From Cornwall to the cosmos: Great reads chosen by Al Murray, Jenny Eclair, Paterson Joseph and Sophie Raworth
22 November 2022
This week, Sara Cox's guests recommend: former child star Jennette McCurdy's revealing memoir about her mother; Joseph Heller's razor-sharp satire on the madness of war; a couple's walking adventure that showcases the natural world’s healing power; and the infinitely improbable publishing phenomenon with a timeless message for humanity - ‘Don’t Panic’.
Each week we reveal the favourite books brought in by guests on Between the Covers. This week, Al Murray, Jenny Eclair, Paterson Joseph and Sophie Raworth each share a favourite title from their own shelves.
Al Murray - Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The cover says: Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. His real problem is not the enemy - it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service.
I read this every three years and each time it’s completely different. It’s also really funny.Al Murray
Al says: “I had to read this for A-Level, and it completely blew my mind. How many novels have ended up in the English language just on their title alone? People think they know what a Catch-22 is... It was going to be called Catch-18 and his publisher said, ‘I’m not sure that’s quite right’.
Joseph Heller served in the US Army Air Force in the Second World War, in the Mediterranean. He was a bombardier and it’s about that. The narrative structure is incredibly ambitious, it doesn’t go in a straight line.
There’s an incident that has basically driven the protagonist, Yossarian, crazy. It was in Bologna, and you get the little drip-drip-dribble of what happened there. At the end of the novel it’s revealed, and you realise why he’s so desperate not to fly again.
And the catch of Catch-22 is: if you know you're mad, you don't have to fly; but only a rational person would go to a doctor and say, ‘I’m crazy because I don’t want to fly’, right? So there’s no way out of that. You’re caught, you’re trapped in the situation - and that's war, and it’s the human condition, it’s all that and it’s an absolutely amazing book.
I read this every three years and each time it’s completely different. Because of the narrative structure, different characters will come to the fore and others will fade away.
It’s also really funny, and written in a sort of snarky New York style where the sentences all answer each other. Like, ‘he was an incredibly popular guy, that’s why everyone hated him’. It’s that kind of aphoristic style where it has stand-up in it, that sort of punchy text. I absolutely love this book.”
Jenny Eclair - I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
The cover says: Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy.
If you have even an iota of pushy mother syndrome you’ve got to read this - as a warning to yourself.Jenny Eclair
Jenny says: “This isn’t really a book a 62-year-old woman should be picking up. I’d never heard of Jennette McCurdy. It’s an autobiography. I don't like the cover. I listened to it, she does her own narration and she goes like the clappers, she does the whole thing very very fast so I had to slow it down like an old lady. I picked this up vaguely through social media, sometimes titles just keep reappearing.
I’ve always been fascinated by child stardom, how unstuck they often become, and this is a first-hand account of becoming unstuck, mostly at the hands of her own mother. The sort of abuse that has been disguised as over-loving. Her mother basically introduces her to calorie counting, and anorexia, her mother shoves her into eating disorders and all sorts. She's a very unhappy, talented and natural, quite good actress. It's a story that repeats and repeats, and you’d think people should know this by now.
It's very funny. It's so personal. If you have even an iota of pushy mother syndrome you’ve got to read this as a warning to yourself, the damage that you can do. It’s a great little book for now.”
Paterson Joseph - The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The cover says: One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. It's the final straw for Arthur Dent, who has already had his house bulldozed that morning. But for Arthur, that is only the beginning.
I listened to it every night for about four years. It lasted a lot longer than the relationship.Paterson Joseph
Paterson says: “My introduction to it was through my very first girlfriend. I was about nineteen, and she gave me the cassette - that’s how long ago it was - it was the 1978 album and, honestly, I listened to it every night for about four years. It lasted a lot longer than the relationship I’m afraid, because it’s still going.
It's a way of talking about our times in an entertaining way. And it’s also funny, really funny. Douglas Adams is a genius writer in that he will write something very mundane like, ‘there’s a guy called Arthur Dent and he’s a TV producer and somebody's trying to knock down his home’, so what?
It feels very prosaic and Arthur's a very normal guy. But what happens to him is so extraordinary. He gets pulled out of his world. The Earth gets blown up. He’s now homeless...”
- The Hitchhiker's Guide on the BBC: Classic clips related to the BBC series
Sophie Raworth - The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
The cover says: Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.
It’s a real story of triumph over adversity., and on so many different levels it really chimed.Sophie Raworth
Sophie says: “I love this book on so many levels. Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lived in Wales on a farm for 20-odd years. They're insular people, they like their own company. They have been together since they were teenagers and are now in their fifties.
They invested in a friend's business, it all went wrong and they lost everything. So the book starts with them hiding under the stairs, the bailiffs are knocking at the door, and they have to leave their home. They have two grown-up children, they are rendered homeless and they have nowhere to go.
Moth discovers a week later he has something called CBD, which is a bit like Parkinson's Disease. It's incurable, it’s degenerative. He's going to lose mobility, have trouble speaking, swallowing, remembering. So they have this awful predicament and they have nowhere to go. They love being outside, so they get backpacks and a tent, and they start walking.
They do the southwest coast path through Devon and Cornwall, it’s about 600 miles. And at the start of it, he’s having problems with his mobility - the doctor has said, ‘look, you just need to rest’ and they do the absolute opposite. So it's the story of this couple who had a lovely life and then lost everything, and how they get over it. It’s a real story of triumph over adversity.
They have lots of wonderful moments of kindness, and it's all about people they meet on the way. On so many different levels it really chimed.