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Reading Life: 18th September 2017

A photograph the Breacon Beacons, taken from a few metres from the edge of a mountain

Firstly, thank you all for your messages about Tabby. I’m not able to respond individually at the moment but I did read them all. Thank you.

My reading life has been different lately; I’m still figuring out reading times in regards to my job – I’ve been doing some content marketing for the SO: To Speak festival of Southampton and it’s been a lot of fun, finding out connections between Jane Austen and the city, and Southampton composers and Charles Dickens.

I am a bit behind on my reviews so I’ll be scaling back during November and December. The biggest thing will be reading for my event with A J Waines. Waines is a psychological thriller writer with two interesting stories. One is fair – she is a hybrid author, self-published in Britain and traditionally published in Europe. The second is pretty awesome – in 2013 she published a book called Girl On A Train. You can probably guess the rest – two years later sales of her book increased and, a fact we’re using verbatim in the promotional material, The Wall Street Journal said that she started getting lots of reviews saying it wasn’t what people expected.

Many readers have said they liked it a lot more than the other one.

I’ve retitled the event this time; instead of ‘in conversation with’, we’re calling the evening The Original Girl On A Train, neatly sidestepping any issues over using Hawkins’ title but being obvious about what we’re talking about. I’m looking forward to it, it’s in conjunction with the festival so there’s more support and advertising opportunities.

But, and admittedly more to the point in the context of these posts, Waines’ has quite a backlist, so I’ve lots of reading ahead of me.

In terms of other titles, I’m in the midst of Nicholas Royle’s Ornithology, a short story collection based around the theme of birds that has similarities to other books – Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, for one. More importantly, in terms of similarities, you may remember a few months ago I reviewed An English Guide To Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle. Excellent book – only it wasn’t written by the Nicholas Royle whose short story collection I’m reading now. However, An English Guide To Birdwatching references the short story collection – I believe it is in part why the title of the novel includes birds. The two authors met a few years ago – they didn’t know about each other until they both submitted work to the same literary magazine and the editor of that magazine sent the replies to both stories to a solo Nicholas.

It’s confusing, yes. But having first read In Camera (‘Salt’ Nicholas, as I’ll likely refer to himself from now on – he works at Salt Publishing), and then Birdwatching, reading Ornithology is a particular experience I’d never have had in another situation. It’s this weird situation wherein there’s added context to the book that in a way shouldn’t be there.

I’ll stop there.

Moving on, I’ve just finished Fanny Blake’s Our Summer Together – a contemporary romance about a 60-something British women who has a relationship with a younger Bosnian immigrant. Not bad, just a bit repetitive and with two highly different characters. I’m a fair way through Lesley Glaister’s The Squeeze – a difficult read but well written. Next up is Chitra Ramaswathy’s Expecting – a non-fiction essay collection about being pregnant that’s up for the Polari Prize – and after that I may read a bit of Dorthe Nors. I’m going for shorter books at the moment.

I’m considering making a start on Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre before Christmas but we’ll see – previously I didn’t know much about her and so was surprised not to find her books on Project Gutenberg. I now know a lot more, including the new fact that I want to go and visit Monk’s House, and so will work on the idea that if I get all the reading that needs to be done before Christmas… done… I’ll go purchase Orlando.

What are you reading at the moment, what did you read previously, and what will you read next?

 
The End Of An Era

A photograph of my cat

On Wednesday morning we lost my cat, Tabitha or Tabby, who had just turned 20. She was a trooper – she survived the shock of the death of her mother earlier this year, made it through two moves in quick succession, made a valiant effort pretending to hate the dog, and in her final days pushed back against the progression of a year-long illness.

Born to our half-wild/half-domestic cat, her ancestry was apparent. She was off the wall and always had to explore every nook and cranny no matter how many times she’d done it before. She could often be found sitting in the empty bath. She’d get locked in the shed by accident. She’d never sit on your lap, she hated being picked up, and would let everyone but me touch her belly. But she was incredibly loyal; she could often be found sitting on the very edge of my desk trying to find a way down from a place she really shouldn’t have jumped to or would sit on the top of the back of the chair I was sitting on, knocking her head against mine. One of the most Tabby-like photos I have is of her lying on her back; she loved rolling around outside and would do it more if she knew you were there.

