Bookish Beck is encouraging us to share why we Love our Libraries, and perhaps share some stories to show why. I’m a volunteer at our local library, though I dropped off for a while during the pandemic. This means that I have a constant supply of books which I end up bringing home to read rather than putting them back on the right shelf. And why not? I probably can’t plough through the number of books that I bring back – there aren’t enough hours in the day – but I can sample things I might not usually have considered. Some I win, some I lose, but it keeps the borrowing figures up, and that’s important when libraries battle with every council service for a share of the limited money-pot.
My post is just squeezed in for the October deadline.
Melissa Harrison: The Stubborn Light of Things. I really have only just started this, but it’s promising. This is a selection of Harrison’s Nature Diaries for The Times from the last few years . She’s living in London in the section of the book I’m reading now, and discovering that Nature can thrive in the most unpromising of circumstances.
What did I bring home this last month?
Alistair McIntosh: Poacher’s Pilgrimage – An Island Journey.⭐⭐⭐⭐ A powerful exploration of a sense of place. McIntosh returns to the Outer Hebrides of his youth, and undertakes a 12 day walk – a pilgrimage – from Harris to the Butt of Lewis. Not a place I know, but which I’d now like to explore, for its harshness, its Celtic roots, its community deeply rooted in its landscape and traditions. The book is part travelogue, part exploration of the island’s religious past, part exploration of ideas round war and pacifism. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but ultimately rewarding as an exploration both of a place, and one man’s mind.
The Decameron Project: 29 New Stories from the Pandemic.⭐⭐⭐⭐ In a world overwhelmed by a global pandemic, The New York Times approached authors to contribute a short story encompassing their take on this discomfiting period. It brings Lockdown galloping back into my mind, even though few stories tackle this directly. The strangeness of the world at that time is brought into focus by a visit to a Barcelona dog owner with John Wray, or Colm Toibin bicycling in Los Angeles. Not every story is a success. I wasn’t a fan of Margaret Atwood’s Impatient Griselda. But as a memorial to a moment in history, with fine writing as standard, this collection is unbeatable.
Nadifa Mohamed: The Fortune Men. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Mini review forthcoming in November’s Six Degrees of Separation
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: Gallows Rock. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Mini review forthcoming.
Francis Spufford: Light Perpetual.⭐⭐⭐⭐ Mini review forthcoming.
Alice Zeniter: The Art of Losing: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐Mini review forthcoming.
Barbara Demick: Nothing to Envy. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐A readable and illuminating account of the famine years of the early 20th century in North Korea, as seen through the eyes of six escapees. Not all of these people had long been critical of the repressive, totalitarian regime under which they had been brought up. They accepted unquestioningly that there was nothing to envy beyond the country’s borders, despite the fact that education, career ambitions, love and home life were under constant surveillance and minor ‘offences’ could result in lifelong unpalatable consequences for themselves and their families. An eye opening look at a largely unknown world.
Peace Adzo Medie: His Only Wife. ⭐⭐⭐ Afi is a young seamstress from a not-at-all-well-off family. The chance of marriage to a wealthy man from Accra whose family disapprove of the woman who is the mother of his child changes all that. Her marriage takes place without the groom being present , and though he installs her in a luxury flat in Accra and makes sure she wants for nothing, it’s a while till she even meets him. When she does, she falls in love. But will that be enough to win him back from his other life with that other woman? I was only partly engaged in this tale. As someone who doesn’t know Africa at all, it seems to paint a believable picture of both bustling big city and small town life. But Afi seemed to me to achieve career success unbelievably easily, and I didn’t quite believe in her apparently deep love for Eli. I enjoyed the family relationships described, but on the whole, this was a book I was never fully committed to though I read it willingly enough.
Ian Stephen: A Book of Death and Fish: I haven’t anything like finished this book. But I can tell that it celebrates language, and the telling of a good tale. I’m not in the market for a long immersive read at the moment, but I know I will come back to this book.
Janice Galloway: The Trick Is To Keep Breathing. Goodness knows, I’ve tried to finish this book. I can’t. It’s just too painful. Claustrophobic, disturbing, this is a story about a woman’s inner collapse on the death of her lover. As the ‘other woman’, she can neither be acknowledged nor supported. I’ve only once had depression, of the post-natal variety, and I was well supported, unlike isolated Joy. But the contact with this unwelcome world where everything is just too damn’ difficult and exhausting was more than I could bear. I don’t even know if there is any kind of happy ending to this suffocating tale.
Afia Atakora: Conjure Women. I didn’t finished this book, but abandoned it at about page 50. I found the narrative hard to follow, and wasn’t invested in it sufficiently to try. Reading the reviews, I’ve missed out. Note to self. Try again later.
Borrowed, and waiting their turn
Ann Morgan: Reading the World.
Lana del Rey: Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass.
Eavan Boland: The Historians.
Lucy Newlyn: The Craft of Poetry.