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April 2022: Currently Reading

By - 29 April 2022 - 16:19pm

Find out what books we've been reading this month

It’s the end of April, which means May is almost upon us, which means the 2022 Derby Book Festival is imminent! There’s still time to book your tickets whether you want to come in-person or digitally (you can live stream, purchase a recording, or our Digital Pass). It’s a very busy time for the team, but we’re delighted to share what we’ve been reading this month and would love to know what you’ve been reading?

Gini, Festival Manager: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I could not put this book down and read well into the early hours over 3 days! Taylor Jenkins Reid’s wild love story follows aging Hollywood star, Evelyn Hugo, from her humble beginnings in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1950s to the perceived glamour of Hollywood through to the present day as she decides to reveal the details of her life, and seven marriages, to unknown junior journalist Monique Grant. But why? Secrets kept for many years are finally exposed as Evelyn decides it is time to tell the truth, but at what cost?

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: John A Farewell to Calm: The New Normal Survival Guide by John Crace, Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, The Fell by Sarah Moss, and How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology & Resistance by Paul Mason.

During April I have been reading the four works of the authors who I am to be in conversation with at the Derby Book Festival: John Crace’s, A Farewell to Calm: The New Normal Survival Guide, Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Case Study, Sarah Moss’, The Fell and Paul Mason’s How to Stop Fascism: History, Ideology & Resistance. In equal measure, sharp and humorous, reflective and unsettling, affecting and poignant, topical and punchy: I’m not going to say anything more as you’ll want to buy a ticket to each event!

You can buy tickets for John Crace, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Sarah Moss, and Paul Mason.

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Siege by Helen Dunmore and Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

My “book” for this month has to be two books - let me explain. The first, which I was drawn to by the cover and my knowledge of the author, is Helen Dunmore’s The Siege, a novel set in the besieged city of Leningrad in 1941. Beautifully written, so well-crafted and researched, and so all engrossing you feel yourself there - the cold, the hunger, the fear. The characters come alive, as does the city and the desperation of the time. But also, all too vivid, too painful, too authentic, given that we are now living (again) with war, with cities being besieged, ghastly news of inhumane horrors...yet somehow, I felt compelled to read on, almost as a tribute to the people of Ukraine.

Inevitably, I needed some other reading alongside The Siege, and I found it in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Elizabeth and her German Garden. Set in 1898, this is a wonderful book, semi-autobiographical, about the author’s joy in discovering how much pleasure comes from a garden, as she learns to nurture the flowers and brings the garden back to life. Gently mocking some of the women she should mix with in society, it is also clear that the garden is Elizabeth’s haven and sanctuary, away from her husband, who she calls the “Man of Wrath”. A gentle escapist read with such detailed description, you can imagine the garden in your mind as you read.

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Promise by Damon Galgut

I am reading The Promise by Damon Galgut. Winner of the 2021 Booker Prize, it is a compelling and challenging study of family relationships told over 4 years and 4 funerals. Set in South Africa, it tells of love, loss, innocence and fate...and a broken promise with far-reaching consequences.

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy by Mark Hodkinson, The Dignity of Labour by John Cruddas, Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Elif Shafak: The Island of Missing Trees

The main character in this book is an olive tree, which has witnessed the bloody struggle between the Greeks and the Turks over the occupation of Cyprus. That’s the backdrop, but it’s also a love story and a drama about the disruption caused to the lives of those living in the occupied lands. It deals with the dispossessed. Shafak goes from strength to strength in her novels, and this work shows her talents off to a great extent.

Mark Hodkinson: No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy

I would have missed this publication had it not been for a very positive review in The Guardian. Hodkinson came from a bookless environment and sought solace in books as a means of escaping from his background in Rochdale. It’s an autobiography, a book full of anecdotes about literary life, the meaning of literature and expression through books and music. I loved it, since we are of a similar age and part of my education was in Bolton, a nearby town which has suffered in a similar way to Rochdale. It could be a classic, although I do think that some of the proof-reading and editing should have been improved.

Jon Cruddas: The Dignity of Labour

Cruddas is a Labour member of parliament and represents Dagenham. In a compassionate, readable manner, he chronicles the decline of the motor industry and its satellite businesses in east London. I enjoyed it, but it makes such sad reading since the book deals with the impact of the lack of work, (and therefore, an absence of self-worth), as globalisation becomes more and more impactful on those caught up in the maelstrom of the new economic order.

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo

Stuart’s second novel came out in April 2022 to great acclaim. Like his first book, (which won The Booker Prize in 2020), it is set in Glasgow and focuses on a similar background, (mainly religious tension, poverty, and lack of opportunity). The main character, Mungo, is homosexual and the book chronicles in detail his love affair with a neighbour and Mungo’s challenges to survive in a very masculine (i.e., violent) society. I have not finished the book yet, but it has gripped me although in places it is an uncomfortable read. Since this is his second novel of two set in the same environment and deals with some of the same issues, I shall be interested to see whether Stuart steps out of the background of his upbringing in later works.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: People Person by Candice Carty-Williams

After reading (and loving) Queenie, I knew I was going to read Candice Carty-Williams’ latest book. However, it was only after seeing her at an event at Waterstones Nottingham that I knew I had to read it straight away. I’ve been at a loss as to what to read after Careless. Bess, Esh, and Lisa (but mainly Bess) have been living rent free in my head, so I felt it would be good to have another character-driven read. And People Person does not disappoint! It is a book with five main characters, all half siblings who are thrown together after an unexpected life event...

Have you read any of the books featured in this instalment of Currently Reading? We’d love to hear from you via our social media channels!

View our full Festival line up and book tickets here:

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