Episode 2 in Imogen Continues to Break her Book-Buying-Ban… I’ve been to some magical bookshops recently, and it would really be rude not take home a souvenir (or several). I also got some books for my birthday last week so I’ve included those, too. This is quite a strange collection, but I’m looking forward to switching up my reading habits over the summer and reading a wider range of books.
The Rat by Günter Grass
Technically I’ve borrowed this from my boyfriend, but I thought I’d haul it anyway. This is a witty environmental novel that sounds quite strange and thought-provoking in the best possible way.
In this superbly inventive, beautifully crafted novel, Günter Grass relates, in dreamlike sequences, the end of this world and the beginning of an age of rats.
Witches: Hunted, Appropriated, Empowered, Queered edited by Anna Colin
I bought this book a few weeks ago when I went to Broadway Market with some friends, one of whom suggested I might like to look into Donlon Books. She was right – it’s an amazing place to find books you might not normally come across. Their website says: “Since opening our first space in 2008, we have built a strong reputation for stocking an idiosyncratic range of new and rare titles, periodicals and printed matter, with a focus on photography, art, critical theory, LGBT literature, music, fashion, counterculture, erotica, and esoterica“.
Witches… is a collection of texts on femininity, gender, activism and witchcraft. I really like the idea of a collection that spans multiple disciplines, and I love the fact that the texts are presented with side-by-side French and English translations (I hope this will make it easier for me to try to read it in French).
Witches: hunted, appropriated, empowered, queered combines historical accounts, fictional literature, activist experiences, theoretical propositions and artistic reflections to form a multidisciplinary book on gender, myth and alterity – forty years after the witch returned in a new radical guise in the activist imagination, and at a time when alleged witches are still persecuted in certain parts of the world.
The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile
Another day, another bookshop. I got this book, as well as the next two on this list, from Topping & Co in St Andrews, Scotland, which might be my new Favourite Ever Bookshop (a bold statement, I know). It’s so cosy and they give you tea and coffee while you browse and there are nooks and crannies to read in and it’s just great. If you can get to St Andrews, Bath or Ely then I really recommend checking them out.
I am v v v excited to read this. It’s considered to be one of the earliest national collections of fairy tales, and inspired some of the stories we’re so familiar with now. The fairy tales themselves are presented as stories within a story, and I really enjoy that sort of framed narrative so I think this will be right up my street.
Before the Brothers Grimm, before Charles Perrault, before Hans Christian Andersen, there was Giambattista Basile, a seventeenth-century poet from Naples, Italy, whom the Grimms credit with recording the first national collection of fairy tales. The Tale of Tales opens with Princess Zoza, unable to laugh no matter how funny the joke. Her father, the king, attempts to make her smile; instead he leaves her cursed whereupon the prince she is destined to marry is snatched up by another woman. To expose this impostor and win back her rightful husband, Zosa contrives a storytelling extravaganza: fifty fairy tales to be told by ten sharp-tongued women (including Zoza in disguise) over five days.
Funny and scary, romantic and gruesome-and featuring a childless queen who devours the heart of a sea monster cooked by a virgin, and who then gives birth the very next day; a lecherous king aroused by the voice of a women, whom he courts unaware of her physical grotesqueness; and a king who raises a flea to monstrous size on his own blood, sparking a contest in which an ogre view with men for the hand of the king’s daughter-The Tale of Tales is a fairy-tale treasure and a touchstone of worldwide fantasy literature.
Crow by Ted Hughes
I mentioned in my May Book Haul that I wanted to read Crow before I start Grief is the Thing with Feathers, so here it is! I’ve heard that these poems are beautiful, but also dark and harrowing. Hoping to get round to reading this soon.
