Home

The inevitability of the arrival of new books…

40 Comments

Let’s make no bones about it – I’m a book addict. Have been since I learned to read, really, and I can’t say I’ve ever denied it. So despite the bulging nature of my shelves, there have inevitably been books arriving recently (and those of you on social media may have seen some of these already). They’re a fairly eclectic bunch as usual, with a lot of nice Russians in there, and in the spirit of sharing I thought I would post some images here! 😀

So, what have we here? Well, from top to bottom:

Penguin Modern Poets #17 – yes, I know I’ve got completely behind with my reading of this series, but I hardly ever see them second-hand, and it was 49p in the Oxfam and it has Kathleen Raine. I’ll get back to this series eventually – honest!

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter – why, you may ask, have I picked up another copy of this when I had such a bad experience before?????? Well – for a start it’s an original green Virago in great condition for only 99p and the one I have is a nasty modern version. But mainly, my fiercely feminist Middle Child insists that it’s a work of genius, and so I fear I should pay attention to her and give it another try with an open (and in the right frame!) mind. We shall see…

Pulse by Julian Barnes – I’ve loved my recent reads of Barnes’ work, and this is short stories. I’ve not read any of  his shorter works so for £1.49 I’m happy to have a go!

(Incidentally, the three above were all from the local Oxfam which seems to have calmed down a little with its prices and I can’t help but scream “bargain”!!!)

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees – all I know about Mirrlees is that she has a Woolfian connection, so when I saw this lurking in the local BookCrossing location (Caffe Nero) I figured it should come home with me.

Letters: Summer 1926 by Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Rilke – a nice NYRB edition at Full Price! (Eeek) There is a story attached to this which will come in a later post rambling on about Russians and poetry…

Orphic Paris by Henri Cole – another NYRB I bought at full price because I just loved the sound of it. I’m currently reading it and it’s stunning and I will write about it eventually but I am a bit behind with reviews at the moment, alas…

The Wives by Alexandra Popoff – I read about this online somewhere, and for the life of me I don’t know where. It’s about the wives of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov etc etc and how they were literary partners and support to their husbands. Sounds just fascinating and this is a lovely second-hand-but-in-wonderful-condition-and-very-cheap copy. Result!

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a couple of spines with no writing and these are they:

This little lovely has been on my radar for a while, and as I’m having a bit of a Russian poetry binge at the moment and want to read a range of different translations, I thought “WTF! I work for a living, I shall buy books!” and sent off for it. More of the Russians in a later post, as I hinted above!

The other arrival is one I was ridiculously excited about:

Again, a lovely little chapbook I’ve been aware of for a while which is stuffed with Mayakovsky (amongst others) and translated by Boris Dralyuk! The cover image is from a Mayakovsky agitprop poster, and the inside is equally beautifully illustrated as well as containing an interview with the translator. Why have I never bought a copy before? Possibly because I’ve been trying to be good about book purchases (and, frankly, failing) and also because the price is not low as it’s from a small press. However, for some unknown reason to do with the weird vagaries of book pricing, I happened upon it the other day with the price slashed. So I ordered it, and even more weirdly the next day it had returned to full price. No, I don’t understand it either.

Fortunately, I have managed a fair amount of reading over the summer, and another purge is looming. However, it won’t necessarily be so easy to get rid of the extra books, as will be revealed in the forthcoming post about Russians and poetry…

(Oh, the mug? Fancy you asking! I saw it online – possibly Twitter or Instagram – and how could I resist? It’s Penguin orange, from M&S and yes, it describes me perfectly. It’s so beautiful I can hardly bear to use it…)

Advertisements

Postcards from the edge

22 Comments

A Card from Angela Carter by Susannah Clapp

Angela Carter and I have had a somewhat up and down relationship recently. I was always convinced I loved her work, but my reading of “The Passion of New Eve” shook that conviction a little. However, good relations were restored when I had a wonderful reading experience with “Fireworks”, and so I’m now once again convinced that I really do enjoy her books!

I do still have a number of Carter titles lurking, but for some reason this little book caught my eye recently – why I picked it up at this particular moment in time I have no idea, but it turned out to be the perfect read at the perfect time.

