The best books about the humour, confusion, and beauty of being human

Who am I?

I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, but my main loves have always been fantasy and sci-fi. Not so much because of the strange worlds their doors open onto, but because of what they tell us about being human. Because humans are odd and strange and beautiful and full of magic, and it seems more important than ever that we remember that. And not just remember it, but celebrate it, especially as it relates to those of us that are a little different and out of the ordinary. So I hunt out books that remind me how special it is to simply be delightfully, weirdly human. I hope you enjoy them!


I wrote...

Baking Bad

By Kim M. Watt,

Book cover of Baking Bad

What is my book about?

A tranquil Yorkshire village. A very English murder. A simple case - or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than just bake sales and jam making.

Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the Women's Institute, knows the ladies of the W.I. are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a large and dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. Plus she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again...

The books I picked & why

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The Humans

By Matt Haig,

Book cover of The Humans

Why this book?

The Humans is one of those rare books that I had to hug after I finished it. Literally. Luckily I wasn’t reading it in public as there was possibly some happy squeaking involved, too. The story revolves around an alien who has been sent to Earth and tasked with finding out how far a mathematician’s potentially dangerous research has got, and who else knows about it. Initially, the alien is horrified by humans and all their emotional and physical needs, but as he learns more about us – more about what it is to be so messily, chaotically human – he also learns the beauty and magic of it. Smart, funny, and quite simply lovely.

The Humans

By Matt Haig,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Humans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME. OR IS THERE?

After an 'incident' one wet Friday night where he is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, Professor Andrew Martin is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst an alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he's a dog.

Who is he really? And what could make someone change their mind about the human race . . . ?


A Robot in the Garden

By Deborah Install,

Book cover of A Robot in the Garden

Why this book?

In a not-very-distant future, Ben finds a robot at the bottom of the garden. Not one of the usual, fancy AI robots, but a rusty, creaky, and distinctly quirky one. Ben decides to keep the robot, whose name is Tang, over the protests of his wife. But Tang isn’t well, and Ben finds himself more and more invested in both Tang’s well-being and in finding out where the robot came from. This leads to a strange and beautiful buddy-road-trip style tale, as Ben and Tang trek across half the world to find Tang’s maker and, hopefully, the repairs Tang needs. And they find much more besides, as does the reader – discoveries about friendship and love and life and humanity.

A Robot in the Garden

By Deborah Install,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Robot in the Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For fans of THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, THE FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST and ET.

'A MOST UNUSUAL AND DELIGHTFUL BOOK' Alexander McCall Smith

Funny, touching, charming, wise: a friendship novel that explores what it is to be human.

Some time in the future:
Ben Chambers wakes up to find an old robot - rusty and dazed- sitting underneath the willow tree in his garden. It's not a new android model, the type people now use for domestic chores around the house, but an antique one, no longer of any use. Refusing to throw it on the skip…


My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

Why this book?

Fredrik Backman may be best known for A Man Called Ove, which I also love, but this is my favourite of his books. Seven-year-old Elsa’s grandmother is both her best friend and her heroine, the teller of wild fairy tales and the owner of an even wilder life. But when Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa is set onto a new path of discovery, led by notes of apology her grandmother has left for various people. This is one of those stories that sparked beautiful, bittersweet joy for me, and is a celebration of living life in one’s own way, and being unafraid of being truly, fiercely your own strange and beautiful self.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A must-read for fans of Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, BernadetteHeartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure, by the author of the New York Times bestselling phenomenon A Man Called Ove will charm and delight anyone who has ever had a grandmother. Everyone remembers the smell of their grandmother's house. Everyone remembers the stories their grandmother told them.But does everyone remember their grandmother flirting with policemen? Driving illegally?Breaking into a zoo in the middle of the night? Firing a paintball gun from a balcony in her dressing gown?Seven-year-old Elsa does.Some might call…


Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Book cover of Dandelion Wine

Why this book?

A mix of coming of age in the first half of the twentieth century, and Bradbury’s peculiar brand of very earthly oddness and sci-fi strangeness, Dandelion Wine is full of all sorts of magic. It reminds you of what it is to be a small human again, when everything seems possible, and aliens and monsters are as likely (and as important) as long summer days spent outside, barefoot and sunburnt and a little feral. Even when we don’t recognise the details of the childhood described, we remember the feeling, and it reawakens a sense of wonder that’s incredibly precious.

Dandelion Wine

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Dandelion Wine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dandelion Wine is a 1957 semi-autobiographical novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois — a pseudonym for Bradbury's childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. The novel developed from the short story "Dandelion Wine" which appeared in the June 1953 issue of Gourmet magazine.


The Department of Sensitive Crimes

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Book cover of The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Why this book?

All of McCall Smith’s books have a generous streak of affection for humans in general, and the slightly weird and offbeat type of humans in particular. Ulf Varg, the protagonist of this series, is a detective in the Swedish Department of Sensitive Crimes, and much of his time is spent engaged in philosophical musings that may or may not have much bearing on his cases. This is a gentle, sweet book, with lots of thoughtful, and softly humorous takes on humanity. It’s very charming, and while it’s not a gripping read, it’s the sort of book that leaves warmth in its wake.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes

By Alexander McCall Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Department of Sensitive Crimes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division.

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem…


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