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Culture, Literature

OX Reads: Best of British

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Reading

The wonderful Kim Harvey, owner of the excellent The Mad Hatter Bookshop in Burford (and Creative Director of The Burford Literary Festival) shares her reading suggestions for books on the universal theme of love.

When we think of Best of British the first thing that springs to my mind is the Sunday Roast with all the trimmings or maybe afternoon tea, triangular cucumber sandwiches followed by scones with jam and cream or cream and jam if you like things topsy-turvy. When it comes to Best of British literature the menu is both delicious, endless, and always comes with a fine wine; William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf to name but a few.

Whether you read classic literature or cosy crime you don’t need to look beyond our briny boarders to find incredible home-grown authors in our bookshops today.

BECKY by Sarah May

Author, teacher and mentor Sarah May has channeled her inner William Thackeray in this Vanity Fair for the new media age. Set in 90s London, the whole ‘hitch your star to a wealthy man Cinderella’ story has been ditched. Rebecca Sharp fights her way to the top to become the editor of The Mercury with a flexible arrangement with the truth. She climbs the social and male-dominated career ladder and cares not who she kicks off on the way up but when she reaches the top is it all she expected? With a sharp interweaving of true-to-life tabloid obsessions, Becky is an absolute must for anybody who ever read, loved or hated The News of The World.

OTHER WOMEN by Emma Flint

Pour yourself a glass of something strong, dim the lights, light the fire and prepare yourself for a devastating story of fantasy and love. Flint’s early obsession with true crime shines bright in this mesmerising story (inspired by the murder of Emily Kaye in 1924) about two women who should never have met but are now forever connected. Other Women focuses on Beatrice, almost invisible until she falls in love with a colleague, and Kate, seen as a devoted wife and mother – until their lives converge. Flint combines exquisite beauty with a haunting darkness that ensure this book will stay with you.

YOUNG MUNGO by Douglas Stewart

Author, and fashion designer, Douglas Stewart and I have a connection – his brilliant book Shuggie Bain – one of the most successful literary debuts of the century so far – is the only book I correctly predicted to win the Booker Prize. I admit it is a very tenuous connection but one I like to hold dear. Young Mungo is Stewart’s extraordinary second novel. Both a page-turner and literary tour de force, it is a vivid portrayal of working-class life and a deeply moving and highly suspenseful story of the dangerous first love of two young men. Growing up in a housing estate in Glasgow, Mungo and James are born under different stars; Mungo a Protestant and James a Catholic. They should be sworn enemies, if they're to be seen as men at all. Yet, against all odds, they become best friends as they find a sanctuary in the pigeon dovecote that James has built for his prize racing birds. As they fall in love, they dream of finding somewhere they belong. This book will give you a wonderful bear hug but beware it may leave you breathless.

OTHERLANDS by Thomas Halliday

It could have started with Dr Brian Cox but being slightly nerdy is now very desirable and so I give you, paleobiologist, Dr Thomas Halliday. In the late 20th century, we began to realise that we could study far more aspects of past life than simply describing forms and defining them into taxonomies. Paleobiology encompasses everything from cell biology to genetic relationships to ecology. It’s like any other part of biology, except it happens to be set in the deep past. Teaming with literary references, OTHERLANDS is an epic, exhilarating journey into deep time, showing us the Earth as it used to exist, and the worlds that were here before ours. Halliday immerses us in a series of ancient landscapes; from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska and the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins, to Ediacaran Australia, where the moon is far brighter than ours today. We visit the birthplace of humanity; we hear the crashing of the highest waterfall the Earth has ever known; and we watch as life emerges again after the asteroid hits, and the age of the mammal dawns. This amazingly enigmatic book shows us the last 500 million years not as an endless expanse of unfathomable time, but as a series of worlds, simultaneously fabulous and familiar. If nothing else, this book in your pocket will give you access to the world of the desirable nerd.

GEORGE, A MAGPIE MEMOIR by Frieda Hughes

Author, poet, artist, Frieda Hughes has the most wonderful Instagram site: not only does it show you her award-winning artwork but you can also meet Meg, the Siberian husky and Wyddfa, Nancy and Billy, the kitchen owls. Frieda provides homes to injured owls who cannot be returned to the wild and they are truly magnificent. George is an exquisitely crafted memoir of love, obsession, and feathers. As magpie George, only survivor of a nest destroyed by a storm, grows from a shrieking scrap of feathers and bones into an intelligent, unruly companion, Frieda finds herself captivated—and apprehensive of what will happen when the time comes to finally set him free. With irresistible humour and heart, Frieda invites us along on her unlikely journey toward joy and connection in the wake of sadness and loss; a journey that began with saving a tiny wild creature and ended with her being saved in return. You will fall in love with wildlife.

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