See that guy below? His name is Billy Moran and he wrote Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Me Amazing, which I had the pleasure of reviewing a few weeks back. Today, Billy has kindly sent me a guest post on the best novels that will teach you how to live.I hope you enjoy it and, remember, if you want to pick up a copy of Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Me Amazing, you can do so here.
10 Amazing Novels, Which Teach You How To Live
Today’s a big personal day for me – 10 years to the day since my dad died.
I read my first self-help book at 17 – Dale Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, which he gave to me. The summer after my A-Levels, it was a bid to lift my spirits after the loss of my first love, and before heading off to college. That summer was punctuated by a number of other memorable experiences too – an inter-railing trip around France with three mates, during where we were all chloroformed and robbed; my first job, as an untrained lifeguard in the local swimming baths; crap A-Level results which ended up with me signing up at a college I’d never heard of, in a town I’d never heard of, with five days to go, (the best life-defining decision I’ve ever taken); and the fall of the Berlin Wall and beginning of the Madchester musical revolution, that led me into rave. That book really helped me – but so did all those experiences, and, all the vinyl lined up in my joss-stick-ridden bedroom, the art on the front of the postcards my ex had written me, and the fiction I read too.
All this is reflected in my debut mystery novel Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing, which transposes the quest for happiness that we all share, on to a simple man’s mission to create some rules by which he can find out what happened to his father. It’s a self-help mystery! And the truth is, I’ve always learned as much about how to live from fiction, as I have from books of rules and lessons, I guess because the messages seep in, they’re not spoon fed. This is a selection of those I personally have learned from the most. Enjoy! Billy.
Oh God, there’s something in my eye. I think this one should be compulsory reading in schools, at some point in the window between the age where all kids are sweet and innocent, and some turn into teenage terrors. I know my kids’ primary school worked tirelessly to make bullying a thing of the past, and there isn’t loads of it that I know of at the local secondary schools, but it remains systemic in our culture, with social media, the gutter press and some of the politicians who govern us all taking equal responsibility for setting the tone. Maybe, a bit like the idea that you should have to retake your driving test every few years, you should have to re-read this every few years too?
From 1989-93 I did an English Literature: Creative Writing degree. I read a lot of books, but this, which my mum foisted on me, was the most memorable of that time, and hugely influential at such a formative moment in my life. It appealed to me with its unwavering commitment to balancing an irreverence at the futility of life, with the warm sense of hope which comes from accepting that this very futility (and how we respond to it and turn it on its head), is what makes us human.
The New Confessions by William Boyd
William Boyd’s sweeping 20th Century epic is astonishingly similar to another of his sweeping 20th Century epics Any Human Heart, but perhaps because I read this one first, and perhaps because Any Human Heart was later made into a TV series (making this one feel a bit more special), The New Confessions just pips it for me. I love the way it details a life that spans incredible times and momentous moments, with the achievements and failures of its protagonist reminding you that you only get one go, and if you remember that the days are long but the years are short, there’s a lot you can achieve in your miniscule time on earth, if you commit to putting one foot in front of the other and going for it. This is a strong theme of Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing: that there is no secret of ‘how to live,’ just lots of insights, lots of good days and bad days, and an ultimate necessity to keep plugging away.
A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson
In much the same way as William Boyd’s books above, this one again reminded me to seize the day. Its beautiful, poetic, heartbreaking conceit makes it one of my favourite booky things of all time. As a mystery writer, I do like Jackson Brodie – but Life After Life and A God In Ruins are even better. I think I was helped by coming to the latter (a ‘companion piece’ to the former) first, so the twist was a surprise.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Oh God, there’s something in my eye again. I love, love, loved Eleanor Oliphant. I want to read (and write) books that speak to me, but are relevant to everyone in some small way that’s there if you look for it. The pain felt by Eleanor, the goodness in the colleague who saves her – these are things which, quite simply, make you look in the mirror, and try to be a better person.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I had a bit of weirdly embarrassing experience with this one, which doesn’t bode well for my future memory prospects. I actually read it twice – accidentally. I can’t comment on the first time – obviously – but the second time, I had what I can only describe as an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu when I picked it up again – that extraordinary sense that I’d been here before. In this case, it was because I had, but the odd thing is, I couldn’t be sure until I was 30-40 pages in, and even then I couldn’t remember what happened. Doesn’t sound very memorable does it, but somehow this one really resonated with me – a book full of regrets, but none for me in reading it twice. So I recommend reading it, then having some kind of minor bang on the head, and going again.
Mr Phillips by John Lanchester
Mr Phillips follows the park bench breakdown of a middle-aged man facing redundancy and an existential crisis. A friend said to me once: “If ever I’ve lost my way, I usually find myself asking what Mr. Phillips would do.” Given that Mr Phillips is very ordinary, and enduring the worst day of his life, this is testament to the gentle learnings that can come from all sorts of books if you’re looking for them.
Slow Down Arthur Stick To 30 by Harland Miller
This novel from artist Harland Miller follows the 80s Yorkshire adventures of Billy ‘Kid’ Glover and a mysterious David Bowie impersonator called Ziggy Hero. This book taught me what to do if you come from an ordinary town, but dream of a bohemian existence.
This is a beautiful book that I think everyone will love – humanity seen through the life of an alien. Awesome!
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Finally, these days I like to include something in a list which doesn’t strictly-speaking qualify – I’ve always liked things just so, and I’m trying to learn to let go a bit! This isn’t a novel. It’s an autobiography which – because the author died before the end – had some help. It’s the world view of a hyper intelligent surgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer at a young age. Sound grim? It isn’t, it’s truly inspiring.