Reading Diary: Jan 29-Feb. 4

a-time-to-keep-silence_1024x1024A Time to Keep Silence, by Patrick Leigh Fermor: A very short (95 pages) collection of three essays about monasteries and the monastic life. Leigh Fermor stayed at St Wandrille, Solesmes and La Grande Trappe, as well as spending time looking at the ruins of the Cappadocian rock monasteries. The first two essays, set in the three French foundations, are the strongest, describing what it’s like to live in solitude for a spiritual purpose; though Leigh Fermor has no faith, he acclimatizes to the silence and misses it when he returns to the world. If your mind needs calming, these pieces may help.

51kp-nb0hjlThe Wolf Border, by Sarah Hall: There are people who might say, I suppose, that the final quarter of this book is too slow, or that Hall’s writing about the Lake District seasons, weather and light are too deliberate and descriptive, but I’m never going to be one of those people, because I think she writes like a dream and this is one of my favourite books of all time. I also think that here, some of her previous thematic interests–motherhood, the cycle of birth and death, the natural world and how humans live both in- and outside of it–coalesce in their most sophisticated form yet. An excellent book to read if you need reminding of how well it is possible to write.

9781781257364_2I must be living twice: new and selected poems, by Eileen Myles: Myles’s poetry is quite different from Rich’s; her lines are short and jagged, often only three or four words each. Her style of thought is discursive: I often feel lost, reading her, until a vivid observation or connection jumps out. “Peanut Butter” is the poem that brought me to Myles, but the sweary dismissiveness of “On the Death of Robert Lowell” makes me laugh; “Yellow Tulips” is unashamedly happy; the opening of “Mal Maison” is devastating. “And Then the Weather Arrives” is maybe peak Myles: it feels like it’s written in a sort of personal code, but you understand the emotions, if not the details.

9781473639058What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt: A totally brilliant book, following the friendship between two men–painter Bill and art historian Leo–and the intertwining of the lives of their families, including Leo’s wife, Bill’s first and second wives, and their two sons: Leo’s Matthew, and Bill’s Mark. The first half of the book, roughly, deals with the older generation, and the second half with the younger; without any spoilers, Matthew and Mark’s lives turn out very differently. Hustvedt excels at describing the destructive self-delusion of a certain kind of art world denizen. The novel is both intellectual and terrifying; I found it hard to sleep after finishing it and know it’ll continue to haunt me.

31v6x3y3mql._sx286_bo1204203200_The Wild Iris, by Louise Gluck: The next installment in my quest for more poetry. Someone recommended Gluck to me years ago, but it’s taken me this long to read her. I am not sure that I grasp or love her yet. There’s passion in these poems, but it feels like the highly personal and focused passion of a nun; not that it’s anti- or asexual, but that it insists upon the numinous. Does that sound pretentious? It shouldn’t; most of the poems are quite explicitly earthbound, being either from the point of view of a plant or flower (metaphors, I think, for human life), or from a higher point of view that is still occupying itself with earthly things. Curious and transcendent.

Currently reading: I’ve just finished Alix Nathan’s forthcoming The Warlow Experiment.


16 thoughts on “Reading Diary: Jan 29-Feb. 4

  1. Kristine says:

    I loved, loved, loved The Wolf Border, so am excited that you enjoyed it just as much! It was my first introduction to Sarah Hall. I agree with everything you have said here about her writing.

    • If you haven’t yet read The Beautiful Indifference (short stories) or her novel The Carhullan Army (published as Daughters of the North in the US), I highly recommend them as next steps. Her big novel is The Electric Michelangelo, but it’s very different, stylistically.

  2. I wasn’t a huge fan of the one Gluck collection I read (Vita Nova), but I think I’d try something else by her.

    I’m glad you loved the Hustvedt. I suspected you would. She is brilliant. I was even more impressed with The Blazing World.

    The Wolf Border was great. I’m glad a re-read inspired you!

    I’ve only read a couple of Fermor’s travel books. This one looks like it would fit in with my interests.

    • Gluck is the sort of poet I think you might like, actually, and I’m not sure that I dislike her work; it just might need rereading. I also think you’d like the Fermor: short, but intelligent, generous, and quite self-aware. Can’t wait to read more Hustvedt.

    • As far as I know, Hall’s most recent was Madame Zero, a story collection last year; Hustvedt’s new one is out in May, I think (Memories Of the Future).

  3. I’m intrigued by A Time to Keep Silence. I’ve wanted to read more about modern monasticism for some time, but everything written on it seems to be so long! This sounds like a good intro.

    I should probably re-read The Wolf Border myself – I LOVE Sarah Hall but I struggled with it, and I’m not sure why.

    I read What I Loved 13 years (!) ago as a first-year undergraduate. It made a deep impression on me at the time but I now don’t remember much about it. Time for another re-read!

    • A Time To Keep Silence is a great introduction to C20 monasticism, especially since it’s so short. (Have you ever read Thomas Merton? I tried and failed as a teenager but should probably try again. Karen Armstrong’s The Spiral Staircase is also good.) The Wolf Border is the sort of thing I think you’d really like, though the pacing is potentially a weakness–maybe that was what didn’t work for you?

      • (I was going to ask if you’d read any Merton. I haven’t yet, though I own several of his books. The Seven-Storey Mountain is the one I’ve always meant to get to. I love Karen Armstrong’s autobiographical work!)

      • Thomas Merton was one of the examples I was thinking of re texts that put me off through being too long! I’ll look out for the Armstrong. I don’t seem to have reviewed The Wolf Border at the time, so am struggling to remember what I didn’t like about it. I think the pacing put me off, yes, and I possibly wanted more ecology?

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