What We're Reading - 10 January 2020

Opinion - Books Friday, 10 January 2020

The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables


Lucy Nathan
Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age, just released by Bloomsbury, is a brilliant debut. It begins as a black babysitter is accused of kidnapping her white charge by a security guard in a supermarket, and although the situation is resolved, its ramifications echo through the rest of the story. This book is sharp, clever, and an incisive anatomy of liberal racisim. It is also about motherhood, class, and the problem of feeling aimless in your twenties - and it captures the voices of small children in a wonderful and pitch perfect way.

Nicholas Clee
A new novel by Peter Swanson has become a reliable new year treat. Rules for Perfect Murders (Faber, March) foregrounds a trait that has been apparent in his previous novels, and particularly in his best so far, The Kind Worth Killing: his love for and indebtedness to crime classics. The protagonist of Rules for Perfect Murders runs a mystery bookshop, and has posted online his favourite fictional killings; someone appears to be paying gruesome homage to them. What chills here, as in all Swanson's novels, is the revelation of the psychopathy of people like us.

Jo Henry
My book club is this month reading Georgina Howell's Queen of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell (Pan). It truly is an extraordinary life: Bell was not only an "archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist, author, poet, photographer, mountaineer", but also "the architect of the independent kingdom of Iraq". In the early 1900s, turning her back on a life of wealth and privilege, she set off across the deserts of Arabia, in the process befriending Arabs of all classes and tribes. This biography, although perhaps a touch deferential, sheds light on an exceptional woman who achieved amazing things.

Julie Vuong
Tangerine by Christine Mangan (Abacus) is just what I needed to get out of my end-of-year book slump. I can't remember who recommended this: it may have been a podcast from a couple of years ago. Described by the Times as "The Girl on the Train meets The Talented Mr Ripley", it's got a head-spinning plot and two unreliable female narrators. Really enjoyable, if a little silly at times.

Neill Denny
These gloomy winter days have put me in the perfect mood for grim tales of desperate men in the frozen north, a craving satisfied in spades by Michael Palin's excellent Erebus. It's his take on the doomed Franklin expedition to explore the North West passage, using the device of writing a biography of the ship Erebus as a way in to this well-worn tale of ice, terror and cannibalism. We follow Erebus from cradle to watery grave, from the Southern Ocean, Tasmania and gentle Med to her lonely demise under Franklin. The book is a serious bit of history by Palin, backed up by proper research and genuine insight, and the hardback is a lovely piece of publishing by Hutchinson.

David Roche
In a week when it was announced that Hans Zimmer was being pulled in to compose the score of the new Bond film No Time To Die, it was apt to be reading about the man who helped make it all happen for the franchise in the first place in Eddi Fiegel's John Barry: A Sixties Theme (Faber Finds). John Barry is one of my all-time music heroes and an under-sung super-talent in this country. His track record cried out for a knighthood: this prolific soundtrack composer won five Oscars, more than any actor and the same number as the all-time legend composer John Williams. Barry's credits included 11 Bond films, The Ipcress File, Zulu, Out of Africa, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free, The Lion in Winter, Dances with Wolves and the TV theme for The Persuaders. This book explores not only JB's talent, prolific drive and coolness, but also captures the spirit and excesses of the Sixties. John Barry's work is apparently a favourite of those authors and illustrators who like to write with music on, I am told.

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