My Bookshop in the Sky – What to read in May

20130430-212636.jpgPinch punch, first of the month. My August fiction preview will be out in the Bookseller this Friday but May is such a strong month that I can’t resist a little round-up of everything that I would be trying to press on you if you were a customer in my imaginary bookshop in the sky. There is a very nice park near my bookshop, the sun always shines, and I’d like to send you off with something wonderful to read in it. 

James Salter – All That Is

Picador, 23rd, 9781447238249

Philip Bowman is fresh from military service off Okinawa when he lands a job as a book editor in New York and so enters a gentlemanly profession that will endure for longer than any of his love affairs. This is a stunning look at post-war America so beautifully written that I wanted to weep with joy at every sentence and yet so simple and easy to read that I might have inhaled it rather than read it word by word. It made me want to dance down the street, sing Sinatra and drink martinis. It filled me with nostalgic sadness but also made me feel glad to be alive. It is also, I admit blushingly, the most erotic book I have read in a very long time and if there was a Good Sex award, I’d nominate this for it in a heartbeat.

Matt Haig – The Humans

Canongate, 9th, 9780857868756

“I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist.” Our alien narrator arrives on earth to impersonate a mathematician who has proved the Riemann hypothesis and to make sure that all evidence of his discovery – including anyone he may have told – is wiped out. But things don’t go according to plan and our unwilling assassin starts thinking that humans, especially the mathematician’s wife, might have something going for them. Bursting with both humour and humanity, this novel about aliens that sheds much light on our often troubling human condition. Fairly essential reading for anyone – all of us? – who questions what this life business is supposed to be all about. The first two pages alone are worth the cover price, but don’t stop there…

Go here for a lovely taster – Advice to Humans as sourced by Matt from his twitter followers.

Lionel Shriver – Big Brother

Harper Collins, 9th, 9780007271092

In the four years since Pandora has seen her adored elder brother Edison he has gained hundreds of pounds in weight and doesn’t want to talk about why. This is a dark and often funny novel about obesity but I don’t want to say too much about it as the potential for spoilers is immense. This is one of the books that I want people to read because I need people to discuss it with: especially the very interesting twist at the end which I didn’t see coming and adds a whole other dimension both to this book but also to how and why we use storytelling as a way to interpret our lives.

Sarah Dunant – Blood & Beauty

Virago, 2nd, 9781844087426

This novel opens as Cardinal Roderigo Borgia is plotting and buying his way towards becoming Pope Alexander IV. Dunant brings both her landscape and her characters to life magnificently and we watch as the Pope and his children, especially volatile Cesare and adored Lucrezia, become ever more corrupted by power. I was on a panel recently with Dunant and she made a very interesting point about interactive ebooks – she wants readers to be immersed in the world she has created, not to be jumping in and out of the text lured by links to pictures of Vatican City or interactive family trees. Blood and Beauty is exactly the sort of book that deserves and rewards full attention to its sumptuous and often sensual detail.

I’m aware of the irony that I am now to offer you the chance to jump away from me but it would be worth it. Dunant’s reading about the Pope’s mistresses hair here as part of 2013 World Book Night raised the temperature of the whole room.

Kate Clanchy – Meeting the English

Picador, 9th, 9780330535274

1989 and literary giant Phillip Pryce has been felled by a massive stroke. Enter Struan, a bright 17 year-old from Scotland who might as well be from another planet as far as Phillip’s warring wives and teenage children are concerned. A beautiful, funny and wise novel about growing up and growing old and if you ever have the opportunity to hear Clanchy read, then do seize it – she’s magnificent.

Brian Kimberling – Snapper

Tinder Press, 9th, 9780755396207

Funny and absorbing coming of age story in which likeable hero Nathan Lochmueller lets us follow him around Indiana as he tracks bald eagles, watches his friend get his thumb bitten off by a turtle, and tries to keep up with the not very discriminating Lola. I loved this amiable and offbeat story and learnt a lot about twisters and stripper pits, and no, I’m not talking about Thong Thursday down at Fast Eddie’s…


Regular readers of my blog, or indeed anyone who has spent more than about four minutes with me in real life knows of my obsession with both Julian Barnes and grief memoirs. The final third of Barnes’ new book, Levels of Life, is about the death of his wife and is exceptional. When I was listening to Barnes on Front Row with Mark Lawson he was rather scathing about certain turns of phrase in books criticism, namely ‘beautifully written’ and ‘deeply moving.’ I instantly pulled up all my Bookseller columns to check and am pleased to report no search results for deeply moving. Beautifully written, however, occurred three times. Two were me quoting other authors, A S Byatt and S J Watson both find it acceptable, and the only instance of me saying it on my own account was for All That Is. I decided, then, not to ban ‘beautifully written’ but to allow myself only one usage a year.

However we want to try to express it, Levels of Life is, of course, both beautifully written and deeply moving, and so much more besides, so do read it, if you haven’t yet.

If you’d rather a paperback than a new book, can I suggest again The Land of Decoration by Grace McLeen? I’ll be discussing it in the book club I do with Nikki Bedi on BBC Radio London at 10pm ish this Sunday. I can’t tell you the excitement of heading off to Broadcasting House at the time I would usually be getting into my pyjamas…

And for something completely different, I popped into Waterstones Piccadilly to buy some poetry by Emily Dickinson (Matt Haig’s fault – you’ll probably do the same when you’ve read The Humans) and wiled away the most glorious hour in their poetry section. I’ve always loved villanelles and couldn’t resist a beautifully produced little Everyman. All I need now is some sunshine, a rug and a free afternoon from both real and imaginary work.

Happy (or sad, or enlightening) reading.

3 responses to “My Bookshop in the Sky – What to read in May”

  1. Caroline Blood Avatar
    Caroline Blood

    Hi Cathy so lovely to hear from you after all this time that I had to scribble a quick response. As always, your email raised my spirits as I face a frantic day I shall hold the thought of sunshine, rug and a free afternoon as I juggle my way through it. Looking forward to making time for some of your recommendations. And it sounds as if your life has become rather exciting over the last few months! More later

    Caroline (friend of Caitlin Moran we met at her first book launch) xx

    From: cathyreadsbooks Reply-To: cathyreadsbooks Date: Wednesday, 1 May 2013 08:49 To: Fullproof Subject: [New post] My Bookshop in the Sky What to read in May CathyReadsBooks posted: “Pinch punch, first of the month. My August fiction preview will be out in the Bookseller this Friday but May is such a strong month that I can’t resist a little round-up of everything that I would be trying to press on you if you were a customer in my ima”

    1. Hi Caroline, How thoroughly lovely to hear from you. That was a brilliant party, wasn’t it? xxxx

  2. Hello Cathy, I must say I am very impressed with your website, and powered by WordPress too! I like the fact that it is so easy to navigate with three key sections: About, Your Bloga, and Contact.

    I was impressed by your record: you mentioned working at Waterstones–lovely. And you’re a mom too, as you mention in one of your blogs, where you say that once you used to read at least a book a day, whereas now you blow up baloons for your kiddie’s Bdays–how cute, made me smile. I have two kids myself: daughter is in that 14 to 15 yrs, fed-up-with-the-grownups stage, son, 9 yrs, cracks me up with his antics.

    Anyhow, great to have popped by.

    If you’d like to visit me and leave a comment, you can do so at: (also proudly powered by wordpress. My blogs feature the matters an author grapples with every day of his/her life)

    Regards and keep up the reading,

    Alex George
    Author of “Under the Dragon’s Claw”

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