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The Book Trail: From ‘Oystercatchers’ to ‘Fred & Edie’

This Book Trail begins with Susan Fletcher’s fantastic Oystercatchers, and, as ever with this series, uses the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ feature on Goodreads to show seven other interesting books.

1. Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher 1925785
This is the second novel from highly acclaimed young writer Susan Fletcher, author of the award-winning “Eve Green”. Amy lies in a coma. Her older sister, Moira, comes to her in the evenings, sits beside her in a green-walled hospital room. Here, Moira confesses. She admits to her childhood selfishness which deeply hurt her family and to the self-imposed exile from the dramatic Welsh coast that had dominated and captivated her childhood; to her savagery at boarding school; to the wild, bitter and destructive heart that she carried into her adult life. Moira knows this: that she’s been a poor daughter, and a deceptive wife. But it is as Amy lies half-dying that she sees the real truth: she’s been a cruel sister, and it is this cruelty that has led them both here, to this hospital bed. A novel about trust, loss and loneliness, “Oystercatchers” is a love story with a profound darkness at its core.

 

2. The Glass House by Sophie Cooke
Following her expulsion from a private boarding school Vanessa, the middle child in a family of three daughters, returns home to the Southern Highlands to attend the local comprehensive. With both of her sisters away at school and her father working abroad this should be the perfect opportunity to spend time with her glamorous, autocratic mother. But instead of the idyllic life Vanessa craves she is dragged into a nightmarish world of secrets and abuse, violence and betrayal, and watches in horror as her mother self destructs in front of her. Only Alan, a childhood friend, offers Vanessa an escape from her unhappy life but will Vanessa find the strength to confide the secrets she has buried deep within her?

 

7694463. Sick Notes by Gwendoline Riley
Returning to Manchester, her broken home, Esther moves back to the flat she used to share with her best friend Donna. Surrounded by empty gin bottles, with her past life safely taped up in stacked cardboard boxes, she proceeds to turn her back on a ‘real world’ that seems meaningless and absurd. Instead she lives in her own head. Then she meets Newton, a care-worn American wanderer with a drinker’s face and an angel’s smile. Newton changes everything. But for how long?

 

4. All the Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell
When Lara was twelve, and her younger brother Alfie eight, their father died in a helicopter crash. A prominent plastic surgeon, and Irishman, he had honed his skills on the bomb victims of the Troubles. But the family grew up used to him being absent: he only came to London for two weekends a month to work at the Harley Street clinic, where he had met their mother years before, and they only once went on a family holiday together, to Spain, where their mother cried and their father lost his temper and left early.  Because home, for their father, wasn’t Earls Court: it was Belfast, where he led his other life …  Narrated by Lara, nearing forty and nursing her dying mother, All the Beggars Riding is the heartbreaking portrait of a woman confronting her past just as she realises that the time to get any sort of answers is running out.

 

5. The China Factory by Mary Costello 13636433
An elderly schoolteacher recalls the single act of youthful passion that changed her life forever; a young gardener has an unsettling encounter with a suburban housewife; a wife who miscalculated the guarantees of marriage embarks upon an online affair. And in the title story a teenage girl strikes up an unlikely friendship with a lonely bachelor.  Love, loss, betrayal. Grief, guilt, longing. The act of grace or forgiveness that can suddenly transform and redeem lives. In these twelve haunting stories Mary Costello carefully examines the passions and perils of everyday life and relationships and, with startling insight, casts a light on the darkest corners of the human heart.  What emerges is a compassionate exploration of how ordinary men and women endure the trials and complexities of marriage, memory, adultery, death, and the ripples of disquiet that lie just beneath the surface. With a calm intensity and an undertow of sadness, she reveals the secret fears and yearnings of her characters, and those isolated moments when a few words or a small deed can change everything, with stark and sometimes brutal consequences.

 

6. One by One in the Darkness by Deirdre Madden
A story about three Northern Irish sisters. It has a double narrative, part of which describes their childhood and shows the impact of the political changes and the violence of the late-1960s upon the people of Ulster, as the wholeness and coherence of early childhood gradually break down.

 

16225427. The White Family by Maggie Gee
When Alfred White, patriarch of the White family, collapses at work, his wife, May, and their three disparate children find themselves confronting issues they would rather ignore. Maggie Gee skillfully weaves a narrative that reminds us that racism not only devastates the lives of its victims, but also those of its perpetrators.