It would be fair to say this human has lost her mistress; frequently, instead of spending time with me, she preferred to spend time trying to usher away from us the dog (and my parents… and friends…).

Tabby was the last remaining cat of four in our family; Badge, a classic black and white; Dusty, the grey half wild cat, Harry, Tabby’s litter mate who died long ago (another lives with a friend). It’s going to take some getting used to – I loved her to bits, as I know many of you will relate to – but there are plenty of wonderful memories.

 
Conquering Travel Sickness On Buses

A photograph of trees in motion - the photograph was taken during a car ride

I have always suffered from travel sickness, something I expect a lot of you can relate to. It’s a major hassle when you like to read a lot, and more so when you’ve a review deadline looming. I think in my case it has something to do with the fact my parents didn’t have a car until a good number of years into my life; my journeys in cars were infrequent, they were all different (a few very old cars, too, with the requisite vintage smells which to this day I can’t stand) and it was generally the case that if we were in a car, we were going a long way, to a place without a train station or bus route. I believe my nephew’s the first person not to suffer from travel sickness at all; he’s been used to cars since he was born.

I can read on planes and on trains – the only aspect to contend with there is chatter – and I’ve tried on many occassions to read on buses and in cars but it’s always come with a sense of borrowed time. A 30 second glance at a text message? Sure, but it might affect the rest of the trip.

Recently I tried once again, on a long bus trip, and found something that worked. In researching travel sickness previously, I learned some tips, such as don’t look out the windows, and read in moments here and there, but they didn’t work. I experimented a bit and found a solution:

I sat on my seat, facing towards the aisle. I’d picked a window seat, and this is a good idea particularly as facing inwards mean you’d be intentionally blocking yourself from anyone sitting next to you were they in the window seat. (It’s also more comfortable; I’m not sure what I would’ve done if there was no choice of seat.) I made sure not to look away from my book unless the bus was stationary. When the bus jolted, I stopped reading until it was travelling steady again.

With time I think it will be possible to look up briefly whilst the bus is moving. I don’t know the effect a different direction would have – I sat in the direction of travel. I also don’t know whether format would have an impact – I experimented when I was reading an ebook so I didn’t have to worry about the slight difference in the context of left and right pages or holding a book open.

If you suffer like me, I recommend giving the above a go and seeing if you can work something out. Get that time back.

Next goal: reading when a passenger in the car.

Have you any tips for travel sickness and reading?

 
Further Thoughts On To Kill A Mockingbird

Book cover

Whilst reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I couldn’t help but wonder if the character of Dil was inspired by Truman Capote; Capote and Lee knew each of as children, and there is this quotation from Capote, included on the back of my addition of Lee’s book:

“Someone rare has written this very fine novel, a writer with the liveliest sense of life and the warmest, most authentic humour. A touching book; and so funny, so likeable.”

I didn’t know until halfway through reading the book, wherein I read up about the background of it – that Truman Capote was a friend of Harper Lee’s. Beforehand I’d wondered at the point of a present-day edition including that quote because Capote’s opinion here misses the point of the book and I wondered if there was something to be said of that, a conscious missing of the main point of the book, given the time it was written in and the time it was written about, but the friendship makes more sense, with Capote focusing on the style of the book and Lee’s personality, what he would have liked about her. The tone of it, whilst inevitably biased, is interesting in a literary study sense.

On a different note entirely, as I read more about Lee’s life and the way her book was influenced by her father’s involvement in a similar case to that looked at in the text, I wondered about the reasons for Lee writing it. The possibilities in the way she chose to set it with Scout at the age she had been when her father was working. Is it a novel of ‘what if’ in the sense that Lee would have liked to do more in her position, in the way she involves Scout? Is it simply that she wanted to bring her father’s work to light, to a bigger number of people to show them what happened? Lee said that her book was not autobiographical but clearly, there is something there, the comparisons to be made are too many. Does her reticence on the similarly point to her general shying from the spotlight? Did she simply want more time spent on the text than on her life, albeit that more time on her might have brought more attention to her father’s case? Maybe she wanted people to think generally, and look for commonality between her book and America in general rather than focus on one case.

