How Words Get Good: The Story of Making a Book by Rebecca Lee offers a fascinating look at the journey of making a book from initial idea in the author’s head to finished copies on a bookshelf. It celebrates the huge number of people involved in producing books, including authors who choose to remain anonymous, ghostwriters, literary agents, proofreaders and editors, and the processes such as typesetting, translation, indexes, footnotes, cover design, printing and much more. As well as demystifying certain elements of the publishing industry, it contains lots of trivia. For example, Donald Trump asked his ghostwriter, Mark Schwartz, to cover half the cost of the launch party for ‘The Art of the Deal’ on the grounds that Schwartz received half of the advance and royalties (p.47), and the Japanese version of ‘Finnegans Wake’ by James Joyce “required three separate translators after the first disappeared and the second went mad” (p.216). Lee has worked as an editorial manager at Penguin Press for over 20 years and her wealth of experience shines through in her amusing anecdotes and encyclopaedic knowledge. Equal parts entertaining and insightful, this is highly recommended for bibliophiles everywhere, particularly those who enjoy weird trivia.
The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell is an account of Stephen Jackley’s bank robberies in Exeter and Worcester as a modern-day Robin Hood which, in his eyes, was an attempt to fight poverty and injustice by stealing money from the rich to give to the poor. As a 21-year-old geography student at the University of Worcester with Asperger’s syndrome, Jackley did not fit the typical profile of a bank robber and there were several missed opportunities by the police to identify him from his spree of ten robberies in six months in south-west England in 2007 before he was eventually arrested in the United States. Jackley agreed to be interviewed for the book, but did not have editorial control over Machell’s account which looks at his family background in detail and the path that led him to commit the robberies. As reflected in the title, this is a highly unusual story, which contains plenty of unanswered questions and contradictions, both of which are vital elements of an engaging true crime account.
I hadn’t heard of Careless by Kirsty Capes until it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. In 1999, fifteen-year-old Bess is living with a foster family and discovers that she is pregnant during the summer when she is taking her GCSEs and doesn’t know what to do. Her best friend, Eshal, is her only confidante and is struggling with the prospect of an arranged marriage. Capes grew up in the care system herself and her authentic voice shines through in a compassionate novel which is both convincing and measured in its balancing of complex issues. This is an outstanding debut novel and I would have liked to have seen it on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist (but I am pleased Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead are both on there too). I look forward to reading Capes’ second novel ‘Love Me, Love Me Not’ which will be published later this summer.
We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba is a memoir which explores the author’s relationship with money in her life as a Black British millennial woman living in London. The theme is confronting and could spark a new trend in confessional memoirs. Uwagba moved to the UK from Nigeria with her family at the age of five, and won a scholarship to a private school in London before going on to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Oxford. She reflects on her experiences of the world of work – temping, negotiating salaries, office culture, sexism, racism and becoming self-employed – and the realities of the rental market in London and her path to home ownership during the pandemic. Uwagba writes very perceptively about navigating privilege and social class and the opportunities and barriers which can be presented in different circumstances. Engaging and enraging.