Tag Archives: poetry

Review of 2018

Woah! I read a LOT in 2018. 91 books so far and a week still to go. I’m not quite sure how I fitted all of this in, except that I’ve stopped cycling to work and now have tram time.

To be fair, two were novellas in flash, one was a short story in a single slim volume, and three were children’s books I read to E at bedtime (we’ve moved onto chapter books and these were all new to me so I included them). There was also a cookbook and a volume of poetry.

Still, that’s a lot of books. I didn’t finish three of them, but one of those was 300 pages in so a substantial chunk.

At the start of the year, I started to keep track of how many books I read each month and how many I buy, as well as library books, review books and so on. It was pretty interesting, most months I got through as many as I brought into the house until May when I had a ‘stop buying for a while woman!’ moment (this lasted a month) but then I did calm down and didn’t buy quite as many as I read.

Stats time:

60 of the books were by women and 28 by men. The others were collections of short stories of both sexes.

I read 17 non-fiction, including two feminist cartoon (for want of a better word) books. The best of these were:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – a brutal memoir of the year after Didion’s husband died suddenly and her daughter was incredibly ill in a coma, and how Didion coped with all of this. It’s brutal because she was absolutely floored by her husband’s death and at times this feels like her focus when the reader wants her to focus on her daughter’s needs.

Flaneuse: Women Walk the City by Lauren Elkins – a look at how women have claimed public spaces. Elkins picks a few cities – New York, Paris, Tokyo – and walks them while also examining how we claim space, how cities don’t encourage a flaneuse, and a look at artists who have also walked cities.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – a fascinating book, linked a little to the previous title, where Laing explores isolation in cities and how this has been represented in art. It’s part biography, part autobiography, part art history and a bit of sociology.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – a monster of a book but really well written. If the founding fathers had been written like this when I was studying them at university I would have found them much more interesting. It helps when you can sing an accompanying soundtrack from the musical too…

The rest were fiction and I have read some great stuff this year. Last year I narrowed the reading down to a top five but this year it’s a top eight fiction titles. So in no particular order:

  • The Road to California by Louise Walters – a lovely story I reviewed way back in February
  • Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce – I loved this debut, simple and funny and charming – review is here
  • Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty – an underrated author, MacLaverty, I think. I loved Grace Notes for its simple beauty and this too is a wonderfully written poignant book of an older couple whose marriage is disintegrating.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman – I LOVED this. Women develop an inner power, zapping men with electricity and the world’s men watch and plot in horror. The scene where the Saudi women zapped all the cars they hadn’t been allowed to drive had me cheering out loud while I read. Fabulous stuff.
  • The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson. Part of the series that retells Shakespeare’s stories, this is The Winter’s Tale and really enjoyable. It also works so much better than the recent series that retold Jane Austen’s tales – get Winterson on Persuasion.
  • Larchfield by Polly Clark – Auden, Scotland, post-natal depression and nasty neighbours. Really enjoyable debut novel.
  • Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale. I’ve reviewed this one here.
  • Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield. Not out in book form until next month but you can read my review here.

There you go!

September has come & I wake to questions about my favourite poem

September has come and one Twitter exchange this afternoon has made me consider poetry. Which I rarely do. Still, Megan from Writers’ Greenhouse posted a link to Autumn Journal by Louis Macneice today – my favourite poem.

Why is it my favourite? Well, I love it because I was born in September and my nature prefers trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace. And pulling on jumpers and knee high boots and foraging for conkers and making jam and kicking leaves and eating plum crumble and custard. Autumn’s a lovely season. And I love it because the poem talks about a real woman, one with complications and contradictions who isn’t afraid to voice opinions and do what she wants. She feels real to me, the subject of the poem. I know nothing about MacNeice. I just love this.

So Megan (I use first names like we’re old friends – to be clear, I’ve bought some seed packets from her (review here) and we follow each other on Twitter. It’s a cyber relationship) tweeted that she was still trying to decide whether saying someone’s mind was like “the wind on a sea of wheat” was a compliment or not. Of course it is! I thought. How could it be otherwise?

It’s funny how one person’s understanding of a thing which is open to interpretation can make you start to question your own thinking. Should I take it as a compliment? Should I look for more?

I don’t read much poetry. I certainly haven’t seriously analysed any since A level English Lit. I skipped the poetry in AS Byatt’s Possession.  I find it hard to fit in – where do you read it? Why do you read it? I can’t see myself curling up with a book of poems on a quiet evening. And I’ll be honest, despite this being my favourite poem, I find it hard to get the rhythm going for the first few lines and tend to skip them too. Should you choose, you may want to dismiss my thoughts, I know I would.

Leaving aside the mixed metaphor (which someone else pointed out and with which I have no problem) what is it trying to say? I’ve always considered it to mean her thoughts were a breath of fresh air, a ruffling of what was otherwise a mass consensus. I like the visual, a ripple across a beige sea of wheat. I’d consider that a compliment. I suppose it’s debatable whether others consider stirring in that way to be a good thing. Having often ruffled people the wrong way, I have to say that it is or plunge myself into a pit of self-doubt and despair.

Of course that’s just if you think it’s a gentle breeze. It could be a harsher wind, a destructive wind, something contrary for the sake of it. Except that I don’t think that would fit with the rest of the poem. He admires her. He likes the way she thinks, despite being challenged by her sometimes. He can never shake her, her hair is twined in all his waterfalls. She’s blunt, she’s sometimes rude, she doesn’t necessarily think before she speaks, she’s ruled by the heart – “It is on the strength of knowing you/ I reckon generous feeling more important/ Than the mere deliberating what to do,” It’s essentially, to me at least, a hymn to blunt speaking. In a world that still tells women to shut up how great is that?

It’s not clear that the relationship is a positive ongoing one. “So that if now alone I must pursue this life,” says MacNeice, he will remember her. She has made his life more colourful. It’s the greatest compliment I could be paid. Whether my thinking is erratic, non original and occasionally blunt, it at least brightened someone’s life.

I welcome alternative views. No,  really, I do.