My personal reading challenge for this year is less about sheer numbers than about theme. I’ve always been a big fiction reader but have long neglected non-fiction. History, nature, biography…. It’s just not for me.
Or is it? Our lovely customers – and various colleagues – are always pointing me towards great non-fiction they’ve read. So, my challenge for this year is to read a book from every section of the shop.
With that in mind, my recent reads have all been from different genres. First up is ‘Consider This’ by Chuck Palahniuk. Dragged into the limelight in the 90s when his brilliant novel, ‘Fight Club’, was turned into a notorious (and equally compelling) cult film, Palahniuk has spent almost three decades on the book promotion circuit. He’s the kind of writer whose provocative subject matter and rebellious style attract all sorts of readers – including all manner of oddballs. ‘Consider This’, among other things, is a collection of stories and insights from this life lived on the writing-publishing-promotional treadmill. And boy does Chuck have some stories to tell – from the savage, feral hysteria of book signings, to fans tattooing his name on various body parts, to long drunken nights with his fellow writers. This book, which also contains Palahniuk’s typically offbeat advice to aspiring authors, is a funny and sometimes lurid peek behind the writer’s curtain.
‘Dad’s Maybe Book’ by Tim O’Brien is at once a beautiful memoir and an ode to the joys of fatherhood. O’Brien, the legendary war novelist, became a father for the first time at 58. Fearing he wouldn’t be around by the time his two boys grew up, he resolved to write them a series of letters, detailing who their father really was. From his time in Vietnam, through a life of writing, to becoming an ‘old dad’, O’Brien’s memoir is a beautiful and heartfelt love letter from one of the great US writers of his generation.
And lastly this week, because I had to get a bit of fiction in as well, is ‘The Dakota Winters’ by Tom Barbash. There’s so much to like about this vision of late 70s New York. The novel follows Anton Winter, son of a famous talk show host who’s trying to rebuild his career after an on-set breakdown. The family lives at the Dakota, NYC’s infamous celeb-spotting hotel. But the Winters’ membership of the New York elite is under threat from their dwindling finances and his father’s recent fall from grace. Can Anton save his father’s career and his family’s standing in their glitzy community, while also pursuing his own dreams? There are hints of Michael Chabon about Barbash’s style, as well as a sprinkle of Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Yates and others, and his depiction of this intriguing period in New York’s history is entirely convincing. Do we need another book about the existentialist musings of rich white Americans? Maybe not but I’m a sucker for them, anyway.