Posted 17.07.19 by Alex Watson
Megan completed work experience in International Sales
One of the big pulls for me about working in publishing, especially a publishing house like Penguin Random House, was working with books. I love books. The smell, the feel, the words… I’m sure everyone who applies to work there loves books, too. So I’m here to tell you that the programme is a book-lovers’ dream.
I’ve decided to write some reviews of the books I was able to take home when working in the book-filled Pimlico offices. You can also catch them on my Instagram account, where I do this often (@have_you_read_this).
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
I had placed a book-buying ban on myself while I worked through my existing shelf, and so despite my love for Dolly Alderton and specifically her pop-culture podcast, The High Low, I hadn’t read her autobiography. When being orientated at Penguin, and shown where I could select books to take home, it was the first book I saw. Coincidence? Absolutely not. It was devoured in a couple of days and is as funny, charming and life-affirming as most things Dolly does. Published under Penguin Books, this award-winning book is a collection of love stories – not just romantic ones, but love stories of self, of friendship, of food and of life.
Never Greener – Ruth Jones
For some reason, I thought Ruth Jones’s new novel was autobiographical – probably because I got quite a few non-fiction books while on work experience. But to my surprise and subsequent delight, this Black Swan imprint publication is pure fiction and a great joy to read. Anyone who’s watched Gavin and Stacey knows of Ruth Jones’s skill for characterisation. Her characters are always so well-rooted in reality. It’s such a skill in fiction to write dislikable characters in a way that keeps the reader interested, and Ruth Jones has really crushed it. Quite frankly, I disliked mostly all of the characters and thought they were morally questionable (though perhaps that’s what makes them so real…) and yet despite disagreeing at large with their behaviour, I still wanted desperately to know what would happen to them. It’s a quick read, but not to the detriment of character development. Despite flying through Never Greener, I felt like I’d known these characters all their lives.
Naturally Tan – Tan France
Penguin’s imprint, Virgin Books, has published the memoir of Queer Eye’s Tan France. Tan’s had a pretty fast-paced, glamourous time since the first episode of Netflix’s Queer Eye in 2018 – but under the surface of his fame, wit, fashion-prowess and fortune is a pretty remarkable life filled with hardship and prejudice. Tan grew up in a South Asian community in South Yorkshire, where the colour of his skin dictated the treatment he received in school, in his hometown and in most social environments. You delve into his family life, where he was dealing with being gay within a largely intolerent community. But the book is filled with his life’s joys too, from meeting his husband, the love of his life, to building a hugely successful clothing brand. All interspersed with fab fashion tips! It’s so feisty and wholesome, you’ll find yourself telling people at every opportunity how they have to read it.
Selected Short Stories – Virginia Woolf
Amidst the sea of exciting new releases, I managed to get my hands on this Penguin Classics anthology of Virginia Woolf’s short stories. I haven’t read Woolf’s long fiction, but her short stories are enchanting. From external reading, as well as information from Sandra Kemp’s introduction, the general consensus seems to be that her short stories are far more experimental and boundary-pushing than her longer fiction. I felt lost in a whirlpool for most of the reading experience, but never at risk of drowning. Sort of similarly to Penguin’s work experience programme – it’s never so overwhelming that it’s unmanageable, but the fast-paced whirl of activity, energy and enthusiasm is dizzying, in the best possible way.
Notes to Self – Emilie Pine
In the canteen, there are shelves of books from Penguin’s monthly book club, which employees are encouraged to read and engage with. The picks for June were Sue Perkins’ East of Croydon and Emilie Pine’s Notes To Self. Naturally, I nabbed a copy of both, but I haven’t read East of Croydon yet. I can say with some confidence that Notes To Self is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s a collection of six personal essays, each describing formative parts of Emilie Pine’s life, from her time navigating the chaos of the Greek medical system and her years grappling with her fertility, to her parents’ divorce and years spent running herself into the ground. They’re raw, brave and honest. Each chapter made me laugh, weep, gasp and self-evaluate at least once. Despite being so deeply personal, she offers a mirror to the reader and invites reflection at every page-turn.