Just Richard Flanagan and I, Having a Chat…

Blimey where have the last two weeks gone? Last week seemed to be taken up with the Green Carnation Prize longlisting meetings and discussions (and all the admin that followed), plus a few author interviews, then I was off back home to the Peak District to stay with my mad aunty Caz and then this week I have been prepping for something else which I can’t talk about yet. This isn’t me trying to be mysterious and coy. I am just waiting to find out what is what. Anyway…

One of the interviews I recorded last week was with the lovely Richard Flanagan for You Wrote The Book, well he only went and won the Man Booker Prize this week! I thought being a bookish lot you might like a listen to it maybe, perhaps? If so the link is here.

I will be telling you all about The Narrow Road to the Deep North on Sunday but in the interim let me just say it is quite, quite amazing. I still can’t quite shake it. Kim of Reading Matters has been telling me to read him for ages and I have wanted to read this one in particular since I saw it discussed on The First Tuesday Book Club with Jennifer, Marieke, Jason and co. I can certainly see what all the talk has been for.

So have a listen if you fancy it. Just because I am nosey though, what are your thoughts on the Booker prize this year, both the lists and the new rules?

3 Comments

Filed under You Wrote The Book!

My Top Ten UK Bookshops (Currently)

I thought today, in honour of the Books Are My Bag initiative, I would share some of my favourite bookshops with you all. Obviously you will be heading to your local bookshop today and supporting them, if they are one of these then pretend I am there in spirit. Though actually if you are in my number one choice this afternoon it is quite likely that I will be there perusing the shelves and then head up for coffee and cake. So without further waffle or ado here are my top ten bookshops…

 

  1. Scarthin Books, Cromford, Derbyshire

Scarthin Books has been a constant in my life from roughly from birth. Coming from Matlock Bath, which is just up the road, we would often go for a walk (not every week) that took us up and down the hills with a wonderful reward halfway along. I used to love spending a good hour or so in the small corridor room under the stairs which was the children’s section whilst Gran and Mum explored the new and second hand books. Of course as I have grown up it has been a case of myself and Gran and/or Mum doing the same while someone waits upstairs eating a cake! Scarthin is a wonderful place, brimming with books and happy memories for me.

  1. Scriveners, Buxton, Derbyshire

Derbyshire is doing well with my selection so far, true there is the bias of my background and homelands BUT to only think it is that is to do both Scarthin and Scriveners a disservice. Scriveners is like a wonderful maze of second hand books over five floors. Yes you read that right, FIVE FLOORS. So that you have a good old browse there are even free refreshments and sofas, you need a good few hours to wander and I doubt you will leave empty handed. Two additional fascinating facts about Scriveners is that they print books in house and also have a ghost!

  1. Wenlock Books, Much Wenlock, Shropshire

I think if I was ever to own a bookshop, which is the dream of many of us isn’t it, then Wenlock Books would pretty much be it. They have a wonderful selection of new books downstairs which you feel are truly hand selected. There is also a wonderful array of bookish gifts (mugs, bags, etc) and stationery and then, if that wasn’t enough, there is a wonderful floor upstairs that are crammed with second hand books. Wonderful.

  1. The Book Barge, On The Canals of the UK

Floating along the canals of the UK, and possibly heading to Europe soon, is the lovely Sarah and her wonderful barge filled with books and even a house boat bunny on occasion. Here there are a mix of new and old books and it just feels like a wonderful haven bobbing up and down brimming with books. If the Book Barge is ever near your house then get yourself to it pronto! Sarah has even written a book all about running it which you will be hearing about here very soon!

  1. Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London

I have always been a big fan of Foyles and when I was part of a London bookshop I would a) meet my other book group members before and b) buy the next book afterwards in the South Bank branch. I also loved spending hours on the old Charing Cross Road branch. I was slightly apprehensive about the ‘new’ one, but when I went there for a GCP meeting last month I fell in love. It is airy, spacious, has thousands of books, a wonderful cafe – let’s face it I could move in. Expect a tour on the blog in the next few weeks!