 

8. Fred & Edie by Jill Dawson
In the winter of 1922 Edith Thompson and her younger lover, Freddy Bywaters, were found guilty of murdering Percy Thompson, Edith’s boorish husband. The two lovers were executed in a whirl of publicity in 1923. The case caused a sensation, a crime of passion that gripped the nation’s imagination and became the raw material for Jill Dawson’s sensual and captivating novel Fred and Edie, a fictional account of the lovers’ romance and their subsequent trial, predominantly told through Edie’s imaginary letters addressed to her lover, “Darlint Freddie”. This is a remarkable novel, that brilliantly evokes the suburban world of 1920s London (T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, published the same year as the trial, runs like a leitmotif throughout the novel). Edie, viewed from the public gallery as “silly, vain” is a superb literary creation–sensual, intelligent, articulate and liberated, bitterly denouncing in her letters to Freddy a world that denies “that our love might be a real love, on a par with other great loves. That just because you are from Norwood and work as a ship’s laundry man and I grew up in Stamford Hill and read a certain kind of novel, we are not capable of true emotions, of having feelings and experiences that matter“.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which have piqued your interest?

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‘The 25 Greatest Essay Collections of All Time’

I have been reading far more essay collections over the last couple of years, and wondered which collections were seen as the pinnacles of an already great genre.  I found the following list on Flavorwire (see here), and thought I would type it up, along with a blurb, and see how many I have made part of my reading life to date.  Pitifully, the only one which I have read is Woolf’s The Common Reader!

1. The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
15793567Aleksandar Hemon’s lives begin in Sarajevo, a small, blissful city where a young boy’s life is consumed with street soccer with the neighborhood kids, resentment of his younger sister, and trips abroad with his engineer-cum-beekeeper father. Here, a young man’s life is about poking at the pretensions of the city’s elders with American music, bad poetry, and slightly better journalism. And then, his life in Chicago: watching from afar as war breaks out in Sarajevo and the city comes under siege, no way to return home; his parents and sister fleeing Sarajevo with the family dog, leaving behind all else they had ever known; and Hemon himself starting a new life, his own family, in this new city.  And yet this is not really a memoir. The Book of My Lives, Hemon’s first book of nonfiction, defies convention and expectation. It is a love song to two different cities; it is a heartbreaking paean to the bonds of family; it is a stirring exhortation to go out and play soccer—and not for the exercise. It is a book driven by passions but built on fierce intelligence, devastating experience, and sharp insight. And like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different reader—a different person, with a new way of looking at the world—when you’ve finished. For fans of Hemon’s fiction, The Book of My Lives is simply indispensable; for the uninitiated, it is the perfect introduction to one of the great writers of our time.

 

2. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
‘The first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem “remains, forty years after its first publication, the essential portrait of America particularly California in the sixties. It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.’

 

3. Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan 9780374532901
‘A sharp-eyed, uniquely humane tour of America’s cultural landscape from high to low to lower than low by the award-winning young star of the literary nonfiction world.In “Pulphead, “John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own how we really (no, really) live now. In his native Kentucky, Sullivan introduces us to Constantine Rafinesque, a nineteenth-century polymath genius who concocted a dense, fantastical prehistory of the New World. Back in modern times, Sullivan takes us to the Ozarks for a Christian rock festival; to Florida to meet the alumni and straggling refugees of MTV’s “Real World, “who’ve generated their own self-perpetuating economy of minor celebrity; and all across the South on the trail of the blues. He takes us to Indiana to investigate the formative years of Michael Jackson and Axl Rose and then to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina and back again as its residents confront the BP oil spill. Gradually, a unifying narrative emerges, a story about this country that we’ve never heard told this way. It’s like a fun-house hall-of-mirrors tour: Sullivan shows us who we are in ways we’ve never imagined to be true. Of course we don’t know whether to laugh or cry when faced with this reflection it’s our inevitable sob-guffaws that attest to the power of Sullivan’s work’

 

4. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
‘Rarely does the debut of a new writer garner such attention & acclaim. The excitement began the moment “The Fourth State of Matter,” one of the fourteen extraordinary personal narratives in this book, appeared in the pages of the New Yorker. It increased when the author received a prestigious Whiting Foundation Award in November 1997, & it continued as the hardcover edition of The Boys of My Youth sold out its first printing even before publication. The author writes with perfect pitch as she takes us through one woman’s life – from childhood to marriage & beyond – & memorably captures the collision of youthful longing & the hard intransigences of time & fate.’

