly over the top in a way that I just as I really think reg s is so come on, do we still need to be saying this, we still need to be reading about this. But you know what, at the same time, I thought, I was interested in the degree to which it really resonated with me, as I think it would resonate with any woman who is struggling to balance career and home life, and maybe family life and all the obligations that just seem to go with life in general. But then the extra complications that seem to come along with big female, and I just think there’s never a time when that isn’t going to resonate, or grab your attention. And this book is all about that. It is so enjoyable. And yes, the plot is a bit contrived. Yes, the characters are a bit thin. I didn’t really ever buy the child whose that kind of thing it’s quite tricky for authors to pull off a kind of super, super, super bright child. You know, like the idea that this five year old is reading the works of Dickens, you know, maybe because it’s just so anomalous, but it’s tricky to remember the child in that Richard powers, but we read bewilderment, yes. And Phil couldn’t bear. Again, it’s tricky. It’s tricky to pull off and very fine writers struggle with it. But what I would say is, you know what, it does not matter. This book, Rolex along, it is hugely, hugely, hugely enjoyable. It’s original. It’s funny, it’s just great. Riot have a read. I was so happy to read it. And Nigella Lawson said, I love lessons in chemistry. And I’m devastated to have finished it. And I felt the same because you know, ends and you’re like, ah, because you just want to keep reading about this character. You just want to stay in this world. It was a treat. It was a real treat. So a rare example, I think, a big buzz book actually being worth buzzing about. Yes, definitely. Do you think there’s likely to be a sequel? For sure. And they’re filming it? I read that Brie Larson is going to be starring in the Netflix adaptation of it. It left me googling rowing, because Elizabeth salt is a rower. And you find yourself thinking, ooh, rowing. Yeah, maybe I could get into rowing. And I also felt quite interested in science, which to me, again, is very, you know, that’s not really something I ever consider. So I was curious that the effect it had on me, yeah, I recommend it. I mean, maybe I need to follow the herd more often. Maybe I’m missing out by not following the herd. Maybe the herd knows something.
Maybe. I will try it at some point. You know what, I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it on a holiday when I find it on a bookshelf, because it’s going to be there beach somewhere, right? It’s a total beach read. And, yes, the time is now this is the book for me.
Yeah, beach read plane ride. Anytime. I mean, you know, every time they don’t read it, but ya know, it would be absolutely ideal for the sun lounger.
Speaking of beach reads, I have been gobbling up Chrystell Dabos’ The Mirror Visitor Quartet as if I was on the beach. So there’s four books that are on the fourth book, I bought the first book, A Winter’s Promise with you. And it has a beautiful cover with this kind of hanging while they’re called an ark in the sky. But this hanging City in the Sky surrounded by clouds. Yeah, the cover is amazing. I’ve seen the cover. And it’s also been published by Europa editions and translated from the French so I was like, Cool. I feel like this fantasy novel is ticking a few boxes for me that can maybe justify the purchase. Also, there was a quote on it, which was saying that the mere visitor series sits happily alongside Harry Potter on any bookshelf and I was like, really? Like that’s, that’s bold. Okay. I have been having the best time with this book. I messaged you and Phil about it. And I didn’t say there’s a real clanging language and there is. But you know, when you get swept up in a book, you just kind of stopped noticing the specific phrasing, because actually, you’re so invested in the characters and the plot that the language falls to the wayside and you’re more caught up in the world. You’re just there. So what’s it about? What’s the premise? Our main character is called Ophelia. And she lives in one of I think it’s around 20 Major arcs. In a worlds I want to say it’s Earth because we do have evidence that it’s Earth, but it’s Earth after something called the rupture. And when the rupture happened, we know from these little snippets before each of the main sections of that first book, there’s something about that God caused the rupture and resulted were these arcs, these hanging communities, but they’re actually quite a large scale these hanging independently floating worlds dotted around the globe as we would understand it. And when we meet Ophelia, she lives on the ark called anima. They are all descendants of our enemies. Our tummies is not necessarily the Greek god as we know her
