Spring Reading Tag

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How to use the extra hours of light

This is really a Booktube thing (I came across it on Victoria’s wonderful channel, Eve’s Alexandria), but I don’t have a Booktube channel, because I cannot even contemplate a) my hair and un-made-up face on video; I can handle photography because it allows for posing, and b) audio of my ridiculous speaking voice with its wandering accent. So I have hijacked this tag—because I fancy doing something a bit frivolous and non-review-related—and turned it into a normal, twentieth-century blog post. Forgive!

  1. What books are you most excited to read over the next few months?

WELL. I have a pile of proofs for the next three months, so I’ll have to select a few to highlight. I’m incredibly excited about the genre-bending The Fact of a Body, a combination of true crime and narrative non-fiction/personal essay by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, and about Queer City, Peter Ackroyd’s history of LGBTQIA London. I’m also eagerly anticipating Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir The Hate Race, which if it’s anything like her story collection Foreign Soil will be amazing, and Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, a definitive history of anti-Black thought in America. Non-proof-wise, I need to read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo stat, and I have the second Slough House book by Mick Herron (Dead Lions), China Miéville’s The City and the City, and Richard Powers’s The Time of Our Singing, all lined up.

2. What book most makes you think of Spring, for whatever reason?

Obviously, The Enchanted April—what’s more spring-like than rediscovering love and happiness in a coastal castle in Italy? Less obviously, Anna Karenina, which I’ve read two or three times, always in the spring. (The big Russians are impossible for me to get through without the incentive of light evenings.)

3. The days are getting longer – what is the longest book you’ve read?

Probably The Faerie Queene, or The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (aka The New Arcadia, which is a good deal longer than The Old Arcadia.) I can’t check the latter’s page count, but the former is 1,248 pages of densely printed early modern allegorical poetry. Plus endnotes.

4. What books would you recommend to brighten someone’s day?

I always, always recommend I Capture the Castle for questions like this, because it’s lovely and tender and detailed and eccentric and you don’t have to work hard to get into it. But I’d also say The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett—so short, so adorable—and, if cheering up is essential, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, which may be the funniest book I’ve ever read. If Toole isn’t your style, Bill Bryson might do: I love A Walk In the Woods, where Bryson tries to walk the Appalachian Trail, and The Lost Continent, charting a Great American Road Trip, with equal affection. And there are the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend: equal contenders with Toole for funniest books in English.

5. Spring brings new life in nature – think up a book that doesn’t exist but you wish it did. (eg by a favourite author, on a certain theme or issue etc)

Victoria already mentioned the third book in Hilary Mantel’s series focusing on Thomas Cromwell; to that I’ll add a sequel to Nicola Griffith’s Hild, a lush, detailed novel about the girl who became Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, of which we were promised a second volume some years ago. Also, a book I’ve already declared I’m going to write myself, about parenthood, where the mum is a brilliant but detached theoretical physicist and the dad struggles to find self-fulfilment and identity after becoming a father. (Spoilers: he eventually opens his own yoga studio.)

6. Spring is also a time of growth – how has your reading changed over the years?

Obviously, the answer to this depends on how far back I go. My reading records span nearly a decade—it was June 2007 when I started writing down the title and author of each book I completed—and two things strike me about that stretch of time. One is that I read with much greater direction now; when I was fourteen, I basically wandered around picking up things that looked interesting or that I thought I ought to read, which meant I covered swathes of 18th, 19th and 20th century fiction, but missed a lot of stuff that wasn’t high-profile (though I did read Tobias Smollett, which almost no one does.) These days, while I don’t project my reading terribly far into the future, I have a sense of what I’m interested in at the moment, and tailor my book acquisitions to help me build a picture of a field or a genre or a time period. The second thing is that my speed of reading has increased. In high school I could finish around twelve books a month; in university that dropped because of coursework, which led to a lot of bitty reading (individual articles or essays instead of whole monographs); at present, less than four months into the year, I’ve read nearly sixty books. I think, also, I’m now using the critical skills developed at university to engage with contemporary texts, which I didn’t do much before—I had some sense that a book needed to be Old or A Classic for me to use those tools on it, which strikes me now as kind of a sweet but callow attitude.