 

97803160133215. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
‘Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike’s deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person? David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of a vicious presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker at the annual Maine Lobster Festival, Wallace projects a quality of thought that is uniquely his and a voice as powerful and distinct as any in American letters.’

 

6. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
‘Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in “Notes of a Native Son “capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in The Harlem Ghetto to a sobering Journey to Atlanta. “Notes of a Native Son”inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright s work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise. “Notes” is the book that established Baldwin s voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin s own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.’

 

7. Naked by David Sedaris 9780349119779
‘A riotous collection of memoirs which explores the absurd hilarity of modern life and creates a wickedly incisive portrait of an all-too-familiar world. It takes Sedaris from his humiliating bout with obsessive behaviour in ‘A Plague of Tics’ to the title story, where he is finally forced to face his naked self in the company of lunatics. At this soulful and moving moment, he brushes cigarette ashes from his pubic hair and wonders what it all means. This remarkable journey into his own life follows a path of self-effacement and a lifelong search for identity leaving himself both under suspicion and over dressed.’

 

8. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
‘ Against Interpretation was Susan Sontag’s first collection of essays and made her name as one of the most incisive thinkers of our time. Sontag was among the first critics to write about the intersection between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, and to give them equal value as valid topics, shown here in her epoch-making pieces ‘Notes on Camp’ and ‘Against Interpretation’. Here too are impassioned discussions of Sartre, Camus, Simone Weil, Godard, Beckett, Levi-Strauss, science-fiction movies, psychoanalysis and contemporary religious thought. Originally published in 1966, this collection has never gone out of print and has been a major influence on generations of readers, and the field of cultural criticism, ever since.’

 

97801560277869. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
‘This is Virginia Woolf’s first collection of essays, published in 1925. In them, she attempts to see literature from the point of view of the ‘common reader’ – someone whom she, with Dr Johnson, distinguished from the critic and the scholar. She read, and wrote, as an outsider: a woman set to school in her father’s library, denied the educational privileges of her male siblings – and with no fixed view of what constitutes ‘English Literature’. What she produced is an eccentric and unofficial literary and social history from the fourteenth to the twentieth century, with an excursion to ancient Greece thrown in. She investigates medieval England, tsarist Russia, Elizabethan playwrights, Victorian novelists and modern essayists. When she published this book Woolf’s fame as a novelist was already established: now she was hailed as a brilliant interpretative critic. Here, she addresses her ‘common reader’ in the remarkable prose and with all the imagination and gaiety that are the stamp of her genius.’

 

10. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
‘In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard fixes her entrancing gaze and powerful sense of wonder on the natural world. Whether watching a sublime lunar eclipse or locking eyes with a wild weasel, Dillard captures the grand and miniature miracles of our universe. Annie Dillard is one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary non-fiction and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. With Teaching a Stone to Talk, she illuminates the world around us with a new and glowing light.’

 

11. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man by Henry Louis Gates Jr 9780679776666
‘In these stunning portraits of prominent black American men, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., takes us behind closed doors and into the lives, minds, and experiences of some remarkable people to reveal, through stories of individual lives, much about American society and race today. James Baldwin, Colin Powell, Harry Belafonte, Bill T. Jones, Louis Farrakhan, Anatole Broyard, Albert Murray – all these men came from modest circumstances and all achieved preeminence. These men and others speak of their lives with candor and intimacy, and what emerges from this portfolio of influential men is a strikingly varied and profound set of ideas about what it means to be a black man in America today.’

 

12. Otherwise Known as the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer
‘Geoff Dyer has earned the devotion of passionate fans on both sides of the Atlantic through his wildly inventive, romantic novels as well as several brilliant, uncategorizable works of nonfiction. All the while he has been writing some of the wittiest, most incisive criticism we have on an astonishing array of subjects music, literature, photography, and travel journalism that, in Dyer’s expert hands, becomes a kind of irresistible self-reportage. “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition “collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. Here he is pursuing the shadow of Camus in Algeria and remembering life on the dole in Brixton in the 1980s; reflecting on Richard Avedon and Ruth Orkin, on the status of jazz and the wonderous Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, on the sculptor ZadKine and the saxophonist David Murray (in the same essay), on his heroes Rebecca West and Ryszard Kapuscinski, on haute couture and sex in hotels. Whatever he writes about, his responses never fail to surprise. For Dyer there is no division between the reflective work of the critic and the novelist’s commitment to lived experience: they are mutually illuminating ways to sharpen our perceptions. His is the rare body of work that manages to both frame our world and enlarge it.’

