Sunday Times Style Columnist and the brains behind The Dolly Mail, one of the best weekly newsletters around, Dolly Alderton is our guest writer on the journal this week for the second time this year. It’s a well known fact that books and satchels just make sense together, in fact we’d go as far as to say we feel the same way about books and satchels as we do about tea and cake: better together. As a fellow bookworm, we asked Dolly to talk us through the best books she’s read this year so far and we were far from disappointed with her recommendations. And with hot weather still a distant daydream away, we’re planning to spend the next few weeks curled up and working our way through her amazing list of books (and we’ll enjoy every minute!).
The first few months of the year are undoubtedly the bleakest. Every time they swing round, all slush and sleet, unarranged overdrafts and tax returns, I lose count of the times newsreaders merrily declare on the radio that “today is officially the most depressing day of the year”. How many surveys have they got on the go? 59 to cover every day of these two miserable months?
But there are small slivers of respite to be found; cobweb-clearing frosty morning walks, toad-in-the-hole and mash; the much over-looked bath salt. And if you find the right book, one that will leave you hoping for a hail storm so you can stay with your nose in its pages and not leave the house until well into spring, these months can be a good time to wind down and rest.
Here is my pick of the most absorbing books to drag you through the last cold days of the year, so you’ll emerge as fresh and bright and new as the cherry blossom on the trees.
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
In my opinion, this is the best book Bill Bryson has ever written, but perhaps that’s just because I’m self-obsessed and like hearing what people make of me as this book is the most accurate examination of the English I’ve ever come across. After living in England for 20 years, Bryson travels all round the country, from Exeter up to Joan O’Groats, to write about this island and its inhabitants one more time before his return to the states. The result is an extremely funny, beautifully observed collection of anecdotes from the point of view of a fascinated outsider who, beneath his wry mocking is deeply, deeply fond of us.
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
In this book, Matt Haig writes about his breakdown aged 24 that nearly brought him to suicide and the anxiety and depression that has been with him ever since. He draws on his own experiences to come to conclusions on the disease that effects 350 million people globally, using warmth and humour to explain and discuss depression clearly. Although it sounds heavy-going, it’s ultimately a life-affirming, hugely uplifting and reassuring book that makes us realise we are not alone and, as Joanna Lumley describes it on the cover, “may even save lives”.
Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth
A story about two best friends and fast-living flâneurs Laura, 29 and Tyler, 32, living together in Manchester and limping through life from one hangover to the next and all the small-hour, hazey-memory magic that lies in between. This book is a treat to read from start to finish – lyrical, gut-wrenchingly vivid and will have you oscillating between snorts of insuppressible laughter, adoration for the protagonists then utter disgust, and the most urgent desire for a bottle of wine with your best friend.
The Clasp – Sloane Crosley
This is the first novel from the quick-witted essayist and New Yorker Sloane Crosley. It is a story of a group of three college best friends who have drifted apart and come back together for a friend’s wedding ten years after graduation. What follows is a modern-day quest story, with each of them on their own totally unexpected, but messily interlinked missions. This is a laugh-out-loud but equally tender tale in the modern language of millenials exploring friendship, identity and what it means to be happy.