The Midnight Library (Matt Haig)

We all make choices and move forward with our lives. But what about the choices we didn’t make?

When you think about it, life is a long sequence of choices, interspersed with decisions and life events that we have no control over. How would our life have turned out had we made different choices?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig tackles this very issue.

I’ve read a couple of thrillers recently that feature the concept of infinite universes and individuals interacting with them, this book takes a different angle. It deals with the main character’s dissatisfaction with life, but that’s as much as I’m going to give away.

Our life circumstances and frequent questions so easily drag us down and negatively affect our mental health, but this life-affirming book is a positive tonic.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

People’s Songs (Stuart Maconie)

This exceptional book, The People’s Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records by Stuart Maconie, combines modern British history with an in-depth knowledge of popular music. Here is the story of Britain since World War 2 outlined through fifty significant songs, with others mentioned along the way.

It was an absolute joy to read; with its wealth of information and knowledge, it appealed to my love of history, politics, culture, and music. It’s a book I’m sure to read again.

I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of the fifty songs in the book, you can find it here.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure novel by the Scottish author John Buchan. It’s the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, an all-action hero with a stiff upper lip and a miraculous knack for getting himself out of tricky situations. This much-loved novel is very much of its time, but is rightly considered a seminal spy adventure and has been the basis for several movie adaptations and a stage play.

Recently returned from South Africa, adventurer Richard Hannay is bored with life, but after a chance encounter with an American who informs him of an assassination plot and is then promptly murdered in Hannay’s London flat, he becomes the obvious suspect and is forced to go on the run. He heads north to his native Scotland, fleeing the police and his enemies. Hannay must keep his wits about him if he is to warn the government before all is too late. Source

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

Matters of Life and Death

Matters of Life and Death by Philip Stuckey is an excellent anthology of short stories, with lots to think about and plenty of ideas to reflect on.

It’s a collection of stories filled with elements of horror, fantasy, personal experience, and (obviously) matters of life and death. The stories, some short and some longer, are captivating and intriguing to read.

This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking collection. Although a cliche, it’s like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’re going to get. As the author says of his book, it’s a glimpse into the lives of others, and an invitation to consider the true nature of our world and our place in it.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

Note: Philip Stuckey is also a musician in the band Stuckfish. Stuckfish began in 2017 with the collaboration of two musician friends: singer-songwriter, Philip Stuckey and guitarist/composer/producer, Adrian Fisher. Joined in 2020 by experienced and talented musicians, Gary Holland (keyboards), Phil Morey (Bass) and Adam Sayers (drums), Stuckfish has created melodic rock songs with a progressive twist. Source

How To Be Right (James O’Brien)

This fantastic book confronts lazy thinking, populist assumptions, and downright lies. James O’Brien forensically and ruthlessly demolishes populist statements and beliefs, opinions which have no basis in fact, but ones that many people cling on to. He seeks out truth in the fine tradition of true journalism. He believes that holding truth to power should be at the heart of democracy.

He adresses the lies people believe about Islam, Brexit, LGBT, ‘Woke’, Feminism, the Nanny State, Liberalism, and the Age Gap, as well as the pronouncements of populist leaders like Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Nigel Farage.

If you believe any this populist nonsense, then read this book at your peril. You may need to change your opinions. Sadly, many still believe the lies, even when presented with the truth.

An exceptional broadcaster with a peerless ability to calmly point out the absurdity of certain viewpoints. The Guardian.

On the back cover there is some trolling of the very highest calibre: O’Brien is the epitome of a smug, sanctimonious, condescending, obsessively politically-correct, champagne-socialist public schoolboy Remoaner. The Sun.

Anyone who cares about the future of democracy should read this book.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

The Word in the Wilderness

I discovered the poetry and prose of Malcolm Guite a few years ago and I turn to them regularly for private devotions and public worship. He also features in my blog posts here.

For Lent this year (2022) I’m using his book The Word in the Wilderness, one that I’ve used previously. It has such a depth that I felt it was worth reading again. It uses both poetry and prose to take the reader on a devotional journey through Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Good Friday to Easter Day.

Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)

I’d previously read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I decided to read it again in 2021 after reading Recursion. Blake writes mind-bending novels, and so what I wrote about Recursion also applies to Dark Matter:

What can I say about this mind-bending book without giving anything away? It’s a breathless, sci-fi thriller with so many twists and turns it often left my head spinning. After reluctantly putting the book down at bedtime I would settle down trying to work it out, often struggling to fully comprehend all the existential and philosophical questions raised.

Dark Matter’ is a bestselling tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human – a relentlessly surprising thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of. Source

Note: I understand that both of the books are being made into movies, but I would recommend you read them first rather than waiting for them on the big screen.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

Arcadia (Tom Stoppard)

I have fond memories of seeing this wonderful drama at the theatre a few years ago and, because of my familiarity with play, I decided to read it in 2021. Reading a play does require greater concentration and imagination than reading a novel, but I wasn’t disappointed. It was like meeting an old friend.

Arcadia (1993), written by Tom Stoppard, explores the relationship between past and present, order and disorder, certainty, and uncertainty.

Arcadia takes us back and forth between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging over the nature of truth and time, the difference between the Classical and the Romantic temperament, and the disruptive influence of sex on our orbits in life. Focusing on the mysteries—romantic, scientific, literary—that engage the minds and hearts of characters whose passions and lives intersect across scientific planes and centuries, it is “Stoppard’s richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio and . . . emotion. It’s like a dream of levitation: you’re instantaneously aloft, soaring, banking, doing loop-the-loops and then, when you think you’re about to plummet to earth, swooping to a gentle touchdown of not easily described sweetness and sorrow . . . Exhilarating” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times). Source

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

Lying (Sam Harris)

I read this excellent book in 2021. In Lying, best-selling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He focuses on “white” lies—those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort—for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process. Source

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

The Baptism of Christ

Today in the Christian calendar we celebrate The Baptism of Christ, here depicted in the wonderful painting by Piero della Francesca in the National Gallery, London.

You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 3:15-22

I’m reading Dave Grohl‘s book The Storyteller that Naomi bought me for Christmas. In it, he describes when his eight-year-old daughter Harper asked him to teach her to play the drums. His response was one of fatherly pride and humility, the latter because he was self-taught and didn’t have a clue where to start.

In the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are told that God was well pleased with his Son. By implication, God is pleased with us when we walk and live in the footsteps of Jesus. May we live like that in the coming days, not judging people but coming alongside them and loving them with the parental love of God.

Piero was the first artist to write a treatise on perspective – that is, creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Here, he has painted objects in proportion, so that they appear as we see them in real life. This emphasises the depth of the landscape, but also the harmony of the figures and natural features within it. Christ stands in a shallow, winding stream as John the Baptist pours a small bowl of water over his head. Three angels in colourful robes witness the event. At this very moment, the voice of God was heard – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16) – and the Holy Ghost, shown here as a dove flying over Christ’s head and towards us, descended upon him. This painting was made for the small chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey of Piero’s hometown, Borgo Sansepolcro. Source