 

13. Art and Ardor by Cynthia Ozick
‘Among the pieces included in this collection of wide-ranging essays are two extended essays on Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf and analyses of the work of contemporaries including Updike and Capote.’

 

978081668079514. No More Nice Girls by Ellen Willis
‘With characteristic intelligence, wit, and feminist insight, Ellen Willis addresses democracy as she sees it: a commitment to individual freedom and egalitarian self-government in every area of social, economic, and cultural life. Moving between scholarly and down-to-earth activist writing styles, Willis confronts the conservative backlash that has slowly eroded democratic ideals and advances of the 1960s as well as the internal debates that have frequently splintered the left.’

 

15. The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis
‘Like John Updike, Martin Amis is the pre-eminent novelist-critic of his generation. The War Against Cliche is a selection of his reviews and essays over the past quarter-century. It contains pieces on Cervantes, Milton, Donne, Coleridge, Jane Austen, Dickens, Kafka, Philip Larkin, Joyce, Waugh, Lowry, Nabokov, F. R. Leavis, V. S. Pritchett, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, Angus Wilson, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Shiva and V. S. Naipaul, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Don DeLillo, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Thomas Harris – and John Updike. Other subjects include chess, nuclear weapons, masculinity, screen censorship, juvenile violence, Andy Warhol, Hillary Clinton, and Margaret Thatcher.’

 

16. Cultural Amnesia by Clive James 9780330481755
‘Organized from A through Z, and containing over 100 essays, Cultural Amnesia is the ultimate guide to the twentieth century. ‘This is a beautiful book. James proves himself not only to be in possession of a towering intellect, but a singular ability to communicate his passions’ Observer ‘Witty, insightful and unashamedly erudite, the book is a superb miscellany of 20th-century cultural and political subjects’ The Sunday Times ‘Over the past forty years James has been scribbling notes in the margins of the books he has read …and this is the result.’

 

17. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
‘Academy Award-winning screenwriter and director Nora Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally”, “Heartburn”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “You’ve Got Mail”) turns her sharp wit on to her own life. It includes: Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from; if the shoe doesn’t fit in the shoe store, it’s never going to fit; when your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you; anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for by the age of forty-five; the empty nest is underrated; and if only one third of your clothes are mistakes, you’re ahead of the game.’

 

978085789258418. Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
‘Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a matchless writer, debater and humanist. Throughout his life he shone the light of reason and truth into the eyes of charlatans and hucksters, exposing falsehood and decrying hypocrisy wherever he found it. With his passing, the world has lost a great soul, the written word one of its finest advocates and those who stand for freedom everywhere have lost one of their clearest voices. Arguably collects Hitchens’ writing on politics, literature and religion when he was at the zenith of his career; it is the indispensible companion to the finest English essayist since Orwell.’

 

19. The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Erlich
‘Writing of hermits, cowboys, changing seasons, and the wind, Ehrlich draws us into her personal relationship with this “planet of Wyoming” she has come to call home. She captures the incredible beauty and the demanding harshness of natural forces in these remote reaches of the West, and the depth, tenderness and humor of the quirky souls who live there.Ehrlich, a former filmmaker and urbanite, presents in these essays a fresh and vibrant tribute to the new life she has chosen.’

 

20. The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders 9781594482564
‘The breakout book from “the funniest writer in America”–not to mention an official “Genius”–his first nonfiction collection ever. George Saunders’s first foray into nonfiction is comprised of essays on literature, travel, and politics. At the core of this unique collection are Saunders’s travel essays based on his trips to seek out the mysteries of the “Buddha Boy” of Nepal; to attempt to indulge in the extravagant pleasures of Dubai; and to join the exploits of the minutemen at the Mexican border. Saunders expertly navigates the works of Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Esther Forbes, and leads the reader across the rocky political landscape of modern America. Emblazoned with his trademark wit and singular vision, Saunders’s endeavor into the art of the essay is testament to his exceptional range and ability as a writer and thinker. ‘

 

21. Against Joie de Vivre by Philippe Lopate
‘This rejoinder to the cult of hedonism and forced conviviality moves from a critique of the false sentimentalization of children and the elderly to a sardonic look at the social rite of the dinner party, on to a moving personal testament to the “hungry soul.” Lopate’s special gift is his ability to give us not only sophisticated cultural commentary in a dazzling collection of essays but also to bring to his subjects an engaging honesty and openness that invite us to experience the world along with him. Also included here are Lopate’s inspiring account of his production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with a group of preadolescents, a look at the tradition of the personal essay, and a soul-searching piece on the suicide of a schoolteacher and its effect on his students and fellow teachers. By turns humorous, learned, celebratory, and elegiac, Lopate displays a keen intelligence and a flair for language that turn bits of common, everyday life into resonant narrative. This collection maintains a conversational charm while taking the contemporary personal essay to a new level of complexity and candor.’

