Listening to some great radio programmes on Orwell’s 1984 archived by BBC 4 from earlier in the year as prep for tonight’s Classic Bookclub.
Find episodes of The Real George Orwell here.
Listening to some great radio programmes on Orwell’s 1984 archived by BBC 4 from earlier in the year as prep for tonight’s Classic Bookclub.
Find episodes of The Real George Orwell here.
As well as my ambitious reading plans for my 2013, I’m doing a bit of ‘tidying up’. When I say ‘tidying up’, I mean ‘reading all those books I started but never finished.’ I’m not one of those people who just throw a book across a room halfway through reading it because they hate it/find it boring/have higher standards when it comes to literature and move on with their lives. I like to start and finish a book, and then say I hate it/found it sooooo boring/that is not literature!
The books that I haven’t finished hover over me in my mind and haunt me, flapping their unread pages at me in mocking disgust. The biggest of these spectres is James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve pretty much read it, including the naughty bits and the bits I needed for the seminar I had to go to. And for the essay I wrote about it. Pretty much the whole thing. But not quite. And I always said that the on thing I wanted to get out of an English degree was to have read Ulysses.
The other considerable source of unfinished reading is the pile of self-improvement-type books that I am always ordering at work. This includes guides and introductions to: teaching, better eating, quilting, gardening, better grammar, US politics, writing tips and being a PhD student. In fairness, many of these are kind of dip-into books and not necessarily intended to be read cover-to-cover. But that didn’t stop be from embarking on them with those very same intentions, only to get distracted halfway through and wander over to another book and start reading that. So there’s those.
Any book we read is in some ways a gesture toward some kind of self-improvement. Lots of people write ‘Read More Books’ on their list of New Year’s resolutions for this very reason. This is why people read classics; to satisfy that voice in your head that says: ‘Ah yes, I should read that.’ And hey, I’m not arguing with that. Reading books makes you a better person. Fact. Its a problematic statement, to be sure, and it depends what you’re reading (Hey, I never said I wasn’t a book snob) but there are literally millions of amazing, informative, revelatory, life-changing books out there.
Which leads me to another looming tome: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. That book has been on my bedside table for about five years now. I’ve put it down and then picked it up again months later so repeatedly that I like to think of it as a kind of bible. Not content-wise. Just in its role as bedtime book (the bit about cell division is great for knocking yourself out with) cum dust-gathering mug plinth.
Then there’s all those work and research related books that I told myself I should read in full but mostly just read until I found the right quote, got the jist or discovered I had to read seventeen other books that same day and so put it in the pile.
Ah, the pile. Every book lover has one. Many have several. I’ve turned my piles into a game by listing them on the website Goodreads and categorising them. Great stuff. So anyway, I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be the year where I DO SOMETHING about this, tackle the problem HEAD ON and READ MORE BOOKS.
Wish me luck!
Last year, I made a new year’s resolution: read a book by Dickens. And I did! For our Classic Bookclub meeting last March, I and several others, discussed our experiences of reading Hard Times. I found that some of things said about Dickens’ work were true. Hard Times was both sentimental but at times, hilariously funny. Not that it’s meant to be. But with characters like Mr Gradgrind and Mr M’Choakumchild ramming cold hard facts down everybody’s throats, its hard not to giggle. And the female characters were a little limp in parts. But I was moved by Dickens’ clear concern for the downtrodden and disempowered. The whole thing left me wishing I’d chosen something else of his to read, apparently this was one of his weaker works. But whatever, I’d read a whole Dickens!
So under the influence of this staggering triumph, this year’s reading resolutions are far more ambitious! I will read ANOTHER DICKENS! Maybe even Great Expectations!
But not only this, I will have a go at a few more of those ‘authors I’ve been meaning to read’. So this year’s book diet will go something like this:
One book by John Steinbeck, maybe Grapes of Wrath, since everybody says it’s ‘amazing’. I haven’t even read Of Mice and Men. Tut tut.
One book by Thomas Hardy. I tried to read Jude the Obscure some time when when I was under 20, and it didn’t work. But I’m ready for you now, Mr Hardy…
Another book by George Orwell. I’ve done Animal Farm. And at Uni, I read and very much enjoyed – without at all expecting to – The Road to Wigan Pier. So it’s time for 1984 methinks. Or maybe Down and Out in Paris and London.