Susanna Clapp, Carter’s friend and literary executor, had received a number of postcards from the author over the years, and after Carter’s death she revisited these. Using them as a jumping off point, she recreates the woman she knew in what are in effect a series of snapshots, stimulated by the postcards themselves. Some of the postcard images are reproduced in the book (albeit in black and white) which adds an extra element.

What emerges is a moving and surprisingly detailed portrait of the Angela Carter that Clapp knew; with all her faults, idiosyncracies, humour and insight on show, the book gives us a privileged peek into Carter’s personality. The book is only 103 pages long, but somehow feels as if it reveals the real person behind the public persona; the short reminiscences build up a remarkably vivid portrait of a strong and striking woman. And Clapp reminds us of what a transgressive writer Carter was, spelling out just how radical her prose and her concepts could be:

Let us allow Bluebeard’s last victim to be rescued not by a man but by her mother. Let us load the prose with red stains and howls, wet lips and shudders, and make evident what is buried in the stories we read to our children. Let us take the girls of traditional fairy tale and give them some force of character…

Her political affiliations are shown, too, and one particularly outstanding quote reminds us that in the 1980s Carter was saying very prophetically,

The worst things are things we probably don’t know about. They’re to do with surveillance and they’re to do with the Secret Service, and they’re to do with the inaccessibility of information…

Plus ca change…

Susannah Clapp does not shy away from showing us Carter in her last days, as her health failed on the way to her tragically early death; and the final sequences relating her funeral and memorial are desperately poignant. However, what remained with me most strongly from reading this little gem of a book is the image of a fiercely intelligent, yet somehow vulnerable woman who lived life her own way and created the books she wanted to create. It’s an essential read for anyone who loves Carter’s work and has definitely increased my eagerness to get more of those books of hers off the shelves.

“velvet nights spiked with menace” – in which Angela and I are reconciled…

28 Comments

Fireworks by Angela Carter

As a rule, I don’t generally have disastrous reading experiences. Life is too short to waste on books you don’t like so I try to tailor my reading to things I actually want to read or hope I’ll get something from; or to continue the ongoing search for those works which change your life. However, I had a less-than-pleasant encounter with Angela Carter during our week of reading for the #1977club, when I found “The Passion of the New Eve” to be most unpleasant with no redeeming features. This *did* irk me a bit, because I’ve enjoyed her work in the past; so, as Carter is the author of the month on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group, I resolved to try again, and picked up “Fireworks” a slim volume of short works.

Sorry Virago, but I really *don’t* like that cover at all – I want a green version……

First published by Virago in 1988, the book collects works that span a number of years, some as early as 1974 (though it isn’t specified which is dated when). I had previously read, and been intrigued, by the opening story “A Souvenir of Japan”; and indeed several of the stories seem to be set there (and apparently draw heavily on the period Carter lived there in the early 1970s). There are nine stories here, all very disparate in subject but all very much in Carter’s style.

I speak as if he had no secrets from me. Well, then, you must realize that I was suffering from love and I knew him as intimately as I knew my own image in a mirror. In other words, I knew him only in relation to myself. Yet, on those terms, I knew him perfectly. At times, I thought I was inventing him as I went along, however, so you will have to take my word for it that we existed. But I do not want to paint our circumstantial portraits so that we both emerge with enough well-rounded, spuriously detailed actuality that you are forced to believe in us. I do not want to practise such sleight of hand. You must be content only with glimpses of our outlines, as if you had caught sight of our reflections in the looking-glass of someone else’s house as you passed by the window.

I don’t know if it was just that I was in the right mood this time, but I found myself seduced by Carter’s prose from the very start. The stories cover much ground – the complexities of personal relationships (“A Souvenir…”, “Flesh and the Mirror”); myth, legend and brutality in far countries (“The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter”, “Master”); morality (or lack of it) in disintegrating landscapes (“Elegy for a Freelance”, “Master” again); being an outsider, the ‘other’ (“A Souvenir…” again, “The Smile of Winter”); plus strange and haunting works which draw on fairytale and fantasy (“Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest”, “Reflections”, “The Loves of Lady Purple”). These stories are disturbing and beautiful and I found myself lost in other worlds brilliantly created by Carter in astonishing prose.