 

978160358337422. Sex and the River Styx by Edward Hoagland
‘Called the best essayist of his time by luminaries like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Edward Abbey, Edward Hoagland brings readers his ultimate collection. In Sex and the River Styx, the author’s sharp eye and intense curiosity shine through in essays that span his childhood exploring the woods in his rural Connecticut, his days as a circus worker, and his travels the world over in his later years. Here, we meet Hoagland at his best: traveling to Kampala, Uganda, to meet a family he’d been helping support only to find a divide far greater than he could have ever imagined; reflecting on aging, love, and sex in a deeply personal, often surprising way; and bringing us the wonder of wild places, alongside the disparity of losing them, and always with a twist that brings the genre of nature writing to vastly new heights. His keen dissection of social realities and the human spirit will both startle and lure readers as they meet African matriarchs, Tibetan yak herders, circus aerialists, and the strippers who entertained college boys in 1950s Boston. Says Howard Frank Mosher in his foreword, the self-described rhapsodist “could fairly be considered our last, great transcendentalist.’

 

23. Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith
‘Changing My Mind is a collection of essays by Zadie Smith on literature, cinema, art – and everything in between. ‘A supremely good read. Smith writes about reading and writing with such infectious zeal and engaging accessibility that it makes you want to turn up at her house and demand tutoring’ Dazed and Confused ‘Alarmingly good’ Metro ‘Striding with open hearted zest and eloquence between fiction (from EM Forster to David Foster Wallace) and travel, movies and comedy, family and community in a self-portrait that charts the evolution of a formidable talent. In lovely elegiac pieces on her late father Harvey, D-Day veteran and Tony Hancock fan, Smith also delivers some of the most affecting autobiographical writing in any form’ – Independent, Books of the Year ‘Brilliant. She’s friendly and conspiratorial, voicing the kind of clever theories we could imagine ourselves holding if only we were as articulate as Zadie Smith’ – Vogue ‘Fascinating. Smith has the gift of showing you how she reads and thinks; watching her do it makes you feel smarter and more observant. Her account of her struggles as an author may be the most authentic, unglamorous description of novel-writing ever put on paper’ – Time’

 

24. My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum 9781250067654
‘Meghan Daum is one of the most celebrated nonfiction writers of her generation, widely recognised for her fresh, provocative approach with which she unearths the hidden fault lines in the American landscape. From her well-remembered New Yorker essays about the financial demands of big city ambition and the ethereal, strangely old fashioned allure of cyber relationships to her dazzlingly hilarious riff in Harper’s about musical passions that give way to middle brow paraphernalia, Daum delves into the center of things while closely examining the detritus that spills out along the way. With precision and well balanced irony, Daum implicates herself as readily as she does the targets that fascinate and horrify her.’

 

25. The White Album by Joan Didion
‘First published in 1979, The White Album records indelibly the upheavals and aftermaths of the 1960s. Examining key events, figures, and trends of the era including Charles Manson, the Black Panthers, and the shopping mall through the lens of her own spiritual confusion, Joan Didion helped to define mass culture as we now understand it. Written with a commanding sureness of tone and linguistic precision, The White Album is a central text of American reportage and a classic of American autobiography.’

 

How many of these collections have you read?  Which pique your interest the most?  Which are your favourite essay collections?

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Women on the Page: Then, Now, and Next

I often find blogging inspiration at unlikely times.  The idea for this post – Women on the Page – came when I was researching Virginia Woolf’s essays for my dissertation, and stumbled across the aforementioned pages on the Penguin website.  I thought that I would take the opportunity to note down the books suggested (all Penguin publications, it goes without saying), and then ask your fine selves which books by women would make your lists of Then, Now, and Next.

