Whoo-hoo! We made it through January! I know February isn’t a favourite of most people either, but it’s my birthday month, and I love birthdays, so that always makes it feel special. And it’s a short month, in fact it always flashes past at the speed of light, because it’s my eldest’s birthday right at the beginning of March, and so there is always a lot to organise and plan for. Right now 4 weeks seems like a long time, but I know from experience it will pass in a heartbeat.
Anyway, January books. I’m pleased to report that I’m well on track for my 52 books in 2019, with five (new) books read last month.
The first was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. This was thoughtfully left on my bedside table by my lovely sister-in-law when we stayed with them at the end of the school Christmas holidays. Staying with family both my children adore was the perfect time to start this page-turner, because they were totally happy playing with Uncle Matt and Auntie Esther while mummy buried her head in this compulsive read and ignored them. I love the way Moriarty can tackle serious issues; in this case the sometimes complicated ramifications of blended families, domestic violence and date rape through the medium of a misleadingly frothy seeming novel. Despite the serious issues, she tackles them with a lightness of touch and black humour which makes for a compelling rather than depressing read.
I then moved onto non-fiction with a newly published book by a Walthamstow neighbour of mine, Annie Ridout. Her first book, The Freelance Mum is an inspiring and practical guide to combining flexible freelance work with caring for your children. As one of my objectives for this year is to get back into writing in a serious way, this book was the perfect kick up the backside, as well as providing some very sensible advice and pointers.
After reading Annie’s book I was all fired up with an urge to get our home and lives calmly organised so that I could maximise working potential of the fairly limited time my youngest is in nursery, rather than frittering it away on the domestic hamster wheel. Because everyone else was I tried, for the second time, to read Marie Kondo’s famous book The Lifechanging Magic of Tidiness, a modern decluttering bible. Unfortunately (and I’m sure this says more about me than Marie Kondo) I was unable to finish it again. Her method seems like it would work brilliantly for a child-free singleton, or maybe a retired couple whose children have flown the nest, but living with a chronically untidy husband with hoarding tendencies, and a chronically untidy 9 year old, and a 4 year old who likes things to be neat but much prefers to direct operations rather than participate, and in any case only sees our things as mess, not her own, I just couldn’t see myself ever being able to follow her method.
I did, however, totally buy in to the message that clutter, having too much stuff for the space available, is what makes day-to-day living and housework so time-consuming and dispiriting. Somehow I heard about two books by an American writer, Dana K White, called How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind and Decluttering at the Speed of Light. Immediately I felt that, as a stay-at-home mum and writer with three children she would have more idea where I was coming from. And within a few pages I was hooked. Unlike most cleaning, housekeeping or decluttering books or articles I have read, she doesn’t make the fatal error of assuming that the reader is naturally neat. Dana K White is a self-described slob, and she understands the mindset of those of us to whom housekeeping does not come naturally. If you are an instinctively tidy person then these books are absolutely not for you, as it will feel like several hundred pages of stating the totally bloody obvious. But for those of us on the more, umm, chaotic end of the spectrum I would say that it is these books, rather than Ms Kondo’s, which contain life changing magic.
I finished the month as I started it, with an absolutely cracking novel. Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce was an absolute unmitigated joy from beginning to end. Set during the London Blitz, it is the story of a young woman who dreams of a career as war correspondent but somehow ends up as secretary to the agony aunt of an old-fashioned women’s magazine. She can’t help but get drawn into the problems and lives of the women who write in for help, and this is where her own problems start. The characters were so real to me that it felt like reading non-fiction, a journal rather than a novel. It also brought the bravery of those who lived through the Blitz, and the peculiar nature of war on the home front, to life more vividly than almost anything I have ever read. It made me think a lot of my grandmother who was a young woman during the Blitz on Merseyside, and I remembered her first-hand accounts of picking her way through broken glass and rubble to get to work each morning, and had a new appreciation of just how that must have felt. Thought-provoking, moving, hilarious, memorable – what more do you want from a novel? This is a stunning debut from A J Pearce, and as a writer I am rather jealous, though as a reader I am delighted.