7. We’re a couple of months into the new year – how’s your reading going?

See above—really well! It could be the best year since records began. The vast majority of what I’ve read, too, has been very good. I’ve encountered a lot of authors for the first time who’ve convinced me I have to read more of their work: Mick Herron, Joanna Kavenna, Rick Bass, Kei Miller, Colson Whitehead. I’ve read a lot of debut authors who have impressed me: Laura Kaye, Daniel Magariel, Danielle Dutton. I’ve had an amazing time shadowing the Baileys Prize. It’s all going swimmingly so far.

8. Any plans you’re looking forward to over the next few months?

Not especially—I haven’t signed up for any challenges or clubs. But I’m excited to read through the backlists of some of the authors I’ve just discovered. And I would like to do a bit better with reading the older books on our sitting room shelves which come from the Chaos’s grandparents’ house: I’ve quite a substantial reading gap in the shape of C20 men (William Golding, Robertson Davies, C.P. Snow, Laurence Durrell), which they could help with. Plus the collection includes Japanese lit, science, and poetry, all of which looks interesting too.

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Books to Review in 2016

This Christmas, I had imagined, was going to be a relatively bookless one, and on Christmas Day my suspicions were confirmed by the fact that I only received one book (the D.E. Stevenson volume that my mother traditionally gets me as “safe reading”, in this case a sweet story about a grande dame and the property she leaves to her nephew, Celia’s House). Oh well, thought I; I’ve already sent loads of request emails to publishers and there’ll be plenty of pre-pub copies when I get back, plus the spreadsheet of releases throughout the year, and the Women’s Prize project. I’m sure I’ll stay busy.

Then, on Boxing Day, my father said, rather shrewdly, “You only got one book this year, yes?” I confirmed this. “Are you sad about that?” he inquired. I confirmed that I was, a bit. And my dad said, “Well, why don’t you write me a list.”

So I did, and he bought me three more. Then, when I returned to England, the Chaos presented me with my Christmas present: Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy in its entirety. Then we went to his parents’ place for the weekend and I bought more books. Not to mention that I already had seven pre-pubs piled up on the shelf.

2016 is going to be a great year, you guys.

The next few months:

American Housewife, a sharp, dark collection of short stories by Helen Ellis, is first up to be reviewed, shortly to be followed by Merritt Tierce’s story of small-town single mother and drug addict Marie, Love Me Back, and Shirley Barrett’s whaling love story Rush Oh! I’m also hoping to snag copies of The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin, and The Heart Is A Muscle the Size of a Fist, by Sunil Yapa. That gets me into at least February in new releases. *pauses to wipe sweat from brow*

The Women’s Prize for Fiction project:

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At the moment, I’ve got copies of Larry’s Party by Carol Shields, A Crime In the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne, The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville, When I Lived in Modern Times by Linda Grant, and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. Most of these are from the ’90s and I’m excited to discover early work by writers who, like Shields and Grenville, are now very well known, but whom I didn’t come of age reading.

Aaaaall the rest:

*deep breath*

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Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie (reading the first one now). Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes. Faber Selected Poems by Sylvia Plath. Collected Poems 1934-1953, Dylan Thomas. The Cutting Season, by Attica Locke (I read Black Water Rising on the plane back to the UK, on New Year’s Eve. I read the whole damn book in under six hours. It was that good.) Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta (“Nigerian lesbian coming-of-age story” on a blurb kind of does it for me). Celia’s House, by D.E. Stevenson (of course). A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (at last). A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin (awkwardly behind-the-times). And I still want to attack A Notable Woman, the Mass Observation diaries of Jean Lucey Pratt, despite having the volume in hardcover and it being about 900 pages long and weighing as much as a good-sized cat.

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I am in love with Larousse editions. In LOVE with them, do you hear.

I also brought back two of my AP French lit texts (Candide and Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean), and bought Manon Lescaut and Lettres persanes while visiting the Progenitors Chaotic. (They aren’t chaotic, you understand…oh never mind.) I am hoping against hope that 2016 is the year I start reading in French again. It’s about time.