Then: exploring and rediscovering the classics from some of our most revered, erstwhile scribes…

  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin cover-jpg-rendition-242-374
  • The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
  • Collected Stories by Clarice Lispector
  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Youcenar
  • The Collected Dorothy Parker
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
  • Tove Jansson: Work and Love by Tuula Karjalainen
  • On Photography by Susan Sontag
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
  • French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  • Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter

 

Now: from modern classics to contemporary favourites, explore some of the most inspiring female writers around…

  • cover-jpg-rendition-242-3741How to be both by Ali Smith
  • Is Shame Necessary? by Jennifer Jacquet
  • Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, et al.
  • The Unloved by Deborah Levy
  • The End of the Story by Lydia Davis
  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka
  • Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton
  • Age Sex Location by Melissa Pimentel
  • The Embassy of Cambodia by Zadie Smith
  • Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
  • The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
  • Looking Glass Girl by Cathy Cassidy
  • The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes

 

Next: looking to the next generation of fantastic, pen-wielding women…

  • Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller cover-jpg-rendition-242-3742
  • Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
  • Made in India by Meera Sodha
  • Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe
  • Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
  • Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
  • Half Wild by Sally Green
  • Half Bad by Sally Green
  • Gods and Kings by Dana Thomas
  • Thrown by Kerry Howley

 

 

Which of these have you read, and which would you recommend?  Which books by women would make your lists?

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‘100 Books to Read in a Lifetime’: The List

I do not base my reading upon lists for the most part, but I stumbled across the following list – entitled ‘100 Books to Read in a Lifetime’ – whilst browsing Amazon for a list of new book releases.  As something a little different, I thought I would type out the list and then highlight those books from it which I have read thus far.  I have also added a corresponding star rating.

  1. The Tale of Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter *****
  2. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson *****
  3. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen *****
  4. The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Judith Kerr *****
  5. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne *****
  6. The Enchanted Wood – Enid Blyton *****
  7. The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy *****
  8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl *****
  9. The Story of Tracy Beaker – Jacqueline Wilson *****
  10. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian *****
  11. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  12. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling *****
  13. Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer **
  14. Stormbreaker – Anthony Horowitz
  15. Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
  16. I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith *****
  17. Lord of the Flies – William Golding *****
  18. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne *****
  19. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend ****
  20. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank *****
  21. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott ****
  22. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee *****
  23. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  24. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck *****
  25. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald *****
  26. The Hound of the Baskervilles  – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ****
  27. Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy ****
  28. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley *****
  29. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen *****
  30. The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde *****
  31. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sachs
  32. The Hare with Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal ****
  33. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
  34. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carre
  35. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  36. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie **
  37. Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson ****
  38. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle
  39. Schindler’s Ark – Thomas Keneally **
  40. Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin
  41. Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
  42. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte ****
  43. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens ***
  44. The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot ****
  45. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  46. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien *****
  47. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood ***
  49. The Stand – Stephen King
  50. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells **
  51. The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett *
  52. Watchmen – Alan Moore
  53. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams ***
  54. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
  55. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
  56. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini *****
  57. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
  58. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby ****
  59. Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding ****
  60. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak *****
  61. White Teeth – Zadie Smith **
  62. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  63. American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
  64. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje *
  65. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  66. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  67. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver ****
  68. The Secret History – Donna Tartt ****
  69. Never Let Me Go – Kazoo Ishiguro ****
  70. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks ****
  71. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson *
  72. Last Orders – Graham Swift
  73. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes ****
  74. Dissolution – C.J. Sansom
  75. London Fields – Martin Amis
  76. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson ****
  77. 1984 – George Orwell ****
  78. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  79. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote *****
  80. Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee ****
  81. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov ***
  82. Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
  83. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway ****
  84. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh ****
  85. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene
  86. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier *****
  87. Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  88. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque *****
  89. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf *****
  90. My Man Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
  91. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt
  92. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
  93. Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  94. Wild Swans – Jung Chang ****
  95. London – Peter Ackroyd
  96. Venice – Jan Morris
  97. Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
  98. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
  99. A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil Macgregor
  100. Bad Science – Ben Goldacre

Which books from the list have you read, and which are your favourites?  How do you think this list – compiled by Amazon and Goodreads users – compares to others?

14

Books I Am Looking Forward To

I have been very much enjoying blog posts which talk about forthcoming books for 2015, and thought that it was high time that I created my own list.  I have not solely focused upon books which are being released this year; instead, I have chosen twelve which I am aiming to read during 2015, and which I am very much looking forward to.

1. The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth – I was drawn to this after reading Lizzi’s wonderful review.  It sounds like an enchanting read.

