5 Recommended reads for autumn
We’ve asked guest blogger Stuart Pearcey to turn away from the internet for a little while and return to print to come up with his list of five novels worthy of a read this autumn. His list has surprised us, mixing romantic fiction with history and travel writing. What do you think about his choices?
Choosing five great books to read is almost as impossible being asked to name your favourite child – but not quite.
Books are easier to select, depending on genre, author, leading characters, and the fact that when you pick one, none of the others are cruelly hurt or disappointed. What’s more, what appeals to one reader is unlikely to appeal to everyone. So, bookmarks at the ready, along with the knowledge that what appeals to me might well not be your cup of Darjeeling, I’m going to name five titles worth opening and plunging into as the northern hemisphere days get shorter, and the temperature drops.
1. Go Set A Watchman: Straight away I’m breaking the rules with my first title, because it could turn out to be two. In Watchman Harper Lee shows us more of the world of To Kill A Mockingbird, which people seem to have heard of, even if they’re never read it. It’s pretty unusual for a debut novel to win a Pulitzer Prize and have its title be so well-remembered for twenty years afterwards. That’s why title one is two; Read Watchman by all means, but read Mockingbird as well.
2. The Milliner’s Secret: Another female author selected for national recognition in America for only her second book is Natalie Meg Evans with her work The Milliner’s Secret. Evans won the 2014 Festival of Romantic Fiction’s Best Historical Read Award, and was shortlisted for a 2015 ‘Rita’ awarded by the Romance Writers of America. ‘Secret’ is set in England and Germany before and during the second war, it’s the story of a milliner name Cora who has invented a claim to be and aristocratic to launch a fashionable millinery business. Only the influence of a high-ranking lover protects her business when the Nazis arrive. Her secret? Come on, that would spoil the book for you – but it’s a good one, and worth working through the book to discover it.
3. Will Pickles of Wensleydale: The life of a country doctor: I’m going back almost 50 years for my third title, and it’s just what its title suggests; a biography of the life of a country doctor – but the simple statement hides what the book is all about; a topic I’d venture to suggest matters to us all. Will Pickles was a General Practitioner who spent all this working life in Yorkshire’s Wensleydale, which, in the first half of the 20th century was an isolated community. No motor cars here, facilitating travel amongst the isolated villages. Even the doctor did his rounds on horseback. It was this isolation, coupled with the dedication of Pickles’ wife Gerty, which enabled Will to study the transmission of disease, and come to understand the process of incubation periods. Having re-read that last paragraph, it sounds a dry old topic, but the medical profession saw its value, and Pickles was ultimately invited to lecture about his work all over the world. And because of what he was able to discover, doctors today are able to tell you about when the diseases suffered by you and your children cease to be contagious. For my money, Pickles deserves to be as famous as Jenner, pioneer of vaccination, and Snow, who discovered that cholera was spread by infected water.
4. One Summer, America 1927: Charles Lindbergh flew into the hearts of people on both sides of the Atlantic when he successfully piloted The Spirit of St Louis from America to Paris in the early summer of 1927. It was a momentous decade for all sorts of reasons, which easily-read author Bill Bryson untangles beautifully in his volume One Summer. The story talks about how remarkable Lindbergh’s flight was, given the fate of others that summer, which failed to get off the ground, crashed into trees, were lost at sea or completed their journeys at the end of a towrope.
But One Summer is about far more than flying; it is about Prohibition, and how the American government poisoned its own citizens and damaged its economy by putting alcohol into the hands of hoodlums; about baseball legend Babe Ruth and his enormous appetites for food and sex; about the birth of hire purchase and nationwide radio broadcasts; and about the rise and fall of the Klu Klux Klan. I’m working through it for the third time; there’s so much to discover!
5. McCarthy’s Bar: The harp player had just fallen of the stage and cracked his head on the Italian tourist’s pint. There was a big cheer, and Con the barman rang the bell on the counter.’ So starts Pete McCarthy’s journey through Ireland as he tries to establish if he could really be Irish because of ancestral ties, even though he was born in Warrington. He guides his journey by following his own rules for travel. Number 8 says you should never walk past a bar with your name on it, which follows Number 7: Never eat in a restaurant with laminated menus.
This is not the kind of book that can be read on a train; it tends to produce unbidden snorts of laughter. It’s a travel book the like of which I’ve never come across, unless you count The Road To McCarthy, which Pete also wrote. There might ultimately have been more, but he sadly died at the age of just 53.
The picture of Charles Lindbergh is taken from Wikipedia, having been shot in the Washington DC studio of Harris and Ewing.