Love Your Library, February 2023

Rebecca of Bookish Beck runs this monthly meme, posting on the last Monday of every month. Relatively few library books this month due to our San Francisco holiday, but I’ve still managed a few loans, and as ever, the resources of the public and private libraries are invaluable!


Super-Infinite: the Transformations of John Donne, by Katherine Rundell (2022): A shimmering biography of my favourite metaphysical poet that looks at him through the various personae and roles that he inhabited throughout his life. Bound to draw new readers to Donne as well as bring already-confirmed fans back to his work. A highly-deserved Baillie Gifford Prize winner! I wrote more fully about it here.

If on a winter’s night a traveller, by Italo Calvino (1979, transl. William Weaver): My first full-length Calvino novel and a delightful, playful love letter to reading and readers. It gets a little self-involved in the middle parody segments, but mostly this struck me as a charming work of fantastika in the vein of Borges. I wrote about it more fully here.

The Road to San Giovanni, by Italo Calvino (2009, transl. Tim Parks): Five essays in a short collection, some (including the title one) autobiographical reminiscence, others more philosophical in nature. All are beautifully written and highly evocative. I think Calvino’s nonfiction may be just slightly winning over his fiction for me at the moment! I wrote about it more fully here.

Kolymsky Heights, by Lionel Davidson (1994): Read as ebook during our flight to California, and the only library book I haven’t written about at longer length this month. A fantastically involved and detailed literary thriller about a man infiltrating a Siberian research station—it’s the kind of style that clearly drives some readers mad, because so much of it is about the details of flights and trains, transportation and contacts, but I absolutely love that stuff. The hero, French-Canadian-Indigenous Johnny Porter, is sort of a superman, but he’s also insouciant and likeable. He uses his racial ambiguity and linguistic talents to blend in almost anywhere in a way that says a lot about human preconceptions and our desire to connect with other people on even the slenderest of pretexts, and how that can be used against us, but also how that kind of mental and social hospitality is a virtue to be protected in a cynical world. I’m also a sucker for technical descriptions of skilled people doing what they’re skilled at, of which Kolymsky Heights has plenty, and very well written at that. I’ll certainly read more Davidson in the future.

McTeague, by Frank Norris (1899): Subtitled “A Story of San Francisco”, this felt like an obvious choice for holiday reading! Following the titular McTeague, an unlicensed dentist living in a working-class neighbourhood of SF during the Progressive Era, through his awakening to love, his marriage to the beautiful Trina Sieppe (which causes a permanent rift between him and his best friend Marcus), through to the devastating effects of avarice and envy on their marriage. It all ends badly and also kinda trippily. I’m planning a double review of this and Don DeLillo’s Libra, so I won’t say too much more about it here.


7 thoughts on “Love Your Library, February 2023

  1. Oh, Lionel Davidson! Wrote one of my favourite children’s books of all time, the very obscure Under Plum Lake. That thriller sounds very different but also very much up my street, so I’ll be checking it out. (And yes honestly ‘technical descriptions of skilled people doing what they’re skilled at’ – I could read that forever).

  2. Thanks as always for your participation.

    The Rundell is also on the ST Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist, and that dual prize listing might just be enough to get me to read it even though I know little/nothing about Donne (and so I will learn!).

    I imagine your potential SF reading list could have been enormous. Have you read Howl, or Tales of the City?

    Libra! I struggled my way through that one in 2011 and haven’t read any DeLillo since.

    1. Oh, good, the Rundell deserves every prize going IMO! I’d read Tales of the City, or at least the first one, and really loved it, years ago–it’s probably time for a reread. Found myself enjoying Libra very much despite having not got on with White Noise! Now to try and work out which one is more representative of DeLillo…

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