March Book Picnic Recommendations

On the first Wednesday of every month, GWL team members and volunteers share what we’ve read recently at our Book Picnic:

  • Sambac Beneath Unlikely Skies by Heba Hayek

    CW: Eating disorders

    Recommended by Ren, this poignant collection of vignettes is centered around a girlhood in Gaza, Palestine. The rich narrative tenderly yet brutally captures the essence of growing up in a war-torn region. Through a series of collected remembrances, the author, now far removed from the sun and sea of Palestine, navigates the complexities of childhood, memory, and identity. The work is characterized by its chaotic and sentimental tone, as the narrator grapples with life in unfamiliar environments while holding tightly to the memories of home. It’s a narrative written for those who had to leave, offering a deeply personal and evocative exploration of what it means to miss a home that no longer exists in the same way. Ren found it to be a good, short read, and finished it within a day. 

  • The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

    Recommended by Pauline, this suspenseful thriller begins with an ordinary commute that turns into a nightmare. The protagonist commutes to work by riverbus alongside their charismatic neighbor, Kit. One day, Kit doesn’t show up for the ride, and soon his wife reports him missing. Upon disembarking, the protagonist is greeted by the police, who were informed by another passenger that they saw the protagonist arguing with Kit the night before. This setup leads into a tale full of twists, exploring themes of privilege, societal pressures, and the complexities of friendships amidst a mysterious disappearance. Pauline enjoyed how the truth slowly was revealed, and described this as a “really, really good read!”

  • Walking with Nomads by Alice Morrison

    Also recommended by Pauline, who is about halfway through reading it, Walking with Nomads is a vivid account of the Scottish explorers adventurous journeys across Morocco, capturing the essence of nomadic life through her eyes. Joined only by three Amazigh Muslim men and their camels, Morrison embarks on expeditions that span from the Sahara to the Atlas Mountains, sharing the culture, landscapes, and challenges along the way. The book is a celebration of the camaraderie formed during these expeditions, highlighting the wisdom and fun shared with her companions and the strong characters of the camels that accompany them. Morrison’s narrative is full of enthusiasm and a passion for life, offering readers a unique glimpse into the adventurous trek across Morocco’s varied landscapes.

  • The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

    The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa was recommended by Annie, who found it to be nicely written, and described it as “an inevitable love story.” The novel intertwines the lives of a young Chinese girl and a Japanese soldier in 1930s Manchuria, against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion. The girl, in the midst of a complicated love triangle with two local boys, finds solace and distraction in playing Go in the local square. Her most challenging and mysterious opponent turns out to be a Japanese soldier, disguising his identity. Their games of Go evolve into a deep, unspoken connection, challenging his loyalties and offering a stark contrast to the war and personal turmoil surrounding them. The novel explores themes of love, war, and the innocence of youth caught in the crossfire of history.

  • Miss Webster and Chérif by Patricia Duncker 

    Recommended by Annie, who is in the midst of reading it, this book tells the story of Elizabeth Webster, a seventy-year-old woman who is known for her sharp tongue and strong opinions. Following a severe illness, Elizabeth travels to North Africa for recovery, where she has a life-changing experience. Upon her return, a young, handsome Arab man named Chérif arrives at her doorstep with a large suitcase, claiming his mother met Miss Webster during her travels. Chérif, set to begin university nearby, becomes her lodger, leading to an unlikely friendship between the two, filled with humor, reversals, and surprises. Despite the villagers’ suspicions and prejudices, the novel explores themes of friendship, trust, liberation, and the richness that arises from a clash of cultures.

  • Small Things Like These / Antarctica / Foster by Claire Keegan 

    Anna recommended a few works she has enjoyed by author Claire Keegan, who she considers to be an excellent writer: 

    Small Things Like These is a poignant tale of Bill Furlong, a coal merchant in 1985 Ireland, who faces a moral dilemma upon discovering a dark secret at a local convent. His journey of compassion highlights the power of small acts in challenging societal norms.

    Antarctica, Claire Keegan’s debut collection, presents a tapestry of short stories that explore the depths of human experience, from love and loss to the dark corners of human relationships, set against diverse backdrops from Ireland to the American South.

    Foster narrates the story of a young girl’s summer with her relatives in rural Ireland, offering her a glimpse of warmth and care she’s never known. This transformative experience brings unspoken truths and the realization that such summers must end, showcasing Keegan’s talent for evoking deep emotional resonance.

  • The Secrets of Blythswood Square by Sara Sheridan

    Also recommended by Anna, this book by Scottish author Sara Sheridan is set in 1846 Glasgow, a city on the brink of significant social transformations. The novel unveils hidden scandals in the respectable Blythswood Square, where neighbors’ watchful eyes and whispers of impropriety fan the flames of rumor. Through a narrative rich with intrigue and finely crafted characters, Sheridan explores early photography, the emergence of the female gaze, and dissenting politics in Victorian Scotland, offering a captivating glimpse into a bygone era. Anna found it to be a great source of Glasgow history, and a great read. 

  • Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro  

    CW: Sexual assault 

    Recommended by Jordan, who really enjoyed it, this book is about Michelle “Mickey” Bloom, a young woman navigating the balance between ambition and peace through long-distance running. Facing bullying and feeling undervalued in her family, running becomes Mickey’s sanctuary and source of identity. The story, set in New Zealand, unfolds in two timelines, juxtaposing her present marathon with past experiences, highlighting her struggles and resilience. Shapiro’s debut novel is an uplifting journey of self-discovery, showcasing the beauty and pain of chasing dreams amidst life’s challenges.

  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

    Also recommended by Jordan, this is an autobiographical nature memoir that delves deep into the author’s transformative experience during a period of severe illness. Bedridden and isolated, Bailey finds companionship and solace in the presence of a common woodland snail that has made its home in a pot of violets beside her bed. As Bailey observes the snail’s nocturnal activities, she becomes deeply intrigued by its anatomy, behavior, and survival mechanisms. This close observation of the snail not only provides Bailey with a profound sense of connection to the natural world but also aids her own mental and spiritual recovery. The memoir elegantly weaves together Bailey’s personal reflections with scientific and literary insights into the life of snails, offering readers a unique perspective on the interconnections between human life and the natural world. Jordan enjoyed the snail facts, and thought that the book was really beautiful and poetically written. 

  • River Spirit by Leila Aboulela

    Recommended by Gaby, this compelling historical novel is set in Sudan in 1898. Through the intertwining lives of seven characters, the story unfolds during a tumultuous period marked by the struggle between Britain and Sudan, Christianity and Islam, and the colonizer and the colonized. At the heart of the narrative are Akuany and her brother Bol, orphaned in a village raid and taken in by a young merchant named Yaseen, who becomes a guardian figure. As Sudan edges closer to revolution with the rise of the Mahdi, a prophesied redeemer of Islam, each character is forced to choose sides in the ensuing conflict. The novel explores themes of devotion, freedom, and identity amidst the historical events leading to Sudan’s brief independence from foreign rule. Aboulela’s writing brings to life the rich cultural and political tapestry of Sudan, offering a deeply human look at its history through the personal stories of its characters. Gaby described it as an “amazing, visual story.”

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