These tree trunks bore an out-crop of plants, orchids, poisonous, iridescent blossoms and creepers the thickness of an arm with flowering mouths that stuck out viscous tongues to trap the flies that nourished them. Bright birds of unknown shapes infrequently darted past him and sometimes monkeys, chattering like the third form, leaped from branch to branch that did not move beneath them.

I mentioned brutality and yes, there is violence (emotional, physical and sexual); however, I didn’t have quite the problem with it that I did reading “Passion…” Maybe I recognised that it was necessary here for the stories Carter was telling; maybe the storytelling was so strong that I could see the point; or maybe her beautiful writing counterbalanced the darkness and provided a necessary harmony in her work. Certainly Angela Carter’s prose was just stunning in these tales; hypnotic and haunting, it convinced me that I hadn’t been wrong in my belief that I had loved her work previously – and still can and do. The stories are multi-faceted, multi-layered things of beauty and cruelty, and I think that a second reading would pull out many more references and resonances than I saw on my first read.

I had fallen through one of the holes life leaves in it; these peculiar holes are the entrances to the counters at which you pay the price of the way you live.

Picking favourites is always difficult (and maybe controversial!) when reading a collection of short works, but I have to mention in particular “Reflections”; this wonderful and dark fairy tale, drawing on mythology, had the most amazing imagery and the pictures it painted in my head will stay with me.

Carter in the early 1970s

So Angela and I are reconciled. Yes, there is violence and cruelty (and rape, I’m afraid) in these stories, but this time around I felt Carter was using these things for a purpose. The worlds she portrays are beautiful and brutal, filled with vivid landscapes, striking imagery and troubled people, smoke and mirrors, dreams and allegories. I am pleased to say that I will *definitely* be reading Carter again

#1977Club – a final post!

25 Comments

Phew! So we reached the end of the #1977club in one piece and having read, discussed and discovered some very interesting titles! In the end, as always, I ran out of time and didn’t read all I wanted to – but these are the ones I *did* read:

Four books in total, only one of which was a fail (the Carter). Rediscovering favourite authors like Brautigan and Plath was a joy, and exploring Margaret Atwood’s early stories just served to reinforce what an excellent writer she really is. Despite my issues with the Carter, I *will* try other titles by her – if for no other reason than to prove I haven’t turned into a soppy old wuss!!

Alas, I didn’t get to the Barthes; but that will remain on the TBR and hopefully be read at some time in the future. If you’re still reading from 1977, please do leave links on the 1977 page – it’s been wonderful seeing what everyone else has been reading and watching the discussions. Here’s to the next club, whichever year that may be…. 😉

#1977club – a rarity – DNF and Did Not Really Get On With….

40 Comments

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter

First up, a bit of a TRIGGER and SPOILER warning. This post will discuss a reasonable amount of detail about this book, and it’s fair to say that it covers subjects like rape, anal sex, violence, bondage, sadomasochism, gender re-alignment and a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff. So, not a light, sunny read, really…

Where to begin? I first read Angela Carter back in the 1980s, and I liked what I read. I’m aware that Carter was an uncompromising author who pushed the boundaries and is not going to be a cosy read, but I was keen to re-engage with her work after quite a gap and as this one was published in 1977 it seemed the ideal place to go. Or perhaps not.

Broadly, the story tells of Evelyn, a young Englishman who decamps to New York; however, this is no regular city, but one descending into apocalyptic chaos. Gangs abound, whether people of colour or feminist groups; the rats are taking over; violence is the order of the day; and Evelyn’s behaviour is not particularly pretty in itself.

After a tortuous affair with a glamorous dancer, Leilah, which ends in unpleasantness and disaster, Evelyn heads off to the desert where everything goes to hell in a handcart. It was here I began to lose interest; suffice to say that Evelyn encounters the formidable Mother, a many-breasted entity; undergoes gender realignment; gets captured and repeatedly raped by a mad, one-legged poet; and so on and so on. I confessed I glossed over a lot of what was happening, because not only was it fairly unpleasant, I just wasn’t finding myself drawn into the story or caring about anybody in it.

I found myself wondering if I’d gone a bit prudish in my old age; after all, I read Burroughs and Kathy Acker in my teens without any problem, so did I just react badly to this because of the content and was I unable to see past this to what Carter was saying? And what actually *was* she saying?