Another book by James Joyce. I’ve read The Dubliners. And I’ve read Ulysses (OK, I haven’t, I didn’t finish it. But I did read the beginning – repeatedly-, some of the middle, and most of the end. I’ll be taking care of this – see my next post). So now its time to read the lovely copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that’s been sitting on my shelf for years.
One copy of Middlemarch by George Eliot. As a student of feminism and fan of women in general, I really should have read this one already. For shame!
And that’s it. Don’t give me any more books to read for the rest of the year, OK?
A number of my close friends, and indeed readers of Nomad News, may be aware of my recent return to a childhood love for all things nature. Particularly furry, mammaly, ottery things. In her recent book, Otter Country, Miriam Darlington talks about the origins of her otter passion, specifically citing Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter and Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water, which she read as a child. Roger Deakin similarly mentions both books in his wonderful memoir Waterlog, about his journey around Britain via its ponds, streams, pools, lakes, rivers and seas.
I’ve never read either book, but I have seen the film adaptation of Ring of Bright Water. In fact, I think we had it on video when I was a kid, so I think I watched it over and over and over. Darlington and Deakin’s books got me thinking about other children’s books that I’d missed out on and led me to investigate other reads that might still retain those elements of wonder and enjoyment for a more mature audience. There are a few obvious classics: William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; Tolkein’s The Hobbit; Alice and Wonderland of course. This crossing over from the children’s section into adult fiction is just as common today. Remember all those grown-ups on the tube with their adult versions of Harry Potter? The one with the very grown-up steam train on it, in the mature hues of black and and white? I do. And obviously there’s Twilight and The Hunger Games.
What I was looking for were books like Tarka; those books which revel in that special fascination that animals hold for us when we are children. I’d had a book of Animals Tales as a child, but I’d never read The Jungle Book or Wind in the Willows. So for the theme for the choices for the next Classic Bookclub will be books about furry and wild things. Starting with Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson. Further options to follow, so watch this space.
It’s Sunday morning and I’m watching an Asian short-clawed otter munch on some shrimps while her sisters frolic about her, searching for more fish. I’m at the London Wetlands centre in Barnes and it is feeding time at the otter enclosure. The family of otters, all of them sisters, arrived at the centre about six months ago, and are unsurprisingly, its top attraction, aside from the many species of migrating waders and wildfowls that stop by throughout the year. I’m here primarily because of a book. Or more specifically, a series of books, that have taken me from armchair nature-lover to budding otter fancier and all-round wild enthusiast.
It started with a book called Deep Country by Niel Ansell. It called to me from the shelf; deep country sounded like something I would be interested in. ‘The subtitle, ‘Five Years in the Welsh Hills’ sounded even better. And on its cover, it whispered to me: ‘I lived alone in this cottage for five years, summer and winter […]. This is the story of those five years, where I lived and how I lived….it is the story of the hidden places that I came to call my own, and the wild creatures that became my society.’ The bit about wild creatures was especially appealing. Well reader, I read it. And I enjoyed it very much. Dipping into Ansell’s story was a bit like submerging my head under water, or perhaps more aptly, plunging into a dense woodland: things became quiet, and all I could hear was the sound of the birds and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees.
Having dipped my toe in, I wanted more. I chanced upon a copy of Kathleen Jaime’s Sightlines. I was faintly aware of her work generating breathless, gushing praise, mostly based on her previous book Findings. I jumped in. I took Sightlines with me on a holiday up the Highlands, which turned out to be a very good idea indeed and I impressed people with, among other things, my new-found knowledge of the mysterious isle of St Kilda, uninhabited since the 1930s.
Not long after, I brazenly picked up Annie Proulx’s Birdcloud, a fascinating blend of memoir, social history and a Grand Designs style account of Proulx’s attempt to build her dream home. I’d always wanted to read one of her books, having a keen interest in the old frontier landscapes against which many of her novels are set. Birdcloud, the home she builds on a remote piece of land in Wyoming, is surrounded by the elements, battered by the wind, engulfed in snow during the winter and menaced by wandering cattle. But Proulx is also haunted by the place’s previous occupants: Native American tribes, immigrant settlers and once-predominant wildlife.
