Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Blast

I'm so out of date on here but I thought I should catch up on (fairly) recent reads...

  • Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins: I read this over Christmas and it made my 2015 Honorable Mentions but I didn't expand and it is out now so let's revisit it. A possibly sentient sand dune, the Dune Sea, has devastated California. The American South West is a wasteland of drifters and exiles. The rest of the country despises the Mojave refugees. When Luz discovers a strange child at a stoner party, she persuades her boyfriend Ray that they should go out in search of a better life, aiming for a whispered colony/cult at the foot of the dunes. This book is eerie and imaginative and alarmingly plausible. I didn't quite love it at the time but I still think about it often.
  • The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez - Laura Cumming: You know who is the best? Velazquez. (Also, Titian and Rembrandt. Don't make me pick.) Cumming is the Observer art critic and she approaches Velazquez, her great love, obliquely in this dual biography of the artist and a C19th bookseller from Reading who might have loved the Spaniard even more than me and author combined. He risked and lost everything for a painting that he believed to be a lost Velazquez. Cumming traces the lives of both men across the centuries and also reveals her own relationship with the artist. A lovely narrative biography with a bit of mystery.
  • Carry On - Rainbow Rowell: This book FASCINATES me. I really enjoyed the book but I love the idea. In case you're not familiar with Rowell, she wrote a YA novel, Fangirl, a few years ago which features a young woman who (among other things) writes fanfiction. She is part of the Simon Snow fandom - a very explicit Harry Potter copy. Fangirl features extracts from this fake series and from Cath's extended fanwork of the series. I found Fangirl interesting as a mainstream reaction to fandom but didn't particularly bond with it. Carry On is the final book in the fictional Simon Snow series (although it isn't necessarily totally faithful to the extracts in Fangirl). I would love for Rowell to write and publish Cath's fanwork, or something similar, next. I remain unconvinced that Rowell has a really organic experience of fandom or fanfiction but I love how fun and meta this series/world is. Carry On never surprised me but there is magic and cute boys kissing and lots of fully realised female characters and it is super enjoyable. I can't really conceive how you would react to this book without a working knowledge of both Harry Potter and fandom, you'd certainly miss a lot, but it isn't a complicated plot and I guess you'd still have a nice plot.
  • The Living Mountain - Nan Shepherd: I read this as part of an aborted book club. I would never have picked it up myself so it was good to read it even if I never got to talk about this. It is a slim memoir/essay of a mid-century walker's enthusiasm for the Cairngorms. It is beautiful and passionate and I never quite got into it. There were moments when I could almost touch the serenity it seemed to offer but I don't think I did it any favours reading it on and off urban public transport - I could never quite surrender myself to the experience of the book. Despite being deeply rooted in the countryside I have yet to find a piece of nature writing I really enjoyed.
  • The Gracekeepers - Kirsty Logan: This book was so much sadder than I was expecting. A drowned world, a grave keeper, a circus bear. It is imaginative, melancholic fantasy and thumbs up for not being hella straight.
  • Wildwood - Colin Meloy (Carson Ellis): Heads up, this is a children's book. From the internet's enthusiasm I was expecting it to be 'YA' and it isn't. Prue, the delightful heroine, is 10-12 (can't remember exactly) and I would have LOVED this book when I was little - I was charmed by it now but it isn't meant for me. Still, Carson Ellis's illustrations are beautiful and my library copy was covered in endearing crayon marks. There are talking birds, evil, magic queens, useless parents and sibling affection. Lots of plot and adventure and invention and strong moral messages without ever being didactic. I will be enthusiastically recommending this for 8-12 year olds.
  • A House Full of Daughters - Juliet Nicolson: A biography/memoir of seven generations of daughters. Nicolson is the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and although much has been written about Vita I never get bored of learning about her. She is only one aspect of this story though because this is a strange and varied family. The narrative travels from the slums of C19th Spain to Henry James's Washington, Knole Park to Sissinghurst, London in the 60s to New York in the 80s and on to the present day. The author discovers repetitions, patterns of behaviour and fractious relationships between generations, that illuminate her own life. The biographical elements are fascinating and the memoir elements are raw and contemplative and the two are compellingly combined.
  • All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders: This book is such fun! I read it over a weekend at-home holiday and it was a total pleasure. It is a smart, stand-alone sci-fi/fantasy-lite novel and it is a ball. There is nature magic and futuristic technology coexisting brilliantly in an apocalyptic near-future California. It is funny and pacy and if you enjoy genre writing I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Oh Comely Sunday Morning

I spent a happy hour this morning sipping tea and browsing the latest issue of Oh Comely. It's a lovely issue and I contributed to the What We're Reading feature again. The issue's theme is 'change' and the feature is about books that changed you which gave me the delightful opportunity to write about Emma. I feel like to legitimately understand me you must also understand that Emma is the greatest and that it is one of my defining texts. (Happily Alice Naylor wrote about His Dark Materials so I didn't have to feel too torn.) I could talk and write about how much I love it forever.

Issue highlights:
- Linnea Enstrom writing about her abortion and Virginia Woolf vs. Jean Rhys in regards to rooms of one's own (heart)
- Jack Murphy writing about teaching the Beatles to school children
- Naomi Shimada being beautiful and joyous
- Women Who Changed the World: Barbara McClintock, Claude Cahun, Jennie Lee, Audre Lorde