November Reading

Mostly for work, as is probably obvious.


Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway: A reread for work, and another of those books that I have a very intense memory of reading when I was younger (I loved it then, I love it now), so that a reread now makes it very clear how differently (how much better) I read now. Perhaps it is also time to revisit To The Lighthouse.

Ghalib Islam, Fire in the Unnameable Country: Years ago my best friend spent ages trying to read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast and failing because she was enjoying the first few pages so much that she couldn’t move on from them. I felt a bit like that about Ghalib Islam’s book. It took me months to read, a bit at a time, but I loved it. It’s also the subject of December’s Strange Horizons book club, so more detailed thoughts will be available there in a few weeks.

William Mayne, A Grass Rope: With a group of people who research children’s lit I’ve been reading through the former recipients of the Carnegie medal, one book per decade. I insisted on A Grass Rope because I love it and have complex feelings about it; most people did not feel about it as I did. They were wrong, obviously.

Mhairi McFarlane, It’s Not Me, It’s You: I enjoyed McFarlane’s first two books so got this pretty much the moment it came out. It’s a romance, and it’s partly set in Newcastle, and there’s a comic-within-the-story, so it really ought to be all the things that I like. Except that I found the scene-setting of the Newcastle bits awkward (yes, tell me again about how you had dinner at Rasa and exactly what you ordered) and the comic stuff didn’t feel like it added much, and a dog died. Still, it managed to be nuanced and realistic about break-ups, and often funny, and involved a heist sequence and so made for a good afternoon.

Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners: For work, and often gorgeous.

Douglas Gresham and Pauline Baynes, The Official Narnia Cookbook: I did a column on this and should probably put it here soon.

Lucy Boston, A Stranger at Green Knowe: For the abovementioned Carnegie reading project. I love The Children of Green Knowe, as readers of this blog are probably aware. I loved large parts of this as well–despite the sometimes clumsy depiction of the main character, an orphaned refugee from China. There’s a surprising amount Boston gets right in simply giving us the quiet, believable perspective of a non-white character (even if she imposes a name upon him that is clearly not his own), but perhaps the best way to talk about how awful it is to be a refugee is not to compare that situation to a gorilla in a really awful zoo. It is still less bad at writing about non-white characters than The Child’s Elephant, so well done the 1960s..

Manuela Draeger (trans. Brian Evenson), In the Time of the Blue Ball: Glorious. I wrote a column about this which will also be on the blog soon.

Eloisa James, Desperate Duchesses, An Affair Before Christmas, Duchess By Night, When the Duke Returns, This Duchess of Mine, A Duke of Her Own: During the Courtney Milan accidental book club, the book’s lack of  sexy chess (chess is central to The Duchess War) was raised, and Tansy Rayner Roberts recommended this series as one that contained such a thing. In the event I found the sexy chess itself a bit disappointing (they abandon it for actual sex; anyone could do that, I wanted to know who won the game) but the series itself was enjoyable. I normally like Eloisa James, I’m not sure why I hadn’t read these before.

Romilly and Katherine John, Death By Request: Also the subject of a column, which will be up here soon. I picked this up at Barter Books because it was part of the Hogarth crime series that has in the past contained things I like. I was surprised by it, and that is a good thing.


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