Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize earlier this year and winner of the Wainwright Prize, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is a memoir about her descent into alcoholism and subsequent recovery after returning to her childhood home of Orkney at the age of thirty. There is a stark contrast between Liptrot’s hipster lifestyle in east London in her twenties where her addiction to alcohol led to relationship breakdowns, job losses and a driving conviction and the contemplative days spent observing corncrakes and living on the remote island of Papa Westray with a population of just seventy. Above all, it is a book which explores the meaning of connections, whether it is through people, places, drugs, wildlife or technology. Much like the excellent H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, it successfully brings together a moving narrative of trauma with nature appreciation and could be a contender for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction (formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize) ahead of the longlist announcement next month.
Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon in Massachusetts until his death in March 2015 from stage IV metastatic lung cancer at the age of thirty-seven. When Breath Becomes Air is a posthumously published memoir of his terminal cancer diagnosis and treatment during his last year of residency training at Stanford University with an afterword written by his wife Lucy. This short book combines the end-of-life care aspects addressed in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande with the neurosurgeon’s perspective as seen in Do No Harm by Henry Marsh and offers a rare view of a medical professional addressing his own mortality as a patient with both scientific reasoning and philosophical reflection. Kalanithi previously studied literature at university before turning to a career in medicine and his obvious gift for writing strikingly compassionate prose makes ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ a profound and moving book. Many thanks to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.
Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought by Lily Bailey is an account of a young woman’s life with obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD is a complex and debilitating mental health condition and I very much hope this book will help correct some of the common misconceptions surrounding the illness. As Bailey’s experiences show, there is a lot more to OCD than constant hand-washing and checking the lights have been switched off as it is the compulsion aspect of OCD which causes such serious distress to sufferers. Bailey’s extreme anxiety developed during her childhood and teenage years and affected every aspect of her life with intrusive thoughts and exhausting repetitive lists and routines before she eventually started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Her account can sometimes be uncomfortable and harrowing to read and the intensity often made me feel quite powerless, but it is well worth taking the time to read ‘Because We Are Bad’ and gain a real understanding of what OCD actually entails. Many thanks to Martin Hickman at Canbury Press for sending me a review copy.
We’ll All Be Murdered in Our Beds: The Shocking History of Crime Reporting in Britain by Duncan Campbell looks at how journalists have covered crime stories from public executions in the eighteenth century to the consequences of the recent phone hacking scandal and subsequent inquiry. As a former crime correspondent for the Guardian, Campbell draws on an incredible amount of knowledge and personal experience, offering a lot of insight into the relationship between the press and the police and how it has changed over the decades. What particularly struck me was how the ways in which crimes are reported can have such a huge impact on patterns of crime as well as the notoriety of some of the most infamous criminals in history. This definitive history has won plaudits from readers as diverse as drug smuggler Howard Marks, barrister Helena Kennedy QC and journalist Roy Greenslade and I would recommend it to anyone interested in journalism and true crime.
What have you been reading recently?