Today's BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub had some heavy subject matter - bravery and cowardice in the first world war, century-long conflicts between good and evil, and the - often counter-intuitive and surprising - causes of how the world got into its current state.
Susie Dent was sitting in for Kat Orman, and you can listen to the show by fast-forwarding to 1 hour and 7 minutes here.
The first book we talked about was Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Private Peaceful’. Aside from a compelling and moving read in its own right, Morpurgo's real genius is to have written a children's book that has plenty to offer adults. Morpurgo is a master storyteller - and the book was a fitting one to talk about on the centenary of the start of the first world war.
The story is about a soldier called Thomas "Tommo" Peaceful, who is looking back on his life from the trenches of World War I in Belgium. We start with his upbringing, how he looks out for his older brother, ‘Big Joe’, who has learning difficulties, and his relationship with his brother Charlie, and their shared love for a girl, Molly.
Structurally, each chapter of the book brings the reader closer to the present until the story turns to present tense. Private Peaceful epitomizes the devastatingly unfair treatment soldiers were given and the unjust ending many brave soldiers had to face. It is also a story about the friendship between the two brothers and the undying bond of trust between soldiers in the trenches.
This Summer, Private Peaceful is an ‘Abingdon Big Read’ – through an initiative with Our Lady’s Abingdon, and the town’s bookshops, everyone is being encouraging to read ‘Private Peaceful’ and then tweet or give their feedback to us or the school about their experience. On September 24, there will be a special showing of the 2012 film of Private Peaceful, and a talk by its producer at OLA.
Although not yet published, David Mitchell's 'The Bone Clocks' has made it onto the Book Longlist - and we were lucky enough to blag a proof copy ahead of publication. It is utterly remarkable, easily one of our books of the year.
It starts in 1984, and follows a fifteen year old girl, Holly Sykes, running away from home after a relationship goes wrong and she can’t bear to face her parents. We learn that Holly used to have voices in her head (who she dubbed ‘The Radio People’) and was visited by a Miss Constantin, who sat on her bed and seemed to be able to influence events in Holly’s life. Her mother takes her to a ‘Dr Marinus’ who seems to cure Holly of her voices, and though she still has the occasional terrifying ‘Daymare’ all seems to return to normal. That is until her younger brother disappears, and Holly is thrust into a new nightmare. What follows is an accelerating, and increasingly complex story, that advances in leaps and bounds to the present – and then far into the future. Holly’s life unfolds, and a dark conspiracy emerges: a battle between good and evil that has been going on long before Holly was even born...
This is bold and brilliant storytelling that takes huge risks, bringing in characters and themes from Mitchell’s earlier books, and one that has plenty to say about everything from the war on terror to the state of modern novel writing. But at its heart is a good old-fashioned story to lose yourself in – breathtaking and a book we will be placing forcefully into the hands of our customers come September...
Finally, we’re celebrating a Vintage Summer at Mostly Books, so selfishly picked a favourite Vintage Classic: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. This is one of those tour-de-force, history of everything books – but in this instance Jared really does go back to the basics to show how the world evolved and came to be the complex place we see today.
Diamond takes a socractic rerum cognoscere causas ('to know the causes of things') approach, starting with a simple question: why did Spanish conquistadors arrive in South America, and not the other way around? It turns out that there are compelling – and simple – reasons as to why farming emerged in the Middle East (and never in Australia) and why the Incas or Chinese did not build empires like the Europeans. You’ll understand why Diamond won a Pullitzer when this was originally published in 1997.
(You can listen to the whole show here - fast forward to 1 hour and 7 minutes.)