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Lit Titbits (3)

Another edition of Lit Titbits is here, with some wonderful links I’ve found of late.  If you have anything you’d like to see featured in a future list, please let me know.

  1. Simon at Stuck In a Book and Rachel at Book Snob are two of my favourite reviewers, and their podcast, Tea or Books?, is wonderful.  I tend to listen to it before bed, and have to make sure that I have a notebook and pen handy to note down all of those new-to-me books that I want to read immediately.
  2. Find out about the weird and wonderful things found in books sent out by AbeBooks here.
  3. Some wonderful artists have come up with the Corbyn Comic Book.  It was launched at a Labour Conference in 2017, and I feel I need to get my hands on a copy.  Read about it here.
  4. The excellent Jon McGregor’s companion to Reservoir 13, entitled The Reservoir Tapes, were serialised on BBC Radio 4 last year.  They’re the perfect length (fifteen minutes) to listen to when whipping up a quick meal or washing up.  You can find them here.
  5. Sarah Dunant speaks wonderfully, drawing links between the Ancient world and the modern.  You can listen to ‘When Greeks Flew Kites’ here.
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First Novels

I often find that when reading through the oeuvres of my favourite contemporary writers, I often do not begin with their first books.  Whilst I do not make this choice intentionally, I find it fascinating to read later efforts, and then go back to the beginning to see how a particular author’s style has changed over time.  With that said, I thought I would showcase five first novels by some of my favourite contemporary authors, all of which (aside from the McGregor) I read when already familiar with a lot of their other work.

  1. Like by Ali Smith (1997) 9781860493171
    ‘There’s Amy and there’s Ash. There’s ice and there’s fire. There’s England and there’s Scotland. Ali Smith evokes the twin spirits of time and place in an extraordinarily powerful first novel, which teases out the connections between people, the attractions, the ghostly repercussions. By turns funny, haunting and disconcertingly moving, Like soars across hidden borders between cultures, countries, families, friends and lovers. Subtle and complex, it confounds expectations about fiction and truths.’
  2. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2004)
    The Namesake is the story of a boy brought up Indian in America. ‘When her grandmother learned of Ashima’s pregnancy, she was particularly thrilled at the prospect of naming the family’s first sahib. And so Ashima and Ashoke have agreed to put off the decision of what to name the baby until a letter comes…’ For now, the label on his hospital cot reads simply ‘BABY BOY GANGULI’. But as time passes and still no letter arrives from India, American bureaucracy takes over and demands that ‘baby boy Ganguli’ be given a name. In a panic, his father decides to nickname him ‘Gogol’ – after his favourite writer. Brought up as an Indian in suburban America, Gogol Ganguli soon finds himself itching to cast off his awkward name, just as he longs to leave behind the inherited values of his Bengali parents. And so he sets off on his own path through life, a path strewn with conflicting loyalties, love and loss… Spanning three decades and crossing continents, Jhumpa Lahiri’s much-anticipated first novel is a triumph of humane story-telling. Elegant, subtle and moving.’
  3. 9780747561576If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (2002)
    ‘On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence – street cricket, barbecues, painting windows… A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever. Jon McGregor’s first novel brilliantly evokes the histories and lives of the people in the street to build up an unforgettable human panorama. Breathtakingly original, humane and moving, the novel is an astonishing debut.’
  4. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)
    ‘This is the story of Jeanette, adopted and brought up by her mother as one of God’s elect. Zealous and passionate, she seems destined for life as a missionary, but then she falls for one of her converts. At sixteen, Jeanette decides to leave the church, her home and her family, for the young woman she loves. Innovative, punchy and tender, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a few days ride into the bizarre outposts of religious excess and human obsession.’
  5. Everything You Know by Zoe Heller (1999) 9780141039992
    ‘The women in Willy Muller’s life are trouble. His mother insists he eat tofu. His dopey girlfriend, Penny, wants him to overcome his personal space issues – while Karen, his other, even dopier, girlfriend, just wants more sex. Meanwhile, his oldest daughter, Sophie, wants him to finance her husband’s drug habit. But it’s his youngest daughter, Sadie, who’s giving him the biggest headache. Just before committing suicide three months ago, she sent Willy her diaries. Poring over the record of her empty life, he feels pangs of something unexpected …remorse. But isn’t it a bit late for such sentimental guff? Set in London, Hollywood and Mexico, Everything You Know is a supremely witty take on love, death and the age-old battle of the sexes.’

