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A ‘memoir’ which totally subverts the genre! @shinynewbooks @mjohnharrison

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I’m very happy to share with you today a new review I have up on Shiny New Books! The title in question is a new release from a long-term favourite author of mine, M. John Harrison; he’s made numerous appearances on the Ramblings with his individual and unique works, but here he moves into new territory. The book is called “Wish I Was Here”, and the subtitle of “An Anti-Memoir” should give a hint of what the author is (or is not!) doing!

Harrison’s writing is never predictable and he produces books which don’t fit neatly into any kind of genre. He’s stated he never intended to write a memoir, and it certainly could be argued that he’s not produced one here! Instead, this is a meditation on memory, the past, writing, books, climbing, roads taken and those not taken. It’s a stunning work, and you can read my full review here!

Celebrating a trail-blazing feminist publisher – over @ShinyNewBooks :D #furies @ViragoBooks

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A little belatedly, I want to share a new review I have up at Shiny New Books today! The title in question is “Furies: Stories of the wicked, wild and untamed” and it’s a marvellous volume, introduced by Sandi Toksvig and featuring tales from a wonderfully wide array of women authors, from Margaret Atwood to Ali Smith and many, many others.

The publisher being celebrated is, of course, Virago Press; founded in the 1970s by Carmen Callil, they went on to revolutionise the publishing of women’s writing, and are still in the vanguard today. This anthology takes on the words often used to insult and condemn strong women, using them to craft stories which are entertaining, inspiring and powerful. A brilliant read, and my full review is here.

A powerful and trenchant look at the fortunes of the North – over @ShinyNewBooks @BloomsburyBooks @Alex_Niven

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Today I’m taking a temporary detour from #ReadIndies to direct you a new review I have up on Shiny New Books today. The work in question is a powerful new book from Alex Niven called “The North Will Rise Again” and you can read my full review here.

However, I wanted to say a little more here about how much I responded to this book on a personal level.

Niven is an author who’s already featured on the Ramblings several times before; his hybrid work “Newcastle, Endless” was my first introduction to his writing, and I followed this up by reading his fascinating “New Model Island” which explored ideas for a better way to govern our country, and the thoughts he came up with here do inform “The North…” More recently, I spent many happy hours exploring “The Letters of Basil Bunting” which had been expertly selected and annotated by Niven.

There is inevitably a thread running through all of his books and that is, of course, the North. Now I’m a far Northerner myself, originally hailing from Edinburgh, and the older I get, the more I feel drawn back to that part of the world. As I mention in my review of “The North…”, Niven describes that longing for your homeland by using the Welsh word hiraeth, and certainly I often find myself fighting off my homesickness! So, much of the narrative in Niven’s new book certainly resonated with me strongly.

An additional element which appealed, of course, was Niven’s exploration of the culture of the North-East, in particular Newcastle’s Morden Tower poetry boom. I’ve written about Bunting, Tom Pickard and the other Morden Tower poets before; and so it was fascinating to see them slotted into the history of the area in this book, which takes a wide-ranging look at history, culture, sociology, politics and life in general all over the North.

The book also had the unexpected result of sending me off down a musical rabbit hole! There’s coverage of the Newcastle band ‘Lindisfarne’, who I vaguely recall from my childhood, and this reminded me I had meant to watch a recent BBC documentary on their singer/songwriter Alan Hull. So I dug this out and had a look, and it was fascinating and quite brilliantly done, and I’m currently spending a lot of time exploring their music! Rather wonderfully, too, there was another connection in that Hull was a friend of Tom Pickard, appearing on screen in the latter’s short play “Squire” in the 1970s. Pickard appeared in the documentary talking about his friend and reading a poem about his death – very moving. Here’s one of Hull’s most highly praised songs:

Anyway – this is a book which I not only think is a very important read, it’s also one which I thoroughly enjoyed and which touched me very deeply. Do check out my review, and read the book if you can – a fascinating look at the history of the North, as well as an exploration of how we could work for a better future for all.

Rounding up my 2022 reading! πŸ˜ŠπŸ“š

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As we approach the end of yet another year (where *does* the time go????) I face up to the difficult task of trying to sum up my best books of the year. Many admirable bloggers manage to pick out top fives or tens or whatevers of their books in an actual countdown to a single favourite book!!! I can rarely manage that, and I put this down to my grasshopper mind and the number of different types of books I read. So as usual, I’ll just do a little round up of some highlights of the year, singling out themes or types of books or those which really stuck in my mind!!

