I follow the lovely Jen Campbell via both her blog, This Is Not The Six Word Novel and on YouTube where she regularly posts well-presented, interesting BookTube videos which can dangerously expand a TBR pile. In response to a recent bout of stupidity and ignorance on the part of a fellow human being, Jen created the 'Be A Good Human' book tag, which is a tag to discuss books which promote diversity and understanding. You can (and should!) watch Jen's original video here for more about the tag and how it came to be. I think this is a fantastic book tag because books are so good for spreading the love and really encouraging you to see the world with different eyes. So I thought that I would join in and discuss some of my favourite books that, I feel, encourage you to Be A Good Human. Which is something we all want to endeavor to be, right?
I reviewed this in full a couple of months ago (you can read the full review here) but wanted to mention it again here because I genuinely do believe that it is one of the most profound and honest discussions about mental illness that I have read. It's also a life-affirming read which makes you appreciate the small things, teaches you to take the rough with the smooth and celebrates the essential individual differences which make us all human. I have also heard very good things about Matt's novel 'The Humans' which is on my TBR and sounds like a novel which espouses the same messages about tolerance and understanding as this memoir.
Somewhere Towards The End by Diana Athill
I read this some years ago but have never forgotten it - always a sign that a book has said something important to you. In this candid memoir, editor and writer Diana Athill discusses aging - what it means to grow old, how to come to terms with the life you have lived, and the inevitability of death. Diana never shies away from the difficult questions, discussing everything from the increasing pleasures of gardening to the gradual ebbing away of her sex drive, with grace, humor and wit. In an aging society we need to listen to older voices - not easy in a media climate that increasingly values youth - and I found it extremely refreshing to read a book which focuses on the everyday challenges of growing old. Having read this, I'm less scared of aging myself - Diana is a case in point that life really doesn't stop when you start drawing your pension - and more aware of the rich inner life that continues well into old age.
How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
Unless you've been living on Mars for the last couple of years, you'll probably have heard of Caitlin Moran - writer, journalist, The Times columnist and figurehead for the fourth wave of feminism. Her memoir, 'How to Be A Woman', is a manifesto for feminism in the modern age covering everything from the trials of puberty and periods (in chapters hilariously titled 'I Start Bleeding!' and 'I Don't Know What To Call My Breasts!') to issues such as abortion, female role models and sexism in the workplace. It is also a side-splittingly funny book about being a woman in the twenty-first century. Unlike some feminist tomes, Moran celebrates both men and women; encouraging everyone to be care about female roles and rights whether regardless of whether they happen to possess a womb. It should be required reading for all teenagers - boys and girls - and I would highly recommend it to everybody else. I wish it had been around when I was a teenage girl because it answers so many questions, reassures on so many issues and promises hope for the future.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
A wonderful crossover YA/adult novel that follows 15 year old Christopher John Francis Boone as he investigates how his neighbor's dog Wellington ended up dead in his back garden. Christopher is gifted with a supremely logical brain - he knows every prime number up to 7,057 and all of the countries of the world - but he struggles with human emotions and does not like to be touched. His life follows a set of carefully constructed routines and patterns, all of which are thrown into confusion by Wellington's death. I found this a fascinating portrayal of person who sees world around him entirely literally - and therefore very differently from most other people. I know other books have used protagonists with Aspergers Syndrome or Autism but what I like about 'The Curious Incident' is the fact that Christopher is never defined as having a disability or special needs. Instead the reader is drawn into Christopher's head, allowing them to follow his logic and his deductions and see the world through his unique eyes. It's a wonderful book for letting you walk a mile in someone else's shoes and an insight into different thought patterns and perceptions of the world around us.
The Green Mile by Stephen King
A sensitive and moving novel which looks at issues of race and disability discrimination in Depression era America. In Cold Mountain Penitentiary, Paul Edgecombe heads up the guards on the Green Mile, the lonely stretch of cells used to house prisoners awaiting execution. From the psychopathic to the tortured, Edgecombe and his colleagues have seen most forms of human depravity but they've never encountered anyone quite like new prisoner John Coffrey, a seemingly gentle giant who has been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls. Is Coffrey the devil in disguise that he's made out to be? Or does he hold powers of a different kind that have been deeply and disturbingly misunderstood? This is an insightful novel that reminded me of times of Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - Edgecombe is a hero who owes much to Atticus Finch and his sense of honor, justice and duty is one of the driving forces of the novel. In his quest to understand what has led Coffrey to the Green Mile, Edgecombe begins to encounter the grim realities of segregation and to realise that the scales of justice can sometimes be uncomfortably weighted. Don't dismiss this as horror because of the writer - this is a powerful, moving and insightful look at humanity and the human condition.
Those are just a few of the books that I feel made me a better person as a result of reading them and that, I think, make the world a better place by having been written. As always, I'd love to know if you've read any of my choices or if you have your own recommendations for the 'Be A Good Human' tag so please leave me a comment or find me on Twitter @amyinstaffs. I'll be back soon with my May Wrap Up, and also with a review of the new Victoria Hislop novel 'The Sunrise' but, until next time...