I read Lee’s book around the same time as I read Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk story collection and it’s interesting to compare the ways the writers wrote about race, Chopin’s general thoughts of equality (given her time) not being dissimilar. What struck me particularly was In Sabine for its inclusion of a free black man choosing to help a ‘Cajun woman’, married to a ‘white man’ (phrasing the white man uses) with the chores. There is nothing here of Lee’s story beyond this factor, but reading the stories together, it strikes you that, particularly given the ‘white man’s’ stereotyping something could have happened. His wife does not seem happy to be married to him and the narrator, a visitor, notes how much she has changed.

It may have been due to expectation or simply that I didn’t know the book followed a child, but I found it less involved than I thought it would be, less about the courtroom, though the added narrative of difference was a good find. I did think there would be more ‘action’ but it was enjoyable for what it was. Certainly the autobiographical nature of it impressed me. Lee involves all types of people (well, to an extent, in keeping with the time).

This post feels very me-centric, more than usual in terms of Further Thoughts, but it fits the general background context in which I approached the book; not the most concrete of expectations, but enough that it got me thinking. For all the ‘lack’ of action, though, I loved the quietness of it, the slowly unfurling nature of what is transpiring – even if it’s easier for the reader and you have to wait for Scout to understand. And I think there’s something special in the way Scout is recounting the story at an older age, with the benefit of hindsight but also the innocence of childhood mixed in.

What do you think of Lee’s book, or if you haven’t read it, do you plan to?

 
The Polari First Book Prize 2017

The Polari Prize logo

I wanted to take a moment to feature the Polari First Book Prize. I was given the opportunity to read last year’s winner, The Good Son by Paul McVeigh, and, having it enjoyed it, when I was offered the shortlist this year I said ‘yes’ to a couple of them (time restraints). I didn’t know much about Polari other than the fact there was a prize and so decided to look into it, so, full disclosure, I’ve been asked to review some books which will happen soon, but this post is of my own making.

Paul McVeigh

Photo credit: Krystyna FitzGerald Morris

The Prize is for LGBT books, books that explore the LGBT experience. Entries are accepted in all forms – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and self-published works are welcome. On the shortlist lasy year was Andrew McMillan’s awesome poetry collection, Physical, that was high on the list for the Young Writer of the Year, too.

This year’s shortlist (lots of independent publishers):

    Expecting by Chitra Ramaswamy (Saraband)
    Guapa by Saleem Haddad (Europa Editions UK)
    We Go Around In The Night And Are Consumed By Fire by Jules Grant (Myriad)
    Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd (Bantam)
    The Vegetarian Tigers Of Paradise by Crystal Jeans (Honno)
    Jerusalem Ablaze by Orlando Ortega-Medina (Cloud Lodge)

I’ll be reading the Ramaswamy and the Ortega-Medina. The first is a memoir/essay collection, the second a collection of short stories.

The Prize was launched in 2011 by the Polari Literary Salon, a once a month Arts Council supported event hosted mostly at the Southbank Centre in London. To mark the Salon’s 10th anniversary (so that’s 2011 for the Prize, and 2007 for the Salon), they are doing an event tour that runs until October. Eighty authors are involved and the winner of the Prize will be revealed on 13th October at the Southbank Centre as part of the London Literature Festival.

The tour started in June. Here are the remaining dates:

    13th September: Printworks, Hastings
    15th September: Lewisham Library, Lewisham
    17th September: The Place Theatre, Bedford
    22nd September: Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
    8th October: Birmingham Literature Festival
    13th October: Southbank Centre (winner revealed)
    20th October: Marlborough Theatre, Brighton
    24th November: Southbank Centre, London
 

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