This may be the problem I had with the book, because I don’t think actually that’s very clear. Evelyn is not a pleasant character as a man, and as any reader is probably going to anticipate, halfway through he becomes the Eve of the title. As a woman, the kind of treatment meted out to him is perhaps the kind Evelyn would have been happy to serve up to any woman he encounters – and certainly he’s pretty brutish while still a man. If Carter’s intention is to highlight the bad way that men treat women, then she wraps it up in a load of apocalyptic pseudo-mythology that for me really didn’t work.

Another problem was the writing; some of the early prose was excellent, really evocative and beautiful, conjuring up the crumbling city of New York and its denizens in a very evocative way. However, I found it often descended into cliché, particularly when dealing with the various sex acts, and the overall narrative seemed to lose coherence too often for me, becoming quite clunky in places. I really struggled to engage, but I couldn’t, so I lost patience and skipped through much of the book.

It may be that this book has dated badly and would have been more groundbreaking or innovative in 1977; or it may be that I missed something I was supposed to get out of it. Certainly, many online reviews rate “The Passion of New Eve” really highly, but it’s not one for me. I was sorry about this, because I’ve enjoyed Carter’s writing in the past; and indeed I was lucky enough to meet her at a film showing/signing back in the 1980s (and I still have the signed book to prove it!)

I rarely write negative posts because I try very hard to read books I’m going to enjoy, or get something out of, or that will stimulate or move me, or educate me, or make me think, or make me laugh, or make me cry. Unfortunately, this did nothing for me at all, except make me wonder what the point of it all was. So alas my first ‘bad’ read for ages was for the #1977club – let’s hope the next one is a bit more satisfying….

#1977club – here we go! :)

56 Comments

Yes, time for another week of reading, discovering and discussing books from a particular year – and this one is 1977. We reach a more modern decade than we’ve been covering up until now, and one which certainly takes us away from Simon’s comfort zone of the 1920s! :)) However, I was initially unsure of what I would read from the year until I began to dig, and I actually came up with a bit of a pile of books that I already own:

Yes, I really *do* own three copies of “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams”. No, I don’t know why…

I also own two other books from 1977 that piqued my interest, but alas I cannot at the moment lay hands on them – “The Women’s Room” by Marilyn French is a feminist classic and I have a battered old Virago copy, but it’s currently lurking on a shelf in Middle Child’s flat as I have loaned it out – so I won’t be reading that one… I also own Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” but several trawls through the shelves have failed to find it (although I *did* find some other books I was looking for). So I may well choose from the above – some are re-reads, some unread, and I’d like to go for a mix if I can.

And then there’s this, lurking electronically:

I really want to read Barthes but frankly, I’m a Bit Scared. I’m *not* an academic and I fear I will fail miserably to understand this and then feel stupid. Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained….

So do join Simon at Stuck in a Book and myself in the #1977club – it’s great fun, great reading and always fascinating to see what books people come up with! Here goes…!

Time for some 1970s clubbing…

43 Comments

… by which I’m not suggesting that we all get dressed up in flares and platforms heels and go out discoing to glam rock…

Instead, I thought I would mention that the results are in! Simon has been feverishly counting the votes for the next reading Club year, and the winner is:

So there you have it! Our next reading week will be the #1977club. Time to start digging in the stacks and online lists to see what titles we can come up with. I know that there is at least a Richard Brautigan I have from that year (somewhere…), and as I failed to squeeze him into 1968 I shall do my very best to make sure I read at least this one!

Simon has come up with another eye-catching logo (he’s so good at these!) and as you’ll see from the dates, you have five months or so to get preparing, researching and reading – and we’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with! 🙂 I had a preliminary dig in the stacks and found that I have at least three other books from 1977 without even looking very hard:

Some commenters have wondered why we aren’t going on into the 1980s or back before the 1920s with the clubs, and to be honest that’s because of our personal tastes! Simon is particularly happy in the 1920s I know, and I don’t think either of us always feel drawn to modern writing. Personally, I’m inordinately fond of 20th century literature in the decades we feature, and as Simon pointed out to me, the dawn of cheaper printing from the 1920s onwards gives us more books choose from.

OK – maybe some things about 1977 weren’t so good…..

So – here’s to the #1977club, and we hope as many of you as possible will join in with this next year –  happy reading! 🙂

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: