We are a team of book lovers here at SG and in celebration of Book Lovers’ Day we thought we’d share with you why we’re all such bookworms and recommend some of our favourite reads. Get your wish-lists ready and clear some space on your bookshelves: you’re going to want to add these to your collection…
From the first time I realised I could read I have been an avid lover, collector and reader of books. Probably even earlier than that, as my parents used to read to me and introduced me to the wonderful worlds created by A.A Milne, Enid Blyton, J.M Barrie and Kenneth Grahame. Books are my solace, my inspiration and education, they make you think, spark your imagination and transport you to places beyond anything you can experience in reality. I read a lot…
The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
I like to mix my reading up by alternating new books with much loved and oft read tomes. I rarely do non-fiction, but my latest new read ticks all the boxes by giving me a beautifully crafted tale that is rooted in a true story. Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path tells how she and her husband Moth walked the 630-mile South West Coast Path, after they became homeless. Not only had they lost their home, they were also coming to terms with the fact that Moth had been diagnosed with a terminal illness called corticobasal degeneration. This heart rending, uplifting, thought provoking story captures moments of sheer joy and utter despair. It shows just what we can do to survive, and also demonstrates that, for all its many amazing advances, the medical profession often still doesn’t truly understand what our bodies need to be well. It illustrates the best and the worst of human reactions to homelessness, and it ultimately carries a message of hope against all the odds.
The Mowgli Stories – Rudyard Kipling
I have also been revisiting one of my absolute favourite childhood classics. My stepdaughter recently bought me a beautiful edition of the Mowgli Stories – the backbone of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books. I have loved following Mowgli grow from a ‘little frog’ sprawling with his wolf cub siblings to a jungle demi-god, strong, swift and crowned with jasmine as he reaches manhood and begins his own human family in the Rukh. This is no sentimental Disney rendering. It explores the relationship of man with the natural world, and our lack of understanding of the creatures that inhabit it in a way that is at once educational (Kipling had access to authoritative texts on animal behaviours in the jungle) and engaging. It might be seen by some as unlikely, romantic even to write of wolves rearing a human child, but it is a legend that dates back to Romulus and Remus.
For me, one of the greatest lessons to be learnt from these tales is the master phrase which Mowgli learns and which enables him to engage peacefully with any and all of his fellow creatures – “We be of one blood, ye and I”. If only we applied the same lesson and sentiment to all our dealings with other people.
P.S. my favourite character has always been Bagheera.
I love books because they allow us to relate to stories and ideas in which we can see shadows of ourselves, alternatively they can help us to come to a better understanding of people who we widely and fundamentally differ from. They can provide escape from the physical world or help us to learn and cement truths which can help us on our journey. The most important thing I believe I have taken away from time spent reading, is a greater sense of the importance in empathy for others.
Ishmael – Daniel Quinn
I read Ishmael, around the time I was 17 and it became very influential to the way in which I saw and understood the world. It is a novel however the majority of the book is presented as a discussion between two characters. it is philosophical and agricultural however remains, for the most part, fairly accessible.
The protagonist responds to an advert in a newspaper which states “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person”. This leads him to seek out the teacher and engage in a dialogue which examines, the human relationship with nature and the ways in which we understand our place in the world, and how that goes on to impact way in which we live. Essentially the novel is a critique of the initial principles and methodology which form modern civilisation. Oh, and the teacher is a telepathic ape.
Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski
Ham on Rye is Bukowski’s fourth Novel and takes place in Los Angeles during the great depression. It is, like most of his work, Semi-autobiographical, chronicling the experiences of Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinaski, from his earliest memory, through his adolescence and up until he reluctantly enters the job market.
The book does a great deal to explain the detached egocentric monster which readers have come to know from his previous three novels and is an extremely personal recollection of a traumatic childhood told with a great degree of humour and honesty. Admittingly not for everyone, Bukowski has a distinctive writing style and an ability to recall humanity’s deepest shortfalls in a way which is simultaneously nihilistic, funny and beautiful.
From storing half-read books under my pillow as a child (a tip I learnt from Shirley Hughes’ Lucy and Tom books!) to doing a degree in English Literature, books have been a foundational part of my life! A lot of people see books as an escapism but, for me, they are a chance to connect to humanity in a way we just don’t in regular life. They are not only stories, but a true history of the human experience and human thought. They also provide an excellent excuse for me to be anti-social when I am travelling!
Fox 8 – George Saunders
This short modern fable instantly became one of my favourites. Curious and clever, Fox 8 learns to speak ‘Yuman’ by hiding outside houses and listening to children’s bedtime stories. But, with a new shopping mall on the horizon, danger looms and it is up to Fox 8 and his skills to save his family. Dark and harrowing, yet still enchanting, the story exemplifies nature’s sacrifice at the hands of human greed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I put it down.
