Fox&Songbird

Books that are truly worth reading

Cait

I’m Cait, a translator from French to English living in France and attempting to learn Norwegian. I’ve always loved words and reading, and sitting under a blanket with a good book is my favourite rainy-day activity.

I love tea with a passion normally reserved for people.

Rejected Princesses

By Jason Porath

I started following Rejected Princesses on Tumblr a few years ago because I loved the artwork and the idea of making women’s voices heard, as women tend to be left out of history books. When I studied History at university I was always annoyed by the fact that there was one week per course dedicated to women or gender when women make up half of the population. Women shouldn’t be side-lined or have their contributions censored when they played key roles.

Rejected Princesses seeks to change this by bringing together 100 women who were real-life, historical or mythical heroines– offering far more interesting, more active and more empowering female role models than the typical princess portrayal from when I was growing up. The book is beautifully put together, sorted by maturity rating with icons to give warnings about particular content and, as Porath is a former DreamWorks animator, he twists the typical doe-eyed Princess image in incredible illustrations. This is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone as people need to know about the incredible women who have shaped history like Hatshepsut, Gracia Mendes Nasi and Ka’ahumanu – and if you don’t know anything about them then read this book.

Lingo

By Gaston Dorren

As I’m a translator I obviously have a deep love of words so one of my books had to be about language but I was wary of picking anything too specialised or niche. Lingo gives a great overview of European languages with each language given its own bite-sized chapter. It’s written in an accessible way so you don’t have to be an expert to get a taster of a language – its history, similarities with other languages and differences. It’s a form of ‘language tourism’ as the Dutch title puts it. Languages are also judged according to their peculiarities but with loving exasperation and Dorren also points out when languages work better than Dutch or English. At the end of each chapter there’s a section demonstrating which words English has borrowed from the language and suggesting words which English could benefit from including utepils (Norwegian for a lager drunk outside), swjatok (Sorbian for the enjoyable hours that follow the end of the working day) and madárlátta (Hungarian for food taken for an outing but brought back home uneaten). There are even some pages to help you decipher the Cyrillic alphabet so at the very least you’ll learn some facts, some new words and who knows it may inspire you to take up a new language!

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood

I read 1984 as a teenager which gave me a healthy love of dystopian novels and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favourite books in this genre. As sales of these two novels have increased since Trump’s election my recommendation also fits in with this trend. I know quite a few people have already read this one but I reckon it’s worth rereading and love Atwood’s writing style in general.

It’s set in the Republic of Gilead, a future version of the United States, where human rights and specifically women’s rights are severally limited. Many women have been rendered infertile by toxins so handmaids are ‘two legged wombs’ kept to bear children for the ruling classes – valued only for their fertility. Narrated by one of these handmaids, Offred (Fred is the Commander who owns her), who still remembers a time from before the Republic, it offers a view of how ideologies take root, how indoctrination works, and how people begin to think certain things are ‘normal’. Focusing on limiting people’s freedoms and controlling women’s bodies combined with an attempted escape to Canada, you might start to see why sales have gone up recently…

Midnight's Children

By Salman Rushdie

I chose Midnight’s Children as it’s unlike anything else I’ve read. It combines real historical events, in this case India’s transition from British colonialism to independence, with a more magical element – children with special powers. Apparently it’s considered to be ‘Magical realism’ so perhaps I should read other books in that genre. The protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is born at precisely midnight on 15 August 1947 and so at the exact moment when India became independent – his life and fate are intertwined with that of the country.

The characters are well developed and you get attached to the narrator despite his rambling, improvised style as it’s so beautifully written. I found Saleem a bit infuriating but that’s sort of the point: he’s an unreliable narrator who is easily distracted, going off on tangents and digressing to events that we know nothing about yet – which is part of what makes the story interesting – and for that reason it’s not necessarily an easy read but is definitely worth the effort.

Revolting Rhymes

By Roald Dahl

Even though I drew up a longlist of books I love I struggled with choosing the fifth title as none of the others on the list seemed as good as the other four. I started thinking that maybe the book wasn’t on the longlist and so thought about which books never fail to make me smile, and there it was: Revolting Rhymes. I even wrote a dissertation on it (surely the true test of whether it stands up under repeated reading and overanalysis) and yet I still love it, for the childhood memories I associate with it, the humorous rhymes and the general Dahl-ish quality. Some people might say it’s only for children but I don’t agree, these re-interpreted fairy tales demonstrate that happily-ever-after doesn’t really exist. The poems even provide arguably better role models than traditional fairy tales with Goldilocks seen as a burglar and vandal, Cinderella deciding that a decent man is better than a rich man and Little Red Riding Hood standing up for herself against the wolf, with some of my favourite lines ever:

The small girl smiles

One eyelid flickers

She whips a pistol from her knickers.

It’s a short book which is easy to read and entertaining and may distract you from real life for a bit – after all, life’s too short to be serious all the time!

Published February 2017