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May 2022: Currently Reading

By - 31 May 2022 - 16:07pm

Find out what books we've been reading this month

It’s the end of May, which means our Festival has been and gone. But don’t worry, if you missed out on any events, you can catch up by purchasing either an individual recording or a Digital Pass via the website.

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

I have just finished Phineas Finn, the second novel in Anthony Trollope's Palliser series. I read Trollope's more prominent series The Chronicles of Barsetshire some twenty years ago and with one thing and another never got round to the Pallisers. I have now; weighty and meaty, Phineas Finn was a worthy sequel to the first novel in the series Can You Forgive Her?, offering an engaging tour through Victorian politics and society across the Britain and Ireland. I’m looking forward to the next one enormously.

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Boy's Life by Robert R McCammon

This month's choice maybe a bit surprising - Boy's Life by Robert R McCammon. A magical book which I read a few years ago, which won the World Fantasy Award for best fiction novel in 1992. For me it is the wonderful mix of reality with fantasy? or is it just imagination and daydreaming? Cory, the boy in the title, grows up in south Alabama, and the book portrays childhood (boyhood) in very vivid terms. It's maybe a bit of a "summer holiday memoir", when summers were always more glorious in hindsight than in reality. It opens with a poem, and one line sticks with me "We filled up life with living" - which is my second reason for selecting this book. It being Jubilee Week, that line seems a perfect tribute to the Queen, someone who certainly seems to have filled up life with living - something we should all aspire to do.

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer:

Granta 158

This literary magazine comes out quarterly, and I have been a subscriber since the first edition. (Do the mathematics – that’s quite a chunk of time). As always, the writing is varied, both in terms of the subject and quality. However, each of the works is challenging and thought-provoking; Granta takes me out of my comfort zone every time. Particularly memorable is Charif Majdalani’s essay on Beirut, (written in the aftermath of the devastating explosion), and “Our Stratford”, a photo-montage about the Roma with a fascinating introduction by Damian Le Bas.

One of Them by Musa Okwonga

This was given to me by a friend who said, “you’ll love this”. That phrase, along with “you really should read this”, fills me with dread every time. However, on this occasion my friend was right; I really enjoyed the book. It chronicles a young black boy’s journey from the suburbs of west London, living under the flight path for Heathrow Airport, from his local school to Eton and his reflections looking back now as a successful writer and poet. I could not put it down. Okwonga reflects on the empathetic, supportive teaching staff both at his local school and then at Eton, and contrasts that culture with the sense of privilege and entitlement amongst many of the pupils.

There are two outstanding characters in the book: Okwonga and his mother, a doctor in general practice who made many sacrifices and saved from her income to make up the financial difference between his scholarship from Eton and the expenses not covered by the grant. This is a book not to be ignored since it highlights the challenges of our society now, (and the book should be read in conjunction with the Sue Gray report).

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Wow! What a book. This is a long, immersive novel. It chronicles a liberal, religious family in the U.S.A. in 1971 as the Vietnam war is in full swing. I could write pages and pages about this book; I was gripped from the first paragraph by the challenges of the Hildebrandt family: the parents, the children and the characters who drift in and out of the book. I’ve still got the black circles under my eyes as I read late into the night. Franzen is the master of the interrelationships which make and break families, and this is his best book so far, even surpassing The Corrections.

Masterfully, he adopts a different voice for his main characters, and I was sympathetic to all of them; occasionally, good people do bad things. Please put this book on your list for your birthday or Christmas. If you like to read modern novels written in English, then this is a must read for you; the reader will not be disappointed.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

I’ve only just started How to Kill Your Family after reading rave reviews online. I’ve picked this book hoping that the main character, Grace, is the kind of anti-hero you end of championing. I’m thinking Villanelle (Killing Eve). Dark yet witty, with an undercurrent of revenge.

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!

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