I’ve always loved reading and for as long as I can remember, I’ve read at least a book a week. When I say I enjoy reading, most people say, ‘I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy.’ People assume that because I read a lot, then I must have loads of time on my hands. I don’t and I never read for more than 5 minutes at a go during the day. I just make the time, that’s all. It’s a question of priorities. Every spare moment, I read. While I wait for the kettle to boil, always in the loo, sometimes while cooking. If you can’t make space in your life for things you enjoy then what the hell is the point of living.
For me, there is nothing more beautiful and instructive and magical as a novel. Books are revelations, private lessons, wells of beauty and pleasure. When I read, I feel like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole. There is a special kind of sadness when you finish a great book. I always read about five books at the same time. I juggle and switch between them like a DJ spinning discs.
I love words. No other art form moves me as much as words. Words are my music. Read this excerpt from Gary Provost book and see what I mean:
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.
I’ve always devoured World War 2 books. I’m fascinated by how supposedly civilized Europe descended into such a dark and demonic period not even a hundred years ago. Both my grandfathers apparently had distressing experiences during the war and I have no clue what happened to either of them as they clammed up and never spoke to anyone in any detail about it. Over the past 10 years, there has been a wave of memoirs published as eyewitnesses are getting older and dying off and suddenly realising, ‘Oh shit. We should have told someone. This is important.’ This year I’ve been catching up on these books.
I find Holocaust stories strangely uplifting and inspiring. You can’t help but feel sane and blessed when you read true stories of extreme loss, starvation, terror, courage and endurance. World War 2 memoirs are some of the most extraordinary stories of courage, resistance and hope. I’ve learned from this topic that when everything else is destroyed, what you are and who you are and what you know are the things that count and they cannot be taken from you.
I still can’t fathom how ordinary people tolerated the Nazis and not only allowed them to do what they did, but actively participated in it. It was the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who said that ‘the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either but right through every human heart.’ I believe we all have the same seeds in us, the same potential for evil in certain conditions and in certain circumstances.
The scary thing is that people are under the false impression that the Nazis were to blame for everything. They fail to realise that Hitler’s original plan was not to annihilate the Jews. He just wanted them out of Germany to make the place Jew-free. The Holocaust happened because no one else wanted the Jews. It was then that Hitler realised the world didn’t care. It was this failure to find a place for the Jews that prompted the Final Solution that killed 6 million of them. The Nazis played on anti-Semitic feelings that already existed throughout Europe, particularly in Poland which was virulently anti-Semitic. Did you know that the Jews are the most hated and persecuted people in history? I think Europe is still anti-Semitic but it is now more undercover and cloaked in that socially acceptable, politically correct form which is ‘Anti-Israel’. I have a soft spot for Jews, as you can tell.
Favourite books of 2016
My two favourite books for 2016 were … drumroll … ‘Escape from Sobibor’ by Richard Rashke and Trevor Noah’s memoir called ‘Born a Crime’. Escape from Sobibor is a riveting true story. It is absolutely mind blowing. The world would be a nicer place if everyone read that book. I will never forget it. I feel I am a better person for having read it.
Trevor Noah’s book was light and well-written and it brilliantly articulated racial issues in South Africa. I could relate to so much of what he said, albeit as an observer from the other, more privileged side of the racial fence.
I’ve put the books I most enjoyed in red in the list below. Maggie O’Farrell is my favourite writer and her book ‘This must be the place’ was as absorbing as ever. I enjoyed Kuki Gallmann’s ‘I dreamed of Africa’ and I read some good psychological thrillers by BA Paris and Tammy Cohen. Paula Daly’s ‘Keep your friends close’ was excellent escapism. Jane Fallon’s ‘Strictly between us’ was light and fun and Sarah Morgan’s romantic contemporary fiction provided some fluffy, mindless relief after the heavier World War 2 fare.
Thomas Friedman’s new book was very educational and stimulating. It was interesting to learn the extent to which climate change acts as the amplifier of today’s political challenges such as economic migrants, interethnic conflicts and extremism. I didn’t realize that climate change was one of the main factors in the Syrian civil war. Before the war began, Syria suffered the worst drought in its modern history and the government did nothing to help. This was a critical stressor that fuelled the uprising. Fascinating and also scary because Donald Trump thinks climate change isn’t a big deal. Oh boy.
