Reading Family Favourites: Dad’s Last Reads!

Today is my dad’s birthday!

He’d be 68 today and we’d be celebrating with a nice meal and a homemade cake. But, as you might know, he’s no longer with us and celebrating his birthday is a little different. We still like to mark the occasion as Dad will always be so special to us (and therefore so is the day he was born!) but in the absence of showering him with presents, I decided to honour him in a different way.

Every Sunday I’d come home from my shift at the bookshop I work in to my dad sitting there with a list of the books from the Sunday papers that he thought were interesting and could I pick them up for him next time I’m in? I always said yes, of course, and it meant that for the year or so before he passed away, my dad read more than I think I’d ever seen him read before. It’s not that he didn’t like books but he simply wasn’t one for fiction and didn’t know where to start with the vast amount of non-fiction out there.

The very last two books that he finished were ones that were also on my TBR and therefore I was excited that I’d be able to talk to him about them. When he died, I put off reading these books as I knew I’d be hit with the heartbreak of knowing we’d never get to discuss them. But, trying to look on the bright side, I figure that this is a lovely way to connect physically with him one more time.

So, deep breath and here we go…

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Blurb: Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women. For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

This book was everywhere when it first came out and it was no surprise to me that it intrigued my dad because of that. He always liked a political/current affairs conversation (he talked my poor ex-boyfriend’s ear off about world trade and economics many times) so he finished this book wanting to talk about women and how unfair it was that we know so much about an unidentified killer but barely anything about his victims. With everything that’s been happening lately, I’d give everything to continue that conversation with him.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time and I absolutely loved it. There’s obviously been a really intense research period which comes through with all of the knowledge that the author is able to impart. I loved that this book focuses on the five canonical women killed by Jack the Ripper rather than the killer himself as it’s something that I’ve never seen before. We all, myself included, fall victim to the narrative that these women were sex workers who lived high risk lifestyles but thanks to Rubenhold’s research we see that that is simply not true. Reinserting women into history is my favourite thing about modern historians and I sincerely hope that this continues. The book ends with the reminder that these women were not simply sex workers, they were wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, but more importantly, they were human beings and that is more than enough to warrant some respect. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking to pay more attention to women’s history, especially as we live in a society where the acts committed still take place today.

Questions I’m Asked About the Holocaust by Hรฉdi Fried

Blurb: There are no stupid questions, nor any forbidden ones, but there are some questions that have no answer. Hรฉdi Fried was nineteen when the Nazis snatched her family from their home in Eastern Europe and transported them to Auschwitz, where her parents were murdered and she and her sister were forced into hard labour until the end of the war. Now ninety-four, she has spent her life educating young people about the Holocaust and answering their questions about one of the darkest periods in human history. Questions like, ‘How was it to live in the camps?’, ‘Did you dream at night?’, ‘Why did Hitler hate the Jews?’, and ‘Can you forgive?’. With sensitivity and complete candour, Fried answers these questions and more in this deeply human book that urges us never to forget and never to repeat.

Continuing with the theme of learning more about the world and its history, this was another unsurprising request from my dad. Despite not being Jewish himself, Dad grew up in Golders Green in London which is well known for its Jewish community and never shied away from this period of history.

I couldn’t give this book anything other than 5 stars. It’s eloquent, vulnerable and honest and there’s nothing about the writing that I can fault. I really appreciated the premise of this book being that there are no stupid questions when it comes to this period of history, as questions are what educates future generations about the horrors that people suffered in the hope that it won’t happen again. Fried answers questions in this book that I didn’t even know I had, from ‘what languages were spoken in Auschwitz?’ to ‘did you dream at night?’, as well as the more profound, ‘are you able to forgive?’ and ‘were you afraid of death?’. This is an absolute must read for everyone, regardless of age or ethnicity, religious beliefs or interest in world history – we can all learn about the importance of tolerance and standing up for the right thing from this book.

Have you ever read any of your family’s favourite books? What did you think of them? Iโ€™d love to know!

You can always find me over on Twitter if youโ€™d like to discuss this post (or any others that Iโ€™ve featured) in more detail ๐Ÿ˜Œ

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 15.34.52

6 thoughts on “Reading Family Favourites: Dad’s Last Reads!

  1. This is a beautiful post. I know it’s not the same but when my best friend died I found it hard to do things that we wanted to do together, but for me doing those things when I feel ready is part of moving through grief. Your dad clearly read some wonderful books too, and I’m glad you enjoyed them as well! โค๏ธ

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Iโ€™m so sorry to hear about your best friend ๐Ÿ’œ Grief is different for everyone but I wholeheartedly agree that when you feel ready, going back to doing things they loved can be a wonderful thing ๐Ÿ’œ

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a beautiful post and I might actually do this with my mum’s books. She passed when I was younger and we actually have a load of her books in the house and in my grandparents storage locker. Plus, I still always do something for her birthday too.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s