  1. Gays The Word, London

I remember when I first moved to London I went and hunted Gays The Word down. It was a place of legend. As a young gay man I used fiction as a way to discover ‘people like me’ and try and understand it all and indeed myself. I was too scared to go in and so looked at it, walked past, turned around, walked past and looked in again. I finally went in a year later. Since then I have always popped in and since becoming close friends with the lovely Uli there make sure I pop in on every trip back. They have brilliant events, often with booze  – booze and books are a wonderful mix, and it is like the history of LGBT writing opens before your eyes when you walk through the door.

  1. Persephone Books, London

I am quite cross that I didn’t discover this gem until not long before I left London, especially as I was such a fan of the books however for some bonkers reason I didn’t connect the two. Perspehone Books of course only stock Persephone Books and there is something rather magical about that in itself. Now whenever I go back I make sure that I pop in and if I am lucky Nicola Beauman is in and we have a coffee and a natter. I always end up buying at least two or three books, how could you not?

  1. Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester

I wanted to include Waterstones because whilst they aren’t independent they are a place that I have spent many happy times and indeed have been a wonderful place to head to in unhappy times. Waterstones were always a treat, like Thorntons, to visit when myself, Mum and Gran went on shopping trips. They were the reward after wandering around a museum, cathedral, art gallery or three hour tour of John Lewis. I would be allowed to pick three books and that was my treat. In adulthood I have spent many hours wandering them with Polly, competing as to who has read the most. Deansgate is extra special to me because when I left London is was a haven and the place I would meet most of my mates. I also got to read Rebecca, well the first chapter, to an audience for World Book Night there, have been to some of my mates book launches there, even had (hope The Beard isn’t reading) a few dates in there and ran a literary salon there for a while. Books and brilliant memories, with the odd splash of something sparkly. Lush.

  1. White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough, Wiltshire

When I was a youth, and in my early teens, I lived in Marlborough in Wiltshire. The library was the place that we headed the most, however as a treat when I had been extra good (which in my teens wasn’t very often, the telly got banned once) I would be allowed to go and get a nice new pristine book from the White Horse Bookshop which spans over a few floors. I haven’t been in quite a few years but I heard from Naomi Woods, when she was at the Marlborough Literature Festival, that it is still wonderful.

= 10.  Lingham Booksellers, Heswall, Cheshire

Now I have a joint pair of books at number ten and that is because they are both local to me and very, very different in delightful ways. Linghams won the independent bookseller of the year last year and as soon as you walk in you know why. There are the latest must reads, unusual staff picks (from some of the most friendly and knowledgeable staff) and they have some corking events. They also do their own line of wonderful bookish gifts and I have a very special ‘one off’ purple Linghams bag which I am most proud of. Happy, knowledgable, friendly staff and a good selection are always a winner.

= 10. Oxton Village Books, Oxton, Cheshire

Finally there is the wonderful Oxton Village Books which used to be in the post office, and when I saw had closed down I almost physically wept, yet now resides in the wonderful Williamson Art Gallery and Museum which is roughly three minutes walk from my house. They only deal with second hand books inside BUT you can order new ones through them. They are my number one destination when I am looking for something slightly older or just fancy a browse and also when I have a good few bags of books that were sent unsolicited that I don’t want – well after my mother gets first dibs obviously, in case she is reading this. The owners are wonderful and it feels like the perfect addition to such a cultural spot. Lovely stuff.

So those are the bookshops I would highly recommend. Obviously I have not been to every bookshop in the land, though wouldn’t that be marvellous? I could write a Rough Guide to British Bookshops.  I have missed a few of my other favourites, but eleven seemed a cheat enough, I could also have mentioned any of the Daunt Bookshops, which are wonderfully organised by country which is a brilliant idea; I could also have mentioned the lovely Review Bookshop in Peckham which is run by the lovely Evie Wyld… There are so many!

