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What to read this week

Your weekly dose of reading inspiration, as Kate rounds up the books, author talks and podcasts catching her attention right now. 

Mid-Spring always feels a very up-and-down time of year, one moment it’s raining and grim, the next crisp and sunny and you’re surrounded by cherry blossom, Wordsworth’s golden daffodils underfoot. In reading terms it means I’m reaching for books I think are going to be engaging and compulsive to draw me through the grey days, and ones to stimulate and inspire, to connect me to that new year kick of wanting to broaden my horizons and learn about new things. And so a book about owl preservation in Siberia seemed like the perfect fit. For more, read on.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro 

I haven’t yet read a bad word about this much-reviewed book. I don’t know about you but I find the general undercurrent of melancholy and despair in Ishiguro’s books tends to put me off, and the story of a child-like intelligent robot employed to tend to a dying girl doesn’t sound encouraging, but a couple of reviews I’ve read have mentioned that this does have a hopeful cast to it, and the subject matter sounds riveting and timely. As technology becomes more and more deeply embedded in our lives, what is it that makes us different from the machines we have made in our image? If you haven’t bought your copy yet if you invest in one from your local independent bookshop or buy online from Bookshop.org.uk you also get a free ticket to an evening with Kazuo Ishiguro, digitally streamed.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

In the week of International Women’s Day (‘congratulations’, said my husband when I mentioned it) it seems fitting to turn to this classic by a writer who broke new feminist ground in her day with her provocative and thoughtful essay A Room of One’s Own. To The Lighthouse was Woolf’s attempt to find a form of writing that would help her explore the tradition between the values of the Victorian era and her own generation in a society where everything was changing rapidly. I’m joining Ash Canon on the Ear Read This podcast next week to discuss it. Am excited to be appearing on a podcast where I then don’t have to do all the editing afterwards. Am also slightly daunted as Ash’s podcasts, while always highly listenable, tend towards the academic – hoping I won’t lower the tone.

Owls of The Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght

Where do you get your book recommendations? I have recently discovered the world of Facebook book groups. There are many brilliant ones, but perhaps the key is to find one you like and get comfortable there. I recently joined First Edition, the book group run by The Times newspaper, and have found it an excellent place for book recommendations. Owls of The Eastern Ice had been on my radar, but a rave review there prompted me to order it. ‘Primorye, a remote forested region near to where Russia, China and North Korea meet in a tangle of barbed wire, is the only place where brown bears, tigers and leopards co-exist. It is also home to one of nature’s rarest birds, the Blakiston’s fish owl. A chance encounter with this huge, strange bird was to change wildlife researcher Jonathan Slaght’s life beyond measure.’ It’s all utterly out of the usual run of things that I read, and so I can’t wait.

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri

A history of black hairstyling culture recommended by Nadia Odunayo of book recommendations website The Storygraph in her brilliant interview with Anne Bogel on the What Should I Read Next podcast, episode 271. I had seen the cover and felt intrigued, Nadia absolutely loved it and hearing her enthusiasm for it has nudged me to pick it up. Bernadine Evaristo called it ’Groundbreaking a scintillating, intellectual investigation into black women and the very serious business of our hair, as it pertains to race, gender, social codes, tradition, culture, cosmology, maths, politics, philosophy and history’.

Quick Reading Fix

For those moments when you don’t have time to read, and want something short but satisfying. This week, for me it was Ann Patchett’s essay How To Practice in the New Yorker. A thoughtful meditation on the stuff we accumulate throughout our lives, about timing and context, and the emotional resonance objects can have. It’s only a few pages long, but as satisfying as one of her novels, I loved it.

What to watch

The weekend of 18–20 March is the FT Weekend festival, all online. It’s a shame not to be able to go to things in person, but they have a fabulous line-up of speakers. It’s not going to be for everyone right now, but if you can stretch to it a weekend pass is £55 which gets you three days of events and 90-days video on demand to catch up afterwards. We’re going to be glued to Leïla Slimani’s session on writing and thinking about modern France, Nobel prize-winners Kazuo Ishiguro and Venki Ramakrishnan discussing artificial intelligence, science and literature, Alice and Fanny Waters talking about their life in food (Kate loved Always Home, Fanny Singer’s gorgeous memoir of growing up behind the scenes of world-famous Californian restaurant Chez Panisse), and finally learning how to make the ultimate pick-me-up cocktail (for morning, noon and night) with Alice Lascelles.

What to listen to

Out this weekend, our latest episode features Kate Young of The Little Library cookbooks, Guardian column and blog. It was such a treat to find out more about how she went from theatre producer to cookbook writer and to discover where she gets her inspiration. Listen in to find out her go-to lockdown recipe and the books that have kept her going through the past few months, as well as her struggle to find the right book club. 

As mentioned earlier, I absolutely loved this interview between two professional Book-Recommenders – US podcaster Anne Bogel of the brilliant What Should I Read Next podcast, and Nadia Odunayo, who founded and runs books website The Storygraph. I loved hearing the behind-the-scenes story of setting up her site, what it’s like being a female tech-entrepreneur, why it’s important to be able to give quarter-stars, and how she manages to fit reading into her busy life. Check out What Should I Read Next episode 271.

Our friend Claire Handscombe over at the BritLit podcast has an interview with Lorraine Brown, author of Uncoupling, which sounds like a great read to brighten up our rainy spring days. Ultra-cool Frictionistas Carrie Plitt and Octavia Bright have a new episode of Literary Friction out where they go behind the scenes at Serpent’s Tail publishers, while Alice Slater and Bethany Rutter at What Page Are You On have been digging into The Women’s Prize long-list

And while you’re waiting for your Covid shot, how about a shot of summer literary festival fun with Books on the Go podcast who have had the Adelaide Writers’ Week in town this past week. They’ve been reading Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor and have an interview with the author plus lots of festival news and gossip. We wish we could have been there, but maybe hearing about it is the next best thing.

And finally…

What are you reading this week? Let us know in the comments.

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