British Library Crime Classics and Women Writers

British Library Publishing have been responsible for many, many hours of happy reading this year! I’ve long been a fan of their Crime Classic reissues and the more recent range of Women Writers reprints has also been a treat. Alas, their Sci Fi classics seem to have slipped away, but I did enjoy them too! Particular favourites have been the E.C.R. Lorac and John Dickson Carr titles they’re published, but I’ve also enjoyed their anthologies!

The Year of Rereading

As a rule, I don’t reread enough and it’s my own fault; I’m so easily distracted by all the shiny new releases, newly translated works, reissued classics and the like that I barely get to the older books on my TBR, let alone re-reads. But over the last year or so, I took part in three wonderful reading events which saw me revisiting much-loved books – and the experience was wonderful!

The Narniathon kicked it off, and I adored going back to C.S. Lewis’s wonderful series; I saw so much in it as an adult, and found his writing and storytelling to be superb.

Then there was Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” which I’d meant to revisit for some time. Our 1954 Club set me off reading the first book and then of course I had no excuse to not follow quickly with the second and third. Both these sequences were pivotal reading experiences in my young life, and it was a powerful and emotional experience to get reacquainted with them.

Another vitally importance series to me was Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” books, which I first met in my late teens. I had reread the first book in the sequence, “Titus Groan“, in 2017 and adored it all over again; so, prompted by my success with LOTR (and also the Backlisted podcast episode on the books) I went back to the second one “Gormenghast“. Once again, this was a stunning reading experience which kept me entranced from start to finish!

And the end of this year saw me taking part in Annabel’s readalong of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence – an outstanding series and one I’d intended to get back to for many years. I finally did and adored it – brilliant books!

I’ve also had marvellous rereads of Cocteau’s “Les Enfants Terribles” and Colette’s “Sido“; loved them both and am now even more convinced that I had good taste in books at a young age!! πŸ˜€

Club Reading Weeks

In 2022 I was happy to co-host two more of our Club Reading Weeks with Simon at Stuck in a Book! This year, we focused on 1954 and 1929 and both years had a wealth of wonderful books. Both were responsible for much rereading on my part, as well! It’s always such fun to see what books people bring to the club and share, and thanks go out to all who take part.

The next club runs from 10-16 April 2023 and the year is 1940! It looks to be another bumper one, with so many marvellous titles to choose from – we hope to see you there!

Shiny New Books

I’ve continued to provide reviews for Shiny New Books during 2022, and have shared some marvellous titles. The site is a wonderful place to discover excellent books and no doubt there will be more to come on SNB next year, so watch this space!!

Translated Literature

Literature from other countries and languages has continued to provide some of my favourite reads. Although I always take part in #WITMonth, I try to read translated books all year round; and in fact one of the strongest books I’ve read in 2022 was a random discovery in a charity shop, translated from Italian – “Pereira Maintains“. Translators are some of my favourite people as without them I wouldn’t have such a rich range of literature from which to choose!

Independent Presses and #ReadIndies

Independent publishers are some of my favourites in the world, and I’ve been so happy to continue to support them this year. A highlight was co-hosting the second #ReadIndies month with Lizzy and it was such fun, with so many amazing books to read!

My favourite indies are actually too numerous to mention, but I’ll give shout-outs to a few, including Renard Press (who I’ve been happy to support with a monthly subscription since their early days); Nightjar, who produce wonderfully spooky little chapbooks and are definitely worth your attention; Fitzcarraldo Editions, a small press with mighty heft who always bring out fascinating and genre-defying works; Notting Hill Editions, who champion the art of the essay in beautiful editions; Glagoslav, whose dedication to translations is exemplary; Michael Walmer, whose handsome editions of works from the Shetlands are fascinating… Well that’s just a few of them. I love indie presses and will continue to support them where I can!!

A few favourites…

This is the hard bit – picking favourites when there have been so many stellar reads this year! Of course I’ve highlighted my rereads above, but of new books I should pick out “Wolf Solent” by John Cowper Powys. A long, absorbing and very original read which I undertook for the 1929 club, it was quite mesmerising.

Another outstanding read was Celia Paul’s “Letters to Gwen John” which was an unforgettable exploration of two women’s lives and art. “Last Times” by one of my favourite authors, the amazing Victor Serge, accompanied me on my summer travels and was the perfect companion.

