By Rachel Lankester, Editor

I’ve been reading a lot again this year. Here’s what I’ve read so far! Some great books…

Ruskin Park: Sylvia, Me And The BBC  – Rory Cellan-Jones

I found Ruskin Park a beautiful and moving portrayal of a much misunderstood single mother, Sylvia, whose motivations and struggles only came to light years after her death, when her loving son read the letters she’d left for him and decided to tell her story. This is such a compelling and loving book, expertly crafted by former BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones, who sat on the letters for many years before finally starting the long journey of excavation that resulted in this wonderful story. My parents also met at the BBC, though my upbringing was very different to Rory’s. It was wonderful to have this inside and very evocative view of what life was like for the pioneers of radio and television. I bought this book for my mum and she loved it as much as I did.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

Not a book I’d usually pick up as I’m not really into historical fiction. But Hamnet was highly recommended by Kate Codrington so I thought I’d give it a go. I loved it so much I went to see the stage show of the story – not as good though! The book was truly sublime. Beautifully written, moving, other-worldly, draws you in and holds you captive. An imagined story of Shakespeare’s son called Hamnet who died in childhood, and not long after there was a rather famous play called Hamlet. I grew up on the Stratford Road in Birmingham and Shakespeare’s home was just down the road and an every present fixture of my childhood. So it was especially evocative for me. Highly recommended!

The Whalebone Theatre – Joanna Quinn

Another book I wouldn’t have naturally turned to but I saw The Whalebone Theatre again highly recommended. It sat on my Kindle for a while before I got started as so many of my books do! Very long, very detailed, lots of characters to get attached to. I’d never read a family saga before so this was very much a new genre for me. I loved it. I didn’t appreciate it enough early on, I don’t think, but eventually I relaxed into the beautiful writing and enjoyed it for its own sake as well as relishing the story itself. Absolutely fantastic and I was sad to get to the end. Hard to believe it was a debut novel. I listened to a lot of it on my walks which was good, but I think it was almost better read than listened to.

Breath, Eyes, Memory – Edwidge Danticat 

Breath, Eyes, Memory was written in 1994 but it didn’t come across my radar till February 2024 at book club. At the time it was hailed as a stunning literary debut by a very young author. It’s a beautiful and shocking book about the women in Haiti, their struggles and conflicts, their fortitude and resilience. It tells of the violence of their homeland and the difficulties of life as an immigrant to the US. I really enjoyed this and it was a window into a world I know little of.

The Warmth Of Other Suns: The Epic Story Of America’s Great Migration –  Isabel Wilkerson

This is a glorious book and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Another one that had sat on my Kindle for several years after I heard about it on a podcast during the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a spell-binding work of creative nonfiction following the personal stories of three people who participated in the great migration of the Black population from the American south to the north during the 20th century.

This book was such an eye-opener for me. I thought I knew quite a lot about the US having lived there for three years in my 30s. But I had no concept of just how very divided the north and the south were and how for a century after the end of the Civil War apartheid was still a fundamental part of the way the American south operated. This book really brought into perspective for me the current issues surrounding race relations, especially in the US.

This is a long book but well worth reading to understand more about man’s inhumanity to man. America may set itself up as the land of the free but life certainly wasn’t free for a huge proportion of its population until very late in the last century. Shocking and eye-opening. I part listened to this book on Spotify and was delighted to find that the narrator was the same voice actor as read Breath, Eyes, Memory.

Woman Of Valor – Lynne Golodner

This was a book written by my podcast guest and I was fascinated by it. I have always been fascinated by Judaism and especially by orthodox communities. I live very close to the Hasidic community in North London. I am fascinated by the way they live their lives, the clothes they wear, the way women cover their hair etc. I think the fascination may have started because my godmother was Jewish. I know that’s a contradiction in terms. But she promised to bring me up in the Christian faith!

