An end of week recap
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”
– Oscar Wilde
This is a weekly post in which I summarise books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the nightstand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.
* Lit Crit Blogflash *
I am going to share with you three of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it is difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:
The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea – This “beautifully written” Second World War love story set in the Orkney Islands is presented “from several different perspectives”, says Helen from She Reads Novels. Lea’s descriptions of “the landscape, the sea, the people and the Orcadian folklore […] are atmospheric and vivid”. It is somewhere the reviewer has “never been” but after reading this historical novel with its “beautiful cover”, she feels sure it must be a “fascinating” place.
On Cats – Over at Necromancy Never Pays, Jeanne Griggs shares her thoughts on Doris Lessing’s classic memoir about “cats she has known.” Lessing has “spent time looking at cats and really seeing them” and “is particularly fond of the most difficult” individuals. Comprising three pieces, the first “published in 1967,” On Cats focuses on the felines of which Lessing was especially enamoured. “If you love cats,” says Jeanne, “you’ll enjoy these essays.”
Half Life by Jillian Cantor – “This novel based on the life of Marie Curie is one that ponders upon the question ‘what if’”, writes Nirmala from Red Lips and Bibliomaniacs of Cantor’s recently published Half Life. The book takes [a] pivotal moment” in the Polish-French physicist’s history and reveals how it “unfolded in reality”. Nirmala finds the story a “fascinating take” on the way individual choices alter the future and sometimes affect our personal contributions to society.
* Irresistible Items *
Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to my Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:
Public Books: Who Gets to be a Writer? – Despite welcome diversification, literary culture is also becoming more tied to elite educational institutions, and more difficult to enter.
BBC News: Emilia Clarke on the book that helped her to grieve for her dad – “Of the many books the Game of Thrones star read during lockdown, one in particular changed the way she thought not only about life, but about death too: Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told? by the late essayist and novelist Jenny Diski.”
Aeon: Shameful – “Women who write about their pain suffer a double shaming: once for getting injured, twice for their act of self-exposure”, says Katherine Angel.
Poetry Foundation: The Woman Who Came In From the Night – Porochista Khakpour looks at Revolt Against the Sun, a new volume introducing “English-language readers to the trailblazing Iraqi poet Nazik al-Mala’ika.”
The Atlantic: The Dark Side of the Houseplant Boom – American culture is becoming more and more preoccupied with nature”, says Megan Garber, but “what if all the celebrations of the wild world are actually manifestations of grief?” she wonders.
The Guardian: Book sales jump a third in first week of bookshops reopening in England and Wales – “Booksellers report giddy customers browsing and smelling books, with 3.7m print books shifted in first week after lockdown”.
AARP: 3 New Books About Memory — and Keeping It Sharp – Caroline Leavitt suggests three new titles about “staving off dementia” and “the mysteries of Alzheimer’s”.
Thrillist: The World’s Oldest LGBTQ Bookstore Is Still a Toronto Icon – “And in normal times, they throw the best dance parties in the city”, reveals Vanita Salisbury.
NPR: ‘The Souvenir Museum’ Is An Exhibit To Savor – Heller McAlpin says Elizabeth McCracken’s new story collection, The Souvenir Museum, “dazzles with verbal flexibility, insight and feeling, capturing the oddities and mixed bags, the loves and losses that make up most people’s lives.”
The Paris Review: A Kind of Packaged Aging Process – In this excerpt from Allegorizings, Jan Morris describes boarding a Mediterranean cruise and discovering the geriatric passengers are livelier than expected.
Tor.com: To Survive a Year of Covid, Indie Booksellers Had To Reimagine What it Means To Be a Bookstore – “This past year has been an unprecedented challenge for physical bookstores”. Charlie Jane Anders looks at some of the ways in which owners kept their “relationship with their communities alive during social distancing and lockdowns.”
Intellectual Freedom Blog: From Zora Neale Hurston’s “What White Publishers Won’t Print” (1950) TO #PublishingPaid Me (2020) – “Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) wrote What White Publishers Won’t Print in 1950. Seventy years later, #PublishingPaidMe exposed what we now know as the disparity of publishers’ pay advances to Black writers compared to White writers”, finds Sabine Jean Dantus.
Cabinet: The Enemy as Sociologist – Sara Krolewski examines “American exceptionalism as diagnosed by the Nazi propaganda magazine Signal”.
LA Review of Books: “My Darling Oscar”: A Forgotten Letter by Oscar Wilde’s Lover Harbors Another Secret – Ulrich Baer dives into the archives to inspect a letter from Lord Alfred Douglas to Oscar Wilde.