So which bookshop will you be heading to? Which is your local favourite and do you have any other favourites that you think readers of this blog should visit? Have you any titles you have in your site that you might end up popping in your Books Are My Bag bag?

9 Comments

Filed under Bookshops I Love

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

Now if you have seen me chuntering on about this on Twitter, you can forgive me, ignore this post or just enjoy the exciting news all over again. Yes, today has been the announcement of the Green Carnation Prize 2014’s longlist. You may or may not know that this prize is very close to my heart as it is one that I co-founded way back in 2010 (I won’t go on you can read all about it here) to celebrate LGBT writing as it is something, that believe it or not, there is still sometimes some stumbling blocks in the way of. The prize has gone from strength to strength in the last five years, with a lot of hard work I won’t lie, and is now in association with Foyles Bookshops and this years judges have come up with this rather wonderful selection of books…

The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2014

  • Through The Woods – Emily Carroll (Faber & Faber)
  • The Absent Therapist – Will Eaves (CB Editions)
  • The Fair Fight – Anna Freeman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • All The Days and Nights – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • Vixen – Rosie Garland (Borough Press)
  • Thirst – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales – Kirsty Logan (Salt)
  • In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie (Sceptre)
  • Any Other Mouth – Anneliese Mackintosh (Freight)
  • The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
  • Unspeakable Things – Laurie Penny (Bloomsbury)
  • Invisible Love – Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (Europa Editions)
  • The Glasgow Coma Scale – Neil D. A. Stewart (Corsair)

What is exciting is that while I do all the admin of the prize and the snaring of judges, I have absolutely no control over what the judges choose as their longlist out of the submissions they get (this year was the most ever). I just make sure they all have them really and sit in on meetings to make sure it is all above board. I have to keep my mouth shut and remain nonchalant throughout even if books I love get culled – after all I haven’t read the whole lot of submission have I? Well, not since I stopped judging. So the longlist is always a surprise to me. Having had a few days to think on this list (a small bonus that almost makes up for all the press release, website and social media scheduling madness that follows the decision) the more and more I have fallen in love with it.

To me, at least, it seems like a really diverse and exciting list of all sorts of writing be it a thick epic novel or a short snappy one, a memoir, a short story collection, memoir, non fiction or graphic novel. Amazing. There is a mix of the big publishers and the smaller indies. There is also a wealth of authors I had and hadn’t heard of, meaning some new exciting voices look to be on my reading horizon… Yes, I am planning on reading all (eight) that I haven’t yet in the next few weeks and I am really excited about it. Though I might not be able to talk to you about them until after the winner, though maybe not being a judge I can? What do you think? Hmmm, I will have a think! Either way is it bad that I feel very proud of the prize, the judges and even a teeny weeny bit proud of myself?

For more info on the prize, the judges, events and more head to the website here. What are your thoughts on the list? Have you read any of them? Will you be reading any of them? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

2 Comments

Filed under The Green Carnation Prize

The Dig – Cynan Jones

I have been pondering why it is that I am becoming a fan of shorter fiction more and more. I have heard many people saying shorter fiction is perfect for the social generation who find it very hard to concentrate on reading anything longer than a status update. There may be a modicum of truth in that I suppose, on occasion, yet when you read a book like Cynan Jones’ The Dig and undergo what is an incredibly visceral, earthy, upsetting (I cried and I heaved – seriously) and emotionally intense experience you wonder why any author bothers writing anything over 160 pages. Of course some short works do not come close to that experience and some long books are immersive wonders, you get my point though I am hoping.

Granta Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 156 pages, kindly sent by the lovely folk at Fiction Uncovered HQ

In The Dig we follow the lives of two men who live in the same remote countryside and who have met briefly once and who couldn’t be more different. Daniel is a farmer who is struggling both with keeping his farm profitable and running and also with a personal tragedy. I will not give away what because when you find out early on it is like a physical punch. I cried that is all I will say. The other character, who we only know as ‘the big man’ is a much darker kind of fellow; one who trains his dog to kill rats, catches badgers for baiting and has been to prison for something we are unsure of. The question is of course how and why might these two men meet up again?

