It’s that time of year again when the sky is perpetually overcast and you seem to be eating your lunch at nighttime, and there are new essays to start when you’ve barely even submitted the last. Yet before the avalanche of deadlines descends, take solace in books to help you overcome the end of the Christmas period. Without further ado, here are five books to help you beat the January blues…
The Humans – Matt Haig
What happens when maths professor Andrew Martin uncovers the secret of prime numbers – and thus the secrets of the universe? Many light years away, an alien council quickly convenes and sends a Vonnadorian to Earth to destroy the professor and his work. A hilarious tale ensues as the outcast alien struggles to get to grips with this strange planet. First killing and then assuming the dead professor’s body (briefly stopping to pick up earth language from Cosmopolitan magazine), his strange mannerisms unsurprisingly draw the attention of his wife and son. Extraordinarily, the alien imposter begins to rebuild fractured relationships and enjoy the fuzzy oddities of family life. As his new family grows closer to Andrew Martin 2.0, the Vonnadorian’s dispassionate assessment of humans as vicious killing machines gradually changes. Bursting with slapstick humour, quirky insights and genuinely sentimental moments, The Humans oddly gives you a small prick of pride in being human. Sure, we have a propensity for war and violence and misery. But if a super-intelligent alien can see past that, how bad can we actually be?
The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina Georges
If you were to look up the word “charmant” in a French dictionary, it wouldn’t be surprising if The Little Paris Bookshop cropped up. This book tells the story of Jean Perdu – a kindly middle-aged bookseller who prescribes books to cure his fellow neighbours of their maladies. His “literary apothecary” on the Seine suddenly becomes closed for business, as Jean casts off the moorings. So begins a tale of loss and discovery as we encounter a host of unique people and offbeat situations. We navigate the root of Jean’s water-bound exile; coming across the poignant idea that one can cure all the broken hearts in the world, but still struggle to cure their own. While not a conventional love story, this is a lovely book about letting go of the past and embracing new beginnings.
Watership Down – Richard Adams
It would have been hard to ignore Netflix’s glossy adaptation of Watership Down if you were searching for something to watch over Christmas. But what makes this 1972 children’s classic so enduring? The premise is relatively straightforward – Sandleford is on the brink of destruction, and a band of plucky rabbits must make a perilous journey to find a new home.
I was surprised at how quickly I grew to love characters like the tough but soft-hearted Bigwig, the fair-minded chief rabbit Hazel, and his runt brother Fiver who guides the group through his visions. Peril is never far away, from poisoned food to human farms, but the biggest danger lies in Efrafa. Ruled by the formidable General Woundwort (it was rumoured he once fought a dog), the rabbits embark upon a rescue mission to save the does from his totalitarian regime. Alongside traditional motifs of courage and loyalty, Richard Adam’s description of flowers and sunsets beautifully renders England’s green and pleasant land. The rabbits’ hopes, dreams and shared tales of the mischievous prince El-ahrairah, provide a life-affirming humanity that makes you forget you’re cheering and crying over rabbits.
The BFG – Roald Dahl
Another literary treasure to receive the Hollywood treatment, Steven Spielberg’s 2016 movie cannot compare to its source material. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but gave further proof to my hypothesis that even the most colourful CGI cannot replace the magic that exists in our own heads.
From one of Britain’s most beloved storytellers, The BFG follows little Sophie as she is carried away by the lovable giant and must formulate a plan to stop evil giants from eating Britain’s children. The BFG is brimming with playful expressions from bellyhoppers (helicopters) to human beans, and I remember laughing out loud when the BFG showed Sophie his favourite book – Nicholas Nickleby by “Dahl’s Chickens”. It is almost impossible to pick a favourite from Dahl’s timeless collection, yet the BFG evokes the spirit of magic, adventure and friendship in unlikely places. With Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations, even the most mundane could not fail to be moved by this heartwarming tale.
The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Elevated on the lists of English courses the world over, The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books that is famous by name alone. This classic has courted controversy and criticism. Its plotting is a little meandering, and there is a very worthwhile debate as to whether the plight of a misunderstood and mouthy teen deserves our affection.
It is by no means a perfect book, yet J. D. Salinger perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy that every youth can testify to. Holden Caulfield is one of literature’s great rebels, and his chequered journey of self-discovery strikes a chord. It isn’t a funny book, nor is it even especially hopeful, but once the final page is turned you come away with a sense that you have learned something – even if you aren’t quite sure what it is.