My big little sister is 24 today (and I'm trying not to think about how that means that this little big sister is 29 in six weeks time). She's the big little sister because she's five years younger and eight inches taller than me, which makes me the little big sister. Other than the height thing (and the hip-length hair thing) we actually look far more alike that we liked to think a few years ago. And we get on far better than we did a few years ago, now that five years difference in age isn't the chasm it used to be.
Happy birthday Gill. I would have bought you books, but I suffered an attack of uncertainty as to what you read, so it was book tokens instead. But here are some of the books I was considering, that I thought you might like (all in print and in paperback, just for a change).
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
When the Rabbi dies, worlds collide. His estranged daughter flies back from New York. His nephew Dovid, the Rabbi's appointed heir, and Dovid's wife Esti, have their own reasons for apprehension. Sounds terrible? It could be a dreadful novel, populated entirely by cardboard cutouts. It isn't. None of the characters are quite who you thought they were. None of them behave quite how you think they will. The ending was entirely unexpected, and far more satisfying for it. And if you buy the paperback it comes with recipes.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Do you remember how Dad was incapable of watching a film from the beginning all the way to the end? We'd see the last third of a film, then a few years later the beginning third, but there would always be an elusive central section, without which nothing made sense. This novel is a bit like that. We meet the characters in 1947, variously marked by their wartime experiences, and instead of travelling forward to find out what happens to them, we ravel back to find out how they got there. I read it in one glorious sitting, then went straight back to the front to read it again. Wiser brains than mine have pointed out anachronisms (very few), but I think they're missing the point. It's fiction, not history, and it gets the exhausted, melancholic atmosphere of the late 1940s right. If this is a hit, you may also like Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
Fairytales for grown ups? Nothing is what it seems, anything can happen. Putting on your mother's wedding dress and walking in the garden at midnight will bring about the end of your comfortable life. It isn't quite the world we live in, it's more like the world we dream when flu strikes and our temperature climbs. Intoxicating.
Love in Idleness by Charlotte Mendelson
Just-graduated Anna is trying to work out how this being a grown up business works, as she spends the summer alone in her aunt Stella's flat in London. Her mother doesn't provide much of a model, but Stella is mysterious and entrancing, and Anna has far too much time on her hands to speculate about her aunt, to become obsessed. Then Stella comes back. It's far funnier than I made it sound, and there are moments of hideous recognition (maybe all bookish 21 year olds are basically the same).
These are four books, but I could have listed many others. Don't feel bound to try any of them. After all, you live in the same city as Blackwells, which I imagine to be like Heffers in Cambridge, the sort of bookshop that gives you hope for the world (as L put it).