The Dig is incredibly written. It consists of paragraphs that give us snapshots into both characters feelings, occasionally slipping us up as to who is narrating, meaning that both characters show their darker and lighter sides. I love books set in the countryside because behind the picturesque white fences and lace curtains, or down the back alleys and over the hills, there is a dark animalistic nature (pun not intended) to the countryside which is isolating, hard and dangerous. Jones depicts this beautifully, yet without ever getting flowery. This book is all about cold drips, muddy squelches, twigs cracking and fires crackling. Note – those are all my words just for illustration, Cynan has a much broader vocabulary than I.

The scent of her was in the room and it almost choked him to understand how vital to him this was; how he could never understand her need for his own smell, could not even understand howshe could find it on him under the animal smells, the carbolic, the tractor oil and bales and all the things he could pick out on his own hands. He had this idea of smells layering themselves over him, like paint on a stone wall, and again he has this sense of extraordinary resilient tiredness. He wondered what isolated, essential smell she found on him, knew the mammalian power of this from the way pups would stumble blindly to their mother’s teat, the way a ewe would butt a lamb that wasn’t hers. In the shock of birthing, all that first recognition would be in that smell. They would take the skin sometimes of a dead lamb and tie it on an orphan like a coat in the hope that the mother who had lost her lamb would accept and raise it as her own.

Now when I say the book looks at nature and humans in at its most raw, I am not kidding and it may be too much for some people. There’s blood, there’s badger baiting, there’s putting hands into sheep’s wombs (I wanted to say up sheeps bottoms to break the tension slightly and make you all chuckle, but that would be anatomically incorrect). Yet they are described naturally, frankly and without any sense of voyeurism or only writing to shock. Even the shocking parts have their importance within the novel be it the badger baiting (which made me cry, did I mention I cried quite a lot at this book) or some of the raw basic nature of the farming, one scene which lead me to heave as Daniel has to deal with a problem many farmers are sure to face in their career. They show another sense of duality that The Dig seems to have throughout. Here it is the acts of violence we humans can inflict upon nature and the acts of violence nature can inflict on itself and humans.

These dualities appear a lot in The Dig and I wondered if that was an intention of Jones’? From the start Daniel and the big man are polar opposites, Daniel being vulnerable and the big man being dangerous. Then we have the dualities of their thoughts and actions. The big man having some nasty thrill at watching his semi starved dogs killing rats or trapping badgers, yet constantly fearful of being trapped or caught out himself. Daniel is at the darkest depths of his emotions and yet he witnesses the amazing gift of new life with his animals. There is also the question of traps and not only the ones we set for others, or fall into, but the ones we create for ourselves. The beauty of nature vs. the brutality of nature. All this interwoven in a sparse swift book, it’s quite astounding.

It feels almost wrong to say I enjoyed The Dig, in fact at one point between weeping for the badgers and heaving at the bluntness of what I was reading I may have cursed Cynan Jones, yet at the end I was really thankful for the gut wrenching experience. (It also helped that I reminded myself that no badgers were actually harmed in the making of this book.) I think in many ways The Dig is something of a masterpiece. I have not read a book quite like it and certainly not one that in so few pages creates the essence of the countryside at its raw and wildest, the animalistic nature of, erm, nature and the fact that we humans are really nothing more than animals too. Oh and the inherent evil of horses.

The Dig was one of this year’s winners for Fiction Uncovered and once again proves why it is such a bloody marvellous initiative as it highlights such brilliant books. You can also see a fantastic spoiler free review here from Just William’s Luck and a brilliant one with a slight spoiler here at The Asylum, I have warned you of the spoiler. Who else has read The Dig and what did you make of it? Have any of your read his other novels The Long Dry or Everything I Found on the Beach, as I am now desperate to get them in the TBR.

