It’s back! The book recommendation post series returns for the second installment. So technically, it’s only just become a series… Here it is, five more books that if you haven’t read, you need to shut up and read. In my opinion, anyway.
With shows like Once Upon a Time, Supernatural and Grimm tackling classic folklore and fairytales in their story arcs, I think it’s necessary to bring Angela Carter into the fray; ‘The Bloody Chamber’ takes the well-known tales we recognise from our childhood and twists them into beautifully crafted, sinister short-stories strictly for grown-ups. The title story is a re-imagining of the folktale of Bluebeard, centring on the thoughts and feelings of the mysterious, bearded brute’s latest wife, a talented young pianist who discovers her husband’s secret and realises she is doomed to the same fate. Carter herself has expressed displeasure at the idea that her collection is “adult”, but somehow I don’t know that stories which feature nods to bestiality and outright necrophilia could be described as anything but just that.
This month, the book club I host for Croydon Waterstones is moving and branching into two separate groups – one for fiction, one for non-fiction. I’m looking forward to the chance to read and discuss some interesting non-fiction titles, because it’s only in the last few years that I’ve taken an interest in such books. ‘The Psychopath Test’ is a great place to start for anyone wanting to expand their reading choices to include factual books as it is easy to read while informative, as well as being written in Ronson’s inimitable self-deprecating and witty style. His books tend to be about people on the margins of society; having previously written about conspiracy theories and weird, top-secret experiments in his other books, this book focuses on the world of psychopaths – including some bizarre and sometimes frightening encounters with psychopaths and criminals. He includes the checklist of characteristics and signs that lead to being diagnosed as psychopathic, and once you’ve read the book you’ll find yourself noticing these characteristics in people you meet, perhaps even people you already know.
I’ve spoken before of my love for Stephen King, and while browsing for his books on Amazon, the website recommended a book by Joe Hill named “Heart Shaped Box’, pitching it to me as a good old fashioned ghost story brought up to date with a helping of rock ‘n’ roll. I figured what the hell – it was his debut novel, it was a hardback and it was on offer. It was an enjoyable novel, but his second full-length novel is the one I’d recommend. ‘Horns’ starts with the main character, Ig Perrish, waking with the hangover from hell – quite literally; Ig looks in the mirror to find horns growing on his forehead. These horns have a strange effect on people around him, who start to tell him things that they normally wouldn’t reveal and as this starts on the anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of his girlfriend, Ig finds that people are telling him things that he doesn’t want to hear. Hill’s style of writing is both modern and gothic, with elements reminiscent of Stephen King – which makes even more sense when you learn that Hill is King’s son, and uses a pen name to make his own career without the association. ‘Horns’ is raw, scary, heartbreaking and brutal. If you’re not afraid of supernatural elements in your fiction, you should read this book!
I’d never read anything by Philip Pullman before, but I was aware of the comments that his work is staunchly atheist; as I’ve mentioned before, I have an interest in religion (although I don’t follow one myself) and find that it can be boring to hear atheists talk about how great atheism is, so I was unsure about what to expect from this book given its title. But I was blown away by it. How about if instead of Jesus Christ being one man, he was actually two brothers – one charismatic and good, the other manipulative and cunning? Created by Pullman as part of the Canongate Myth series, where authors have written stories around characters from myths for a contemporary audience – this contrasts to Angela Carter’s stories, which have an older literary style. I’ll be checking out more of the series when I can.
So this book is basically my bible. I often wonder why people make the choices they do, whether they are motivated by religion, civic duty, greed, or any other influence. Michael Sandel’s book, based on his Harvard lecture series of the same name (available on his website via the hyperlink), challenges you with thought experiments and hypothetical situations where there is no clear answer; rather, you are supposed to assess your own ethics, and learn the motives of people with different options to you. I would highly recommend watching the lectures on his website, or better still reading the book. I stumbled across the lecture series when it was shown on BBC4 a few years ago, and I’ll admit I was roped in by the discussion of high art vs ‘low’ art, where Sandel uses examples of Simpsons episodes and Shakespeare to question what makes something art. He also tackles some really weighty stuff – when I got to the chapter on Kant’s philosophy I thought my brain was melting, and I found myself reading paragraphs through twice or more to get the point properly into my head. But it will have you exploring and defending your opinion on topics like surrogacy, conscription and even taxes, and with plenty of pop culture and historical examples he makes the content accessible as well as interesting. Sandel’s latest book, “What Money Can’t Buy” is out in hardback at the moment, and only comes out in paperback in 2013 – I will definitely be investing in that when it becomes available.