I took a ridiculous amount of books on holiday with me. This admission comes after having spent two days before the holiday, whittling down the pile of actual, physical books, as well as having a fair few to get through for Netgalley.
In the end, I read seven, which wasn’t bad going all things considered, although I did feel disappointed that I didn’t somehow develop superhuman powers and manage more. Before I get on with a post or two about what we actually did, apart from read, here are the thoughts from the Leicester jury on my holiday reading material.
The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 by Tina Brown – given that these start the year I was eleven, I was most assuredly not the target for a Vanity Fair readership. Had I been older, it still would have been doubtful I’d ever have picked it up. Wrong social circles (nobody in VF ever goes up the Asda, or indeed, down the Aldi). Looking back on the decade however, is absolutely fascinating. Brown is intelligent, scarily ambitious and driven to write, write, write. Given she never seems to stop working, quite when she had time to write these diaries, I really don’t know. They chart the years that Rupert Murdoch started his ascendancy, Donald Trump was trashing his first marriage and moving on to his second amongst various monetary upsets and scandals, and even young Boris Johnson shows his face. It’s a time of excess, corruption and sexual sordidness only rivalled by today’s political and economic shenanigans and reading it now is a bit like reading some prime sooth saying. You can already see the nightmare saddling up on the horizon.
The Story of The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit – I read this over and over as a child, along with her other works, and loved them all. Coming back to it after three decades I am struck by how fresh and funny her writing is. Despite the fact that this was written in the Eighteen Nineties, it works because she knows and writes children so very well. This is the first volume which tells the story of the Bastable children and their desperate attempts to restore the fallen fortunes of the house of Bastable. Their various adventures, although dated in places, are still very, very funny and in parts I was actually laughing until I cried. I tested this out on the children, and they got me to read half of it to them in a day. Top work. The version I read is through Netgalley and published by Dover. It’s not out yet, but there are a billion versions available if you simply can’t wait. I will review this over on the children’s book blog too, but it’s so good, you’d be sad to miss it, even if you do consider yourself all growed up.
Miss Stephenson’s Apprenticeship by Rosalind Brackenbury – This is a strange little book, sent to me by Netgalley for review. It’s not out until March. If you don’t know anything at all about Virginia Woolf and are interested in finding out how she became the writer she did, this may be a good place to start. It charts Woolf’s early years and each chapter lays out what Brackenbury believes influenced her writing. It’s a fairly short book, and if you are interested in Woolf at all, and have already read about her, I don’t think this is going to cut it to be honest. It is perfectly nice, perfectly well written and reasonably interesting, but there is nothing new here, and it reads like a cross between a love letter, and a thesis.
Paradise Lodge by Nina Stibbe – I bloody, blooming, blinking love Nina Stibbe. For me, this is perfect. Stibbe is from Leicester originally, and although a smidge older than me, she writes about the places I know, at a time I was growing up and that jolt of recognition and wonder means so much. It is very like when I first started reading Sue Townsend and realised that the place you live, despite not being in America or London could be written about in books. If you’ve not read Man at the Helm, you really should. This follows that, and gives us more of the story of Lizzie Vogel and her dysfunctional, yet rather wonderful family. Lizzie is fifteen and wants her own Linco Beer shampoo, and to not have to make do with Vosene (totally appreciate this). She gets a job at Paradise Lodge old people’s home, and despite still having to go to school, finds herself sucked more and more into the world of the home. It’s funny, affectionate, beautifully written and absolutely perfect.
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay – These are the diaries/memoirs of Kay, who was a junior doctor, specialising in gynae and obstetrics, until he gave up and moved into writing for telly instead. I won’t tell you why. You’ll find out in the book. It’s funny and devastating and sad and brilliant and it’s all mixed up together so you find yourself laughing one moment and crying the next. The worst bits are when you find yourself laughing, knowing that you really shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. I read this in a day, and then passed it on to Tilly, who also finished it in a day. We both loved it. Everyone should read this book. Particularly Jeremy Hunt.
No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – This was sent to me for review by Netgalley. This is a collection of writing from Le Guin’s blog. She admits in her introduction to the book that the blog format gave her a freedom to write whatever she wanted, and I totally understand that. She’s erudite, witty and brilliant. Not every post works for me, but that’s because she roams far and wide subject wise, and some are more interesting to me than others. It’s not to say that they’re not all superbly written, they are. It’s not to say that the ones I didn’t like are somehow lesser, they’re not. It’s just the nature of this episodic kind of writing. I particularly loved her thoughts on ageing and her rather sweet essays on her cat, Pard. She covers literature, politics, feminism, science, genre fiction and a whole host of other things that catch her eye, and if you love Le Guin’s writing, this is a cool book to stand alongside her novels.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx – I think, had I not been reading the Vanity Fair diaries, which were hefty, and then this, which was heftier, I’d have probably crammed in a few more books this holiday, but it’s no good ignoring wrist breakers on the grounds that you want to up your numbers. Particularly not when they’re as good as this. I’ve read almost everything Proulx has written (with the exception of one volume of short stories, I think) and have loved her since I first winkled out The Shipping News, many years ago. I am particularly interested in the way she mixes her interest the environment and its fate, with brilliantly absorbing stories that never seem too didactic or labour a point. Even here, with this vast family tale, spread out over a few hundred years, and which is as much about the fate of the trees of North America as it is about the people who populate the pages, you don’t feel like she’s forcing her ideas on you, or telling you off. Instead you find yourself learning all kinds of things as you read. In this way she reminds me very much of A.S. Byatt, who taught me a lot about snails through her Virgin in the Garden series. Barkskins is about the Sel family, starting with Rene Sel, a young man who moves to New France to start his life as a land owner, back in the days when Canada was mostly trees, and takes us through to the present day and looming ecological disaster, still following the descendants of Rene on their many and varied life paths. I loved it, but it is a commitment, so if you’re intrigued by Proulx, do start with The Shipping News. It’s just as good, but considerably shorter.