2 Comments

Filed under Books of 2014, Fiction Uncovered, Granta Books, Review

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson – Rose Tremain

One of the reasons that when I was choosing the list of books for Trespassing with Tremain I decided to include The Darkness of Wallace Simpson and Other Stories, was that it was the one book of Tremain’s that I bought before inheriting some of her others from Gran. I remember picking it up years ago simply because Wallis Simpson was a woman who had always fascinated me; as a person, her role in history and how people reacted to her, simple as that. I also thought it might be interesting to see how Tremain handles the short story, which many authors say is much harder than writing an actual novel.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2006, short stories, 224 pages, from my personal collection

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson is a rather fascinating collection of short stories in many ways. This set of twelve tales may happen all over the world in different time periods yet the main narrator of the tale, or protagonist, is undergoing some sort of darkness. It might be loss, it might be grief, it could be death surrounding them or being upon them, each tale has its own dark heart. This might make it sound like a sombre and rather macabre collection yet when you come away from the collection you feel anything but depressed. After all aren’t the best fairytales about just these things.

It could be tempting to give this collection the tag of ‘modern fairytale’ in part because there are often abandoned children, snowy landscapes and in one case, Moth, there is even a child who magically sprouts wings. Yet there is so much reality, and often a historical link, embedded in them that you feel these are the stories of ordinary human beings in unordinary situations of high drama within their lives. When we go through loss and/or grief we are of course at our most emotional extremes and life doesn’t seem quite real and yet it is. Tremain has a wonderful way of capturing that.

Some of the short stories are literally just that, short sharp bursts into a characters life. How It Stacks Up looks at a man who suddenly on his birthday realises he is utterly unhappy with his life. The Dead Are Only Sleeping starts with Nell answering the phone to discover her dad has died and relief fills her. The Over-Ride  is quite something as is takes in one person’s youth, marriage, widowhood and downward spiral in only ten pages. The aforementioned Moth is another such short wonder. Not a word is wasted, every single one counts.

In those days, there was a madhouse in our village.
It’s name was Waterford Asylum, but we knew it as ‘the Bin’.
It appeared to have no policy of selection or rejection. If you felt your own individual craziness coming on, you could present yourself at the door of the Bin and this door would open for you and kindly staff would take you in, and you would be sheltered from the cruel world. This was the 1950s. A lot of people were suffering from post-war sadness. In Norfolk, it seemed to be a sadness too complete to be assuaged by the arrival of rock’n’roll.
Soon after my sister, Aviva, died of influenza in 1951, my brother in law, Victor, turned up at the Bin with his shoes in a sack and a broken Doris Day record. He was one of the many voluntary loonies, driven mad by grief. His suitability as a resident of Waterford Asylum was measured by his intermittent belief that this record, which had snapped in half, like burned, brittle caramel crust, could be mended.

This is also the case in the longer tales and here, as shown in the opening sections of The Ebony Hand (which isn’t the ghost story you might be imagining, yet is marvellous regardless), Tremain has a wonderful way of managing to make a story within these stories in a mere paragraph of two. She does this again in the wonderful Loves Me, Loves Me Not which is one of the most bittersweet and heartbreaking love stories I have ever read, it will break your heart and then do it again. The same happens with The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs which is subtle, beautiful and devastating tale of an almost love affair. Both times you come away pretty close to being emotionally shattered and you thank Tremain for doing that to you.

If this makes it all sound like it is too dark or wrought, Tremain does what she did so marvellously in Trespass where she combines the dark with the very funny. Mentioning Moth again, which as you will have guessed was one of the standouts for me, we have the magical and bizarre image of a child who can fly away from its parents, and we also have a suicide which is greeted with a one liner that made me cackle and cackle. The same duality works in all the tales, Peerless also standing out as Badger, a nickname that stuck from childhood, adopts a Penguin who soon reminds him of someone from his past, it is funny and tear inducing, just what all the best tales are.