Greek god of speed? Of hunting, I’m not great at my Greek goddesses
my knowledge, okay, knowledge. Here, she’s remote. She’s very erudite, and she’s up on the hill looking at the stars. The gift that she has given her people, her descendants is to animate the world around them, and they have different gifts. And so for Ophelia, her power is that if she places her hand on any inanimate object, she can read its history and its memory, and she can go back through all the feelings and emotions and thoughts of anyone who has ever touched it. She also has the gift of walking through mirrors, hence the mirror visitor in the Quartet title. She’s running a museum, she’s having a very good time, she’s very quiet and small, and glasses and hair everywhere. And she just wants to be left alone. But the matriarchal society that she lives in, has paired her up for marriage with a character named Thorne, and he lives in the polar arc far to the north. So the novel begins with this marriage having been arranged, she’s never met Thor and here arrives on anima. And there’s really no way for her to get out of this marriage, because our enemies and the leaders who surround her have ordained it. So she goes to the polar arc, and then is caught up in this very complex and intricate court drama. And there’s different powers on this arc where people can be illusionists or they can attack you through their brain. You know, Kate, sometimes you tell me about fantasy novels on this podcast. And I kind of start tuning out a little bit because it doesn’t mean anything. And it doesn’t sound interesting, unless you’re in the world. So I’m going to stop getting into the details. But what I will say is that there was a moment in the first book where I thought, oh, no, it’s gonna go a bit to Twilight, will they won’t they with this potential marriage between Ophelia and Thorne? I was like, Ah, I just can’t be bothered. But she skirts around it and actually the the relationship between them that evolves is great and much more nuanced than typical YA novels.
I love a will-they-won’t-they, that will carry me through almost anything.
I know. I know. I know. I know that about you. I think I can’t remember. Is it Leigh Bardugo novels that you love so much with the will they won’t they
anything with a will-they-won’t-they I’ve discovered, yep, I’m right there.
There’s 100% a bit of that threaded through this novel, and then just incredible world building. Because as the series progresses, you move through the different arcs. And the stakes get higher and higher as Ophelia understands how this world came to be. And what is that risk? Actually, as it goes on? I’m having the best time. I’ve been reading it on my phone, the later novels because I couldn’t get a copy of the library. They were all out. You know what it’s like when you’re reading something on your phone. You just kind of read it all the time. You’re like making cup of tea flick open the app hopping on the train, flip open the app. I’m going to miss the series when I’m finished. And I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for immersive, fairly wholesome world building
It’s one of the great delights of life, isn’t it when you find a book, a world that you really love, and then you find out that there’s like four other books, you know, to read and you work your way through them.
And Ophelia and Thorne are actually amazing characters because Thor is a total misanthrope. And that’s never gonna change. He’s incredibly socially awkward. He’s very harsh on everyone around him. Ophelia is much more warm, but she’s also very insular, and she doesn’t really want to connect with people. She’s very shy. And so how do these two characters navigate their relationship but also the world around them?
