The second part of my clip video from my fantastic trip to beautiful Toronto.
Featuring: The CN Tower | Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) | Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library | University of Toronto | Casa Loma | Niagara Falls (Canada and USA) | Toronto Music Garden | Harbourfront | Lacrosse (Toronto Rock vs. New England Black Wolves)
Music: ‘Float On’ by Modest Mouse | ‘Little Bribes’ by Death Cab for Cutie
This is the second instalment of Lit Titbits. These will, I hope, be the perfect things for you to read over a well-deserved tea break, or when you have a few minutes to relax during your day. They make perfect, brief stops from thesis research too (trust me, I speak from experience).
- Here is a recipe from Good Food Stories for Marcel Proust’s famous madeleines.
- They are sadly not being uploaded any more, but I am very much enjoying making my way through the Books on the Nightstand podcasts. You can find them all here.
- On Nudge, Hilary White reviews a wonderful looking Galician novel about politics, family and community – The Low Voices by Manuel Rivas. Read it here.
- AbeBooks has a fun post about ‘literary selfies’, when authors sign books with a self-portrait, here; it’s one way to make a book unique, I suppose!
- Between the Covers has a wonderful audio interview with Celeste Ng here. It’s a little longer than a tea break permits, unfortunately, but is well worth a listen.
- The New York Times draws attention toward exciting new Nigerian fiction, which aims to break genre boundaries. Find Alexandra Alter’s wonderful article here.
I am currently trying to stop adding books to my extensive to-read lists, but I could not resist sneaking a peek into a few book lists which detail 2018 releases. With this in mind, I have made a list of ten which I will be seeking out over the course of the year.
1. Awayland by Ramona Ausubel (short stories; 1st January)
‘An inventive story collection that spans the globe as it explores love, childhood, and parenthood with an electric mix of humor and emotion. Acclaimed for the grace, wit, and magic of her novels, Ramona Ausubel introduces us to a geography both fantastic and familiar in eleven new stories, some of them previously published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Elegantly structured, these stories span the globe and beyond, from small-town America and sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and the very gates of Heaven itself. And though some of the stories are steeped in mythology, they remain grounded in universal experiences: loss of identity, leaving home, parenthood, joy, and longing. Crisscrossing the pages of Awayland are travelers and expats, shadows and ghosts. A girl watches as her homesick mother slowly dissolves into literal mist. The mayor of a small Midwestern town offers a strange prize, for stranger reasons, to the parents of any baby born on Lenin’s birthday. A chef bound for Mars begins an even more treacherous journey much closer to home. And a lonely heart searches for love online–never mind that he’s a Cyclops. With her signature tenderness, Ramona Ausubel applies a mapmaker’s eye to landscapes both real and imagined, all the while providing a keen guide to the wild, uncharted terrain of the human heart.’
2. Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad by Åsne Seierstad (non-fiction; 13th February)
‘One morning in October 2013, nineteen-year-old Ayan Juma and her sixteen-year-old sister Leila left their family home in Oslo. Later that day they sent an email to their parents. ‘Peace, God’s mercy and blessings upon you, Mum and Dad … Please do not be cross with us…’ Leila and Ayan had decided to travel to Syria, ‘and help out down there as best we can’. They had been planning for months. By the time their desperate father Sadiq tracks them to Turkey, they have already crossed the border. But Sadiq is determined to find them. What follows is the gripping, heartbreaking story of a family ripped apart. While Sadiq risks his own life to bring his daughters back, at home his wife Sara begins to question their life in Norway. How could her children have been radicalised without her knowledge? How can she protect her two younger sons from the same fate? Åsne Seierstad – with the complete support of the Juma family – followed the story from the beginning, through its many dramatic twists and turns. It’s a tale that crosses from Sadiq and Sara’s original home in Somalia, to their council estate in Oslo, to Turkey and to Syria – where two teenage sisters must face the shocking consequences of their decision.’
3. The Red Word by Sarah Henstra (novel; 13th March)
‘A smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go, The Red Word is a campus novel like no other. As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry–particularly at a fraternity called GBC. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the state of feminist activism on campus. GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of date rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture–but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price. The Red Word captures beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics and the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers, and life-altering ideas. With strains of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, Alison Lurie’s Truth and Consequences, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Sarah Henstra’s debut adult novel arrives on the wings of furies.’
4. Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz (short stories; 15th March)
‘Collected Stories is an authoritative new translation of the complete fiction of Bruno Schulz, whose work has influenced writers as various as Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, Jonathan Safran Foer, Philip Roth, Danilo Kis, and Roberto Bolano.Schulz’s prose is renowned for its originality. Set largely in a fictional counterpart of his hometown of Drohobycz, his stories merge the real and the surreal. The most ordinary objects-the wind, an article of clothing, a plate of fish-can suddenly appear unfathomably mysterious and capable of illuminating profound truths. As “Father,” one of his most intriguing characters, declaims: “Matter has been granted infinite fecundity, an inexhaustible vital force, and at the same time, a seductive power of temptation that entices us to create forms.”This comprehensive volume includes all of The Cinnamon Shops, restoring the original Polish title to Schulz’s most famous collection (sometimes titled The Street of Crocodiles in English), and Sanatorium under the Hourglass. Also included are four previously uncollected short stories that pay tribute to Schulz’s enduring genius. Madeline G. Levine’s masterful new translation shows contemporary readers how Schulz, often compared to Proust and Kafka, reveals the workings of memory and consciousness.’
5. Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (novel; Hogarth Shakespeare; 5th April)
‘Set in a dark, rainy northern town, Nesbo’s Macbeth pits the ambitions of a corrupt policeman against loyal colleagues, a drug-depraved underworld and the pull of childhood friendships. Get ready to helter-skelter through the darkest tunnels of human experience.‘
6. Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (non-fiction; 10th April)
‘Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm—these brilliant women are the central figures of Sharp. Their lives intertwine as they cut through the cultural and intellectual history of America in the twentieth century, arguing as fervently with each other as they did with the sexist attitudes of the men who often undervalued their work as critics and essayists. These women are united by what Dean terms as “sharpness,” the ability to cut to the quick with precision of thought and wit, a claiming of power through writing rather than position. Sharp is a vibrant and rich depiction of the intellectual beau monde of twentieth-century New York, where gossip-filled parties at night gave out to literary slanging-matches in the pages of the Partisan Review or the New York Review of Books as well as a considered portrayal of how these women came to be so influential in a climate where women were treated with derision by the critical establishment. Mixing biography, literary criticism, and cultural history, Sharp is an enthralling exploration of how a group of brilliant women became central figures in the world of letters despite the many obstacles facing them, a testament to how anyone not in a position of power can claim the mantle of writer and, perhaps, help change the world.‘
7. Florida by Lauren Groff (short stories; 5th June)
‘Groff says in an interview: “The collection is a portrait of my own incredible ambivalence about the state where I’ve lived for twelve years. My feelings for Florida are immoderate, and I love the disappearing natural world, the sunshine, the extraordinary and astonishing beauty of the place as passionately as I hate the heat and moisture and backward politics and the million creatures whose only wish is to kill you. I wrote this collection very slowly and was surprised when it came together to find that the stories built into a ferocious protracted argument.”
My eighth, ninth and tenth books on this list are the forthcoming Persephone publications for April 2018. I can find little information about any of them as yet, but I am very excited to read Despised and Rejected by Rose Allatini, Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple, and Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski.
Which books are you most excited about during 2018? Will you, or have you, read any of these?
The first part of my Toronto clip video from my wonderful trip in January.
Lake Ontario | Graffiti Alley | Financial District | Nathan Phillips Square | Sugar Palm Beach | Toronto Light Festival | Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
‘Gone’ by Tokyo Police Club | ‘Home Versus Home’ by The Xcerts
Margaret Forster’s 1989 novel, Have the Men Had Enough?, is an incredibly astute familial saga with an ageing matriarch, Grandma, as its central focus. At the outset of the novel, Grandma is clearly beginning to lose her focus, believing that her father and brothers will be coming home shortly, and that she needs to cook their dinner.
Have the Men Had Enough? is told from two perspectives, those of Grandma’s daughter-in-law, Jenny McKay, and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Hannah. Of Grandma’s diagnosis, the family are told ‘the long-term memory remains after the short-term has gone. Grandma cannot remember what she had for dinner an hour ago but she can remember every detail of what she ate on the train journeys to the Highlands in the 1920s. And it makes her happy. It does not seem to worry her in the least that she cannot remember her husband’s first name or the colour of his eyes or what he liked and did not like. He remains in her memory as the subject of a few unflattering anecdotes and, if she had to sum him up, she is content to say he was “a man’s man”.’ Despite these two perspectives, and their sometimes conflicting views, Grandma is always the focus of the narrative; we learn about the other characters largely with regard to their actions toward, and feelings about, her.
It was fascinating, and often saddening, to see such a story unfold from the perspective of a family who have different beliefs as to what would be the best course of action for Grandma’s ongoing care. Her daughter Bridget, a nurse, lives next door, and is determined to keep caring for her at home for as long as she can manage. One of her sons, Stuart, keeps away, saying that he does not want the hassle of involvement. Her son Charlie, Jenny’s husband, funds Grandma’s flat and nursing expenses. Whilst they live nearby, and Jenny does a lot to help from time to time, both find the process exhausting. Jenny expresses her fears about caring for Grandma: ‘I want to act now, to protect us all. And yes, I am afraid, afraid of what it will do to us all if we keep Grandma in our midst to the bitter end.’ Granddaughter Hannah is incredibly observant, continually questioning what would be best for Grandma; at first, she asks, ‘Haven’t the women had enough too?’, before veering back and forth on the idea of Grandma being cared for in their family home, something which her brother Adrian wants dearly. Hannah is concerned throughout with Grandma’s happiness, and treats her with tenderness and understanding at all times.
Certainly poignant, Have the Men Had Enough? raises a wealth of important questions about ageing, and who will care for us when we reach a stage at which we are no longer able to care for ourselves. Each of the characters is forced, at points, to reflect upon their opinions of what would be best for themselves and for Grandma. This thought-provoking reflection makes the novel feel eminently human, and so well balanced; we recognise the discomfort of each of the characters in turn.
Others have written that Have the Men Had Enough? is a difficult book to read, both in terms of prose and content, one which takes time and concentration. Certainly, Forster’s writing is intelligent, but from the very beginning, I found it immersive. The story itself was a little draining at times, and one feels terribly for the McKays, in having to make such a difficult decision which will ultimately impact upon and affect them all. There is a wonderful variation to the novel, given the range of characters, opinions, and voices.
Whilst a devoted fan of Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier, and devouring one of her more recent efforts, The Unknown Bridesmaid, a few years ago, I am baffled as to why it has taken me so long to read more of her work. Forster is an author who has published a wealth of books which appeal to me, and I will certainly try my best to read more of them over the coming months. I shall conclude this review with a wonderful quote by Hilary Mantel, which sums up my thoughts on the novel: ‘It is close to life in a way we hardly expect a novel to be, and finally very moving.’