I also loved the way you could see what had inspired Tremain. You may be wondering why I have included a picture of James Tissot’s Holyday, well it is the inspiration behind Death of an Advocate which is another tale that had me giggling at the start before being shocked out of my laughter. History inspires many of the tales here too. The post war syndrome inspiring The Ebony Hand, one of the Word Wars inspiring Loves Me, Loves Me Not and the knocking down of the Berlin Wall inspiring The Beauty of the Dawn Shift. One tale, Nativity Story, is based on, erm, just that. Then of course there is the real life historical figure of Wallis Simpson who inspires the title tale.

Kissing her one minute, hitting her the next. A person out of a nightmare. There’s no talking to such a creature. Wallis can say words today, but why should she? Why should she waste her precious breath talking to this hag?
She turns her face away. Sees the girl in the apron staring at her with such a sad pitying look, it makes her weep. Fuck all these people. Piss in the damned pan and be done with them. Have them draw the curtains again. Go back to the darkness.

Before I round up the collection I want to pay special attention to The Darkness of Wallace Simpson itself which I think is one of the best short stories I have ever read. It is the longest of the collection at forty pages and yet is the one I rushed through the fastest before having to read it all over again once I had finished the collection. It brims, it is jam packed. Firstly there is the tale of Wallis herself, as she lies dying in Paris she is thinking over her life and Tremain somehow packs in the life of a woman in forty pages, yet I felt I had came away reading a biography. Her childhood, marriages and old ages are all covered, it is deftly done. There is also the tale of a woman always slightly on the back foot of life, from being disapproved of by family, then husbands, then the public and even her own careers. It looks at domestic abuse, grief, lack of freedom and love. It is just incredible.

Yet again Tremain has delivered for me in abundance. Her writing is clear, concise, vivid and just wonderful really. Each story stood out, they might have had a linking theme throughout but The Darkness of Wallis Simpson and Other Stories  is a wonderfully diverse collection where each story stands out.

I loved it and cannot wait to read her new collection, The American Lover on and off over the next few weeks as well as Sacred Country and Restoration as we carry on with Trespassing with Tremain. That is quite enough from me though for the moment, if you have read it what did you make of it? If you haven’t read it yet, read it.

16 Comments

Filed under Review, Rose Tremain, Short Stories, Trespassing with Tremain, Vintage Books

Other People’s Bookshelves #48; Ruth Lawrence

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This week we head ‘oop North’ (not too far from me, so do pop by after) to join Ruth between bike rides. So let’s all grab a cuppa and get to know Ruth better as we have a nosey through her bookshelves and reading life…

I’ve spent most of my twenty five years in the North West of England, at present in Lancaster having escaped from Burnley, where I grew up. Reading has been my love ever since I was taught how. Once I could read I grabbed anything that had words in order to get my fix. I’d like to say that I am more selective now than I was then, but I think that I will still read anything that I can get my hands on. When I’m not absorbed in a book then I will be out cycling. Sometimes I wonder which I enjoy more, the reading or the cycling. If I could work out a way to do both at the same time then I would die of happiness.

???????????????????????????????

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

All my books go on my shelves. Well, that’s not true, I’ve run out of shelf space so there are towers of books growing up all over the place. I try to confine them to my room, but they seem to be springing up all over the place. Also if I buy a duplicate of a book by mistake (happens more frequently than I would like to admit) the duplicate is banished to a box before it goes to a new home. I’ve created a spreadsheet of my books to try and prevent this from happening, an idea I stole/borrowed from my housemate.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

They are separated loosely by genre and then alphabetically by author. I read them in that order too, I know it’s mad, but it takes away the horrible feeling of having to choose a new book when there are so many to choose from. Breaking the system is allowed, but only if there is a very good reason. I’ve thought about culling, mainly because if I don’t stop buying books soon, I will run out of space. When I have thoughts like that I do something to distract myself and the thought soon goes.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Probably When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. I remember buying it when I was eleven just before we moved half way across the country. It was a comforting thing having a new book when everything else was in a state of chaos. I bought it with a gift voucher that I had been given as a leaving present from my church. Book vouchers are the best presents to get, they chose well! Clearing out my stuff from my parent’s house I found it again, about a year ago, and have brought it back to a prominent place on my bookcase.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

My Redwall series by Brian Jacques is probably the only set of books that I would feel slight embarrassment about. Only slight though. I loved them when I was a child and intend to read them through again one day. There’s something about mice in a medieval setting that just can’t be beaten.

