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Five books that have held my attention this year

This has been an uneven reading year. With so much going on, I know a lot of readers have had a hard time finding the focus necessary to get through a book. This reader attempted to read Know My Name by Chanel Miller in the early days of the pandemic, where things were getting shut down and every day felt like a new, scary chapter in a dystopian novel I would never read. The timing of that read meant I wasn’t able to do justice to a remarkable story.

But every once in a while, I found a book that took me out of 2020 completely and I happily spent hours with them, my phone on do not disturb, ignoring my child and household responsibilities. Those were blissful days. Here are some of those books:

Pages and Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James. Tilly lives with her grandparents above a bookstore in London. Her mother disappeared when she was little and she’s at an age where she’s wondering about who her mother was and what their relationship might have been like. This is also the age where she suddenly starts seeing characters from her favourite books come to life in the shop; suddenly she’s having conversations with Anne Shirley and she’s pretty sure her grandmother has tea with Elizabeth Bennett. It turns out that Tilly is a Bookwanderer, she can travel into stories and she’s not the only one. Soon she is initiated into a whole society of people who can do the same. There are rules to learn and secrets to be uncovered and this book, the first in a series, is a complete joy to anyone still in touch with their inner child bookworm.

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman. Two brother and their wives live in apartments in the same building, the family business is located around the corner. One brother has only daughters, the other only sons. The wives are pregnant again, due around the same time. On a snowy night that prevents the wives from getting to a hospital, with only a midwife and one of the daughters present, the babies are born: a son for the family with daughters and a daughter for the family with sons. This night ripples through the lives of both families for decades after. It’s one of those quiet, every-day, generational family stories and I couldn’t stop reading it.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. If you’re looking for a gentle book with a cozy vibe and Jane Austen connections (too niche?), look no further. The Jane Austen Society follows the residents of a small English village as they deal with some of the things that have happened in their lives in the last few years, mostly as a result of the war. Each of them reads and re-reads Jane Austen’s novels to escape the realities of their lives and eventually they form a book club dedicated to her work. There’s more to it but I don’t want to give the whole thing away. This is the kind of book that demands to be read with cozy socks and a warm beverage.

Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View” by Ramin Setoodeh. This. Book. Was. Everything. If you’ve ever stayed home for the day from school or work you have seen The View. I’ve seen LOTS of episodes of The View and I’ve always been curious about what it’s really like behind-the-scenes. Especially in the last several years when the co-hosts were just as likely to make headlines as their Hot Topics. Setoodeh had the access, pretty much all of them spoke with him. The give up the dirt and reading this book will make you fall down a YouTube rabbit hole revisiting the moments talked about.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. This book wasn’t really gentle or an escape as it deals with the Flu Pandemic of 1918. But there was something weirdly comforting about reading a book that was so eerily similar to what we’re experiencing, knowing that their pandemic ended and eventually things went back to how they were before. But this book is also kind of brutal and I wouldn’t recommend it to any reader who is pregnant for the first time or anyone who has any kind of birth trauma. This book follows a nurse, her helper, a doctor and their patients on a flu ward for pregnant women over the course of three days. It is gripping and propulsive and my favourite of Donoghue’s books.

Revisiting these books makes me want to read all of them again. What books have captured your imagination (and focus!) in the last several months?