Hmm. Well, that does sound intriguing. No real correspondence between that and my next read, except I suppose interestingly, that the lack of any kind of romantic relationship in this one with the main female character this is I have some questions for you by Rebecca Makkai. I feel like in America, MCI is a big name author. Her previous novel, The Great believers was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize was named the most anticipated book of 2023 by time, NPR, USA Today, l Newsweek, salaam bustle, things. I didn’t even know what they are. And I was aware of a buzz in the States about this book. And I was sort of thinking when it came out here in the UK, it would also be a similarly big book and it’s been a bit strange to me that I feel like it’s not Really on anyone’s radar here, but what’s great about that is that I’ve read it and I can tell you all how good it is. It is a campus novel and our main character is called Bodie Kane. She is a successful film professor and I think that caught my attention. She’s a podcaster. Her podcast is called starlet fever. And it is a serial history of women in film more specifically, the way that the industry chewed up those women and kind of spat them out. So it’s got this strong feminist thread. I pulled this up to tell you, Laura, that little quotes that it was going as well as a podcast reasonably could occasionally hitting top slots and various download metrics. There was a bit of money in it and sometimes thrillingly, a celebrity would mention it in an interview. And I love that as a sort of definition for podcast success. We can only aspire Laura to such like. Bodie has a shadow in her past a family tragedy that mod her teenage years and then for largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school. Her troubles do not end there. Her roommate, Talia is murdered in the spring of their senior year. The school’s athletic coach, a black man named Omar is convicted, but there are questions around the investigation and his confession. And then what happens is that school invite her back to teach a course to teach a podcasting course. She goes back there with lots of reservations about going to this place that she was both happy and unhappy at the same time. And she’s thinking about the case and reflecting on all its flaws, and all the little unresolved questions that have lingered with her and going back there has brought them all back into sharp focus. In their rush to convict Omar did the school and the police overlook other suspects is the real killer still out there. As she falls down the very rabbit hole she was so determined to avoid. Bodhi begins to wonder if she wasn’t as much of an outsider Granby, as she thought, if perhaps back in 1995, she knew something that might have held the key to solving the case. One of the comparisons that has been made is Donna Tartt. And I think that’s pretty high bar, isn’t it? It’s going to be hard for anything to live up to that. But you know what this book is not far off. It’s very, very good, beautiful writing, very rich, she’s handling multiple themes and plot strands. Absolutely, expertly. So there’s feminism woven through it, there’s this true crime angle, and also, I think, interrogating a little bit are interested in that almost to that sense of true crime podcasts and the sense of that being spectacle and entertainment to a certain degree, then it’s classic campus novel coming of age novel, where I feel like people have certain expectations of that setting in that milieu, and this absolutely delivers. And then it’s got this quite nuanced thread about institutional racism and the consequences of that the characters are incredibly believable. The setting is very rich and vivid. It was really assured writing with a very, very strong plot hook that keeps you turning the pages and I have to say, I absolutely devoured it. It’s one of those books that really carries you away. I was curious to see what people are saying about it online. And I love this review from Mr. S. J. Dilly, who gave it five stars, calling it a brilliant literary thriller, but he said what really elevates this novel is the way that Mackay frames her central mystery within wider national conversations about power and privilege, both in terms of gender and race. One of the novel’s most striking stylistic features is the frequent listing of news stories detailing different abuse scandals, all identified with the words of the one where and then he gives the example let’s say it was the one where the young actresses said yes to a pool party and didn’t know or no, let’s say it was the one where the rugby team covered up the girl’s death and the school covered for the rugby team. And they go on it’s true these little references punctuate the book, he continues. This highlights both the ubiquity and interchangeability of these stories which are in a sense all the same story. But while the novel simmers with a quiet fury at the inescapability of such violence, Buckeye resists easy answers, as in other postmy to novels such as Fleishman is in trouble my dog Vanessa and Vladimir Mackay seeks to complicate her treatment of these issues by having Bodie considered the extent to which she may have been complicit through both her words and her silence, particularly when her husband becomes embroiled in a social media storm of his own. And I thought, yes, that’s just articulated really beautifully. What I was feeling was that it was so rich and clever and nuanced. And so you sort of get everything you know, you get this really thumping page turner that absolutely carries you off and is a delight to sink into but also then there’s a lot of food for thought in there. And I think it really leaves you with things at the end. It feels to remember we were talking about Bridget Brophy and her thing about art as its fundamental level, it needs to be entertainment, but the best art will entertain but it will also leave you with something beyond that. And I think this book absolutely delivered so I recommend it. seek it out. I have some questions for you by Rebecca Mackay.
