For me, reading is a blissful retreat from the hectic buzz of reality, but sadly it is a space I don’t occupy as much as I’d like.
With juggling the demands of teens and tweens, managing the London-Brighton commute, trying to keep up with the latest Covid rules and looking after my remote work family, it can be difficult to fit everything in.
But having forfeited a ‘real’ holiday this year, I’ve been playing with a bit of escapism in my choice of books.
So, I’m currently enjoying the latest Elena Ferrante The Lying Life of Adults set in scorched, chaotic Naples, seeing the city through the eyes of adolescent narrator, Giovanna, whose self-perception is shaped and scarred by the actions and omissions of her parents.
Ms Ferrante is the author of the Neapolitan Quartet of novels that began with My Brilliant Friend, also set in Naples and charting a life-long friendship of two girls.
I was lucky enough to see the play of the quartet, named after the first novel My Brilliant Friend and which starred Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack, at the National Theatre just before lockdown.
It was fantastic. It ran over two nights and I took my best friend, who I met in the hazy, sleep-deprived days post-childbirth, 15 years ago. We’ve negotiated a lot that life has to throw at us together since then.
I’ve never been an avid reader of management books; instead I like to read widely around a topic to gain inspiration and draw my own conclusions.
Working for a mutual like One Family means that having a social conscience is very much part of my everyday working life.
However, I think it’s essential not to stand still and to always keep an open mind on how we can improve.
For inspiration I often turn to fiction or autobiography; a good book can take you to a different world. It allows you to stand in someone else’s shoes and see life through their eyes.
Because you are engaging with it on an emotional level, I think it’s far more powerful than any course or lecture on sustainable business or diversity could ever be.
One book like that was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s the story of two identical, light-skinned Black twins, Stella and Desiree, who embark on opposing life trajectories when Stella attempts to ‘pass’ for white.
It plays out their experiences of diversity over the decades, from the Louisiana bigotry of the 50s through to the more nuanced experience of Desiree’s daughter, Jude, and her tentative relationship with Reece who is transitioning from woman to man.
It’s a book I got completely absorbed by, and it taught me so much about the crippling effects of labelling driven by a rigid view of identity.
Finally, if you can get past the front cover image of a naked Leo Hickman holding a strategically placed box of organic fruit and vegetables, A Life Stripped Bare from 2005 is still relevant and is a great read for anyone wanting to live in a more sustainable way.