The magic of the mundane

Coming up at Backstory

  • Free live music every Thursday evening, 6pm-8pm

    No need to book, just turn up at our bar from 6pm on Thursday evenings

  • Isabel Hardman and Stephanie Snow on our NHS

    Wednesday 9th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Marking the 75th anniversary of the NHS, The Spectator’s assistant editor Isabel Hardman talks with Stephanie Snow, a Manchester University expert in healthcare history, about the past and future of the beloved and beleaguered institution.

  • Join Rachel Yoder at our Fiction Book Club - Nightbitch

    Tuesday 15th August, 8pm, Zoom

    A mother experiences a brilliantly unhinged transformation under the strain of family life. Join the fiction book club for £15 a month or just pay for this session.

  • Ben Judah - This is Europe

    Wednesday 16th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Tom's favourite non-fiction book of the year so far, ‘This is Europe’ is a masterful portrait of a continent, told through pen sketches of dozens of its ordinary citizens.

  • SOLD OUT Live poetry at Backstory: Michael Pedersen and Hollie McNish

    Wednesday 30th August, 7.30pm, Backstory

    Two dazzling poets bring their words to life live at Backstory. Michael Pedersen will be reading from his new collection, ‘The Cat Prince,’ in conversation with Hollie McNish, author of ‘Slug’ and ‘Nobody Told Me.’

  • Join Tim Marshall at our Non-fiction Book Club - The Power of Geography

    Thursday 31st August, 8pm, Zoom

    Tim Marshall, the bestseller who explains the world to us through its maps, joins us to talk about The Power of Geography. Join the non-fiction book club for £15 a month or just pay for this session.



BOOKS CAN TAKE YOU ANYWHERE. To Communist Albania or pre-revolutionary France, to Middle England or Middle Earth, far into space or deep beneath the ocean. Though Backstory does a good trade in fantasy (thanks, Darby and Amy!) and sci-fi (thanks, Rory!), I generally plump for stories set not such a long time ago in a galaxy really rather close to our own.

The writers I admire most make me reconsider the everyday. There’s a genius in taking something small and making it big. If you need persuading, try Sam Knight on the sandwich or David Finkel’s story of a gun.

It’s the same with fiction. Though I’m a sucker for a thriller on holiday, most of the time I prefer something a little more humdrum, more domestic, a book that makes the ordinary extraordinary. You could call them “books about people” or “books with not much plot” (exactly the right amount, I’d say). They’re about nothing much and about everything: family, love, finding a path through this crazy world. I’ll read anything by Nickolas ButlerAnne TylerElizabeth StroutCaleb Azumah Nelson or Jessica Andrews.

So perhaps it’s not a surprise that I loved Ann Patchett’s latest novel, Tom Lake. So did Denise. So much so, in fact, that it’s Backstory’s book of the month for August.

Tom. Not pictured: Lake.

It’s a gorgeous, sun-dappled novel about growing up, growing old and how the meaning and intensity of familial and romantic love changes throughout life. Without once mentioning covid, Patchett uses the unique circumstances of the pandemic to throw together all of a family’s grown-up daughters with their parents. With normal life suspended, they have the sort of deep conversations we all mean to get around to one day, but which life normally has a habit of conspiring against.

As they race to bring in the cherry harvest, the daughters cajole their mother into finally telling them the full story of the pivotal romances of her youth. It’s a gentle and humane story that unfolds like a lazy late summer’s day. It’s touching, and damn funny too.

It also has the most beautiful cover I’ve seen for a long time:

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.