I’m extra disappointed now that you didn’t finish it before you left it listeners, she was taunting me. She’s like, I’m gonna leave this for you. So good. I only have a few more pages, but
I bought it. When I was out there we went to Elliott Bay in Seattle, it was a signed copy. I thought, Oh, that’s a nice thing to have a signed edition. So she signed twice. And I had planned that in because you know, plenty of books to carry back on the plane. I hadn’t planned to pick this big, thick, heavy hardback, I have some questions for you. I did keep saying to Laura Yeah, I’m gonna pass it on. I’m gonna pass it on. And I didn’t finish it. And actually, the day before I left, I had to say, You know what, I’m sorry, I had to take it with me, I have to know how things turn out. So I finished it on the plane. And then I turned to Elizabeth salt. I’ve got one more to talk about briefly. And that is quite a different read. It’s called saving time, discovering a life beyond the clock by Jenny Odell. She is an artist and a writer. I think her work is so interesting. My book club a long time ago, did her book how to do nothing, which was about the sort of fracturing of our attention spans due to the internet. And something she’s consistently interested in is the intersection between the digital world and the real world. She teaches at Stanford University, she lives in or near Silicon Valley. And she’s very conscious of that. I think there’s some connection, her parents were in the tech industry, or she sort of grew up in it. So she’s very alive to the way that that digital world has evolved, and affected society is such a interesting, thoughtful person to read. And in this book, she is focusing more deeply on time, and the way we think about it the way that we live within it, which is what do you read little bit, just to give a sense, she says this book is not a practical means for making more time in the immediate sense, not because I don’t think that’s a worthwhile topic. But because my background is in art, language and ways of seeing, what you will find here are conceptual tools for thinking about what your time has to do with the time you live in. Rather than despairing at the increasing dissonance among clocks between the personal and the seemingly abstract between the everyday and the apocalyptic. I want to dwell in that dissonance for a moment, I started thinking about this book before the pandemic, only to watch those years render times strange for so many people by appending. Its usual social and economic contours. If anything good can come out of that experience. Perhaps it is an expansion upon doubt, simply as a gap in the known doubt can be the emergency exit, that leads somewhere else. That was interesting to me, I’ve just started a new job. And I have a commute. And suddenly I have this structure to my life, I have this job that I need to be at, in an office three days a week, I have certain hours that I’m supposed to be there, I’m commuting there, I’m commuting home with a lot of other people who are also going to their offices. And this is quite different from me previously, my life hasn’t been structured in this way. So I really notice it, I don’t take it for granted at all. I’m very interested in it. And so it resonated with me, I think it would resonate with anyone at any time reading it. But I suppose particularly I was interested in the way that that structure then affects me and how I’m living my life. And that sense of my time being not my own any more someone is paying for my time, it’s impossible to even begin to sum up all of the ideas and things that she’s exploring in this book, it is so utterly Rich, I have so many pages where I’ve folded down the corner. And I could easily imagine reading it again, because it’s not so much almost what she says she’s not summing things up or coming to conclusions about things, what she’s offering is lots of different openings for reflection and throwing out ideas that I found really interesting, and really shifted my thinking and opened up my thinking in a way that I loved. I think that’s what I particularly enjoyed was the sense. This is not a closed book, it’s not a closed conversation. It’s an opening. And she’s trying to find a way out of almost the corner that we’re currently in, you know, we’re sort of so locked into a certain mode of being a certain way of existing, that the point that affluent Western societies come to, I suppose. And ultimately, where is it leading us? We’re not happy, it’s a disaster, you know, the world is going to shit and we can all see it happening. And you’re individually people don’t feel they have any agency or power to change that we’re all trapped. And it’s very easy to feel despairing and hopeless. But I suppose what this book is trying to suggest is that that isn’t in fact the case. And that we do still have the power to affect change. And actually feeling despairing and hopeless is probably the least helpful thing that any of us could do, not only for the planet, but for ourselves as well. So I really recommend if you like someone like Rebecca Solnit it’s got that same slightly meandering quality to it, but the same beautiful writing. And as I say, it just felt so rich and full of ideas and I really was so happy to read it. I didn’t mean to read it. That’s the other thing I hadn’t intended to sit down and read a nonfiction book about philosophical musings on time. I read the first chapter as is my want these days and I just found I didn’t want to stop reading I felt it was almost something I needed to read.
Can I make a confession?
we don’t usually do a true-confessions element of bookshelf perhaps we need to start weaving it in? What’s the confession?