???????????????????????????????

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I suppose the obvious ones would be the novels by Alexandre Dumas that have collected, just because I’ve spent so long finding and collecting them. If there was just one book to save it would be The Whitehouse Boys by R. A. H. Goodyear. I have no idea what it is about but it was a present from my great grandmother to my dad. In the front it says To Derek, wishing you a happy xmas from Nanny and Uncle Tom xx. One day I will get round to reading it.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

When I was younger I remember my parents watching a BBC adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens. What I saw I enjoyed and then I saw a copy of the book hidden away somewhere. I think that must have been the first book that I really wanted to read and it annoyed me that I couldn’t. It may also have been one of the books that I have enjoyed the most, just because I had finally expanded my reading ability enough to be able to read it. No book was out of reach after that.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

For most books, probably yes, but I’m trying not to because I’m worried that I will run out of space. I haven’t been very successful yet though.

???????????????????????????????

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

The Divine Comedy by Dante, but that will probably have changed within the next twenty four hours. I bought it because it is a book that I have heard a lot about but never had the opportunity to read. Also it was only a quid.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I would like to complete my Dumas collection, but not all of them have been translated into English. I may end up learning French so that I can read them all. Other than that I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the new Lauren Oliver book that is out this year.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They would probably think that it is quite eclectic, given how many different genres I can have on one shelf. I’d like people to think that I was well read, I keep my classics on view partly for that reason (I also like looking at them).

???????????????????????????????

**********************************************

A huge thanks to Alice for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email tosavidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Ruth;s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

7 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

Environmental Studies – Maureen Duffy

Reading poetry is something that I have to admit I don’t do very often. I think it is because whenever I try and read poems I inevitably feel like I am a philistine, stupid or that I am back in the classroom at St John’s and getting more and more upset that I don’t understand what some of these bloody things mean. I think poetry is very like art (and yes I know it is art but I mean art you hang on the wall art, or sculpt in some cases) because it is so subjective, some people (like myself) might like Picasso others may think he is an abstract mess. I tend to like poems that rhyme and which in some way I can apply to the real world in all its grubbiness or glory. As it is National Poetry Day though, and after a short natter with Kate about poems, I decided I would pick up a poetry collection (while I am at home with a voice like Mariella) and spend the day with it and report back with my thoughts. I plumped for Maureen Duffy’s latest collection, Environmental Studies.

Enitharmon Press, paperback, 2013, poetry, 64 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

You may be thinking, why on earth would someone who still has nightmares about English lessons choose a collection with a title that looked like it was designed for a classroom? This was my thoughts actually after I had grabbed it from the shelf. Yet Environmental Studies is not at all laborious or dull as it might be in a school context. It is a vibrant collection of poems that cover nature, culture, various periods in history and indeed the authors own personal history.

I have mentioned that I like poetry that I can relate to, and while none of them rhyme, I found myself incredibly drawn into this collection. My favourite poems were the ones about nature, we have poems dedicated not to all the fancy animals you might imagine but to woodlice, slugs, snails, pigeons and even the beautiful yet pesky parakeets that have made themselves so at home in London. I loved these particularly because they chimed in with my own thoughts, particularly Woodlouse because I have always been oddly fascinated by them, Sluggish as I have always questioned the point of slugs, Parakeets as when I lived in London they fascinated me, though the bloody squawking they would make was horrendous.  Here Duffy and I connected with our similar opinions of these creatures. Oh I almost forgot Pigeon Dancing is just wonderful, we have all seen a male pigeon trying its luck at any possible mate haven’t we?

