So. That. Is. It. Durham Book Festival has come to an end for me. It has been an absolute bookish blast with over two days of non-stop bookish delight. I have been introduced to authors old and new (to me or debuts) and enjoyed every minute. From the Gordon Burn Prize (which I have now decided I want to judge one day), to the finale event discussing Wearside Jack it has been brilliant. Pat Barker thoroughly entertained me and made me want to read everything that she has ever written, I got to join in with a fascinating debate on hard evidence, I saw Lauren Laverne talking fashion, got to take part in Read Y’Self Fitter giggling away with our tutor Andy Miller, be thoroughly freaked out about the state of modern Russia and heard Patrick Gale and Liza Klaussmann talking about sexuality and sexual secrets. What more could you want and where else could you get all of this other than a literary festival?
It has also been a real hoot (as you can see from my naughty gleeful look captured above brilliantly by Picador’s Emma Bravo) and the lovely team at New Writing North and Durham Book Festival have been wonderful hosts and putting up with diva demands, well they probably would have if I had made any. I didn’t honest. I got to meet lots of lovely people who I have not met before but I have spoken to for ages on Twitter, like the brilliant Ben Myers and Andy Miller, as well as some lovely faces that I have met before including some of the lovely young talented reviewers that myself and Lauren Laverne have given masterclasses to and who I had some ace chats with at the events…
And they will be the lovely folk who will be blogging and reviewing for the rest of Durham Book Festival on the Cuckoo Review website and on the festival’s blog BECAUSE THE FESTIVAL IS NOT OVER and you can still go and see some corking events (Philip Pullman, Carys Davies, Stuart Evers, Mary Portas, Bill Bryson and more) over the next week, which they will all be reviewing on the site along with some of the books discussed and more. All good stuff!
I have fallen in love with short stories again this year. Not that I am sure I ever fell out of love with them. I think if anything I tended to read collections by authors I knew, and saw them rather like bonus scenes to the full novels, which I know is daft but it is true. It was rare that I would read a completely new to me authors collection, though when I did and they were like Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles (which if you haven’t read after the amount of times I have recommended it, you are bonkers and there may be no hope for you, ha) I was lost in them completely.
This year they have really come into their own though for me. During Fiction Uncovered I was introduced to several collections of which the standouts were longlisted The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett and one of the winners The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, both of which I will be telling you about and raving about in due course.
Collections can be an interesting experience as some will blow you away and some will leave you cold, I hasten to add none leave you cold in the two I mention above, which can create an interesting reading experience of peaks and troughs. When a short story is amazing though it can blow your mind and as I said when I was talking about how intense reading taught me about my own read habits and that Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel, which is true.
I also think they could be the perfect way to get people back into reading more if they think they haven’t the time or that reading isn’t really for them. You can read a story or two on a commute, or when you are on the loo (sorry over sharing) or when you’re waiting in the car park for your partner to finish faffing around Homebase or any other DIY store, or clothes store if your partner is more into that than DIY or just on your lunch break and need a quick fiction fix.
They are a few pages of magic and so I am planning on reading lots more over (what is left of) the summer. Here are some, not all, of the collections I have been buying and others I have dusted off for just such a short story binge…
- Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman – This is a collection that The Beard bought me after I had heard great things about it from various lovely sorts on Twitter and also declared I wanted the cover art as bedding.
- The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg – I saw this collection from Daunt Books (who have a publishing house as well as gorgeous bookshops) out the corner of my eye, because the cover shimmers, in Waterstones in Newcastle where they have wonderful displays of eclectic books, so purchased it.
- The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim – This collection won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year (why all prizes don’t include short story collections I do not know) and my lovely pal Natalie was one of the judges and raved about it, a lot.
- Young Skins by Colin Barrett – This won last year’s Guardian First Book Prize and whilst it pains me that the author was born in the same year as me, 1982, and is so talented it does mean I can tick off a box on my BOTNS Bingo Summer Reading card. This also links nicely with…
- Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan – This was longlisted for last year’s Guardian First Book Award and was the public’s addition to the longlist. I read and really liked May-Lan Tan’s chapbook of two short stories Girly earlier this year and then randomly sat next to her at an event and had a lovely long chat about all sorts.
- The Not-Dead and The Saved by Kate Clanchy – I do not know a single person who has seen Clanchy read her stories that has not been in hysterics and in tears in both happy and sad ways. This was enough of a recommendation for me.
- An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass – One of the first books to come from the John Murray Originals imprint (the cover is stunning) which I want to read for the title, and title story, alone.
- Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas – I love Tsiolkas’ writing and this is one of the collections I have been most excited about this year, it is out in September.
- Jellyfish by Janice Galloway – Almost everyone I know loves Janice Galloway so by default I am sure I will and I think short stories can sometimes be a rather wonderful way of trialling an author, or maybe trying them out sounds nicer.
- Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers – Again all the right people have been raving about this.
- Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – Why on earth has this gone unread for so long, I am frankly embarrassed. She is a genius, we all know this, and this is meant to be a brilliant collection of nine tales.
