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Our Penguins share their favourite tales for World Book Day

05/03/2024

This week it’s World Book Day and here at Penguin PR we support anything that promotes a love of reading and the joy of books. A good book can transport you around the world, make you fall in love or take you back in time, simply with the turn of a page. Here, the Penguin PR team share their favourite books.

Simon Burch – Perfume, Patrick Süskind

Anyone who has caught the whiff of a scent or fragrance that instantly transports them back in time will recognise how powerful our sense of smell is in evoking emotions.

And it is this pretty much the basis upon which German writer Patrick Süskind has built his incredible novel Perfume, delving deep into the olfactory world through the eyes and nostrils of 18th Century France.

Think Frankenstein meets Chanel No. 5: at the heart of his story is social outcast Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, whose incredible sense of smell makes him a genius when it comes to blending myriad ingredients to create perfumes capable of bewitching the general public.

Yet instead of acclaim, Jean-Baptiste only receives hostility: even as a newborn, he was rejected by his mother and, later, his nurse-maid, because not only was he ugly, he did not have the baby-smell that bonds carers to their infants.

In fact, like a vampire doesn’t appear in a mirror, Jean-Baptiste doesn’t ever develop a bodily smell of his own at all, allowing him to slip through the world unnoticed and leaving him free to wreak revenge and commit his crimes of obsession.

Why this book isn’t better known and hailed as a classic is a mystery to me, it’s a perfect novel of a fantastical and unsettling story driven by our most under-rated, and arguably our most powerful, sense of all.

Jenny Moody – Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks

I was first introduced to Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks when I was studying war literature for my A-Levels and instantly I was hooked.  I’ve always loved war literature as it comes from such a dark place that most of us will thankfully never experience first-hand. It is raw and you can hear the fear of the author through their words. This is often the side of war that we don’t hear about as it is too gruesome and painful to comprehend how one human could do that to another. 

Birdsong described the true horrors of war in excruciating detail, you feel like you can see what the author is describing and are down in that bunker with them. It is not all about death and destruction as there is also an elicit love affair at the beginning which haunts the rest of the book. 

My English teacher always spoke with so much passion when it came to war literature and poetry that it was hard not to be caught up in what he was saying. However, there was one passage he did not read to a classroom of teenagers – if you have read the book you will know the chapter I’m referring to!

Birdsong is one of the few books that I have re-read over the years, the story is so powerful. Sebastian Faulks is one of my favourite authors – Charlotte Grey is another of his that I’ve read a few times. He really is such a beautiful writer. 

Lucy Stephens – My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell

“July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky.”

So begins Gerald Durrell’s wonderful autobiographical work, summing up pretty much exactly the feelings of many British people towards what we laughingly call summer.

I first came across this elegiac, sunshine-filled book at around the age of ten or 11 and it was probably the perfect age to read it.

Favourite books – as with favourite songs – are often encountered in one’s youth, with the passage of time cementing the intense feelings we can have towards literature and music in our formative years.

Durrell’s autobiographical account of how he and his family moved to Corfu filled me with optimism and hope when I first read it and it still does.

When it comes to getting the family to Corfu, Durrell doesn’t mess about. Within three pages they’ve packed their bags and gone – “like a flock of migrating swallows”.

What follows is just a glorious, joyful journey through the Durrells’ time on a sun-soaked Greek island. My favourite bits as a child growing up in Preston were the descriptions of the family’s various gorgeous-sounding homes: who doesn’t want to live in a ‘strawberry pink villa’?

I also loved the passages where Durrell described lazy afternoons swimming in warm seas, and how the whole book just made you feel as though you were lying in the sunshine on holiday.

I’ve never been to Corfu, although because of this book I’ve always wanted to. But in the meantime, I can just pick up My Family and Other Animals and dip into its pages, which is probably just as good, isn’t it?

 Kirsty Green – We Need to Talk about Kevin, Lionel Shriver. 

As a mum-of-two young children, my favourite book needs to stand out among nightly readings about Gruffalos, Funny Bones, Sharks in the Park and Koalas who Could. 

I’ve made conscious efforts to read for myself in the past. In 2019, I read every book shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year. 