Anyway, here is my list:
- Orphan Train by CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE
- Rumours by FREYA NORTH
- After Auschwitz: A story of heartbreak and survival by the stepsister of Anne Frank by EVA SCHLOSS
- Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz by THOMAS HARDING
- Black Rabbit Hall by EVE CHASE
- Sleigh Bells in the Snow by SARAH MORGAN
- Suddenly Last Summer by SARAH MORGAN
- Maybe this Christmas by SARAH MORGAN
- The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany by THOMAS HARDING
- Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz by OLGA LENGYEL
- Some Kind of Wonderful by SARAH MORGAN
- First Time in Forever by SARAH MORGAN
- Christmas Ever After by SARAH MORGAN
- Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by ALFRED LANSING
- The Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by THOMAS BUERGENTHAL
- Sleepless in Manhattan by SARAH MORGAN
- Summer Kisses by SARAH MORGAN
- A Rose from the Ashes by ROSE PRICE
- Christ in the Passover by CEIL AND MOISHE ROSEN
- Playing by the Greek’s Rules by SARAH MORGAN
- Doukakis’s Apprentice by SARAH MORGAN
- The Nazi Officer’s Wife by EDITH HAHN BEER
- Wine by CARO FEELY
- On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood by IRMGARD HUNT
- Hitler’s Last Witness: Memoirs of Hitler’s Bodyguard by ROCHUS MISCH
- Strictly Between Us by JANE FALLON
- Behind Closed Doors by BA PARIS
- He was my Chief: Memoir’s of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary by CHRISTA SCHROEDER
- Before She was Bad by TAMMY COHEN
- Getting Rid of Matthew by JANE FALLON
- Anne Frank Remembered by MIEP GIES
- The Girl in the Green Sweater by KRYSTYNA CHIGER
- La Trahison d’Alekos Zakorokis by SARAH MORGAN
- The Big Short by MICHEAL LEWIS
- This Must Be The Place by MAGGIE O’FARRELL
- Un Epoux Inattendu by ANNE MCALLISTER
- Night by ELIE WIESEL
- First One Missing by TAMMY COHEN
- Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory by CHIL RAJCHMAN
- Clara’sWar by CLARA KRAMER
- In the Garden of Beasts by ERIK LARSON
- The Pianist by WLADYSLAW SZPILMAN
- I Will Plant you a Lilac Tree by LAURA HILLMAN
- The Boy on the Wooden Box by LEON LEYSON
- The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus by JOHN R CROSS
- The News by ALAIN DE BOTTON
- Alicia by ALICIA APPLEMAN
- Un si Seduisant Milliardaire by EMMA DARCY
- The Joe Rubinstein Story by NANCY SPROWELL GEISE
- Into that Darkness by GITTA SERENY
- Escape from Sobibor by RICHARD RASHKE
- Sunset in Central Park by SARAH MORGAN
- Story of a Secret State by JAN KARSKI
- I Found You by LISA JEWELL
- 100 Ways to Improve your Writing by GARY PROVOST
- Le Plus Parfait des Amants by JOSS WOOD
- I See You by CLARE MACINTOSH
- The Hell of it All by CHARLIE BROOKER
- Eyewitness Auschwitz by FILIP MULLER
- Boy by ROALD DAHL
- I Dreamed of Africa by KUKI GALLMANN
- Going Solo by ROALD DAHL
- The Silver Sword by IAN SERRAILLIER
- Goodnight Mister Tom by MICHELLE MAGORIAN
- Got You Back by JANE FALLON
- Foursome by JANE FALLON
- Fascinee par un seducteur by SHARON KENDRICK
- Truly Madly Guilty by LIANE MORIARTY
- Miracle on 5th Avenue by SARAH MORGAN
- Freres de Sang by MIKAEL OLLIVIER
- Test of Courage by MICHEL THOMAS/CHRISTOPHER ROBBINS
- Youth in Flames by ALIZIA VITIS-SHOMRON
- The Bravest Battle by DAN KURZMAN
- A Painted Ocean by GABRIEL PACKARD
- Golden Fox by WILBUR SMITH
- Born a Crime by TREVOR NOAH
- Un Aigle dans La Neige by MICHAEL MORPURGO
- The Final Curtsey by MARGARET RHODES
- Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to the Future By THOMAS FRIEDMAN
- The Mistake I Made by PAULA DALY
- Keep your Friends Close by PAULA DALY
- What Kind of Mother are You? by PAULA DALY