By this point I was well-primed, making my meeting with one particular book destined to be true love at first sight. I had first heard about the poet Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country while scoping out soon to be published titles at work. So it was on my radar. But it wasn’t until a copy arrived in the bookshop that my fate was sealed. Not your standard hardback size, it was a bit squarer, a bit squat, much like an otter perhaps, making it all the more endearing. The otter on the cover, with its shiny nose, was the most beguiling of all. So on it went: onto my birthday list.
In fact, it somewhat set the tone for the majority of my birthday presents. My friends, being the observant and thoughtful fellows that they are, picked up on my burgeoning thirst for all things wild and ottery. So not only did I receive my very own copy of Otter Country, I also acquired Chris Yates’ Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature and Roger Deakin’s much-lauded Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain.
As my appetite for it grows and grows, it seems as though the tradition of nature writing in Britain is thriving. Not only have whole new avenues of reading opened up to me, but also, these books are what led me to the Wetland, and beyond: to excitedly watching Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan on BBC’s Autumnwatch (there were otters on there too!) and to buying a bird feeder for my garden. Above all, these books have married my cliched, jaded Londoner daydreams about living in the countryside, with my once all-consuming childhood passion for nature and animals. Looks like I’ll have to read some Thoreau too.
See reviews of the books here
It was suggested in a recent Classic Bookclub session that we should perhaps read The Tale of Genji. I’d heard of it, and ages ago, knew quite a bit more about it from reading The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby, the fictionalised biography of The Tale of Genji’s author, Murasaki Shikibu. I vaguely remembered something about Genji being the world’s first ever novel. And that it was written by a woman. As a teenager, I’d come to read Murasaki because I’d read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. It had led to an obsession for all things Japanese. I even bought a copy of The Pillow Book by Shei Shonagon, although I never got round to reading it.
After discovering that Genji was only available in quite pricey editions (not surprising, given that its over a thousand pages long!), a few more clicks led me down the Japanese classic fiction aisle, and to an unknown world. There was of course The Pillow Book, the racy collection of stories and musings on courtly life in early 11th Century Japan. Also written by a woman, the book caused scandal when some of it was circulated amongst the subjects of Emperor Ichijo’s court.
Alongside this was a collection of stories by the modernist master Ryunosuke Akutagawa, which included ‘Rashomon’, the story that partly inspired Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking film of the same name (although apparently the film is in fact an adaptation of Akutagawa’s story ‘In a Grove’). The story itself is a kind of existential exploration of human survival, mediated by a starving servant and destitute woman stuck in an abandoned part of Kyoto. The collection also includes satirical pieces, such as ‘The Nose’ and as well as the previously mentioned Samurai saga ‘In a Grove.’
Another book I came across was The Makioka Sisters. Written in the forties by Junichiro Tanizaki, it is thought to be the major modern writer of Japan’s masterpiece. It tells the story of four sisters, born to a wealthy family from Osaka, and deals with the impact of the Second World War on the middle-class suburban way of life. Apparently, it was written following the completion of the author’s translation of The Tale of Genji and as a result, the book is heavily influenced by it.
To me, all three present a literary universe about which I know diddly-squat, and therefore I’m eager to suggest them for our next Classic Bookclub book. I think I’m leaning toward the Tanizaki, being a modern classics-lover, but I’m also very tempted by The Pillow Book. We’ll just have to see which one gets the vote.
I have a confession to make: I have never read anything by William Boyd. I know, I know; he’s awesome/so clever/such a good read. And I have genuinely been tempted by a few of his books. I haven’t even seen the TV adaptation of Any Human Heart, but I totally will, I promise. Yet this did not stop me from going to see him and a host of other talented types at Book Slam. Last night the event returned to its southern location at the Clapham Grand (and my preferred venue, I must say: The Tabernacle is nice but stuffy and in a whitewashed no-man’s land of West London). Mr Boyd of course pulled in the crowds and I especially enjoyed his short story, The Sovereign Light Cafe, about a girl who runs away to the Sussex town of Bexhill-on-Sea.
But really, I was there for the poets. Primarily, for the fantastic Ross Sutherland, who I’ve previously seen at Homework and at the Edinburgh festival and on every occasion, has pretty much blown my mind. He succeeded once again last night, with a wonderful piece which marries his musings on death ,ideas about the performative nature of grief and the TV show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. As the night’s compère, I don’t think anyone was expecting him to perform against the backdrop of the Fresh Prince’s opening credits and as a result, the audience seemed a tad taken by surprise. But awed and puzzled silence is very much expected when Sutherland is on the stage. His work often starts from a weird place and takes you to a brilliant one, and frequently provokes wide-eyed and open-mouthed wonder.