Women & Power: A Manifesto – Mary Beard
This is another short one, but it is an absolute powerhouse. Exploring the historical and cultural history of misogyny, renowned classicist Mary Beard presents a bold, wise and unapologetic analysis of women’s place in the power structure. From her astute and witty observations to the way she draws on a wide range of sources from history, literature and even the gendered aggression she has endured online, this is a seriously impactful and incredibly engaging read. My only criticism is it was too short! I finished it and immediately wanted to read it again – I am praying there will be a follow up book to this one day.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve seen books as a window to worlds unknown (to me). They have always provided a safe form of escapism or adventure, when required, but they also inspire and educate too! From learning through reading about other people’s real-life experiences to the excitement of an epic fantasy adventure, there’s something for every mood.
An Unreliable Man – Jostein Gaarder
Jakop is not a protagonist you’d be inclined to like. He can be incredibly irritating, arrogant and kind of creepy. But Jostein does a great job of exploring the theme of loneliness and the kind of impact it might have on people so that, by the end of the book, you can’t help but understand why Jakob might do the things he does. He’s also not without redeeming qualities. As an added bonus, An Unreliable Man is set in Norway and has some lovely descriptions. You might even learn something from the etymology lessons too.
The Science of Harry Potter – Roger Highfield
It’s no secret that most of us here love Rowling and her creations. What I loved about this book is that it takes the magic of Harry Potter and finds examples of it in the real world, whether that be some mythical creature, potion, or spell. Roger not only finds similar examples but attempts to explain some of the history of magic too. When encountering real-life situations where we’re not quite there, he’ll also point us in the direction of the scientific evidence or theories that may make such feats possible in the future (if someone felt it was worth the cost of pursuing it).
Books offer the chance to explore fascinating new worlds, both real and imagined, without having to leave the warmth of your bed!
Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City – Neal Bascomb
This is a great history book for people who like fiction. It tells the tale of two former partners with very different views on life and architecture as they compete to build the tallest structure in the world in a Manhattan at the height of the 20s boom. The author maintains a fast-pace whilst infusing the story with lots of fascinating historical facts – look out for the section on the raising of the Chrysler building’s spire!
Right from the earliest days of my life, books have been my biggest source of comfort, inspiration, escape and learning. Whether I’m curled up at home or out and about, you can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have at least one book within arm’s reach. If I have a spare moment, opening a book is instinctual – and good luck trying to walk me past a bookshop without going in! There are hundreds of great quotes about reading but there is one from Annie Dillard that I have always strongly related to that neatly sums up how I feel about books: “She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Elizabeth Gilbert
I usually tend towards fiction over non-fiction but there are a few exceptions. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic captured my heart very quickly. It is a fascinating and empowering exploration of creativity, fear and the relationship between the two. Gilbert digs into her own generative process, and those of her friends and acquaintances, to unpick attitudes and habits around creative living. She offers wisdom and insight and writes with great empathy, striking an appealing balance between soulfulness and her signature cheerful pragmatism. It offers both gentle encouragement and the kick we so often need to pursue a creative life.
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. There are some books that just sweep you away entirely and unexpectedly. This is one of them. I first read The Night Circus on my honeymoon, lying by a pool in the blazing Grecian heat in the middle of August and I had no idea how completely I would fall in love with it. My surroundings were strikingly at odds with the setting of the book, but the writing is so utterly immersive that I was immediately lost in a magical world with the sounds and smells of autumn so real that I forgot the sun and sea even existed. Full of magical realism, exquisitely rendered characters and a gently twisting plot, The Night Circus is a masterpiece of escapism. Set in the ‘real’ world with magic hidden in plain sight, the story follows two characters whose fates are inextricably bound without their knowledge and whose lives slowly converge in the midst of a cast of unforgettable supporting characters. Every detail of this story is crafted to perfection – a fabulous tale of beauty, friendship, love and magic.
My favourite book is The Kite Runner by Afgan-American author Khaled Hosseini. It tells a great story of Afghani immigrant Amir recalling what happened to him twenty-six years ago in Pakistan. In short, Amir’s best friend was quite brutally assaulted and Amir was too scared to save him and this haunts him throughout. But I didn’t want to feature The Kite Runner this time as I expect you’ll get loads of fictional novels from the rest of the team!
Factory Records: The complete Graphic Album – Matthew Robertson
One of my favourite books is The Complete Graphic Album of Factory Records. Between 1978 and 1992, Factory Records was one of the most influential record labels in Britain. It was the birth of Joy Division who later become New Order, the Happy Mondays and the brainchild of the Hacienda. Not only am I a massive fan of factory bands, but it’s the design and Peter Saville’s work that inspires me most. The book has over 400 posters, record sleeves and illustrations from the labels’ entire visual legacy.
