Thus concludes my list of 12 books recommended for rather specific people.
If, like me, you grew up on a diet of adventure books, then you know how important it is to be prepared for that moment you are suddenly required to perform heroic actions. This book is perfect. It gives step-by-step instructions on what to do in many situations, from the mundane (hot-wiring a car), to the more extreme (wrestling an alligator and delivering a baby in a taxi cab. Though not at the same time). In fact, the Survival Handbook is just the tip of an iceberg, as the writers continued to make a series of survival books for any crisis. Other editions include Christmas, Work, Parenting and Extreme (how to avoid alien abduction).
I re-read this book a lot when I was little. I might not be able to drive, but I damn well know how to do a 180 degree handbrake turn.
Another book that starts a series, The Eyre Affair details the first adventure of Fford’s heroine, Thursday Next. The book is set in an alternative-universe London, where the Crimean War is still being fought, Wales is an independent state and the sinister Goliath Corporation provides all sorts of services to the public. And you can have pet dodos. Baddie Acheron Hades has been kidnapping and ransoming characters from famous fiction works, and his latest victim is Jane Eyre. It falls to Thursday to find a way into the books to fix the damage and save the day in this dazzlingly unique story. Fford creates an amazing concept of meta-fiction that he develops further in later stories (introducing the footnoterphone system, where characters have whole conversations at the bottom of the page of the main story). And if that sounds a bit high-falutin’ for you, just read it anyway: you’ll catch on and it’s super funny.
This is another one I re-read many times when little (and probably helps explain my Love of Pubs). According to McCarthy, the eighth rule of travel is “never pass a bar that has your name on it”, and following this rule works out pretty well for him while travelling around the west of Ireland. This is really a device for McCarthy to explore his own Anglo-Irish heritage by meeting all sorts of fascinating (odd) people, and he really has a flair for descriptions. McCarthy balances poignancy and humour very well, especially in the moving section where he visits a war memorial. It also has a nun drinking a pint of Guinness on the front cover.
Just picking up this book now and re-reading the first sentence has had me determined to read it again. That’s got to be a pretty good recommendation, right?
A different McCarthy this time, no relation to the last one. French-speaking authors have been analysing Hergé’s cartoon hero for decades, but this is the first English work on the subject. And it’s pretty fascinating. You may think that the Tintin stories are merely cartoons for kids, but if you start to have a little nerd-out (like me) there’s an awful lot more social commentary and hidden meaning than you’d realise. McCarthy delves into these meanings, and perhaps stretches some findings beyond breaking point. However, he does stop himself from taking Tintin perhaps too seriously, by peppering his analysis with humour and clearly taking joy in his study.
For most people, Christmas is a happy time, but many others may feel lonely, anxious and depressed. Perhaps the season brings up sad memories, people feel disappointed by having unrealistic expectations, and social occasions can bring their own stress. This book offers a programme of meditations and advice that really does help you understand why you might feel down, and how to break the cycle of anxiety, stress, unhappiness and exhaustion. You don’t have to be depressed to read this; it’s also good for anyone just feeling that the modern world is placing too many demands on them. The book comes with a CD of meditations, though be warned, after doing the meditations for a few weeks, the bloke’s voice starts to turn up unbidden in your head.
Because the old ones are the best, and a ghost story’s always good at this time of year, as the nights draw in…