This is a fascinating novel about a woman who, while ethnically Jewish, grew up pretty secular but embraced a very orthodox Jewish life. It takes us deep into the life of an orthodox Jewish woman and how that life is lived. While she never struggles with her faith, she does struggle with the community in which she has chosen to live. This book taught me so much about orthodox Jewish life and I found myself looking up words constantly as I was keen to understand their full meaning. This is beautifully written, very evocative and compelling.

Leaving – Roxana Robinson

This was a gripping and moving book about a couple who meet late in life and revisit the relationship they never properly ended in their youth. I was really caught by the story and ended up reading this very quickly. I struggled to put it down! It was an interesting look at issues surrounding adultery and the power children can hold to wreck their parents lives. At times I thought surely this can’t be happening now in 2024, but then I realized it was absolutely possible still. With much of it set in New York it was fun to be taken back to places I knew. It was refreshing to have a love story featuring older characters most certainly in their third act.  Highly recommended.

The Anxious Generation: How The Great Rewiring Of Childhood Is Causing An Epidemic Of Mental Illness – Jonathan Haidt

I’ve long been concerned about the impact of smartphones on the very old and the young. This book is a must read for everyone, examining the terrible toll on the mental health of our young people caused by the now ubiquitous smartphone and the unfettered access that provides to social media. For too long we’ve accepted the changes in technology as something we have to live with and adapt to.

Jonathan Haidt presents the research and hard data showing how the combination of smartphones and open access to social media has done enormous damage to our youngsters. He provides ideas for how we as a society can do something about it. It’s absolutely time we did. I’m already much more conscious of my own smart phone and social media use. A powerful and thought-provoking read.

The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead 

This is a very fine book by American writer Colson Whitehead who also wrote The Underground Railroad. It’s based on accounts of reform schools in America, this one particularly brutal and situated in the very racist south. It follows the fortunes of two boys, one who should never have been at a reform school in the first place, and the terrible violence and racism they encounter in Jim Crowe Florida, even though this is the 1960s. A book club choice. A powerful and disturbing story. But highly recommended.

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

I don’t think a book has ever made me laugh as much as this one. I found it funny in its written form but when I moved to the audio version, listening on Spotify, I laughed even more. The narrator is perfect. I’m sure people thought I was a bit strange as I giggled to myself walking round the park. This was another book club book that I never would’ve discovered by myself.

That’s one reason I love book club! This was so much fun and so cleverly crafted and written. It’s a book about a bank robbery, a hostage situation, idiots, relationships and some rather anxious people. It kept me hooked from beginning to end and I miss it now it’s finished. Highly entertaining, lots of fun and laugh out loud funny. Written about a town in Sweden but it could really be anywhere.  A fascinating exploration of insecurities, opportunities missed, preconceptions, love, acceptance and taking chances. Highly recommended.

Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow – Gabrielle Zevin

Oh my goodness, how I loved this novel, set in the world of computer gaming. It sat on my Kindle for ages again. When I discovered it had been a (my) book club book, that raised it up the priority list. It’s not often I spend a day to finish a book, usually I read in the gaps, but I did for this one.

While I have never played a proper video game, it has long been a part of my life, both as a favored pursuit of my son and as the industry of my partner. I’ve never wanted to get too caught up in a game, to be honest. Too much else to do. And reading books is one of those activities that I prefer. But this book is just beautiful and taught me so much about the gaming world and the people who make games.

It was glorious and so cleverly written, compelling, atmospheric, moving, evocative and just the most perfect novel. Just as I wondered where it was going now, it would heap on further surprises and keep you enthralled right to the very last minute. It’s a story about love but not typical love. It’s a story about the angst of youth, the confusion of adulthood and making our way the best we can with the talents we have. Reading the author’s background after I finished the book made me realize how much she had drawn on her personal experience to build this incredible world. Go read it. As soon as you can! Highly recommended. 

That’s my list for the first six months of 2024. Here’s to the second half!

Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond which was recommended in the New York Times.

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Last Updated on July 2, 2024 by Editorial Staff

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