Crow was Ted Hughes’s fourth book of poems for adults and a pivotal moment in his writing career. In it, he found both a structure and a persona that gave his vision a new power and coherence. A. Alvarez wrote in the Observer, ‘Each fresh encounter with despair becomes the occasion for a separate, almost funny, story in which natural forces and creatures, mythic figures, even parts of the body, act out their special roles, each endowed with its own irrepressible life. With Crow, Hughes joins the select band of survivor-poets whose work is adequate to the destructive reality we inhabit’.
The Sandman by E.T.A. Hoffman
This is a strange little book, and one that’s quite difficult to describe. It actually reminded me a lot of Frankenstein in its letter-based format, settings and treatment of science and technology. Read it if you like a good, creepy short story with a historical edge.
“Strange man, how can you have eyes for sale? Eyes? Eyes?”
Stealer of children’s eyes, the sinister Sandman is one of the most famous creations from the dark gothic imagination of German Romantic E.T.A. Hoffman.
Le liseur du 6h27 [The Reader on the 6.27] by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
This was one of the most charming books I’ve read in a long time. Full of vibrant, idiosyncratic characters, it tells the story of Guylain Vignolles (“Vilain Guignols”), a man who works at a paper pulping factory, hates his job, and rebels against the destructive nature of his work by reading fragments of salvaged books out loud on his commute. This is a book about books, about reading, and about the way that words and writing can bring people together from all walks of life. It was delightful and I thoroughly recommend it.
Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, Guylain Vignolles has but one pleasure in life. Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. It’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life. For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie. Julie feels as lost in the world as he does. As he reads from these pages to a rapt audience, Guylain finds himself falling hopelessly in love with their enchanting author. This is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. This captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives.
Through the Language Glass: Why the world looks different in other languages by Guy Deutscher
Having studied languages at university and lived abroad in France and Spain, I know that I think differently in different languages. So I’m really interested in Guy Deutscher’s hypothesis: that culture and national mentality are linked to the language(s) you speak. I’ve read another of his books (The Unfolding of Language), and I really enjoy the light-hearted and engaging way he approaches linguistics.
It’s a question that has baffled, enraged and fascinated in equal measure for over a century: does the language you speak affect the way you think? Contrary to the fashionable consensus of today, acclaimed author Guy Deutscher believes that the answer is a resounding yes. On an odyssey that takes us from Homer to Darwin, from scientists to savages, and from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water – a ‘she’ – becomes a ‘he’ once you have dipped a tea bag into her, Through the Language Glass explores some of the most intriguing and controversial questions about language, culture and the human mind.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The winner of this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, this doesn’t sound like the kind of book I would normally pick up, but I’m trying to challenge myself to read outside my comfort zone. It sounds gritty and tough, but by all accounts the writing is brilliant and engaging.
Maureen didn’t mean to kill a man, but what can a poor dear do when she’s surprised by an intruder and has only a holy stone to hand? Lucky that she’s just reconnected with her estranged son Jimmy because, as the most feared gangster in Cork, he certainly has the tools to sort out the mess.
So Jimmy enlists his boyhood buddy Tony who, with six kids and a love of the bottle, could certainly do with the money, even if his teenage son, Ryan, is far too keen to grow up so he can become a gangster himself. And all is going to plan until Georgie, the girlfriend of the hapless intruder, starts to wonder where he went…
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
I read this last week in two days on my way to and from work, and I think it might have wormed its way into my list of all-time favourite books. Weird and chilling and suspenseful but also strangely touching and really quite funny, it follows Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood as she tries to prevent the outside world from infiltrating her carefully constructed existence. Merricat lives with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian – the rest of her family died six years ago when a lethal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl. Part of the novel forms a sort of whodunnit centred around this event, but Shirley Jackson doesn’t try very hard to conceal the identity of the murderer. Far more intriguing, I feel, is the treatment of themes such as otherness and mob mentality, and the sense of unease that runs through the book. I particularly liked the ritualistic, almost fetishised descriptions of food (preparation and consumption): “We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.”
I loved this book and you should all read it now.
Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.
In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsetlling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.
Phew! That’s all folks – I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these, or if you’re planning to.