Maggie Alderson: How to pick the right book when you're in a reading rut.

I’m going to bed early tonight because I’m reading a really great book and I want to finish it.

This is a particularly pleasing prospect because it’s been strangely lacking in my life recently. You know when you go through one of those odd dry patches with books and just can’t find anything that feels right?

I go into my local book shop and the library and walk around wringing my hands. Anna Karenina? Jill Mansell? Aristotle? Ali Smith? It’s overwhelming.

Then I walk out with nothing.

Maggie Alderson.

I ask friends and none of their suggestions appeal. I look at all my shelves of unread books and remember yet again why I never quite fancy any of them.

It’s so maddening because I’m bitterly aware that I’m never going to be able to read everything I want to, so wasting good reading time is a crime.

It started because I finally OD-ed on my beloved mid-20th century women novelists. I read about 15 in a row and suddenly couldn’t stand the thought of any more coolly restrained renditions of tumultuous emotions.

Passion withheld across porcelain tea cups.

So I decided I needed something completely different and got sucked in by all the Samuel Johnson award-winning hype around H is for Hawk.


I found it N for Neurotic, T for Tedious and R for Repetitive. She’s constantly losing the fucking bird and tearing through brambles. It really gave me the pip.


Then in a moment of madness the next thing I bought was the Man Booker winner. Well, it was an Aussie author and it sounded amazing… but after three chapters I just couldn’t do it. Maybe I’ll go back one day.

Should I?

After that, I decided to cleanse my palate with something very reliable: Marian Keyes most recent one, the brilliantly titled The Woman Who Stole My Life. It was most enjoyable, like eating a big bar of fruit and nut chocolate.


It was better than nervy bird women and the Burma rail road, but I still longed for something a little more savoury. A goats cheese kind of a book. I finally found it, going by the cover recommendation of my friend Jojo Moyes.

She couldn’t put it down and I can’t wait to pick it up again: Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood.

It could also – if the title hadn’t already been notably used – be called Women In Love, as it brilliantly portrays the baton passing of Ernest Hemingway’s serial wives.

What a git he was.

Ms Wood evokes the very different emotional pulse rates of the different women absolutely brilliantly, set in vivid renderings of Paris and Antibes in the 1920s (Scott! Zelda!), Key West in the 1930s, Paris in the 40s and… wherever he ends up next. Gitting about. Although he was very handsome in his youth.

So I’m off to get back to that. Have you read anything good recently?

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