Well, there’s something about Jenny Odell that really annoys me…
It’s interesting because How to do Nothing when my book club did it was quite divisive. I do remember that
Because I only dipped into How to do Nothing. I was supposed to read it. We were supposed to discuss it on the PA. But somehow I managed to avoid that. Because I read the first few chapters, or indeed, I might have listened to them. And I found the tone, irritating, I found the thinking a bit creepy. And I just like well, yeah. And also, I just really resented the book in the end, because it was like, this is a book about doing nothing. And you’re taking up my time to talk about this. This is the opposite of the premise. So it’s really unfair. I don’t know Jenny Odell. I haven’t. You know, I’m sure she’s probably done a TED talk. And this book might be brilliant. I’m not from how to do nothing. I was kind of thinking, we’re just not simpatico. And you know me. Even when you’re saying, I’m being paid for my time, I was like, You’re not being paid for your time, Kate, you’re being paid for your skills and your craft and your output. I don’t know. I think maybe I’m in denial. Maybe I need to be more Jenny Odell, and she’s actually just kind of getting my backup. Who knows?
I think it’s really interesting. It’s a very different book from How to do Nothing. How to do Nothing did, I think, as you suggested, it grew out of a talk or lecture that she gave that went viral and got a lot of traction. And the result then enterprising publisher said, hey, you know what put this out as a book. One of the things we talked about in Book Club was that it felt a bit like that it felt almost a bit like it wasn’t quite a book. Amanda and I were the ones who liked it the most. And I think both of us felt that even though we saw the flaws, we found enough there that really resonated us and captured our interest that ultimately for us, it was a winner. I think saving time is better. I think it is beautifully thought through. She has a space and just the page length to really get into it. And I loved following these philosophical meanderings.
So an interesting mix. Yeah, that is an interesting mix.
What are you reading now?
Oh, well, I’m reading book four of the mirror visitors series. Now that said, it’s been probably now almost up to like 2,000 pages, so they’re not small books. And I am feeling like maybe I need to pause and come back to get to really appreciate the payoff of the story wrapping up. And to that end, I picked up a copy last night of Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, the African American sci-fi writer, and was loaned to me by my boss who enjoys a good fantasy novel who enjoys a good sci fi novel. And she’s like, Oh, it’s really great. You know, the here. It’s Lilith’s Brood, t’s a trilogy, but I got into one edition. And I started to read it last night was really quite hooked. I mean, before I was talking about magical powers, now I’m going to be talking about aliens, when like, covered in little tentacles that are kind of their sensory receptors. And it’s all about the uncannyness of this and their interaction with a young American woman who’s woken up after 250 years of quiet, I don’t know what I’m actually thinking Kate, is maybe I just need to come back to the real world. So do you have any recommendations that would bring me back there? What are you reading?
I am reading a book that’s been such a surprise. And I ended up reading it because I was off on my commute to having my happy time and I looked at my bag and I didn’t have a book. I’d forgotten to bring a book that day. And so I also took up my phone was like, ah, what am I got on my Kindle. And on my Kindle, I had a copy of Super Infinite, the transformations of John Donne by Catherine Rondelle, which is been at Sunday Times bestseller, a very successful book here. But my strong memory of John Donne was of having done his poetry for GCSE English, and just the sort of stultifying boredom of this sort of hot classrooms and the fleet first, it sucked the and then it sucked me and just sort of giggling about it with my friends. And yeah, sufficient to say that John Donne didn’t particularly land with me then a bit. You know what? Reading this book, you can see why What do you know, as a 16 year old of life, like what are you bringing to the John Donne experience? You’ve got nothing you know, except what your teacher is teaching you. And I suppose there are some teachers who have the gift of being able to convey that to young minds. But I think in this case, mine was not one of those. So I parked him in this category of Old English poetry that I wasn’t remotely interested in. But I was interested in Katherine Rundell. And I know this book has been sort of very highly regarded. So I really started reading it. And can I just tell you, this book is app salutely Electric it is on believably good. I mean, I’m just gonna have to leave it there and talk about it properly. Next time we do a bookshelf, but it has