Evening Standard: The Pursuit of Love: Why are we still so obsessed with the Mitford sisters? – “As Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love comes to the BBC, [Jessie Thompson] look at how the legacy of the Mitford sisters continues to fascinate”.
History Today: Raise Your Words – Paul Lay looks back at The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, a “classic work of history, now 20 years old, [which] reminds us of the power of continuing education for all.”
The Mit Press Reader: The Eldritch Roots of Dungeons & Dragons: Jon Peterson and Peter Bebergal In Conversation – “Two D&D experts discuss the influences on the world’s most popular role-playing game, from pulp magazines to fantasy fiction.”
The Guardian Australia: Want to write the great Australian novel? You need to engage with Indigenous Australia first – “First Nations people are in every part of [ Anita Heiss’s] country – physically, spiritually, socially and politically. A novel set in Australia must acknowledge that”, insists the author of Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray.
Den of Geek: Chinese-Inspired Fantasy Books That Reframe Familiar Fairy Tales – Alana Joli Abbott discovers that titles such as When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, Burning Roses and These Violent Delights “make fairy tales familiar to Western audiences new again by incorporating Chinese history.”
Penguin: The prescience of Jay Griffiths – “Before making headlines with her Extinction Rebellion court case speech in 2020, Jay Griffiths spent decades trying to change the narrative around climate change. It is just one aspect of a visionary writing career, which [continued last] month with essay collection Why Rebel, finds Alice Vincent.
The Irish Times: A sense of justice forms the conditions for literary pleasure. Suspense is ethics – “Isobel Wohl, author of Cold New Climate, on ambiguity and transgression in fiction”.
Shondaland: Vivian Gornick Wants Men and Women to See Themselves as Equal Creatures – The celebrated New York critic, memoirist and feminist talks to Hope Reese about second-wave feminism, feminism today and the work still to be done.
The Walrus: Adding Colour to the Romance Genre – “When historical romance novels focus solely on white leads, it sends a message about whom the industry thinks is deserving of love”, says Zeahaa Rehman.
Prospect: The northern literary rebellion – “How regional publishers are paving the path for working-class writers”.
Guernica: Elissa Washuta: “Living inside this empire is all that I will ever have.” – “The essayist on her new book, White Magic, and turning obsession into research.”
iNews: DJ and children’s author Vick Hope: ‘I’ve read 74 books in four months. I’m delirious’ – “The Women’s Prize for Fiction judge talks about grit, Che Guevara and feeling connected to the heroine of Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.”
Russian Art & Culture: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: Review – In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, George Saunders dissects seven masterful Russian short stories.
Literary Hub: A Secret Feminist History of the Oxford English Dictionary – The Dictionary of Lost Words is Pip Williams’ “alternate story of the English language”.
Scroll.in: In a Mumbai slum, a library for children is battling the second wave as single-mindedly as the first – On a visit to The Next Page library in Mumbai’s Shivaji Nagar, Isha Gopal finds it “undaunted by the pandemic.”
Tablet: The Yid and Yang of Poet Charles Bernstein – For Poetry Month in April, Jeremy Sigler shares “a series of encounters with the homely, octopuslike demystifier of verse”.
1843 Magazine: Ian Rankin: doing a jigsaw is like investigating a murder – “Puzzles help the Scottish novelist piece together the world”, finds Simon Willis.
The Guardian: Honkaku: a century of the Japanese whodunnits keeping readers guessing – “These fiendishly clever mystery novels have spawned pop culture icons, anime and a museum. And, best of all, honkaku plays fair – you have the clues to solve the crime”, writes Caroline Crampton.
The Drift: Fiction Detective – Sophie Haigney on “literary citation and search engine sleuthing”.
Quill & Quire: Cole Pauls – “Cole Pauls’s work is inspired by ’80s and ’90s comic strips, punk rock, and his own Tahltan heritage”, finds Andrew Woodrow-Butcher.
Middle East Eye: How Shakespeare’s works challenge colonialism – “Against the running motif of deliverance through colonisation, Shakespeare presents redemption in dismantling the colony”, suggests Ahmed D Dardir.
BBC Leeds & West Yorkshire: Cornholme erotic books note attacks ‘cesspit’ Hebden Bridge – “A small village became the unlikely centre of attention after a resident apparently took offence at erotic fiction in its mini-library.”
If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.
NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there is an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.
Categories: Winding Up the Week