This year’s Rathbones Folio judges and mentors recommend books that, in one way or another, lift their spirits, at the end of a year in which all our spirits have sometimes needed lifting . . .
Ross Raisin, Rathbones Folio mentor: Young Skins, by Colin Barrett. A short story collection that reminds us not only how the best fiction can lift us from our own existence, but also that everybody’s existence is in various minute ways about community; that we are all a part of something larger than our individual selves.
Evie Wyld, Rathbones Folio mentor: I’m just in the middle of My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, and found The End We Start From by Megan Hunter incredible too. I also revisited The Handmaid’s Tale, which is just as good as I remembered. None of these books are cheery, but I find something incredibly uplifting about fiction that shows the ability of humans to imagine different worlds to their own.
Jim Crace, Rathbones Folio judge: Literature to lift the spirits? That’s not easy. The books I most value excel at alarming – or at least alerting – their readers, rather than consoling them. When I need cheering up I take a long country walk, so maybe that’s the answer. Take a hike around ‘the pathless wood’ with Robert Frost as your companion – or at least his Collected Works. Frost can be curmudgeonly but he truly knows the land and does not romanticise it, so doubling its appeal. I find great solace and optimism in his plain speaking and his heartening, grumpy wisdom. It helps, in these bewildering times, to be reminded that ‘happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length’.
AL Kennedy, Rathbones Folio mentor: I’d recommend Obedience To Authority by Stanley Milgram. I find him admirable as a scientist and he writes very well. The story of the great experiment of our age – would strangers agree to apparently electrocute a stranger just because an authority figure told them to? – is fascinating, as are his other experiments and his variations on the theme. In a world where people can seem terrifying and do apparently ridiculous and inhuman things it’s good to know something about why – it’s good to know that there are people out there still thinking about why – and Robert Sapolsky would be a more modern author to read on the roots of our behaviour in Behave. We fear what we don’t know – so why not know?
Kate Summerscale, Rathbones Folio judge: My year has been brightened by Lucia Berlin’s short-story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women. Her stories deal with very dark stuff, much of it drawn from her own life, but they are fierce, humane and wonderfully funny.