Paul Smith A-Z – In conversation with Oliver Wicker
Another favourite book of mine is Paul Smith in Conversation with Oliver Wicker, it runs through the alphabet stopping at each letter to see where Smith draws his inspiration from and what he thinks of a particular subject. I’m most intrigued by his fascination with rabbits, he retells a story of an old friend convincing him rabbits bring good luck. Smith says he doesn’t believe this is true but ceramic and metal rabbits are now found in each of his shops.
Being a busy Mum of three boys, I don’t get much time to read, but I always make time for bedtime stories with my children, my eleven-year-old will sometimes still listen when I read to my youngest. And for me – even after reading the same books over and over again, for what feels like forever – I still love to snuggle up at bedtime and read them again.
There are so many children’s books I could mention, I love all the Julia Donaldson books; they are so well written and illustrated that they never fail to capture a child’s imagination. Books with repetition are always popular with my boys, and two of my absolute favourites are We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
It’s the simplicity of Bear Hunt I love. My children like to read along with me and make the sound effects, even though they know what’s coming they never get bored and are always 100% engrossed in the book. For those of you that haven’t read this book, I would highly recommend you do even if you have no children. It’s about a family who decide to go on a bear hunt. They encounter lots of obstacles along the way, for example grass – long wavy grass, mud – thick oozy mud, a snowstorm – a swirling whirling snowstorm, until they finally arrive at the cave where they find a big scary bear! They immediately hot foot it back through the grass, mud, snowstorm and everything else they encountered with the bear in pursuit, until they get back to the safety of their house, leaving the bear to trudge back to his cave alone. It’s the wonderful way this book is written and illustrated that brings the story to life and captures your imagination.
Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy – Lynley Dodd
Hairy Maclary is part of a series of books about a scruffy dog and his friends, and the mischief they get up to around town. My favourite is the original book in the series Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, which introduces you to Hairy and his friends who are basically a group of misfits. He goes for a walk and picks up the other dogs along the way until they reach town, where they strut around until they bump into Scarface Claw, the toughest Tom in town. Despite their cocky appearance they’re terrified of him and scarper back home as fast as their legs will carry them. As with Bear Hunt, it’s the wonderful way this book is written that makes it so enjoyable and fun to read, for example ‘Off with a yowl a wail and a howl, a scatter of paws and a clatter of paws…’ My son will quite often point to a dog while we’re out and say there’s Schnitzel von Krumm with the very low tum or Bottomley Potts covered in spots, it really is a wonderful book which I will never get tired of reading.
Once a devourer of epic fantasy, my reading habits have changed somewhat over the years. Although I don’t read as much or as often as I used to, the right book can still provide a great escape!
The Jack Reacher Series – Lee Childs
Let’s talk about Reacher – Jack Reacher (no middle name)… 6ft 5 of pure charisma, a character who falls into trouble when he’s trying to mind his own business, he hates injustice, sides with the downtrodden, the powerless against the powerful. Jack, a product of author Lee Child’s fertile imagination, is a modern-day Robin Hood, a vigilante with a heart, but relentless and ruthless if you get on his wrong side.
I have a particular fascination with crime fiction – Bosch, Salander, Perez, Trent, Hole – but none match up to Jack. Perhaps it’s the fact that I, Paul Barlow (no middle name), grew up in world where I was the pushed around weakling in a bunch of testosterone-fuelled teens and I often needed saving (usually by my younger brother). I fantasised about being tougher, a righter of wrongs. I identified with Lee Child’s Clint Eastwood-style loner drifter character – imperfect, flawed, uncomplicated. I was a wanna-be Jack Reacher without the physical means or the mental fortitude.
Over the last couple of years, I’d lost interest in reading, mainly because I don’t read regularly or quickly enough so often end up forgetting the plot. But I can easily read a whole Jack Reacher book without stopping.
My introduction came when I picked up “61Hours” at a second-hand book shop, having been told about Lee Child by a good friend. Generally, I don’t re-read books and rarely re-watch films for that matter, but for Lee Child I make an exception. I am currently going through the whole series of 25 Jack Reacher books, even though I’ve read about 6 books out of sequence.
My recommendation is that you start where Lee Child started, with the excellent Killing Floor. It’s the story of a military policeman who, having lost his job as a military policeman, goes on an extended hike around the States, starting with Georgia because of his love of the blues. There he gets accused of murder, later discovering that the victim is his intelligence officer older brother Joe. With the help of a friendly detective, Reacher sets about clearing his name & bringing his unique form of summary justice to corrupt protagonists.
We might not like it but most of us can identify with that anger and with that need for justice. Certainly, my childhood infused me with a want to be a hero, a role which I’ve never quite fulfilled despite trying… but that’s another story, so for now Jack Reacher can be my alter-ego.
Now we’ve helped you top up your to-read list, why not reach out to us on social media and let us know what you’d recommend in return?
Happy reading, book lovers!