been such a revelation. Such a delight. It’s so pleasing it fizzes with energy and ideas. And the thing is, even now, I think I would maintain I’m not a super engaged To read the poetry, you know, when she’s quoting things and saying isn’t this incredible? I’m like, is it but what I love and that I’m engaged with is her interpretation of it. And the way that she’s filling in the details of his life for me, and bringing back this person who was such a fascinating individual. So that has been a total surprise, and delight. I’m also reading Phil recommended Miss Pettigrew lives for a Day by Winifred Watson on our last show, and I’d never read it. And I happened to be in a bookshop, and it was right there. And, you know, I was like a Phil reco. So I picked it up. And I started that last night. And actually, I’m loving that,
have you read it? No, I haven’t, I don’t think have I? No, I don’t think so. I think my mum might have a copy, I’m headed over there, maybe I can steal it. Hmm,
it’s very light and fluffy. You know, it’s not going to weigh you down in any way. And I think also just true that there are elements of it, some of the language and some of the character stereotypes that are not great. And in that category of things we read now that don’t sit well with us, whereas at the time, they were considered acceptable. And Phil mentioned this, and it’s true, every so often that something new kind of makes you reel back slightly. But as Phil said, if you can overlook those bits, and you know, thinking about these things being of their time and of their context, and not trying to judge them too much with 21st century eyes, it is incredibly enjoyable, and I’m really, really enjoying it. And finally waiting for me, I’ve got Natalie Haynes stone blind, which is her retelling of the Medusa legend, I went to see her in a talk with Ella Berthoud, the Bibliotherapist and friend of our pod, who were doing a talk at the London library, and I bought a ticket and went along. I’ve never been to an event at the London Library. I’d like to go and it was great. I didn’t really know much about Natalie Haynes, but I am a bit in love with her. Now. She’s really fantastic. Very funny, very interesting, made me feel excited about the classics in a way that I hadn’t before. And so I’m really looking forward to this. I’m very interested to read her take on it. And will it get me over Pat Barker, Silence of the Girls, my general horror about poor Briseis and the awful time that she had, maybe this will be the thing to get me back into the Greek legends again.
Well, those actually sound great. I think Super Infinite might be the grown up read I need. And I’ve just seen that it is available at the West Van Public Library is so good. It’s so good.
It’s funny, when you read something that’s just that good. And it’s almost like it doesn’t seem possible that you think you know, all the books that there are in the world. I mean, how absurd is that? But you know, you sort of as a reader, you have a bit of a sense of Yeah, I know what’s out there. And then something comes along it just like whoa, this is so good.
Well, you can be gentle with yourself. It totally was published in 2022. Yeah, listeners, I’m just gonna wrap us up with another funny confession to Kate, which is that I have not been making much progress on my latest book club book, which is Victory City by Salman Rushdie. And like Kate, I messaged my book club to say, Hey guys, how you getting on and four people had started and given up already,
You know what I didn’t at first though, as I said, I found it quite put downable. I did, and I actually read something else. I think I got about a third of the way through, put it down, read another book. But I did go back to it. And what I found was that gradually, slowly, slowly it crept up on me and I suddenly realised I didn’t want to be reading anything else.
I don’t know if my book club’s gonna get there, Kate, I feel like it might break us. You just got to stick with it. Hmm, I did offer some other reads and no one came back to me so who knows? It might have like cause what’s that there’s like you know, there’s like the book club blow sometimes or something throws you off your schedule and enthusiasm like oh no Victory City by Salman Rushdie. I shouldn’t have listened to you. I’ve never liked Rushdie’s writing.
Who picked it?
It was me, it was my suggestion. Oh, god. No. Everyone said yes.
We’ll tell them what I said. told me you got to stick with it. Okay, it’s very rewarding. I think if they can they’ll all be glad that they finished it.
I’ll canvass the troops. Thanks, listeners for sticking with us. So many good books on this episode. Hopefully you’re all feeling really inspired. do get in touch with us if you are reading anything really good. We’d love to hear from you.
Whenever you listen to this episode if you have thoughts on it we’d love to hear them. Comments go straight to our inboxes so drop us a line, we will reply. What book are you reading right now?