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3 Festivals for 2024


News & Features

January 2023: Currently Reading

By - 31 January 2023 - 13:19pm

Have you read any of the books featured?

Is it too late to say: Happy New Year! It feels a little late in the month, but here we are. We hope 2023 has got off to a good start and you are looking forward to the year ahead. Preparation is well underway for our Summer Edition, which is taking place from May 19-27.

If you want to be the first to know about our Festival updates, make sure you’re signed up to our newsletter and follow us on social media. We’ll be making our first author announcements in the coming weeks, with tickets on sale in April.

In the meantime, here are our January reads. Have you read any of them? Are any of them on your TBR? We’d love to hear from you!

Liz Fothergill, Derby Book Festival Chair:

I have recently very much enjoyed the following books:

Magpie by Elizabeth Day

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

Sian, Festival Director: Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

Already going to be one of my favourite novels of the year and it has stayed with me despite having read 5 books since! There is something about current Irish writing that really moves me - Colm Toibin, John Boyne, Anne Griffin, Sebastian Barry, Sally Rooney ... so many of them.

A beautifully written, moving story set in Belfast during The Troubles. It’s about a relationship between a young N Irish Catholic primary teacher, who works part-time in the family pub, where she meets an older man, Protestant Michael, a barrister who acts for people across the religious divide, making lots of enemies along the way.

They begin an affair which can only end badly ...

Gini, Festival Manager: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

I was given this book as a Christmas present and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure a book about gaming would appeal... I was wrong. Moving between two worlds - the real and the virtual - this story follows the on/off relationship between two old friends from childhood to adulthood. Both the main characters struggle to function in the messy real world, but form a lasting bond through their passion for creating computer games. Beautifully written, with quirky yet believable characters, this book explores love, creativity, and identity. So, thank you for the gift - you know who you are!

Sue Wall, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: An Unquiet Heart by Martin Sixsmith

I was attracted to this by the title and the author; Martin Sixsmith is probably best known as the journalist behind the story of Philomena (made into a film starring Dame Judi Dench). An Unquiet Heart is the story of Sergei Yesenin, described as “the poet of the Russian soul”. Yesenin lived through the Russia revolution in the early 20th century, and the book brings the period vividly to life, giving deep insight into the troubled history of Russia. It has helped me gain a better understanding of the current situation in Russia, and why - for some - regaining the land which is now Ukraine has such historical resonance. He did become very caught up with the politics of the time, but is best remembered for his touchingly beautiful love poems.      

“If thou are near, I’ll leave all behind,

Renounce the world, the call of fame.

All I need is to kiss your hand, your lips,

And hear you call me by my name.”

Keith McLay, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff by Stephen E. Ambrose

For January I’d like to highlight the book I read in the month’s dying embers: it was Stephen E. Ambrose’s, Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff. The first of Ambrose’s many works of history, its subject is one of the lesser-known US Civil War Generals. Halleck does not carry the popular currency of a Grant, Sherman, Jackson, or Lee but, as Ambrose ably demonstrates, Halleck’s unflashy work in the background as a military theorist who could translate the theory to the battlefield was crucial for the Union’s success.

Fiona Apthorpe, Derby Book Festival Trustee: Breath; the New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

There is nothing more important to our health than breathing: breath in, breath out, repeat! 25,000 times a day. However, have humans lost the ability to breathe correctly? And how does that affect us? Journalist James Nestor travels the world to discover what went wrong and how to fix it.

A fascinating book which looks at the scientific evidence as well as alternative medicine and practices such as Yoga. Life changing!

Narinder Sharma, Derby Book Festival Trustee: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I have been to Vienna, Austria, last week and took the opportunity to re-read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – it is surprisingly easy to access.

Keith Donald, Derby Book Festival Trustee and Interviewer: Deer Man by Geoffroy Delorme, Remainders of the Day by Shaun Bythell, The Anthill by Julianne Pachico, England, England by Julian Barnes, The Madness: A Memoir of War, Fear, and P.T.S.D. by Fergal Keane

Geoffroy Delorme – Deer Man

This was the book which I read over Christmas. I found it while browsing in my favourite bookshop, Main Street Trading. As an aside, I would not have found it had I been shopping for books on Amazon.

I loved this book. It was written in French and was published in English in 2022. It is a deeply honest and moving work. The narrative concerns a young man in Normandy who did not fit in; lessons in school bored him and he ached to be outdoors, preferring his own company to that of family and friends. Over the course of a few months, Geoffroy disassociated himself from life at home and moved into the woods not far from his parents’ house. He became fascinated by the roe deer in the nearby forest, and chose to be a man of the forest, to live like a roe deer as far as he was able to do so.

