I’ve read some bloody good books since writing about Knockemstiff, including James Salter’s portrait of a dissolving twentieth-century marriage, Light Years; Blood Dazzler, Patricia Smith’s extraordinary collection of poetry on Hurricane Katrina (some of it told from the hurricane’s point of view…), and Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, also about the events leading up to the hurricane in the life of a fifteen-year-old pregnant girl living in poverty on the Gulf Coast. I would recommend every single one of these books without hesitation to nearly everyone–they are all That Good. But I’ve fallen down a bit on reviewing, because the past two weeks have been profoundly chaotic and busy, and I had a birthday! I got a LOT of books, and I figure the best way to wipe the slate clean is to do a book pile-post (everyone loves one of those!), and then pick up with reviews again.
Imagine My Surprise: Unpublished Letters To the Daily Telegraph. Casanova and Princi gave me this, along with a card that had rhyming couplets and the word “twat” in it, which means they come pretty close to Winning At Birthdays. There is nothing more gloriously, incomprehensibly English than the rejected complaint letters from readers of the Telegraph. If you don’t understand what “Disgusted in Tunbridge Wells” means, then this book’s not for you; if you do, it’s a gem.
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. From the Duchess, this is a gorgeous edition of the Winifred Watson novel about a middle-aged spinster who thinks she’s landed a short-term governess job, only to find that she’s working for a nightclub singer instead of a bunch of undisciplined children. Their unlikely friendship, and the slow blossoming of Miss Pettigrew’s spirit, makes for a gently lovely novel.
Go Set A Watchman. Also from the Duchess; who DOESN’T know what this is about by now? A very anticipated read, although my expectations are cautious.
The Inheritors. From dearest Dubai-dwelling Loch Hess Monster, who has been trying to evangelize this book to me for about a year! A fictionalization of the meeting of Neanderthals with homo sapiens, it is what William Golding should be known for, instead of that choirboy horror show Lord of the Flies.
The Complete English Poems of John Donne. An early birthday present from Darcy–I haven’t got all of these in one volume, so this is handy and lovely all at once. Oh, Donne. Always and forever one of the gatekeepers to my heart.
Diary of Witold Gombrowicz. I came in at around two in the morning on the day of my actual birthday, because we’d had the office summer party the night before, and I tripped over this enormous Amazon package sitting on my front doorstep. I carried it upstairs, ripped it open, and found this: the 800-page diary of one of the major figures of twentieth-century Polish literature, none of whose works I have ever read. It was, of course, from Literary Uncle.
Le ton beau de Marot. An extraordinary tome by Douglas Hofstadter (he who brought you Godel, Escher, Bach), about translation and language systems. I’ve started it: he writes in meter, semi-intentionally. It will, without a doubt, be one of the most interesting things I ever read in my life.
And something I bought myself as a weird little treat:
So, a wonderful birthday all around (including a joint celebration with Papa Bear down the pub, ft. the Duchess, Bunter, Casanova, Princi, the Lawyer aka AdventureSinCake–many of our old favorites, and quite a few new ones too.) What to read next? Apart from the above mentioned, there is also The Shore by Sara Taylor, The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman, The Holy and the Broken by Alan Light, and Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, on my shortlist of potential new reads. Someone help me make a decision…