The last full week of January is known as 'Heroic Bookseller's Week'. You didn't know? It's a month after Christmas, we've made it through a grim British January, the news is, well, you know, and the shop is looking a bit bare with all the Christmas books gone, and the shelves cleared to make way for lots of lovely new books heading our way.
But fear not citizens.
Now is the time to turn your face to the unmistakably brightening skies, roll up those sleeves up, and revisit those New Year's resolutions - particularly the ones that promised to spend less time on the Internet, get more sleep, and read more.
Your bookseller stands ready to help, hero like, having made it through the turmoil of a genuinely remarkable 2016. Now is the time to step into a bookshop and ask for our help.
So, with bookselling capes flapping in the cold Winter wind, for your delectation and delight, today we have assembled some truly heroic titles ready to combat the blues, offer alternative worlds for you to visit - and inspire you make a difference.
We are all superheroes - we just need the right book to unleash our superpower...
4321 - Paul Auster
Let's start with The Hulk - or rather, a hulking great near-1000 page magnum opus by Paul Auster. And yes, this is 'Incredible', in every sense of the word. Ostensibly it's the story of Archie Ferguson, born in Newark, New Jersey in 1947, and destined to live his life through what we might until recently, called the most momentous period of American history. Deeply autobiographical (and thus in keeping with much of Auster's other writing) the twist here is that Archie's story fragments into four separate strands, which hinges on an event which plays out in four different ways. Multiverses and multiple lives are in the zeitgeist at the moment (think Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life', or Iain Pears' 'Arcadia') and what elevates this novel to brilliance is the quality of the writing. Seven years in the writing, this is what Mark has to say:
"I looked at the size of this book and thought 'no way', not with my TBR pile. But then I started reading and I was hooked, I cannot tell you the sheer joy of the writing, the swirl of grand themes and the way in which all four story arcs intertwine in a way that just works. The last book that pulled me in like this was 'Wolf Hall' and I can feel Auster's characters putting down deep roots inside me. The observations of the inner life of a teenage boy are both all-too-familiar and at-times heartbreaking and this book builds empathy in a way I haven't encountered since Mantel's classic. I can't recommend this book highly enough - 'the great American novel' is one of the hoariest of hoary old cliches in the publishing world, but blimey - if there's a line a novel needs to cross to be called it, this is way, way down the asymptote. Joyous, that's all I can say."
The Keeper of Lost Things - Ruth Hogan
This was described by one reviewer as 'the perfect cure for the winter blues' and we have to agree. Not only is this a beautiful book but also an imaginative and amazing story that winds its way through the lives of many people, and with lost items, a ghost and a very special girl.
One of Julia's favourites his January, she describes it as 'a joy to read, exploring the way lives are interconnected, and how one person can make a profound difference to the stories of others'. Profound and uplifting!
Moonglow - Michael Chabon
This blog is being published on Holocaust Memorial Day, and 'Moonglow' - told as a deathbed confession by an ageing Jewish American engineer - takes in the sweep of world history, from the invasion of Germany to the closing years of the 20th century.
At the heart of this story is the relationship between the protagonist's grandfather and Wernher Von Braun, architect of the Apollo Moonshot, populariser of space exploration - and Nazi war criminal whose background was swept under the carpet during the Cold War. The parallel with Auster are apparent (Chabon is drawing heavily on his own family's history) but the style is utterly different, but the writing is still sublime.
If a big, heft hardback is not your thing, three titles fresh out in paperback might be. Our bookgroup is reading ''The Noise of Time' by Julian Barnes - new out in paperback, is a sympathetic, grimly humorous yet brilliant telling of the story of Shostakovich, specifically his complex relationship with Stalin and the Soviet authorities at the end of the 1930s.
Rose Tremain's 'The Gustav Sonata' is the tale of an intense and deepening friendship between Gustav, a boy growing up in wartime Switzerland, and Anton, an only-child whose parents have big ambitions for him to be a classical pianist. But this is Switzerland in 1942, nothing is as it seems, and as if growing up isn't difficult enough, how do you handle strong feelings when the world seems to be pulling everything apart?
Finally, we loved recommending 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' by Ben Fountain, a satirical look at the strange period in the noughties when celebrity culture, military prowess and an ability to bring regime change around the globe collide grotesquely during the Superbowl for Billy Lynn, freshly returned from Iraq as a war hero, but about to return to duty. It all feels like a lifetime away, but - with a film about to be released - it's a great opportunity to study what might just have been the seeds of the post-truth modern world?
A Quiet Kind of Thunder - Sara Barnard
It's shaping up to be another great year for YA publishing, but Imogen's gone for this refreshing twist on the opposite's attract theme.
When Rhys starts at school, he is introduced to Steffi because both of them know sign language. Rhys is deaf and Steffi has selective mutism, and this is their journey through new experiences, friendship and love. It's a wonderfully refreshing, well researched book (many of the characters nicely play against type) about two individuals trying to find their way in the world. Brilliantly written, there's an extra bonus of a guide to the basics of British Sign Language (BSL) on the end pages!