While I lapped up the winner Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadette Evaristo and thoroughly enjoyed The Testaments (the follow up to A Handmaid’s Tale) by Margaret Atwood, the only title that kept popping back into my head for my ‘favourite book’ belonged to a one I read 12 years ago – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. 
 
It’s about a fictional school massacre written from the first person perspective of the teenage killer’s mother, Eva Khatchadourian. It documents her attempt to come to terms with her psychopathic son, Kevin’s, murderous crimes and is told via a series of letters from Eva to her husband. 

I didn’t have kids when I picked this book up in a charity shop in 2012 but what stays with me is the characterisation of Eva, the brutal honesty with which she is portrayed as a mum. I could feel for her and find her infuriating all at the same time. She felt real. I’m sure if I read it now, I’d have a deeper understanding of her need to dissect every parenting decision made, her mum-guilt.  

The flawed humans, rather than the shocking plot, are what stay with me. In a book where you know the ending from the start, it really had to be all about the characters.

Sarah Newton – The Island of Missing Trees, Elif Shafak

This is a multi-layered treat about a pair of star-crossed lovers on the divided island of Cyprus and their legacy, unwittingly handed down to future generations. It’s a magical book which is beautifully written, narrated in part by the fig tree at the heart of the local taverna.

Set in Cyprus and London between 1974 and the late 2010s, it is the story of Kostas, a Greek Christian Cypriot, and Defne, a Turkish Muslim Cypriot, who fall in love as teenagers in 1974 – the year that Cyprus is torn in two.

The Island of Missing Trees is described as ‘a rich, magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal’ and it moves back and forth across different times and places through three different narratives. It’s a tale about secrets and generational trauma but also a novel which raises questions about immigrants and their offspring and the disconnect between a family’s yesterdays and its future.

The personification of the fig tree sounds ridiculous and although it feels incongruous at first it becomes utterly enchanting, as are the tales of the subterranean world of roots and the natural earth. It tells us “Tangled beneath our roots, hidden inside our trunks, are the sinews of history, the ruins of wars nobody came to win, the bones of the missing.”

The Island of Missing Trees is the sort of book that leaves a little hole in your life when it’s finished and I would highly recommend it.

Kerry Ganly – The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton

WHEN I told my family that I was going to talk about The Magic Faraway Tree as one of the most memorable books I have read, they sniggered. They didn’t think that it was ‘high-brow’ enough for this blog.

But the series of books written by much-loved British author Enid Blyton about three children who have the most incredible adventures in an enchanted wood, made me fall in love with reading as a child.

My auntie had a huge collection of Enid Blyton books in her bedroom – Naughty Amelia Jane was her favourite – and I used to help myself to a new book every week; The Magic Faraway Tree being my favourite.

I’d curl up and engross myself in the tales of Jo, Bessie and Fanny (edited to Joe, Beth and Grannie in revised editions) and their visits to Roundabout Land – where everything they encountered was upside down – with characters they had met such as Saucepan Man, Silkie and Dame Washalot.

These books sparked a love of reading. As a busy parent, I don’t read as much as I’d like but when I do, I like nothing more than a well-written book with characters that are relatable and a storyline that has as many twists as an Alton Towers rollercoaster.

I once read the brilliant book by Alice Sebold; The Lovely Bones. Critically acclaimed and on the New York Times best-seller list, the book tells the tale of a teenage girl who, after being raped and murdered, watches from her personal heaven as her family and friends struggle to move on with their lives.

It did, though, slightly ruin my holiday in Greece. Hard-hitting and terribly sad, it made me realise that whilst there is a time and place for books like The Lovely Bones and, for me, lying on a sunlounger in Greece wasn’t it.

It also made me realise that my book type wasn’t necessarily hard-hitting, award-winning novels; and that it was OK to enjoy an easy-to-read, totally unrealistic book that is just pure escapism.

If that’s your thing, then I would highly recommend The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. A thriller that involves the abduction of a baby, murder and mega-rich families with disjointed relationships, it’s a real page-turner and perfect for lying on that sunlounger.

This blog was written and shared by Sarah Newton. Do you want to find out more about how a blog can help your business? Find out how we can help by getting in touch.

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