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Book club: three books for when you’re staying at home

Book club: three books for when you’re staying at home

There’s a lot of power contained within the pages of a book. The power to enlighten, to transport, to inspire. There’s a tome to turn to for whatever you’re seeking and whatever mood you’re in. In every issue of our lifestyle anthology, Stories, we (or one of our friends) put together an edit of books that speak to the mood of that issue. So this season, published here on our journal in our online edition of Stories, we’ve collected three books on two of the subjects that are a big part of our day to day right now: home, and what to eat. Whether you choose one that’ll inspire your own everyday or one that’ll whisk you away somewhere else, we hope you’ll find something to add to your ever-growing to-be-read list.

Something from Stories

In these unusual times, we knew that not everyone would be able to get hold of the spring edition of our lifestyle anthology, Stories. So, rather than printing it, we’re publishing all the articles here on our journal instead, including this one. That way you can still read it, wherever you are in the world.

Novel Houses by Christina Hardyment

Most novel lovers can easily describe particular homes in favourite books because the authors have ‘drawn’ them so well; the dwellings spring out of the words and become almost 3D as one turns the pages. For many, Rebecca’s Manderley in Cornwall is as clear as if they were standing in front of it, while Cathy’s farmhouse on the Yorkshire moors of Wuthering Heights is a brooding, unwelcoming place for readers of Emily Brontë.

In Novel Houses, author Christina Hardyment has delved even deeper into what makes a fictional home so powerful and how writers are able to paint a space so clearly that we, as readers, feel as if we are in the room with the protagonists. From Sherlock Holmes’ eclectic bachelor pad at 221B Baker Street to Jay Gatsby’s extravagant and opulent West Egg mansion on the shores of Long Island, Christina explores the layouts, decoration and symbolism of the various spaces. She considers how homes are used to reflect characters’ inner emotions and make subtle statements about their lives without the need for dialect.

As we all spend more time at home – maybe even re-visiting some of the classics on our shelves – this is an opportunity to think about our favourite books from a different perspective and pause for a moment to look at our own homes and contemplate what they say about us.

Novel Houses, published by Bodleian Library Publishing, £25

Happy Inside by Michelle Ogundehin

A year go, when interiors author and TV presenter Michelle Ogundehin sat down to write her book, Happy Inside, she had no idea just how pertinent it would become. As the world stays home more and has time to think about their priorities, Michelle’s book answers many of the questions we are all facing: how to create a happy home, how to ‘clear, curate and contain’ at home and even how to eat, exercise and play to create a calm environment. With chapters titled ‘Gratitude’, ‘Balance’ and ‘Nurture’ the book explores how we can design, decorate and arrange our homes into retreats that not only look good but are good for the soul.

Michelle writes that to feel centred and happy, we also need to feel safe, secure and protected. Important concepts in today’s world, but her book also quotes Martin Seligman, one of the founding fathers of the positive psychology movement, on what we need to feel happy. Fascinatingly, the five key factors are all things we can achieve from our homes right here, right now:

1. Our ability to engender positive emotions

2. Engagement in activities that allow us to lose ourselves in the moment

3. The nature of our relationships with others

4. A sense of belonging to, and serving, something bigger than ourselves

5. Accomplishment, where achievement is pursued for its own satisfaction not exterior validation.

Happy Inside is nothing if not timely.

Happy Inside, published by Ebury, £18.99

Menus That Made History by Vincent Franklin and Alex Johnson

While you’re trying to be creative with supplies of store cupboard food, it’s interesting to pause and think about other momentous moments in history and how food factored at such times. Menus That Made History is a fascinating edit of menus enjoyed over time, from the ridiculously extravagant banquet hosted by the Duke of Wellington to mark the 5th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which included four fish courses and 24 entrees, to the first menu eaten on the moon: four bacon squares, peaches, three sugar cubes and a pineapple-grapefruit drink.

The menus in this book reveal far more than simple historical tastes – many give us an insight into the personalities and attitudes of different times. Back around AD 69, Roman emperor Vitellius had not only an insatiable appetite but a desire to showcase his power through food. A menu he designed himself included pike livers, peacock brains and flamingo tongues. “Like the rock star’s insistence on only blue M&Ms, it’s the rarity, absurdity and indulgence of the dish that’s important,” note the authors. At the other end of the scale, the wedding breakfast for Elvis and Priscilla Presley listed ham and eggs and Southern fried chicken.

With many more menu stories, from the political (the 2018 Korean Peace Summit) to the literary (the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner in A Christmas Carol), this book offers an intriguing glimpse into history and culture through the food we serve and share.

Menus That Made History, published by Kyle Books, £14.99

Tags: Features