I reconnected with the writing of Robert Macfarlane via his “Landmarks” which was a beautiful read. And the bumper collection of “Letters of Basil Bunting“, curated so brilliantly by Alex Niven, was an immersive and fascinating read.

A final mention should go to Gertrude Trevelyan and her “Two Thousand Million Man-Power“, reprinted by Boiler House Press this yes – a brilliant and innovative novel, and why it’s been out of print is anyone’s guess.

I could go on – I’ve had very few duds this year – but these are just a few of the highlights. You see now why I can never pick a simple list…

*****

So those are my thoughts on my year of reading in 2022; and I’ve been lucky to encounter some marvellous books. I hope you’ve had a good reading year too – what have been your highlights, and have you read any of *my* favourites?? πŸ˜ŠπŸ“š

 

Exploring Orwell and Empire – over @ShinyNewBooks!

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I have a new review up today at Shiny New Books which I wanted to share with you, and it’s of an intriguing new book about an author I love – George Orwell.

“Orwell and Empire” by Douglas Kerr, from OUP, looks at the life and work of the great writer through the lens of Empire and its influence, and it’s quite fascinating. Focusing on different perspectives in each chapter, it certainly made me look at Orwell’s writings in a new light and I highly recommend it – you can read my full review here!

Wartime observations from a German outsider – over @ShinyNewBooks :D

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I’m returning to Paris today, for another review over at Shiny New Books! Having explored the subterranean world of the Parisian waiter, this book sees me travelling back to occupied wartime France, where a young German historian has been posted to Paris to work in the archives. The book is Clouds over Paris by Felix Hartlaub, translated by Simon Beattie.

Hartlaub is a fascinating writer, and the book contains his jottings in notebooks whilst observing the city and its people. He’s something of an outsider, attached to neither occupier or occupied, and that gives his thoughts a detachment which makes the book most interesting. You can read my full review here!

The dark underbelly of Parisian restaurants – over @ShinyNewBooks!

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A new review from me today, up at Shiny New Books, and it’s of a fascinating recent publication which explores the harsh life of a waiter in the world of Paris’s glittering haut cuisine restaurants. The book is “A Waiter in Paris: Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City” by Edward Chisholm, and it’s a sobering read in places.

The restaurant life in Paris did, of course, make up a large part of Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London”; and Chisholm channels that book in his work, finding that so much has not changed over the years. The glitzy appearance of high-end restaurants belies what’s going on behind the scenes, and reading “A Waiter…” will certainly change the way you think about eating out! You can read my full review here.

Exploring a lost classic from a revered film-maker – over @ShinyNewBooks 😊 @FaberBooks

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I have a new review up on Shiny New Books today which I’d like to share with you, and it’s of an excellent and neglected novel by the great film-maker Emeric Pressburger. The book is “The Glass Pearls” and it’s a stunning read.

Pressburger was a Hungarian-Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and so his choice of protagonist – a war criminal in hiding – is perhaps unexpected. I’d long wanted to read the book, and so was delighted that Faber have chosen to reissue it in a lovely new edition. It’s a gripping and unforgettable story, and you can read more about it here!

A scintillating dialogue between artists – over @ShinyNewBooks

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I’m sharing today a review I have over on Shiny New Books of a beautiful, moving and thought-provoking book. It’s “Letters to Gwen John” by artist Celia Paul, and in it the latter initiates a narrative between herself and the lauded artist Gwen John in the form of letters. Despite the fact that John cannot, of course, reply, Paul sprinkles her book with extracts from writings by John and others who knew her, as well as some truly gorgeous illustrations from both artists. This is a wonderful book which illuminates the life of the woman artist, particularly when she’s so often judged in relation to the men in her life, and it’s a stunning and memorable read. I loved it, and you can read my full review here.

Exploring exile and displacement – over @ShinyNewBooks

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I have a new review up at Shiny New Books today which I’d like to share with you, and it’s of a fascinating and very timely work by William Atkins – “Exiles: Three Island Journeys”.

In the book, Atkins explores the lives of three political exiles: Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a Zulu king who was exiled to St Helena in the South Atlantic; Louise Michel, a French radical of the Commune, who was shipped off to New Caledonia in the South Pacific; and Lev Sternberg, a Ukrainian revolutionary who was sent to the notorious Sakhalin, off the coast of Siberia. Besides looking at their experiences, as Atkins retraces their journeys he considers the whole notion of exile, as well as encountering his own issues. It’s a really thought-provoking read and you can find my full review here – do take a look! πŸ˜€

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