Coming up at the Non-Fiction Book Club: Ed Caesar (The Moth and The Mountain), Henry Marsh (And Finally), Maria Ressa (How To Stand Up To A Dictator)
Coming up at the Fiction Book Club: Eliza Clark (Boy Parts), Tomasz Jedrowski (Swimming in the Dark)
Wednesday 21st February, 7.30pm
One of Tom’s favourite social historians returns with a lively portrait of Edwardian Britain. Think music halls and the real Peaky Blinders, with the First World War just around the corner.
Wednesday 28th February, 7.30pm
Picked by The Times as one of its environment books of the year, journalist Louise Gray tracks the story of our food from farm to fruit bowl, asking what impact our voracious appetites have on the planet.
Brrrrrrr! You might have noticed it’s been quite cold this week. It looks like milder weather is on its way, but if you need something to warm your heart, my colleague Amy Strong sent me this lovely note about reading in the winter. Enjoy!
AN UTTERLY SURPRISING, out-of-blue, totally unexpected fact about me, a person that works with books, is that I like reading.
I’m not fussy about where or when I read. I read when I’m brushing my teeth, in the cold blue light of the bathroom. If there’s room for me to bend my elbow, I read on the tube on the way to work, cushioned by dozens of puffer coats. During lockdown, I used to sit by the electric fire in my mum’s house reading all night until I would look out the window to see a bleached sky and tired hedgehogs snuffling about the overgrown patio and realise I had been in another world for 6 hours.
Whatever the season, I read. Last summer, I lounged on sun-drenched grass in Battersea Park reading about falling in love and growing up and finding your family while people around me picnicked and played lazy games of rounders.
The last few weeks, while the nights haven’t felt like they’re getting any shorter and the cold has been bitter, I’ve been fighting off the January blues by barricading myself in the one-bedroom flat where I live with my boyfriend, with soft lighting and warmth and good books.
Living as we do in London and being as we are recent graduates, we do not have a fireplace. But what we do have is Netflix. “Fireplace: for your home” (birchwood edition) may not have quite the same effect as a log burner, but it’s close enough. My somewhat reductive sense of interior design has also led to us having two (mismatched) sets of fairy lights in the living room which, paired with a desk lamp and a small reading light, give off enough light to read by. The Big Light remains switched off because we aren’t heathens.
With energy prices as high as they are, our thermostat is set to the put-another-jumper-on-if-you’re-cold temperature of 17 degrees. However, I am willing to pay a few extra pence to have my electric blanket on. The JOY this blanket brings me. It makes me feel like a happy little hibernating dormouse.
Once the scene is set, we settle into our books. My boyfriend opens his up to where his loyal Backstory bookmark divides the pages; I haphazardly flick through to find the spot where I left off. And so we leave Clapham behind, without leaving the comfort of our sofa, visiting everywhere from Nigeria in debut author Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s upcoming novel Blessings, to deep space in Cixin Liu’s sci-fi trilogy beginning with The Three Body Problem, back to south London with Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson.
I read for escape, but also for connection, seeking out characters that I can’t quite believe aren’t real because they’re much more colourful than the ink and paper they’re made of, much louder than the words on the page. Characters I’ll think about for months after I’ve finished the book, like Marion from Great Circle or In Memoriam’s Elly and Gaunt.
We’ll read until one of us breaks the spell, pointing out it’s time to make dinner, or to go to bed, or to watch the new episode of Taskmaster. Whether we read for 15 minutes or two hours, this ritual leaves me feeling lighter. Even with the lights turned low, January no longer feels quite so dark.
If sitting at home with a pixelated fire doesn’t do it for you, though, you could always come by the shop for a hot drink, a read, and a chitchat. Don’t worry – Tom is much freer with the thermostat than I am.