Purchase from The Book Depository

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One From the Archive: Five Favourite Authors

First published in July 2013.

1. Elizabeth McCracken
I read the marvellous The Giant’s House whilst I was still a teenager, and have read it many more times since.  McCracken’s writing is truly lovely, and the characters she crafts stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson

2. Tove Jansson
Jansson is best known as the creator of The Moomins, but her adult fiction is just as wonderful.  To fit the season, I would recommend The Summer Book, which is a glorious musing on life on a tiny Scandinavian island.

3. Jon McGregor
I first read McGregor a good few years ago, when my Dad recommended the stunning If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things to me.  It is a novel which challenges your perceptions, and its storyline and characters, whilst not named, are so very memorable.

4. Sylvia Townsend Warner
Despite only having read one of her novels (Lolly Willowes, or the Loving Huntsman) and one of her short story collections (The Doll’s House and Other Stories), Townsend Warner is one of my favourite authors on the Virago list.  She creates such atmosphere, and her characters are wonderfully crafted.  The majority of her stories contain unexpected twists, and her writing is very lovely indeed.  I would recommend beginning with either of the titles listed above in order to get a real sense of her style.

Stella Benson

Stella Benson

5. Stella Benson
For some reason unbeknownst to me, Stella Benson is rather a neglected twentieth century author.  Her writing is glorious, and the way in which she uses magical realism against the ordinary aspects of the lives of her characters is marvellous.  I would recommend the lovely Living Alone, set during the First World War.  Who cannot fail to be charmed by the following author introduction?

This is not a real book. It does not deal with real people, nor should it be read by real people. But there are in the world so many real books already written for the benefit of real people, and there are still so many to be written, that I cannot believe that a little alien book such as this, written for the magically-inclined minority, can be considered too assertive a trespasser.

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Short Story Series: Part Four

I adore reading short stories, and don’t see many reviews of collections on blogs in comparison to novels and the like.  I thought that I would make a weekly series to showcase short stories, and point interested readers in the direction of some of my favourite collections.  Rather than ramble in adoration for every single book, I have decided to copy their official blurb.  I have linked my blog reviews where appropriate.

1. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
‘Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly–they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.’

2. How They Met and Other Stories by David Levithan
‘This is a collection of stories about love from the New York Times bestselling author of Every Day. They met on a plane / at Starbucks / in class. It was a set-up / it was completely random / they were dancing. It was love at first sight / it took time / it was a disaster! Love is a complicated, addictive, volatile, scary, wonderful thing. Many of the stories in this collection started out as gifts for the author’s friends. From the happy-ever-after to the unrequited, they explore the many aspects of the emotion that has at some time turned us all inside out and upside down.’

3. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
‘Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield’s tragically short life. Many are set in the author’s native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience – from the blackly comic “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, and the short, sharp sketch “Miss Brill”, in which a lonely woman’s precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in “At the Bay”. ‘All that I write,’ Mansfield said, ‘all that I am – is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.”

4. Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
‘John and Laura have come to Venice to try and escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that, instead of laying their ghosts to rest, they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events. The four other haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher who investigates a mysterious American couple; a young woman confronting her father’s past; a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem; and a scientist who harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect.’

5. Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken
‘Like her extraordinary novel, McCracken’s stories are a delightful blend of eccentricity and romanticism. In the title story, a young man and his wife are intrigued and amused when a peculiar unknown aunt announces a surprise visit–only the old woman can’t be traced on the family tree. In ‘What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children’, the normal middle-class son of a former circus performer (the Armless Woman) must suddenly confront his mother’s pain. In ‘It’s Bad Luck to Die’, a young woman discovers that her husband’s loving creations–he’s a tattoo artist–make her feel at home in her skin for the first time. Daring, offbeat, and utterly unforgettable, Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry is the work of a n unparalleled young storyteller who possesses a rare insight and unconventional wisdom far beyond her years. Her stories will steal your heart.’

6. This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
‘From the publication of his first Booker-nominated novel at the age of twenty-six, Jon McGregor’s fiction has consistently been defined by lean poetic language, a keen sense of detail, and insightful characterization. Now, after publishing three novels, he’s turning his considerable talent toward short fiction. The stories in this beautifully wrought collection explore a specific physical world and the people who inhabit it.Set among the lowlands and levees, the fens and ditches that mark the spare landscape of eastern England, the stories expose lives where much is buried, much is at risk, and tender moments are hard-won. The narrators of these delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deeply funny stories tell us what they believe to be important-in language inflected with the landscape’s own understatement-while the real stories lie in what they unwittingly let slip.A man builds a tree house by a river in preparation for a coming flood. A boy sets fire to a barn. A pair of itinerant laborers sit by a lake and talk, while fighter-planes fly low overhead and prepare for war. “This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You” is an intricate exploration of isolation, self-discovery, and the impact of place on the human psyche.’

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
‘Flannery O’Connor was working on “Everything That Rises Must Converge” at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.’

8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years, Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker.” She wrote a regular column (“Letter from London”), book reviews, and over thirty short stories about English domestic life during World War Two. Twenty-one of these stories are included in “Good Evening Mrs Craven”–the first collected volume of her work.Mollie Panter-Downes writes about those coping on the periphery of the war who attend sewing parties, host evacuees sent to the country, and obsess over food and rationing. She captures the quiet moments of fear and courage. Here we find “the mistress, unlike the wife, who has to worry and mourn in secret for her man” and a “middle-aged spinster finds herself alone again when the camaraderie of the air-raids is over.’

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Sunday Snapshot: Five Authors

For today’s Sunday Snapshot, I have chosen to write a list of five authors, whose work you may not have read.  I have listed my favourite of their books beside their names for your perusal.

1. Elizabeth McCracken
I read the marvellous The Giant’s House whilst I was still a teenager, and have read it many more times since.  McCracken’s writing is truly lovely, and the characters she crafts stay with the reader long after the last page has been read.

2. Tove Jansson
Jansson is best known as the creator of The Moomins, but her adult fiction is just as wonderful.  To fit the season, I would recommend The Summer Book, which is a glorious musing on life on a tiny Scandinavian island.

3. Jon McGregor
I first read McGregor a good few years ago, when my Dad recommended the stunning If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things to me.  It is a novel which challenges your perceptions, and its storyline and characters, whilst not named, are so very memorable.

4. Sylvia Townsend Warner
Despite only having read one of her novels (Lolly Willowes, or the Loving Huntsman) and one of her short story collections (The Doll’s House and Other Stories), Townsend Warner is one of my favourite authors on the Virago list.  She creates such atmosphere, and her characters are wonderfully crafted.  The majority of her stories contain unexpected twists, and her writing is very lovely indeed.  I would recommend beginning with either of the titles listed above in order to get a real sense of her style.

5. Stella Benson
For some reason unbeknownst to me, Stella Benson is rather a neglected twentieth century author.  Her writing is glorious, and the way in which she uses magical realism against the ordinary aspects of the lives of her characters is marvellous.  I would recommend the lovely Living Alone, set during the First World War.  Who cannot fail to be charmed by the following author introduction?

This is not a real book. It does not deal with real people, nor should it be read by real people. But there are in the world so many real books already written for the benefit of real people, and there are still so many to be written, that I cannot believe that a little alien book such as this, written for the magically-inclined minority, can be considered too assertive a trespasser.