Four great books in one abnormal post…because these are abnormal times.

Yesterday, I confined myself to barracks completely. I admit, I felt sorry for poor Vince who just got play and runs in the back garden instead of a good long hike as usual; but if we do get locked down completely, she’ll have to get used to it, the same as me. My next concern was that it might turn out to have been the last day I could take legitimate fresh air and exercise – fortunately, not yet the case.

This morning I read something on Facebook purporting to be from a Harvard immunologist which really caught my attention. To cut a long story short, he explained that the really scary part, and what takes this into an entirely new category from flu, is that it is an animal virus that has mutated to jump to human hosts, and that as a result we have no natural immunity to it at all – our immune systems, however robust, simply do not recognise it as a virus. Similarly, there are no treatments for it. And just as I finished reading, Radio 4 told me that a 13 year old had died in South London.

That was enough for me. As it is, I have been watching the BBC news once a day, listening to Radio 4 in the morning, and then shutting off. Not because I want to ignore it, or pretend it doesn’t exist, but there’s only so much negativity I want to allow into my life. I switched off social media for the day too, and threw myself into some physically challenging jobs around the house and garden instead of meditating on the fact that life right now feels a little as though I’m in a Hollywood blockbuster and can Bruce Willis please hurry up and defeat the enemy!

Luckily I am a bit of a hermit anyway, and I’ve always enjoyed my own company – but it took a situation like this to make me appreciate how important human contact really is, however much I might have thought it wouldn’t bother me!

Macabre thoughts aside, I also decided I’m going to get busier with Mum’s Books. I have been reading a lot, and I need to catch up on the books so I can gift them forward – I’m about to post four at once, can you believe it! These are books I have read and loved – as did Mum, and so, if any of them grab your attention, just get in touch, ideally through the Facebook page or Instagram, and I will send them to you with much love from both Mum and I, and hope that escaping into them gives you the relief it does me. Nothing like a good book for escapism!

First, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. I have not read this for a few years, but it’s a Desert Island book for me. Remember me banging on about ‘The Little Friend’ by Donna Tartt? I am certain she was heavily influenced by this magnificent book; here’s an early, scene-setting paragraph –

‘Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow it was hotter then; a black dog suffered on a summer day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum’.

If that doesn’t  make you feel the heat of a 1930’s summer afternoon in the Deep South, I don’t know what will. It’s the story of Scout, Jem, and their father Atticus Finch, a  white lawyer who represents a colored boy in a place and a time steeped in prejudice. It is undoubtedly a classic, and well worthy of reading if you have never done so – and of re-reading if you have. Incidentally, I was somewhat disappointed by the 2015 publication of ‘Go Set a Watchman’, the sequel, but I do have a copy here and will send it with Mockingbird (if I can find it!)

I have two copies of this awesome book to gift forward, one is mine, one Mum’s – we did share an admiration for Ian McEwen! And this one is great. Here’s the precis

‘Michael Beard is a Nobel prize winning physicist whose best work is behind him. A compulsive womaniser, Beard finds his fifth marriage on the rocks but this time it’s different – it is his wife having the affair, and he is still in love with her.

When his professional and personal lives collide in a freak accident, an opportunity presents itself for Beard to extricate himself from his marital mess, reinvigorate his career, and save the world from environmental disaster. Ranging from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of New Mexico, this is a novel of one mans greed and self-deception, a darkly satirical novel showing human frailty struggling with one of the most complex issues of our time’.

Published in 2011, it’s a roller coaster of a read, and I think you’ll like it if you enjoy, for example, Carl Hiassen…which I do. A darker sense of humour, bordering on ridicule, and beautifully written as one would expect from this author. As I said, I have two copies to gift forward…and can I just add that I am enjoying so much seeing the Facebook group sharing Mum’s Books!

This is the 1972 Penguin Modern Classics edition, and I adore the cover, a detail from ‘Montparnasse Blues’ by Kees Van Dongen, painted around 1925 but with a very early 70’s Twiggy feel to it, for me at any rate.

Of course, this is a book pretty much anyone reading this blog will have read, and I would be slightly surprised if anyone didn’t think it a masterpiece. And unusually for me, I really loved all the movies.. I thought the 2013 movie with Leonardo di Caprio was superbly cast and directed, the party scenes were as I had imagined them when I first read this in my teens. The 1949 one with Alan Ladd – excellently atmospheric; the 1974 version – still possibly my favourite…Robert Redford as Gatsby! It is just such a splendid story which lent itself perfectly to the big screen. But in the book, as always, details emerge that simply cannot be fitted into a film.

There’s no date in the front of this. Perhaps it predates Mum starting her habit of noting when she had read a book on the flyleaf; perhaps she had picked it up second hand, as it has a stamp from the Southwark College for Further Education, London SE1, in the front. I lean towards the latter, as this has Biro scribbles on and in it, not something Mum would have done. Someone who ‘did’ it for A  Levels, perhaps.

Here it is, it really is a must read if you haven’t. If no-one claims this, I am going to take the cover off and frame it!

Last but most certainly not least, the astonishing ‘Alias Grace’ by Margaret Atwood, who if you have been following me at all, you will know I regard as one of the best writers the 20th century produced. As did Mum. This Virago edition was published in 2009, but it was first published by them in 1997, and it is enthralling.

The heroine is real. But what Margaret Atwood has done is surreal; she has created an entire life around a person about whom we know nothing beyond a name and the most basic of circumstances. It’s central character, Grace Marks, was a notorious murderess, convicted at the age of 16 of murdering her employer. Her accomplice and fellow servant, James McDermott, was hanged – Grace’s lawyer saved her from the gallows and she spent the next 29 years in prison and an insane asylum.

It is a wonderful read, insightful, and a fascinating glimpse into the time it is set in. And, as one of Margaret Atwoods biggest fans….I recommend it wholeheartedly!

So, there you go – you know what to do if you would like me to send you one of these marvellous books, just get in touch!