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July 2022: Currently Reading

By - 30 July 2022 - 11:07am

Find out what the team have been reading in July!

July may seem like a quiet month for the Festival team, but we’re busy behind the scenes getting ready for our Autumn Edition. Sign up for the Festival newsletter or follow us on social media to be the first to see our latest announcements!

With August traditionally a month for summer holidays and lots of reading, we’d love to know what’s on your TBR pile for the month ahead? Here are the books we’ve been enjoying during July…

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Why Women Read Fiction by Helen Taylor

My book this month is Why Women Read Fiction by Helen Taylor - if it sounds familiar, it’s because she came to the Festival in Derby this year! It is a fascinating insight both into why women read fiction - and the fiction they choose to read, based on research and questionnaires to women of all ages and tastes.

The book is well-written and easy to read (not an academic tome at all) and for me it is the responses which are so interesting, not only the reasons why women read (mainly) fiction, but where they read and when they read. For some, it is all the time, wherever they can. For others, maybe just before bed, and never during the day. One drawback with this book - it refers to so many favourite books of mine, and other books I haven’t read. So, I am continually tempted to break off and track down one of these other books and start reading that!

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Shortest History of Greece by James Heneage

In preparation for my holiday next week!

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson, East West Street by Philippe Sands, The Every by Dave Eggers, A Waiter in Paris by Edward Chisholm, Land of Milk and Honey by Jamie Blackett

In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson

Alexandra is a young barrister whose determination, intelligence and resilience meant that she could achieve her dreams of being a barrister in London. This work chronicles the many challenges which she faced along the way as she pursued her career as a barrister, including much discrimination in respect of her gender and colour. This is a book which would appeal to aspiring lawyers who are considering a career at the Bar or as a solicitor, and also to those with a political interest in the covert and overt obstacles which background and class can create.

East West Street by Philippe Sands

This is a gripping book which traces several families’ untold history, with particular focus on the activities of the Nazis and their collaborators in Poland and in other European countries. I could hardly put it down; luckily, I was on holiday. Philippe Sands writes compassionately about the trauma of those times, with particular reference to the horror of the holocaust and the extermination camps, telling emotional, personal stories. The author writes in forensic detail, but the data never overrides the emotion and personal recollections of those times. The reader is drawn into the human stories of the principal and minor characters. Part biography, part autobiography and part historical treatise, it should be read by all of us who want to understand the impact of recent history on our current affairs and conflicts. The book is all the more germane because of the war in Ukraine.

The Every by Dave Eggers

This is a stunning novel and follows the theme of The Circle which was published a few years ago. The Every is set in the near future; think of the future in three or five years. It is set on the west coast of the U.S.A. Our lives are controlled by the digital world, through apps and electronic communications, and The Every is an omnipotent online power which controls those apps and communications. People use the apps to judge the quality of friendships and to dictate their lifestyle; citizens have surrendered their agency to artificial intelligence.

The main character sets out to challenge this domination. Who controls artificial intelligence? The reader will pick up the not-so-subtle references to influential online tools extant today. I found this to be a disturbing novel which presents an image of the near future, and Eggers asks us if we are sleepwalking towards impotence over our lives. It’s a long novel, but it gripped me. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a challenging and thought-provoking novel by one of the greatest writers writing in English today.

A Waiter in Paris by Edward Chisholm

This is Edward’s first book; he has published columns in newspapers with international reputations. It gives details of his challenging life in Paris, a life far removed from the beauty of the tourists’ sites. Those who know me will be aware of my passion for France, and for most matters French; so, in short, I was intrigued when I saw this book at Main Street Trading. As the title indicates, the bulk of the novel chronicles Edward’s professional life in an upmarket restaurant in the centre of Paris. Initially, Edward worked as a runner and then as a waiter. Please read the book to find out the inside story of what goes on in the kitchens, the state of the restaurant below stairs and the competitiveness amongst the waiting staff. The quantity of the tips is crucial; the wages are so low that survival in Paris depends on the tips.

This book reveals the stress of life as a waiter, a class of worker who could never afford the dishes which he or she sets before the diners. It’s a revealing and gripping autobiography, which will stay in my memory for a long, long time.

Land of Milk and Honey by Jamie Blackett

I attended a short talk by the author in the last few days. I bought the book; the subtitle is “Digressions of a Rural Dissident”, and that sums up the work. The author is a farmer in the south-west of Scotland; during the course of the book, set in the last two or three years, he moves to regenerative farming and suffers the anxiety of Brexit. Mr Blackett wanders around various topics: farming, Scottish politics, the Scottish National Party, his political work with George Galloway, Brexit, ornithology and wildlife. I enjoyed the book, but the reader just needs “to go with it”. It is a ramble, and if you are the type of reader who demands a grammatical, smooth, orderly flow of a writer’s work, then this may not be the book for you. However, as a reader who knows Blackett’s farm’s location and with an interest in Scottish politics and Brexit, I enjoyed it. I have to admit, though, that it is not going to be a book for every reader.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: The Joy of Being Selfish: Why you need boundaries and how to set them by Michelle Elman / The Curfew by T. M. Logan

I’m not sure if it’s the long days and sunny weather that make everything seem infinitely hopeful, but I find myself returning to non-fiction every summer without fail. The Joy of Being Selfish by Michelle Elman was a delight to read. It’s written in a super user-friendly way, so you can dip in and out and there are lots of great activities to put what you’ve learned into practice.

To balance the non-fiction, I’ve just started The Curfew by T M Logan. If you’ve read these posts before, you’ll know T M Logan is a firm Festival favourite since his appearance last Autumn. This is another brilliance fast-faced thriller about a teenager who goes missing after a late-night trip to the woods with friends. I’m not too far in yet, but I’m looking forward to sitting down this weekend and getting lost. Another thing I love about T. M. Logan’s books is the fact they’re set locally, typically in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire.

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

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