What I’ve been reading: Lost Gospels, Funny Girls and Near Death Experiences

It’s been a crazy reading ride so far this year. I’ve decided to capture what I’ve been reading throughout the year and review as I go through a monthly book round-up. This one is a double-whammy so it’s a touch on the long side – usually they’ll be shorter! (But equally as weird – I flit crazily between fiction, self-help, spirituality and writing-craft books.)

It all started pretty normally with the newest release from Mhairi McFarlane – who writes the best down-to-earth, funny female characters and really sexy, brooding but ultimately lovely love interests. This one delves into the world of a floundering 30 something barmaid who comes face to face with the boy who broke her teenage heart – and he doesn’t remember her at all. I fully identified with the main character as we both own the same (ridiculous) pink fur coat. Huh. Good stuff though. I’d recommend her books to anyone – and this new one was as familiar and comforting as all of her others. (These are, by the way, absolutely cracking holiday reads. She is SUCH A FUNNY LADY.)

Then my dad recommended Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. I don’t think I’ve read any others by him (perhaps About a Boy? But maybe not) but I enjoyed it. It’s set in the late 1950s in Britain, and follows northerner Barbara as she moves to London to pursue a life of comedy television. The story spans many years and many of the characters involved in writing and producing a successful sitcom. It’s funny, but bittersweet. Very evocative of how I imagine the country was back then, the good and the frustrating, un-PC bad.

Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting! was next, and it was one that I’d been dithering over for a while. I’m glad I read it, it has kickstarted a whole chain of interesting and introspective events since! The premise of the book is that in order to change your life, you need to change the way you feel. It’s less about ‘thoughts create reality’ and more ’emotions and feelings create reality.’ It made me SO aware of my emotions, and through keeping a 30 day journal as recommended in the book, I’ve been shocked by how difficult it is to consistently maintain positive feelings in my body. It’s easy to think positively, but without the accompanying emotion, I’m not sure that thoughts alone have much impact. But when I’ve managed to get the feeling to align with the thoughts… Weird things have been happening in my life, guys, and I’m totally into this. Things just keep appearing when I need them (and for a while after reading this, the suddenly meaningful song ‘You Always Take The Weather With You’ by Crowded House kept following me everywhere, in books, radio, TV and in shops. Weird). Lynn’s writing style is a bit divisive – it’s very pally and chummy and a bit old school. What’s even weirder is that after this book her life took a bit of a weird twist and she slumped into depression, going on to write two further books all about how we are in some way being prepared on Earth for some other planet…. Earth Two, I think she called it. I won’t be reading those books. My intuition – which I rely on a lot for my reading choices – tells me to just…ignore those ones.

Anyway, through keeping my journal of positive emotion, I started noticing a lot of things that I would otherwise have ignored. One of which was a bible quote in my parish newsletter: “Knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given.” I have no desire to read the bible but something about this felt sort of apt given what I’d been reading, and it made me idly wonder what it would be like to learn about Jesus without all the….religion attached.

Idle thoughts can take you in strange directions, my friends.

I googled. And I Amazoned. To my surprise, my online delving finally delivered me to The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. So, did you know that in 1945 an urn full of thousand-odd year old heretical gospels were dug up in Egypt? Because somehow, that passed me by. They apparently inspired the Da Vinci Code, and I do love a secret-text related mystery…. These gospels were more spiritual than the ones that made it into the bible (and therefore deemed heretical by the orthodox church.) Totally fascinating. Good historical book, this one. I felt enriched and also a little wiser by the end.

ANYWAY – getting back to normality with Indie Confidence – this deserves its own review. It was a great confidence boost and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of writing a book but lacking in direction or self-confidence, and particularly anyone wanting to publish themselves. It was balanced, personal and warmly written, and gave me back a bit of writing mojo. Another useful craft book was Erik Bork’s The Idea, which lays out the seven key elements of any successful idea. He’s a scriptwriter so a lot of the book is focused on scripts and movies, but it’s really translatable to novels. He explains everything with contemporary and classic examples (mostly films, though) and it has given me a lot to think about with my current WIP and future ideas I want to develop into stories. If you can crack the high-concept stuff at the really early stages then actually plotting and more importantly selling the story will be so, so much easier further down the line.

I’m just going to finish by touching on Proof of Heaven, which I’ve read three times now and find a lot of comfort in it. Like I said, I’m not religious. This is one of those books that presents a very spiritual concept in a way that doesn’t make you think everyone involved is a space-cake. The author is a neurosurgeon, who a decade or so ago contracted a really rare form of bacterial meningitis and went into a deep coma. His brain basically shut down. The chances of him dying were 97% and nobody, nobody in his situation had ever made a full recovery before. Whilst his neocortex was totally out of action, and therefore incapable of fantastical flights of fantasy and imagination, the author describes how he found himself in a totally different (heavenly) realm that felt more real than life on earth ever had. He attributes this to his consciousness expanding beyond his body and experiencing what life outside of our current reality is really like. He then went on to make a rapid and total recovery, astounding everyone. This book is SO INTERESTING.

It also has special meaning for me as I found this book in my grandad’s room a week after he died. I’d had no idea that he was interested in such things when he was alive, and I wish I could have talked to him about it – he had other similarly esoteric books on his shelf too. But I found it when I needed it, and like I said, it’s a very comforting view of existence.

In summary – if you want a giggle, read anything by Mhairi McFarlane. If you want to write books, read The Idea and Indie Confidence. And if you want to know what happens after you die… Dr Eben Alexander has you covered.



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