Book Picnic: May 2024

Every month, GWL team members and volunteers share what we’ve read recently at our Book Picnic. Here’s what we’ve been reading recently:

Book jacket for Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton depicting white trees and a white plane on a black background.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

Pauline recommended this novel by Booker prize-winner Eleanor Catton. She found the book to be ‘really, really good’ and thought it raised interesting questions about the politics of who owns the land, and what we use land for. The novel follows the relationship between an environmental collective who take over wasteland and an American billionaire. He’s viewed as an environmentalist and claims to own some land that they can work on, but can they trust him? And can he trust them?

Saadia read one of her own poems entitled Silent Screams, which the group found beautiful and moving.

Book cover showing a young boy walking through a field with golden light Text reads LaRose Louise Erdrich.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

Caroline has been wanting to read more Indigenous and Native American writers and has been really enjoying this novel by Louise Erdrich, who the Guardian considers to be one of the greatest living writers.

It tells the story of a tragic accident that kills a young boy, and how this affects the lives of two families and their community. Although it deals with a tragic loss, Caroline also found it to be uplifting, and a brilliant piece of fiction exploring themes such as how grief is shared in a community, elders and storytelling in native culture.

A white book cover with the text The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd and a young deer standing in snow.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

Coincidentally, both Anna and Aileen had independently brought this book to share. Anna mentioned it is coming to the Pitlochry theatre in the form of a play in May. Anna said the book had moved her to tears, and Wild Geese, Nan Shepherd’s collection of writings, had changed her life. She found the book to be a beautiful description of the country she comes from.

Aileen agreed about the beauty of the book, and its uniqueness, finding it hard to think of another book like it. She loved the connection Nan had to the mountain, the awe and wonder she found in things we might walk past without noticing. She also found it to be a very calming book and one she returns to again and again.

Black and gold book cover with gold swirls and two female figures in red. Text reads The Burnings Naomi Kelsey. 'I was mesmerised' Laura Shepperson.

The Burnings by Naomi Kelsey

Elaine has been reading this historical novel set in 1589, which tells the story of witch trials and the plot to usurp King James VI from the throne. Scotland and Denmark are linked by the marriage of King James and Princess Anna of Denmark, an event which also brings together Scottish housemaid Geillis and Danish courtier Margareta, who try to keep each other safe in dangerous times. Elaine has been finding the book quite enjoyable but has been struggling to really get into it.

Foster by Claire Keegan

Book cover showing the side of a white house with a blue sky. Text reads Claire Keegan Foster. 'A real jewel' Irish Independent. 'A thing of finely-honed beauty' Guardian.

Amber has been reading this very short book about a young girl who experiences care and security for the first time in her life, when she goes to live on a farm in rural Ireland. She thought it was a very unique, emotionally powerful story depicting the bond that forms between the girl and the people who foster her. This book will also be featured at Story Cafe on Thursday 16th May – find out more details and book.

Julia by Sandra Newman

Text reads 1984 Julia - Sandra Newman - Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller.
'A masterpiece' Daily Telegraph 'Ingenious' Guardian 'Exhilarating' Sunday Times.

Content warning: torture

Gaby recommended this novel which is a re-telling of George Orwell’s 1984, written from the point of view of the character Julia, Winston’s lover. It’s the story of how Julia navigates living as a woman in this dystopian country. It’s about surviving when your freedom is very limited – Julia is quite selfish, isn’t interested in politics, loves sex but suppresses a lot of her feelings. Her previously controlled life changes when she becomes involved with Winston, and she realises she can no longer safely navigate her world.

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