Veritable Herons – 10 June 2023

On the recommendation of a customer with excellent taste, I have been reading Killing Thatcher by Rory Carroll. It is extraordinary. Carroll examines the Brighton bombing in 1984 within the context of the Troubles, the assassination of Lord Mountbatten, the hunger strikes of republican prisoners, and the events that shaped the bomber, Patrick Magee. It is thrilling and fast-paced but without descending into the kind of voyeuristic delight of true crime, without losing sight of the human costs.

Of course, on today of all days, you may have had enough of hearing about the Conservative party. Indeed, you may wish to escape the fictions and the callous soap operas and we are here to help with a non-fiction special:

Should you find yourself in the mood for reading great memoirs, look no further than:

This Ragged Grace by Octavia Bright – a moving portrayal of her recovery from alcohol addiction while her father suffers from Alzheimer’s. The book takes us from Stromboli to New York to Cornwall to Margate over seven years of navigating hardship and connection.

Pageboy by Elliot Page – this is an account of the fear and obstacles that Page suffered in trying to control his own narrative and to understand who he is, in the years up to and following the disclosure of his transition. Importantly, it is also a tale of finding happiness, strength and joy, of what it is to be human, to find empathy and love.  

See Me Rolling by Lottie Jackson – Lottie Jackson’s experiences of living with disability explore the ways in which we undervalue and underrepresent disabled people. Her stories are funny and heartfelt but the lightness of the telling points to deep injustices and why we must strive for change. We currently have copies in the shop with a special note from the author included.

Cacophony of Bone by Kerri ní Dochartaigh – nature memoir but also poetry, diary entry and essay – this book about an isolated pandemic year explores the tricky nature of time, of change and of those surprising things that stay the same in spite of it all.

Move Like Water by Hannah Stowe – a marine biologist, sailor and sea-lover, Stowe writes about the love that she and humans throughout history have felt for the sea, and the damage it is suffering right now. Told through five sea creatures from whales to albatrosses, this is a moving love letter to them and to their world.

The Swimmer by Patrick Barkham – moving from memoir to biography, this is a stunning depiction of Roger Deakin, beloved author of Waterlog and Wildwood, environmentalist, ad-man, cider-maker and general maverick. A wonderful engagement with a man who inspires love and devotion to him, to trees and to swimming.

Other terrible developments have dominated the news this week. To understand them and the complex situation developing in Ukraine, the essential reading is The Russo-Ukrainian War by Serhii Plokhy, the renowned historian and author of Chernobyl  and The Gates of Europe.

For those interested in medicine and its role in history and society, there’s a whole syndrome of titles to investigate: Simon Schama has turned his always incisive historical gaze to pandemics and vaccination in Foreign Bodies, while Jonathan Kennedy, a reader in Politics and Global Health at Queen Mary’s University, London, brings us Pathogenesis, an account of how germs have shadowed humans through millennia and shaped our societies. Bringing us into the present day, Sian Norris’s Bodies Under Siege plots the rise of the anti-abortion movement and its disturbing role in today’s politics. Finally, Small by Small is Ike Anya’s account of his time as a doctor in Nigeria in the 1990s and the challenges, both medical and political, that he faced.

For younger readers, non-fiction is also flourishing. From Sathnam Sangera’s Stolen Historyan introduction to Britain’s imperial history, to The Big Book of Nature Art by Yuval Zommer, full of fun and eco-friendly ways for children to engage creatively with nature, to Flight by Mya-Rosa Craig which explores the world from a bird’s eye view, to Ben Garrod’s latest books in the Ultimate Dinosaurs series and the Extinct series… What a time it is to be a four-year-old paleo-biologist…

There’s also a raft of titles newly released in paperback, which I know many of you have been waiting for expectantly: Landlines by Raynor Winn (signed, independent exclusive editions in the shop for a limited time), The Draw of the Sea by Wyl MenmuirMagnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self by Andrea WulfHow We Might Live: At Home with Jane and William Morris by Suzanne Fagence CooperWinston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes by Tariq AliLe Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France by Alex Duff, and Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmy and Ben Miller.

On this warm day, I hope you have an appropriate refreshment in one hand and a book in the other.

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