I was also delighted by the work of poet Martin Figura. I’d known about him for a while but had yet to see him perform until last night and was happy to discover that he is excellent. A warm and funny performer, I found his poems both joyful and serious, grand and humble; exactly what poems ought to be, I’ve decided. As a beat fanatic, I was particularly tickled by ‘Ahem’, his version of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’. Instead of detailing the life of the crazy beat writers and the Lower East Side in the forties and fifties, ‘Ahem’ is the howl of Northern England, about winning the pools and listening to Elvis Presley. I’ve notions of getting him to read here at Nomad Books, so watch this space.
I also enjoyed music by the lovely Jono McCleery, but was hindered by a group who instead of listening quietly chose to guffaw loudly. In the past, Book Slam audiences have stood out for their attentive silence, so I’ve decided the guffawers were a fluke and probably just William Boyd fans, who are renowned for their rowdiness. One final word of advice: while Book Slam is an ace night out, don’t go by yourself. The evening’s format of performances and frequent interludes for the buying of drinks, the smoking of cigarettes and chatting to friends is harder to enjoy when you only have solitaire on your phone for company. Its also makes it easier to feel like a stalker of poets, which is a label I’m only half comfortable with. Despite all this, Book Slam delivered a tasty dose of wordy joy and left me feeling both fuzzy and inspired, as is the norm. If you’ve never been, I suggest you go and get your fill.
March was certainly a good month for women! We celebrated both International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day but as our first Spring month draws to a close we thought we should take some time to reflect and celebrate some of the wonderful work of female writers and publishers do the year round!
If you browse the Nomad fiction A-Z regularly you may have noticed some obtuse grey-covered paperbacks among the crowd of colourful jackets, these beautiful books are from London-based publishing house Persephone Books. Persephone aim to re-publish forgotten works mostly (there a couple of exceptions) by female writers. These range from period pieces such as Few Egg and No Oranges by Vera Hodgson (paperback £14), Suffragette literature Constance Maud’s No Surrender (paperback £14) and modern masterpieces such as Beth Gutcheon’s Still Missing (paperback £14). Its not only the narratives that rage beneath those unassuming covers, each has a specially-chosen fabric print for its sleeve design. These are more than just books they are beautiful objects and wonderful gifts. Ask us for a recommendation!
The women’s publishing house Virago, established in 1973 is also still going strong and has brought Nomad some its very favourite books. Not only do they re-publish the radical texts of the Women’s Liberation Movement such as The Women’s Room by Marilyn French (paperback £10.99) but a diverse selection of new writing. Currently recommended are: Girl Reading by Katie Ward (paperback £7.99), a selection of vignettes based around images of women reading; The Paris Wife by Paula McCain (paperback £7.99), an imagined history of Hemmingway’s wife Hadley Richardson and We Never Had It So Good, a novel centred on the baby-boomer generation by Linda Grant (paperback £7.99).
Last week also saw Nomad hold our Dangerous Women event. The book, (hardback £14.99) is an insightful guide to ‘live as well as you dare’! With a glass of wine and some delicious nibbles we discussed relationships and negotiating social encounters around busy lives. We’ll be posting some pictures of the event on our website soon. If you would be interested in finding out more about our events, bookclubs or storytime why not join our mailing list. Just send your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism
March also saw the release of Women of the Revolution: Forty Years of Feminism a collection of writings from the Guardian archive edited by Kira Cochrane (paperback £9.99). Divided into decades, the book gives a sense of the mood of the women’s movement over its forty year history, it highlights key figures and shines a light on those who have been forgotten. This book is great read and will almost certainly have you questioning what feminism is and how we can think about in the present. If you liked How to be a woman by Caitlan Moran (paperback £7.99) you will enjoy this tour of the colourful characters of women’s history.
Orange Prize for Fiction
Finally, to honour the release of the Orange Prize long list for 2012 in the near future we will be dedicating one of recommend bays, at the front of the shop, to the award. The Orange Prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from across the world and we love the books featured on this year’s long list from Ann Patchett’s celebrated State of Wonder (hardback £12.99), to the recently published The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (paperback £12.99). All the Nomad staff are poised and ready to read and review them.