A curated selection of books from Director Tyro Heath’s personal collection.
“A curation of my most beloved books for the heart and soul. I hope these stories offer some inspiration or escape while you’re self-isolating, quarantining, social-distancing, working from home or working to keep essential services going. These authors, in their own very different ways, all celebrate the power of the human spirit. They speak of individuality, loving, imagination and desire.
I was reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s ‘Human Voices’ back in March when the wold was beginning to realise the terrible scale and impact of Covid-19. Her book recounts the experiences of workers at the BBC during the WWII blitz, as they strive to tell the truth on air. Reading about their perseverance and adaptability during such a challenging moment in history, was a genuine comfort to me. Her characters’ voices are vivid and evocative, funny, but also deeply saddened and moved by the situations they find themselves in.
You’ll discover here diverse voices from past and present, short stories, a picture book, novels, memoirs and non fiction. From a crumbling castle in war-time Suffolk to rural mountains in contemporary Idaho to steaming Kerala in 1969, there are plenty of worlds to journey to from our own homes or staycations.”
NORMAL PEOPLE, SALLY ROONEY
Written only a year after her well received debut novel, Sally Rooney’s Normal People follows the intersecting story of Connell and Marianne as they navigate the changing landscape of their relationship from school into adulthood. The simplicity, perceptiveness and accessibility of Normal People makes this novel a modern day classic and has sparked even more success since its BBC adaptation. Marianne is the young, affluent, intellectual wallflower. Connell is the boy everyone likes, shadowed by his family’s reputation and poverty. Unlikely friends and later lovers, as their small-town beginnings in rural Ireland evolve into the student world of Dublin, their dynamics begin to shift. Gradually their intense, mismatched love becomes a battleground of power, class and the falsehoods they choose to believe.
HUMAN VOICES, PENELOPE FITZGERALD
While the BBC strives to fulfil its Blitz-time mission to tell the truth on air, the voices responsible face their own dilemmas. There is Sam Brooks, the R.P.D. who prefers to confide his anxieties to the young female assistants; Lise and Annie, the new girls finding their feet in the chaos at Broadcasting House; and wise Vi who knows everyone’s secrets. Amid the blackouts, shared beds and cheese sandwiches, no voice goes unheard in Penelope Fitzgerald’s funny, evocative and deeply moving account of employees of the BBC during the London Blitz.
NW, ZADIE SMITH
This best selling novel by Zadie Smith takes its title from the NW postcode in North-West London where the story is set. It follows the life of four locals – Leah, Natalie, Nathan and Felix, as they try to make their way outside of Caldwell, the council estate they grew up on. Yet after a chance encounter, they each find that the choices they’ve made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, NW is funny, sad and urgent – brimming with as much vitality as the city itself.
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, DODIE SMITH
Cassandra, the 17-year-old narrator, lives an eccentric existence in a crumbling castle in the English countryside in the 1930s. Her father is a former bestselling novelist now suffering from a chronic case of writer’s block and her glamorous but bohemian stepmother Topaz is struggling to make ends meet as an artist model. Money is in short supply but Cassandra and her discontented older sister Rose are forced to make the best of things – until some young, wealthy American neighbours arrive and Rose sees an opportunity for them all to escape their impoverished existence.
A charming coming of age story of adventure, magic, first love and first heartbreak.
THREE WOMEN, LISA TADDEO
In Three Women, Lisa Taddeo uncovers “vital truths about women and desire.”(where is this quote from, Lisa?). This work of non-fiction follows three real female subjects: Maggie, Lina and Sloane, and explores their sexual history and lives. Maggie is in her early 20’s and painfully reassessing a relationship she had with an older married teacher when she was in high school. Lina, a stay at home mum and unhappily married, rekindles a school romance. Sloane and her husband are dealing with the complexities of their marriage which challenges conventional, sexual monogamy.
Lisa Taddeo spent with years and thousands of hours tracking the women who stories comprise this powerful record of unmet needs, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.
THE MARS ROOM, RACHEL KUSHNER
Rachel Kusher’s novel follows the life of Romy Hall, a single mother who, at the age of 29, began a double life-sentence at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in California’s Central Valley. Her crime? The killing of her stalker. The Mars Room of the title refers to the strip club where Romy once worked, where the same hierarchies and rules apply to the sells of Stanville: mind your own business and never tell anyone your real name. Krushner’s portrait of life inside a women’s prison is grainy and persuasive.