Duffy and I also connected over the importance of keeping the small things in life and the feelings they can evoke. There are a couple of these which celebrate the smallest most random of things which are also the things which make us human. Who knew I could be so moved by a poem about an address book, thermometers or tools and yet I was.

Address Book

They come at me every year at this time
off the pages of my address book
my largely secular saints, the ones I no longer
can send carefully handpicked cards to
faces and voices I haven’t the heart
or something, even to cross out. The book’s
falling to pieces, held together now
with a rubber band, and by that same token
love token, when I should by another
enter only the current, living, my hand
draws back, like a Christian commanded
to put a pinch of incense on the emperor’s altar
an image of secular Shaw, I know.
I did say unsanctified saints. But in
the old world of falling night and frost
this was the time to wake the dying sun
the dead earth. So I invoke my lost ones
off these pages, tattered, battered by years
and tears, but with their living names still.

In Environmental Studies Duffy also brings up the subject of culture and art. Now here I was slightly worried, art being so subjective and all, yet Duffy does something very clever. She looks at the story behind the art, so for example in Portrait and Figurine she looks at the people behind the picture be they the artist or the subject and I thought that was rather wonderful. It also made me feel a bit clever and reminded me that art is initially in the eye of the artist, yet it is in only in our eyes that we can try and work it out, be it the story behind it or whether we like it.

I have to admit that with the more religious and historical based poems I did struggle a little bit more. However they weren’t all lost on me at all, I just didn’t always know what historical person, myth or legend (for there are many of those and I loved the poem from a medieval dragon’s perspective a lot) I was meant to be connecting with. Up rose that moment of ‘oh Simon you aren’t knowledgeable enough’ but I just enjoyed the pace and the words and carried on. There were some marvellous moments though when having a classicist for a mother paid off and really added to the experience, I will be taking my copy to her tomorrow. These historical pieces are not dry though, they are full of adventure, drama and comedy – the classic poets would approve I am sure.

Uses of a Classical Education

Narcissus is up the gym three nights a week.
Out on a binge Ariadne fell for the prettiest
boy in the rout who dumped her later.
Ganymede’s been swept of his feet again
and by the villa pool Daphne shrivels
under the sun. Callisto pregnant on IVF
goes around like a bear with a sore head.
But let me still be your all encompassing cloud
your shower of gold or just carry you away in my arms.

I loved the authors poems of personal history though. Those childhood dinners, the pastimes their parents had and of how things must be cherished and scrimped and saved, the atmosphere being very evocative. (See I can’t tell you about all the poetry tricks but I can tell you how they made me feel which I think counts as much if not more, he says not being defensive at all!) I also really loved poems where Duffy looks at the modern world, which she seems to both celebrate and be baffled by, along with the nostalgia for the old, like in the sublime Technolithic.

I really enjoyed reading Environmental Studies. I had forgotten the power of a poem. They can really evoke atmospheres, times and places. They can also tell a really wonderful story very quickly and encapsulate so much which you sometimes forget, especially if you read as much fiction as I do. It is a collection that covers a variety of styles, moods and experiments with the form whilst reminding you of all the good things about poetry too.

I am rather thrilled that Kate, in a way accidentally, set me off on a self imposed challenge to read some poetry and even more thrilled that I chose Maureen Duffy’s to read as it ticked all the boxes for me both in the poems and in reminding me of the joy in them. They aren’t just for studying, and if you don’t get all of them does it really matter? Have you read any of Maureen Duffy’s poetry, apart from the ones I have shared with you? It has really reminded me how much I need to read her fiction too as I heard her read a few times at the Polari Literary Salon when I lived in London and loved the extracts she gave. Have you read any of those? Which other poetry collections would you recommend?

6 Comments

Filed under Enitharmon Press, Maureen Duffy, Poetry, Review