The BookBrunch team reveal what's on their bedside tables
If there's one thing that A Man of Parts by David Lodge (Vintage) proves, it is that if you're a successful author whose books promote your belief in free love, young, intelligent, nubile women will throw themselves at you. H.G.Wells really was a man of many parts, though not all of them priapic. Immersed in socialist politics, he joined the Fabian society but fell out with most of the founding members. He wrote more than 100 books, many dealing with his deep interest in science and the part it would play in the future (predicting among other things the atom bomb and arial warfare) and he conducted numerous affairs - with the knowledge and tacit agreement of his long-suffering second wife, Jane - with, among others, Elizabeth von Arnim of German garden fame, Rosamund Bland, the adopted daughter of Edith Nesbit, and Rebecca West. Immensely entertaining, this is a masterly review of an extraordinary life.
Am I becoming really grumpy? I have only read (and liked very much) one of Maggie O'Farrell's books before and approached Hamnet (Tinder Press) with confidence and the ringing endorsement of the whole world, and my wife. The writing is without a doubt exceptional but I found it difficult to get into the flow of the story for much of the first half before it clicked into place around two thirds of the way through. From there I thoroughly enjoyed it, managing to bite off bigger chunks at a time which gave me a better appreciation of the flavour of what I was digesting. I know the answer to the 'is it just me?' question is likely to be 'yes!' in this instance. Everyone is going to hate me and say that I don't read many books by women. Fact Check: I thought I would go through my BookBrunch What We're Reading entries for 2020 and the M/F author ratio is EXACTLY 50:50. Perhaps it's time for a crime sorbet course in my lockdown literary excursions.
After the Florida-based David Leavitt two weeks ago, my choice today is another friend, this time living over the road: Pete May, with his self-published - a comment on his subject in itself - What Are Words Worth: Diary of a Midlist Writer Misfiring in the Gig Economy. Pete has developed the book from an article he wrote for the Author and an interview he gave to ALCS News, both revealing the life of an actual "average author" - who, according to ALCS figures, has an annual income of £10,500. Pete has been bringing home considerably less than that. He has lost his job as a sports journalism lecturer, newspapers are less and less responsive to his pitches, and publishers no longer see markets for the books he proposes; meanwhile, foxes run rampant in his garden, drug dealers set up a retail outlet by his garden gate, the fridge and boiler are on the blink, and West Ham are in the relegation zone. Tiny sums trickle in from Kindle Unlimited and Adsense. In spite of all, this is a cheery, warm-hearted book, which I enjoyed even while wincing in recognition.
As a children's bookseller alongside my BookBrunch duties, I read a lot of YA, and Hideous Beauty by William Hussey (Usborne) was one of the best I've read in a long time. It's a love story and a thriller at the same time, following the story of the relationship between two teenage boys, Dylan and Ellis. We find out both how they fell in love and what happens after a tragic accident rips them apart and Dylan is wracked with grief. It was an intensely bittersweet read, but vividly and gorgeously written, and the difficult subject matter is very sensitively handled. There is no easy happy ending, which is as it should be, but it's hopeful, and has one of the loveliest depictions of friendships I've read anywhere.