To really see the state of things is lethal

hold your ownHold Your Own
by Kate Tempest

I bought this poetry collection when I went to see Kate Tempest as part of the Bath Festival of Literature, and like her live performance, the book is inspiring.

Tempest’s words fizz with righteous anger and passion, but they are also highly intelligent, filled with classical references and political insight.

Just take this collection’s premise. It centres on the myth of Tiresias, who as a young man disturbs a pair of copulating snakes and is punished by the goddess Hera, who turns him into a woman. Years later, she is “allowed” to return to the form of man, but then another encounter with the gods leaves him a blind clairvoyant. Tempest takes this story apart into four chapters – childhood, manhood, womanhood and blind profit (see what she did there?!) – each of which is a sequence of poems about Tiresias and the myth’s parallels to modern society and her own life. This gives her a natural route to discussions of gender, sex and relationships, but also poverty, community, age, politics and the future.

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The essence escapes but its aura remains

i know why the caged bird singsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

Once again, I thought I had read this before and that this would be a re-read, but nope, it was all new to me. I guess that sometimes happens with much-talked-about books. Anyway, now I actually have read it and it is just as amazing as everyone always said it is.

This is the first book in Maya Angelou’s seven volumes of autobiography, covering her childhood in Arkansas and California. Hers was an eventful life, and yet her writing is beautiful enough that the book hardly needs events to make it a great read.

Angelou was sent with her brother to live with their grandmother when she was three, and this is where her story begins. She was very aware of her status as a black girl with a plain face and writes with a tense humour about the white side of town. But she had a comfortably-off family (her Momma ran a successful general store) relative to many others in Stamps, Arkansas – a downtrodden, dirt-ridden place from her descriptions.

“A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt for the white ‘things’…But above all, their wealth that allowed them to waste was the most enviable.”

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She would fling these pin-pricks in the air

MyCousinRachelMy Cousin Rachel
by Daphne du Maurier

I really truly thought I had read this before and that picking it up on holiday would be a re-read, but it became increasingly clear that this was entirely new to me. It’s nice when you find a new-to-you book by a favourite author, right? This was Daphne du Maurier’s last real big success, though she wrote several more books after it, and is often held up as her greatest work (yes – even greater than Rebecca, some say).

Philip has been raised by his cousin Ambrose since he was orphaned young and together they run an estate in Cornwall. Philip is a young man, while middle-aged Ambrose has never married. Until, that is, he travels to Italy for his health and meets his distant cousin Rachel. She’s a half-Italian widow in her 30s who shares Ambrose’s love for gardens and he is soon besotted. But can she be trusted? And is naïve Philip going to be forever spoiled by knowing her?

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Cornwall reads in brief

Yes, I’ve been on holiday again. This time a long weekend in Cornwall. It wasn’t what most people might consider beach weather, but that just provided an excuse to stay indoors reading while looking out at the sea and listening to the waves crash. (It’s a comforting noise, which possibly doesn’t make any sense.)

It was a lovely holiday with old friends in a place we have visited many times, so it’s like a home from home. I didn’t actually have my nose in a book the whole time – there were beach/clifftop walks, games to play, crosswords to complete, a whole lot of tasty food to eat and even (in my case very briefly because brrr) swimming in the sea.

porthcothan-beach

But I did get a lot of reading done too.

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Holiday in USA: New York City

Untitled

Okay, it’s more than a month since we got back from our US holiday and I still haven’t sorted through all the photos (partly because we’ve only had one free weekend, but it’s still remiss of me) so I’m just going to have to try to summarise our week there before I forget it all completely. It was an amazing trip, with far more activities on our to do list than we had time for, inevitably. It’s New York.

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Early summer reads: short reviews

I shouldn’t complain that life has been full of holidays and social events and lovely weather to be enjoyed (and work), and to be honest it hasn’t slowed down my reading particularly. But it does mean I am woefully behind on reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.

the sandman vol 2The Sandman Vol. 2 The Doll’s House
by Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III

How to explain The Sandman? It’s a whole mythology where Death and Dream and Desire and several others are immortal non-human siblings, sharing or sometimes squabbling over their power/responsibility. This review contains some minor spoilers of the first volume.

Dream, or Morpheus, has recently awoken from his entrapment by a magicians’ circle to find the Dreaming in chaos. While setting it all to rights, he senses that there is a Dream Vortex in the shape of a young woman, Rose Walker. She is trying to put her family back together, unaware of the danger that surrounds her or of Dream trailing her closely. Rose is a fantastic character and there are some wonderful comic touches here, such as the serial killers’ convention. But really it’s the combination of gorgeous art (with wonderful covers by long-time Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean) and writing that make this a great book.

“It seemed like the late autumn wind blew them in that night, spinning and dizzying from the four corners of the world. It was a bitch wind, knife-sharp and cutting, and it blew bad and cold. And they came with it, scurrying and skittering, like yellow leaves and old newspapers, from a thousand places and from nowhere at all. They came in their suits and their tee shirts, carrying rucksacks and suitcases and plastic bags, muttering and humming and silent as the night.”

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Drowned out by the sounds of the mundane world

The Long EarthThe Long Earth
by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

I actually have a lot of thoughts about this book, but going into most of them would require revealing more about this book’s premise than I want to in this review. So I’m going to keep this (fairly) short and highly recommend that you read the book, then maybe we can do spoilers in the comments!

The set-up of the book is that one day children suddenly start disappearing all over the world – and then hours later they reappear telling the fantastic story that they had “stepped” to another Earth, a parallel world that seems to be identical except that there are no signs of humans or human civilisation there. They were able to step thanks to eccentric scientist Willis Linsay posting online the details of how to build your own stepper device. And it turns out that there isn’t just one parallel Earth; there are hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe an infinite number, each subtly different but still clearly Earth.

“The prairie was flat, green, rich, with scattered stands of oaks. The sky above was blue as generally advertised. On the horizon there was movement, like the shadow of a cloud: a vast herd of animals on the move. There was a kind of sigh, a breathing-out. An observer standing close enough might have felt a whisper of breeze on the skin.”

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Mid-year reading round-up

(Albert Edelfelt, 1881)
(Albert Edelfelt, 1881)

I’ve got through a lot of books this year, but I haven’t had time to review them all properly. I may have to start looking at doing something a bit different on that front. Seeing as we’re enjoying a proper actual heatwave (by UK standards) I’m not going to promise to stay home more blogging, I’m going to get out there and enjoy it, but I want to keep the blog alive too. I’ll figure something out. Fellow bloggers: do you find it harder to keep up with it all in the summer months?

As this is the year’s halfway point, it’s a good time to take stock as regards my reading aims and challenges. I’ve read 21 books by men, 17 by women and 1 by both. Not too far off even. I’ve read a reasonable mix of genres and ages of books. However, the actual challenges I took on were the Classics Club – for which I have read four books – and more books in translation. I’ve read five books in translation and one about translation, which is reasonable, I think.

But right now I’m not trying too hard to meet challenges or read the right books. I just want to enjoy reading. Which seems a good summery aim to me.

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