Book Picks from a True Bibliophile, Chapter Three

My name is Sophie and I’m a Bibliophile.

It’s okay – it’s not as weird as it sounds, it just means that I have a small (out of control) love of (obsession with) books.

I have started regularly sharing some of the books this bibliophile loves, is loving, and has loved, and with the cold weather well and truly kicking in, what better way to spend the weekend than curled up with a good book.


Currently Reading

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell, (2021)

I’ve only just started the latest novel in Cornwell’s Scarpetta series, but already I can tell that any evening now I’m going to be sucked into finishing it in one late-night sitting, like binging a Netflix series.

Cornwell has always been my go-to easy read, which is not to say her work isn’t rivetting or complex, it means that her writing is relatable, fast-paced, and not bogged down in inconsequential details that can make some murder mysteries a bore.

I have also been following the Scarpetta novels for so long that every time I pick up a new one it feels like revisiting an old friend. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “In Scarpetta, Cornwell has a character as strong as any in popular fiction.”

In a nutshell:

This novel finds world-renowned forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta and her husband Benton retuning to Virginia where they are headquartered five miles from the Pentagon in a post-pandemic world that’s been torn by civil and political unrest.

Just weeks into the job, Scarpetta is called to a railway track where a woman’s body has ben shockingly displayed, but the trail of clues will lead Scarpetta back to her own neighbourhood.

So far, I am loving this catch-up with one of my favourite lady forensic pathologists, ask me how the end is in a few hours after I devour it.


Retro Read

Speaking of revisiting old friends, this month’s retro read is The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (1956)

Of course, you’ll be familiar with both amazing Disney adaptations of this story, first an animated feature in 1961, then a fantastic live-action remake in 1996, but if you’ve never read the novel by Smith you’re really missing out.

The story is about the kidnapping of a family of Dalmatian puppies. It was originally serialised in Woman’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery and details the adventures of two dalmatians named Pongo and Perdita as they rescue their puppies from a fur farm. A 1967 sequel, The Starlight Barking, continues from the end of the novel.

My favourite part about the book is that it’s written from the dogs’ perspective, with the animals talking about having to take their humans for walks, and despite being well aware of the final outcome, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the stress and suspense these dog parents feel when their puppies are taken.

This book is a beautiful way to escape the humdrum of reality and the gorgeous illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone bring life to all the furry, four-legged characters. I highly recommend getting your paws on a copy.


The Non-Fiction Nook

Who doesn’t love a good made-up tale? However, sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction, so I like to mix it up with some fact …

How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb (2017)

HUGE fan of comedian Robert Webb here, That Mitchell and Webb Look is possibly my favourite sketch show of all time (a tough call) and Peepshow is now considered essential viewing in British television history.

How Not to Be a Boy is a 2017 memoir in which Webb writes about his childhood, parenthood, and other life events, using the experiences to discuss masculinity, gender roles and feminist topics. Major life events include his mother’s death from cancer, his attendance at the University of Cambridge and the births of his two daughters.

The book arose after Webb wrote a New Statesman article of the same name and was listed on The Sunday Times‘s Bestseller List for eight weeks. It received a Chortle Award and positive critical reception, with reviewers finding the book more serious than comedic, praising its messaging.

That’s not to say the book isn’t funny, but there’s a lovely vulnerability to Webb’s writing that makes this book a more compelling read than the typical comedy memoir.

Events in Webb’s life are presented out of order as he aimed to present events to make connections between events that had happened to him and ways this affected his behaviour. According to an interview in The Scotsman, he found that all his poor life decisions were made “because I was trying to be a boy, or because I was trying to be a man”.

This book is a beautiful exploration about what makes people who they are and I can thoroughly recommend it whether you are a boy, were a boy, have raised boys, are raising boys, or none of the above.


Poetry Corner

Darwin, A Life in Poems by Ruth Padel

In these extraordinary poems, using multiple viewpoints – from Darwin himself, to his beloved wife Emma, and even, at one point, the orangutang at London Zoo – Ruth Padel illuminates the development of Darwin’s thought, the drama of the discovery of evolution, and the fluctuating emotions of Darwin the husband, the naturalist, and the tender father, in a powerful tribute to her famous ancestor.

Charles Darwin, born in 1809, lost his mother at the age of eight, repressed all memory of her, and poured his passion into solitary walks, newt collecting, and shooting. His five-year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle, when he was in his twenties, changed his life. Afterward, he began publishing his findings and working privately on ground-breaking theories about the development of animal species, including human beings, and he made a nervous proposal to his cousin Emma.

Padel’s poems sparkle with nuance and feeling as she shows us the marriage that ensued, and the rich, creative atmosphere the Darwins provided for their ten children.

These marvellous poems—enriched by helpful marginal notes and by Padel’s ability to move among multiple viewpoints, always keeping Darwin at the centre—bring to life the great scientist as well as the private man and tender father. This is a biography in rare form, with an unquantifiable depth of family intimacy and warmth.


Books on Film

Considering his court case is blowing up on social media right now, let’s take a look at one of Johnny Depp’s more underrated and less well-known films, but one I love, Secret Window, written and directed by David Koepp (2004)

This psychological drama is based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by one of my all-time favourite writers, Stephen King (he will continue to feature in these blogs, don’t you worry).

After catching his wife Amy (Maria Bello) having an affair with their friend Ted (Timothy Hutton), mystery writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) retreats to his cabin at Tashmore Lake in upstate New York. Six months later, Mort, depressed and suffering from writer’s block, has delayed finalising the divorce.

One day, a man named John Shooter (the incomparable John Turturro – is he ever not amazing) arrives at the cabin and accuses Mort of plagiarising his short story, “Sowing Season”. Upon reading Shooter’s manuscript, Mort discovers it is virtually identical to his own story, “Secret Window”, except for the ending. The following day, Mort, who once plagiarized another author’s story, tells Shooter that his story was published in a mystery magazine two years before Shooter’s, invalidating his plagiarism claim.

This is a brilliant film about the writing process and the hopes and fears that almost all writers, both amateur and professional feel at some point. In true King fashion the story is suspenseful, fast-paced, and with an achingly good ending.

Regardless of how you feel about Depp, give this movie a go, it may put you off sweet corn for a while though, just warning you.

Okay good people, that’s it for another month. Happy reading, after all, readers gonna read.