Geoffroy spent seven years in the woods; as time went on, the deer treated him as one of their own, with no fear, confident that he would not betray their trust. The writer became an integral part of their lives; his descriptions of their day-to-day habits are moving and certain scenes are very painful. Overall, though, this is a tribute to beautiful, loving creatures whose natural habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate.

This is a unique book. If you have an interest in our habitat, and the challenges which it is facing, then pick up this book. It is also an account of an individual who endured hardship living in the open air, as a deer, not under canvas but in the forest, sleeping on the ground with the deer. It is no exaggeration for me to write that he shared the deer’s life.

It is a lovely book about a compassionate man who feels passionately about the survival of the natural habitat and its inhabitants, particularly the roe deer.

Shaun Bythell – Remainders of the Day

This is the fourth or fifth book which Shaun has written. He’s a frequent visitor to the Derby Book Festival. The books about his bookshop in Wigtown, on the west coast of Scotland, adopt a similar format; they are diaries about his time in the shop and in Wigtown and the surrounding area.

They are so amusing; I am sure that if we don’t recognise ourselves in the descriptions, we can always recognise our friends. (We would never behave like that.) I love Shaun’s writing. His passion for books, bookshops and general crankiness make him and his writing very appealing. However, note that I am Scots and he is a friend, so I am not unbiased.

Do read this if you have an interest in books, bookshops and the south-west of Scotland, one of the most beautiful and quietest areas of Scotland.

Julianne Pachico – The Anthill

No, not a book about entomology. It is a novel set in Medellin, for several years the most violent city in the world because of activities of Pablo Escobar and his gang and rival gangs. This novel is set in a later period, just after the end of the negotiations in Colombia regarding the end of the bloody civil war.

The novel has two main characters, and the anthill of the title is a community centre for the children of the local area.

The violence of those times comes across well in the novel; the children are traumatised by the uncertainty of their daily lives. Some sections are quite brutal. There is a twist in the relationship of the two main characters who were brought up together. I was intrigued by the development of the plot as the novel unfolds.

I enjoyed the writing, but it is a flawed novel. However, if you are interested in modern south American literature, (or if you have visited Medellin to look at the transition of the city to a modern, thriving metropolis), then this is a book for you. I have spent some time in the city so I could relate to the image which Pachino builds with her descriptive passages. If you track down a copy of this book, I am sure that you will not be disappointed and, like me, you will want to turn the pages.

Julian Barnes – England, England

I really, really did not like this book. I have read a few novels but Julian Barnes, (and enjoyed them), but this work was a disappointment. I asked myself several times “should I walk away from this”, but I stuck with it when I ought to have walked away. I never don’t finish a book, just like I never walk out of a film. (A couple of weeks ago, though, I should have walked out of “The Menu”, but that’s another story).

In short, it is a comedic book about the commercialisation of the Isle of Wight. Why should tourists expend energy travelling around sites in the U.K., (such as Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge), when they could look at models in a small area on an island? The book deals with the various characters involved, all of which are shallow and stereotypical.

The novelist was prescient in some aspects, though: immigration, tension with Europe, and challenges with foreign currencies feature from time to time. The novel was written in 1998. If you see this on the bookshelf, I suggest that you walk on by.

Fergal Keane – The Madness – a memoir of war, fear and P.T.S.D.

So, let’s start with a health warning. This is an honest account of Fergal’s emotional, physical and mental deterioration over several decades of work in conflict and war zones. It is not for the squeamish. It deals with the horror of conflicts in many theatres (a posh word for battle zones), and deals with death, maiming, and destruction in all of their forms.

Keane is very honest about this mental state. He had a tough childhood with conflict in the family. He was brought up in challenging circumstances in a region which saw its own challenges on so many fronts: the Irish famine, the I.R.A. and the Easter uprising. The writer took to drink to cope with many pressures, and from there he moved to tranquillisers and other legal remedies to block out the pain and anxiety.

If you ever watch the reporters on television, or listen to their accounts on the radio, and ask yourself “how do they cope”, then this book provides some of the answers: they don’t. However, they are drawn to conflict zones since they are attracted to the danger and possibility of death, each of which seems to be an addictive drug, certainly for Fergal.

Towards the end of the book, after constant therapy, counselling, breakdown and in-patient treatment, Fergal devises coping strategies. Read the book to find out what those are, but the future for Fergal does become brighter and there is some light after decades of darkness, loss, and pain.

Read this book. If you want to know about the challenges for those reporters, film makers and photographs who put their lives on the line for us each evening during the week, then this is the book for you. I could not put it down; it has changed my outlook from so many perspectives.

Felicity, Festival Administrator: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

After reading Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d read Celeste Ng’s latest book. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy for Christmas (huge thank you!) and have not been disappointed! What is supposed to be a dystopian novel sometimes reads like real life, but I assume that is the point. After all, we are never far away from everything turning upside down and spiralling out of control. I’m halfway through and don’t know what is going to happen next, but I can’t wait to find out.

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