Editors’ choices: Comment

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Book Editors’ note: This year, we’re starting a series of editors’ choices of books they enjoy. Twice a month, members of the editorial board will recommend some of their favourite reads. Spanning novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, we hope this series inspires you to pick up something new. Happy reading!

Cerys Edwards’ recommendations

Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins-Reid 

Any English student will tell you that the very best books hold up a mirror to society in a way which challenges the reader’s most deeply held perceptions and beliefs. Let me start, then, by saying that Daisy Jones and The Six certainly does not do this. It is unpretentious, unserious and easy to read – all reasons for which this was easily one of my favourite books of 2020. 

Based partly on the folklore surrounding Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours, the novel charts the heady rise and fall of the fictitious band Daisy Jones and The Six. Nonchalant and charismatic, they encapsulate the sun-soaked zeitgeist of 1970s Los Angeles and are the epitome of success. Until, after only one album, they split. Jenkins-Reid offers an almost journalistic retrospective of these events, with chapters structured through a series of interwoven interviews with band members, managers and family. This multiplicity of narrative offers such a level of detail that it is easy to forget that what you are reading is entirely fictional. Slightly cliché? Absolutely. Will you devour it in one sitting? No question. 

Unpretentious, unserious, and easy to read

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt 

Rightly deemed a modern classic, The Secret History resides at the opposite end of the literary spectrum. The plot is simple: a murder has been committed, for which our narrator, Richard, is “partially responsible”. What follows is a macabre and meticulous account of the crime. However, to describe the novel as a murder mystery would do a disservice to Tartt’s elegant prose which is equally interested in Richard’s conceited and eccentric group of friends. Consumed by affectation and classical literature, they are darkly academic and exist separately to the other undergraduates. They are captivating characters: morally grey and hauntingly complex, they form the heart of the sedately paced, yet compelling, narrative. It’s a great novel for those yearning to be back at university (although maybe without the murderous tendencies). 

’s recommendations

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Yes, it’s a classic and everyone knows of it. Yes, it’s the inspiration of many a cheesy Halloween costume. Nevertheless, this 1818 novel is a piece of brilliant and exquisite literature that will always stay with me. After accidentally downloading it on my Kindle, I decided a few years ago to give it a shot on a bleary, grey train journey, when I realised that I had forgotten the book I was already partway through. This novel filled the times between stations many a time after this first encounter. Blending horror, the grotesque, Romanticism, Gothic tropes, fantasy, the beginnings of sci-fi and psychology, this novel was ahead of its time, and hoisted the flag for women in the masculine novel-writing world. This thriller makes you sympathise with what appears evil at first, whilst at the same time exposing the evil in the familiar. The reader is transported across Europe, from the most fertile regions of Switzerland, to the darkest corners of Scotland, to icy storms on the North Sea. But this does not compromise on Shelley’s exploration of her characters’ minds. Often it’s hard to determine the difference between the geographical and the psychological terrain of this novel, which, to borrow an unforgivable cliché, makes it a real page-turner.

A piece of brilliant and exquisite literature

Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand

Love him or hate him, Russell Brand is a figure who has leeched onto the public consciousness of the United Kingdom. He is a chameleon, shifting personas throughout the 21st century, having had a finger in every conceivable pie at different points throughout his buccaneering career. However, he’s calmed down a bit recently, become ‘spiritually awakened’ as some may term it, and written a book that offers some real grounding lessons that I think everyone needs in our modern culture of delectable noise and fluxing distraction. It isn’t too much of an overstatement to say that this book, and everything that stems from it, has changed my conception of the world. 

Brand explores the addictions we are trapped by daily, and suggests the 12-Step Method, by which he feels we can overcome these enslaving stumbling blocks as he did. These addictions are not only the obvious – drugs, alcohol, smoking – but also subtler ones – bad relationships, social media, work – which, he argues, are in some ways more dangerous and less noticed since they are more socially acceptable and widespread. Nevertheless, he remains humble throughout and speaks through the voices of mentors he has come across through his road to recovery. This is the beauty of this book: he is not afraid to admit that he still remains far from perfect, evident in the way that he playfully defaces a spiritual framework for betterment, with the virulent f-bombs that have always characterised him. 

Image: Thought Catalog via Unsplash

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