Phew. You may notice that there aren’t any classics on this list, which I have realised is rather remiss of me. That said I am reviewing a modern classic collection next, so you’ll be hearing all about that. I have also been contemplating Hemingway’s short stories in September as I will be at some of his old hangouts and watering holes by Lake Michigan when I go on my road trip around some of northern America, we will see.
Have you read any of the above collections or other collections by some of those authors? What did you make of them? Are you a fan of the short story? As always I would love your short story recommendations be they new, recent or classic (I have a feeling many of you will mention Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck, which I have read and adored but am struggling to write a review of) so let me know which other collections I should look out for and why…
On Monday night I was lucky enough to get to have a wander behind the scenes at one of the UK’s big publishing houses. The kindly souls at Picador and Pan Macmillan has asked if I would attend (I dragged Novel Insights along with me) an evening in their new offices to listen to some of their authors reading. Baring you all in mind, as I always do, I made sure I got a cheeky snapshot of their fabulous book filled reception. I cannot tell you how hard it was not to get on that ladder and fill my man bag, I managed, I know not how.
As I mentioned we were there to have a listen to some authors who were; John Butler, Stuart Evers (who you may know from The Guardian, Twitter etc), Sunjeev Sahota and Naomi Wood. Now if you haven’t heard of these authors that might be because they are new authors, in fact I think all of these were debut novels/collections (I could be wrong), and also their books aren’t actually out until 2011.
I can say they all sounded rather exciting John Butlers being the adventures of a young man in San Francisco in the 1980’s – his reading made us all laugh, Stuart Evers debut collection looks to be a gem if the one tale ‘What’s in Swindon’ is anything to go by. Sunjeev Sahota’s tale ‘Ours Are The Streets’ sounds like it could be quite a hard hitting yet very funny novel, plus he additionally won me over being from my homeland of Derbyshire. Naomi Woods novel then went and won both Polly and I over being set in Newcastle (where we went to school together) in an England we don’t recognise because it’s based on and England of extreme secularism. Sadly they weren’t all in print or proof stage but I did manage to smuggle two of them away which at the end of an evening of bookish chatter and wine was perfection…
Oh yes you may notice I have included a copy of ‘Caribou Island’ by David Vann (I did so like ‘Legend of a Suicide’) in the picture and that’s because it sparked my first mini theme in today’s post… books of the future, in this case books of 2011 specifically. I am hopeless at knowing what is coming out (I seem to have come off lots of publishers catalogue mail outs sadly) in the future, although 2011 is only actually 3 months away, so I wondered if there were any titles that you have started to get really excited about coming next year? I haven’t really got a buzz for any apart from the ones above.
I thought I would use this as an excuse to mention some books of NOW in the meantime as some lovely parcels have been popping through the letter box in the last fortnight or so and I love your thoughts on these loots so I thought I would share them with you. (Sorry for the picture quality, its dreary in London and my iPhone has no flash, I will try and do another anon.) Anyway I have had;
- The Agatha Raisin Companion – which is perfect for me and came along with…
- Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body by M.C. Beaton – this will be being read at Christmas as its got a Christmas setting, only I won’t be in the snow I will be in Copacabana, but where better to be resting with Agatha on the hunt for a murderer?
- A Diary of The Lady by Rachel Johnson – When this arrived I was initially not sure what Penguin were trying to say by sending this (he says with two Agatha Raisin books above). However I was discussing this with Kimbofo when we went out on Thursday night and she said she thought it sounded like it could be really good. I then tried twenty pages and though the word ‘smug’ seems to be in my mind at the mo I am strangely addicted. It’s a great bathroom book, you know you can pick it up and pop it down at intervals. Erm, anyway, moving swiftly on…
- Nourishment by Gerard Woodward – I actually won this in the Picador event raffle which left me feeling a bit smug as it was the one book (apart from the new Brett Easton Ellis) that I really, really wanted to walk away with. It’s set in the war and tells a very different tale of a husband and wife as the husband wants dirty letters, sounds brilliantly unique. I will be reading this soon.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Many of you have said this is the best non fiction you have read in some time, it’s the tale of Henrietta Lacks and how unwittingly her cancerous cells were used by scientists and have made massive advancements in science and yet no credit has gone to her or any of the money made from this to her family. Funnily enough Picador/Pan Macmillan publish it so a massive small hint was dropped. I think I am going to be hooked by this and possibly outraged too.
- Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire – the autobiography of the youngest Mitford Sister, I need say no more. I will be reading that next after book group Nevil Shute choice.
- Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – I had a lovely email from the publishers of this after Justine had apparently told them she read this blog and would like me to read it if I wanted to.
- Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – I know nothing about this book, do any of you?
- Air & Was by Geoff Ryman – Very excited about both of these, in particular Was which is another book I want to start instantly… but I can’t and nor can I read all the books I want to at once, its most vexing.
- The Country Diaries edited by Alan Taylor – I have seen this around the blogosphere and been very intrigued by it (I use the word intrigued so much but it’s genuinely how I feel), this could be another bathroom book. You all know what I mean by a bathroom/toilet book don’t you? I’m not being rude or trying to offend in case anyone thinks I am being crass.
So what are you reading at the moment? What books have you got your eyes on? What books have you been bought/borrowed/found/treated yourself to recently? Are you already anticipating a book that’s coming out in 2011? What are you up to this weekend?