2. Maus by Art Spiegelman – I have been meaning to read Maus for years, but have oddly never been able to find a copy.  Luckily my library has come to the rescue, and I hope to be reading it soon.

3. Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy – I very much enjoyed Wildwood when I read it last year, and found that Meloy’s words and Ellis’ illustrations went perfectly together.  I’m not usually a reader of series, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the tale will continue.

4. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll – I have heard nothing but great things about this graphic novel, and it looks to have been beautifully designed.  For me, it looks as though it will tick a lot of boxes.

5. Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill – The lovely Kaggsy from KaggsysBookishRamblings is very kindly sending me a copy of this.  I’ve heard great things about it, and can’t wait to get stuck in!

6. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – I purchased this last year, and as Lahiri is one of my favourite authors, I am so looking forward to engrossing myself within it.  It only sweetens the deal that I am reading it alongside one of my dear friends.

7. City of Women by David Gillham – One of Lizzi’s top 5 books of 2014.  I love a good historical novel – particularly those set within the Second World War – and its premise sounds fabulous.

8. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – There is a lot of hype around the Internet about this novel at present, and it looks as though it deserves it.  Anything about memory fascinates me, and I can’t wait to delve into this one.

9. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt – Having so enjoyed The Secret History (review here) and The Goldfinch, I feel that it is about time I read Tartt’s second novel too.

10. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a fabulous Hilary Mantel novel collection on Christmas day, and feel that Wolf Hall is going to go straight onto my love list.

11. The Beach by Alex Garland – Another which I have wanted to read for a while and haven’t yet got around to.  Abbie’s great review of this last year has made me want to pick it up sooner rather than later.

12. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot – This is a novel which I feel I should have already read.  I am going to be reading it as part of a readalong with the lovely TurnedHerBrain on YouTube in March, and can’t wait to discuss it!

Which of these have you read, and which books are you most looking forward to reading this year?

10

Joining the Classics Club

I have been thinking of joining the Classics Club for quite a while now, and have finally got around to making a list.  I was originally going to go for fifty books, but I have upped the number to one hundred because I found it so hard to narrow down.

When making my list, I took into account books which I already own, either in physical or ebook format, and those which I can check out from the library.  I have included eight re-reads in my list, and a few ‘modern classics’ too.  I have tried to include all genres – fiction, children’s, poetry, non-fiction, and even a graphic novel nestle amongst my choices.  I have also included several books from the Virago and Persephone lists to tie the challenges together.  I am beginning the challenge as of now, and am aiming to finish it by the 31st of December 2015.  I will be updating the list as and when I read the books on my newly created ‘Classics Club’ page, and will link the reviews there too.

My list is as follows:

1. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
2. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein
3. The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
5. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
6. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
7. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
8. The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky
9. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
10. Romola – George Eliot
11. Medea – Euripides
12. The Sound and The Fury – William Faulkner
13. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
14. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
15. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
16. The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy
17. Les Miserables, Volume II – Victor Hugo
18. What Maisie Knew – Henry James
19. Death in Venice – Thomas Mann
20. Suddenly Last Summer – Tennessee Williams
21. A View From the Bridge – Arthur Miller
22. Rilla of Ingleside – L.M. Montgomery
23. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
24. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
25. Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger
26. Poetry – Sappho
27. Antigone – Sophocles
28. East of Eden – John Steinbeck
29. The Pearl – John Steinbeck
30. Tortilla Flat – John Steinbeck
31. Sweet Thursday – John Steinbeck
32. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien
33. Someone at a Distance – Dorothy Whipple
34. We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
35. Nana – Emile Zola
36. The Rainbow – D.H. Lawrence
37. Watership Down – Richard Adams
38. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
39. The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
40. Eugene Onegin – Alexander Pushkin
41. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
42. Kristin Lavransdatter – Sigrid Undset
43. The Kalevala – Elias Lonnrott
44. Effi Briest – Theodor Fontane
45. Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley
46. Blindness – Henry Green
47. Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Doblin
48. Independent People – Halldor Laxness
49. A Sicilian Romance – Ann Radcliffe
50. Babylon Revisited – F. Scott Fitzgerald
51. The Beetle – Richard Marsh
52. Disturbing the Peace – Richard Yates
53. Living – Henry Green
54. Cold Spring Harbor – Richard Yates
55. The Beautiful and Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald
56. Save Me the Waltz – Zelda Fitzgerald
57. The Mystery of the Yellow Room – Zelda Fitzgerald
58. The Birds Fall Down – Rebecca West
59. Novel on Yellow Paper – Stevie Smith
60. The Life of Charlotte Bronte – Elizabeth Gaskell
61. Maude – Christina Rossetti
62. Saplings – Noel Streatfeild
63. Maus – Art Spiegelman
64. Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke
65. Poetry – Rainer Maria Rilke
66. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar – Edgar Allan Poe
67. The Clergyman’s Daughter – George Orwell
68. Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates
69. Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
70. Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
71. Ann Veronica – H.G. Wells
72. Mary Olivier: A Life – May Sinclair
73. Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther – Elizabeth von Arnim
74. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon
75. The Group – Mary McCarthy
76. The Cossacks – Leo Tolstoy
77. The Kreutzer Sonata – Leo Tolstoy
78. Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy
79. Mother – Maxim Gorky
80. Heidi – Johanna Spyri
81. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew – Margaret Sidney
82. Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory
83. The Prince – Niccolo Macchiavelli
84. The Histories – Herodotus
85. Octavia – Seneca
86. Barnaby Rudge – Charles Dickens
87. The Bell Family – Noel Streatfeild
88. Black Mischief – Evelyn Waugh
89. The Giver – Lois Lowry
90. Greenmantle – John Buchan
91. The Machine Stops – E.M. Forster
92. Stoner – John Williams