EDUCATED, TARA WESTOVER
Tara Westover’s memoir explores her upbringing in rural America in a strict Mormon family. She was born the youngest of seven children to parents who suffered from paranoid fears of interference from the federal government. As a result, they refused to allow their children to attend school, receive birth certificates or receive medical attention. Now a writer and an academic, Westover has crafted from her singular experience a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it can offer.
JANE EYRE, CHARLOTTE BRONTE
An English classic, Jane Eyre is a fiercely intelligent woman who refuses to accept her appointed place in society, and instead finds love on her own terms. It is widely celebrated as one of the greatest romance novels ever written, but also broods Gothic mystery with Jane Eyre possessing wit, indomitable spirit and great courage.
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, JUNOT DIAZ
Junot Díaz This Is How You Lose Her, is a collection of linked narratives about love – passionate love, forbidden love, fading love, maternal love – told through the lives of New Jersey Dominicans. The book centrally revolves around the main character, Yunior, his infidelities and the problems he faces because of prejudice. Inventive, tender and funny, it’s impossible not to fall for Diaz’s hip characters and their extreme heartaches.
LE GRAND MEAULNES, ALAIN FOURNIER
Published in 1913 a year before the author’s death during WWI, Le Grand Meaulnes is widely considered to be a French literary masterpiece. Deep in rural France, fifteen-year-old Francois Seurel narrates the story of his friendship with seventeen-year-old Augustin Meaulnes as Meaulnes searches for his lost love. Meaulnes embodies the romantic deal, the search for the unattainable, and the mysterious world between childhood and adulthood.
TIGERS ARE BETTER LOOKING, JEAN RHYS
A mixture of vignettes, sketches and longer stories, Tigers are Better Looking is a lesser known collection written by Dominica born author Jean Rhys. Many of the stories were inspired by elements of Rhys own life. Her female characters struggle to get by in Bohemian Europe as chorus girls or artist’s models – they are lost and loveless but fascinatingly haunting and alluring at the same time.
Tigers are Better Looking is a remarkable collection of stories. They comprise devastatingly honest and emotionally truthful depictions of the loneliness of the outsider and of womanhood in the 20th century.
STONER, JOHN WILLIAMS
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a working class Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agriculture, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, vastly different from the existence he had previously known. Yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a series of disappointments; he marries the wrong woman and a new love ends under threat of scandal. This wonderful, compassionate celebrates the conflicts, defeats and victories of being human. One to be savoured.
JULIÁN IS A MERMAID, JESSICA LOVE
While riding the New York subway home one day with his Abuela (Grandmother), young boy Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up, their long billowing hair and dresses ending in fishtails filling the train carriage with joy. When Julián gets home, all he can think about is dressing up like the three ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume. But what will Abuela think of how Julián sees himself? Mesmerising and full of heat, Jessica Love’s debut picture book is a radiant celebration of individuality.
ANOTHER COUNTRY, JAMES BALDWIN
Another Country is a 1962 novel by James Baldwin. The story centres around Rufus Scott, a young African American musician living in Greenwich Village and Harlem in New York in the late 1950’s. Rufus is down on his luck until he meets a white woman named Leona and they fall in love. The novel then follows his internal fear and anxiety surrounding people supposedly condemning their interracial relationship, subsequently leading to Rufus mistreating Leona who becomes mentally unstable.
Another Country explores topics that were considered taboo at the time including sexuality and racial injustice. Baldwin’s tense dialogues on race, layered with explorations into queer sexuality are as important today as they were in 1962.
LOST CHILDREN ARCHIVE, VALERIA LUISELLI
Lost Children Archive is an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family who’s road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the Southwestern border. An artist couple set out with their two children on a road trip from New York to Arizona in the heat of the summer. As the family travels west, the bonds between them begin to fray. Through songs, maps and a Polaroid camera, the children try to make sense of both their family’s crisis and the larger one engulfing the news: the stories of thousands of children trying to cross the Southwestern border into the United States but getting detained. Lost Children Archive is a powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, ARUNDHATI ROY
The God of Small Things follows twin brother and sister Estha and Rahel and their vivid childhood in a politically turbulent Kerala during the late 1960s. In a dreamlike style, the novel explores the interpersonal complexities of one Indian family, whilst also delving deeply into bigger cultural questions, about the caste system, social taboos and misogyny. The novel is notable for its multi-layered prose and non-chronological framework which connects the various events, both big and small, that shape Estha and Rahel’s lives. The God of Small Things is the most widely-sold novel ever to come out of India.