Whether it’s the book that first got you into reading, or one that resonated at the perfect time, we all have those books that changed our lives. That altered us as people and readers. The LeftLion Literature team share theirs…
Moomins - Tove Jansson
Let’s clarify from the outset - there’s nothing twee about Moomins. They may look like fluffy hippos, and there is always danger in over-sentimentalising the anthropomorphism, but in the depths of Moonminvalley, in the weariness of late autumn and winter, there is sadness, frustration and anxiety as well as kindness, hospitality and tolerance.
I came to the series by writer and artist Tove Jansson quite late, beyond the age she targeted; but therein lies my affection. Wrapped up in gentle narratives of domestic life in the fruitful natural environment of the Finnish landscape are relationships as fragile or tentative as any in ‘real life’, and wisdom too, derived from reflection and compassion.
Follow Snufkin in his summer wanderings, a free spirit with a harmonica, knapsack and fishing rod, self contained in his natural philosophy, and you start to get a feeling for freedom and joy that pervades Moominvalley despite the threats from comets, floods or deep freezing water. Of course I identify with Moominpappa, weighed down by paternal responsibilities and yearning for a sense of purpose, but observe the welcome door held ajar by Moominmamma - ever-loving, calm and tolerant of all creatures - and all is well; there is nothing more joyful. Rick Hall.
Humankind - Rutger Brenman
Like many, I came out of a year-and-a-half of lockdowns, Boris Johnson and bloody banana bread feeling a more cynical, angry person. Locked away from social interaction, with little else but doom-scrolling Twitter and binge-watching BBC News to keep me company, I allowed my view of humanity to become one of mistrust and scepticism. Yet Rutger Bregman’s profoundly moving and deeply interesting Humankind snapped me out of my funk, highlighting that, for the most part, people are good - there wouldn’t be a society to complain about in the first place, otherwise. Insightful, inspirational and optimistic - all while remaining grounded in realism - Brugman’s work is essential reading as we head into the new year. George White
Trumpet - Jackie Kay
The novel begins at the end of Joss Moody’s life. He has died the world's greatest trumpet player, spent his career selling out arenas with legendary jazz musicians, and has left behind a loving wife and doting son. When the autopsy reveals that he was a trans man, the outward-facing perfection of his life crumbles as a media circus starts to swirl around the people who loved him most. Despite being a story of loss, Jackie Kay does a remarkable job of honouring all a ferocious, unconditional love that sits below grief. The writing is equal parts skillful and poetic, Kay exposes the reader to different narrative voices. Millie Moody mourns her late husband in their empty holiday cottage on the Scottish coastline, an insidious reporter tries to poach a story from the grieving family. Colman Moody cannot stomach the reality of his father's identity and peels through childhood memories in search of answers. There is a tiny chapter where the corpse has its own narrative. The prose is ethereal, like poetry as the body transcends off the page into whatever heaven Kay has constructed for Joss Moody. This novel is a pivotal moment in queer literature, a Black, Queer body with its own voice, navigating death with terrific honesty.- I’m obsessed. Jaden Morton.
The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides
Picking one book that changed my life is a tall order, but when I think to one novel that I’ve returned to over and over again it’s The Virgin Suicides, the 1993 book that tells the story of the five Lisbon sisters and their suicides in the fictional Grosse Point, Michigan. Told from the perspective of the neighbourhood boys who spy on the sisters, the story's unusual narration grips the reader almost immediately, reading more like folklore or mythology than memory - in which the Lisbon girls are deified. Hearing whispers of the girls' story but never their full truth, it’s a book about the romanticisation of female pain, which never allows them their own voice. Tragically relatable, and masterfully written, it’s a text that I get something different from upon every single read, whether that’s because I’m admiring Eugenides’ wonderful prose or musing on the ‘imprisonment of being a girl’ as the narrators put it. One that will remain a staple in my life, I highly recommend. Lizzy O’Riordan
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