Read for pleasure: fiction books recommended by CityLibrary staff

People tend to think of academic libraries as places with lots of textbooks and obscure titles for research on the most unimaginable things. Of course, CityLibrary has all that, too, but we have a broad collection of fiction as well!

To highlight this, CityLibrary News recently surveyed members of CityLibrary staff to learn what books they’ve recently read and enjoyed. All of the recommended titles are available either in print in the Library or as an e-book on OverDrive. You can find some of the print books on display on Level 5 of Northampton Square Library.  Here’s what the Library staff had to say about their recommendations:

In the forground, a hand is holding three books: Emma, 1984, and Animal Farm. In the background, Read for pleasure book display at Northampton Square Library can be seen.Richard, who works in both the E-access team and the Law Library, has been looking into modern classics and has recently finished reading 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. He said, “They are both marvellous to read but utterly horrifying! Animal Farm with its depressing look at the death of idealism and 1984 with its uncanny prescience about the direction of politics. On a happy note, reading 1984 revealed to me the origin of the phrase “a rebel from the waist down”, before that it was just a weird lyric from a Marilyn Manson song. Learning has been achieved.” Conor from the Law team has recently finished a classic, too – Emma by Jane Austen. He characterised it as an “elegantly written prose that perfectly captures the nuance of human relationships”. You can find this and many other classic novels on OverDrive (or read them on-the-go by downloading the Libby app to your device).

Louise, the Director of Library Services, suggested Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: “I wasn’t sure from the description whether I would enjoy it, in fact, I wasn’t sure in the first 60+ pages, but then something changed, and I loved it. Now, when people tell me it’s on their pile/shelves to be read, or I see someone on the train reading it, I am jealous. I am jealous that they are about to discover a delightful, intriguing, delicious and rich adventure ahead of them.” Meanwhile, Felicity from User Services recommends Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. She said, “For me, this book was laugh-out-loud funny, but also incredibly moving. Queenie is an endearing, and at times infuriating, character that you can’t help but root for in this beautifully written and engaging novel.”

Read for pleasure book display at Northampton Square Library. Featured books: Where the Crawdads Sing, Queenie, Embroideries, as well as graphic novel The Arrival opened.Dita from Academic Services has recently started exploring the graphic novel collection of the Library. One of her first dips in it was Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (the author of Persepolis). Dita said, “I found this graphic novel amazing: it’s a story about a bunch of women in Iran who gather together to clean up after a meal while the men have gone to have a nap, and they share stories about their lives, men and relationships. There is so much character and humour, and drama in these simple images and stories; I don’t think it could have been told in any different way than a graphic novel. It was really quick to get through, too – I was done within a day”. (Rumour has it that this book, based on each other’s recommendations, has been borrowed by several members of Library staff in a row…)

Sue from the E-access team had another graphic novel to recommend – The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which is a comic book without the use of language, depicting the main character’s arrival in what feels like New York in the beginning of the 20th century, involving many surreal elements. Sue said, “It spoke to me as it deals with the immigrant experience – most of us here, in Britain, have somebody in ancestry who’s been born in another country, and this graphic novel feels universal – due to the lack of language, it could be understood anywhere. The illustrations are so beautiful that I purchased a copy for myself right after reading the one I borrowed from the library, as I wanted to always have it.” Another novel that Sue has recently read and loved, is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. “I didn’t fully enjoy it right away, because the beginning of the book spends a lot of time introducing us to the characters, but luckily I persisted and it ended up being a magnificent book – I cried twice while reading it.”

Book display at Northampton Square LibrarySamantha, who recently departed from her role as a Research Librarian in the Business Library, had two, as she said, timeless stories to recommend before leaving. The first one is I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: “Written by the author of 101 Dalmatians, this is a very different beast than her previous work. It has one of the best opening lines in English Literature: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”, and it tells the coming-of-age story of Cassandra Mortmain, a lonely teenager who lives an impoverished life in a decaying castle in the 1930s. It’s funny, touching and incredibly uplifting. It’s one of my most favourite books and I return to it again and again.” Another one Samantha recommended was The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield: “Just absolutely hilarious. The author is a mother raising her children first in the 1930s then in the war, and it chronicles the small and vexing events of her daily life. It’s mostly autobiography, so it’s a real insight into daily life in this time period. I love how little changes for us as humans despite wildly different times and places – the author too worries about the books she’s not read, why her finances never seem to be straight, and has some very firm opinions on social climbing and snobbery.”

Lisa from the Evening and Weekend team has recently read Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers and is now excited to read more by the author. She says, “This novel centres on a journalist investigating an immaculate conception story, but it’s so much more than that, it’s about a woman and the little things in life that bring pleasure.” Another novel that Lisa recommends is Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: “It is dedicated to librarians past, present and future, and the story moves from the 1400 to the future exploring an ancient lost text. Each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view, and, although a little lost at first, I was quickly drawn into the story and the various time frames. The futuristic library sounds a wonderful place to work. It is very different from the author’s previous book (which was five-star) All the Light We Cannot See, and it reminded me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The chapters are super short, so perfect for dipping in and out of.”

Read for pleasure book display at Northampton Square Library. Featured books: Piranesi, Small Pleasures, Red at the Bone, All the Light We Cannot See.Matthew from the Law Library has recently read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: “It is about one man trapped in a strange set of fantastical halls, and the solitary life he leads there. As someone who spent vast amounts of time by myself in 2020, this really resonated! Worth a read if you’re a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Clarke’s other book (and, crucially, this one is a much shorter!).” Another recent discovery by Matthew has been Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: “It tells the story of a Brooklyn family, flashing between three generations. The book deals with chewy themes like class, sexuality, and the idea of inherited trauma, but always in a compassionate way. It reminded me of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (also an excellent book in the collection!).”

We hope these snippet-reviews have inspired you to explore the Library’s fiction collection. If you wish to browse the shelves for print books, you’ll find fiction at shelfmarks 800-899 at all locations of CityLibrary (Northampton Square Library, Law Library, and Business Library). If the book is located at a different Library location or if it’s borrowed by somebody else, you can find and request the book via CityLibrary Search. Alternatively, if you prefer e-books and audiobooks, have a look at the collections we’ve curated on OverDrive, like crime and thrillers, bestsellers, award-winners and others. You can either read them on the website, or download the Libby app and read the books on-the-go; find out all about it in our blogpost about OverDrive. If you feel like sharing your own discoveries, feel free to leave a comment below, or tag us on Instagram or Twitter @cityunilibrary!

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