Re-reads:
93. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
94. Howards End – E.M. Forster
95. Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka
96. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
97. Collected Poems – Alfred Lord Tennyson
98. The Bacchae – Euripides
99. Daisy Miller – Henry James
100. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

 

Are you a member of the Classics Club?  What do you think of my choices?  Do we have any on our lists in common?

3

Five Great… Novels (A-B)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“The limits of fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world are defined by the high walls of her family estate and the dictates of her fanatically religious father. Her life is regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, prayer. When Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved mysteriously in the political crisis, sends her to live with her aunt. In this house, noisy and full of laughter, she discovers life and love – and a terrible, bruising secret deep within her family.”

2. Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
“Lucy Entwhistle’s beloved father has just died, and aged twenty-two, she finds herself alone in the world. Leaning against her garden gate, dazed and unhappy, she is disturbed by the sudden appearance of the perspiring Mr Wemyss. This middle-aged man is also in mourning – for his wife, Vera, who has died in mysterious circumstances. Before Lucy can collect herself, Mr Wemyss has taken charge: of the funeral arrangements, of her kind Aunt Dot, but most of all of Lucy herself, body and soul. ”

3. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
“Truly Plaice – part behemoth, part witch, part Cinderella – is born larger than life into a small-minded town. Her birth rocks the pillars of tiny Aberdeen, New York, and breaks her family into smithereens. She spends a painful childhood in the shadow of her older sister Serena’s beauty, and is teased mercilessly for her enormous physique. But when Serena unexpectedly vanishes and leaves her son in Truly’s care, Truly must become mistress of a house she did not choose and the unwilling victim of her brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Morgan. Once her childhood tormentor, he now subjects her to brutal criticism and cruel medical experiments that test her endurance past breaking point – but Truly may have more power than he realises…”

4. Devil by the Sea by Nina Bawden
“‘The first time the children saw the Devil, he was sitting next to them in the second row of deckchairs in the bandstand. He was biting his nails.’ So begins the horrifying story of a madman loose in a small seaside town- his prey the very young and the very old. Seen through the eyes of Hilary- a precocious, highly imaginative, lonely child- it is a chilling story about the perceptiveness of children, the blindness of parents and the allure of strangers. As the adults carry on with their own grown-up capers, Hilary is led further and further into the twilight world of one man’s terrifyingly warped view of normal life. But will she have the sense to resist it?”

5. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
“When Rose Campbell, a shy orphan, arrives at “The Aunt Hill” to live with her six aunts and seven boisterous male cousins, she is quite overwhelmed. How could such a delicate young lady, used to the quiet hallways of a girls’ boarding school, exist in such a spirited home? It is the arrival of Uncle Alec that changes everything. Much to the horror of her aunts, Rose’s forward-thinking uncle insists that the child get out of the parlor and into the sunshine. And with a little courage and lots of adventures with her mischievous but loving cousins, Rose begins to bloom. Written by the beloved author of “Little Women,” “Eight Cousins” is a masterpiece of children’s literature. This endearing novel offers readers of all ages an inspiring story about growing up, making friends, and facing life with strength and kindness.”

Purchase from The Book Depository