February reading round-up

I finally feel that I’m in the swing of reading this year. February was a good month. I discovered Bidisha thanks to an English PEN event on refugees, I had a very lovely Valentine’s weekend with Tim in London and I finally got to see Kate Tempest live. I also found plenty of time for reading…

Ted Hughes: a Tribute

Ted Hughes
Bath Literature Festival
The Forum, Bath, 28 February

I confess that I mostly chose this event to go to because it included Kate Tempest and I keep missing her Bristol shows. But I also like Ted Hughes’ poetry and was interested in what a tribute to him would be like. The answer? A bit uneven and yet also staid. But Kate was really good.

The event was hosted by Bel Mooney, a writer who co-founded the festival 20 years ago, which was when she first met Ted Hughes, who opened that year’s festival in the Forum, the same venue hosting his tribute. She spoke warmly of him as a man and as a writer, hitting all the right notes of celebration and admiration…

Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is back!

final logo TEXTOn 14–15 March, Bristol’s Watershed will be home to a celebration of women’s writing, with a series of events covering everything from the overlooked women writers of the Renaissance to the brightest and the best of today’s up and coming literary stars.

The festival was founded by feminist writer Siân Norris “to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices”.

It all kicks off with a screening of Paris was a Woman, a 1996 documentary film about the amazing women of the 1920s Paris literary scene including my beloved Colette, followed by an audience discussion chaired by Norris…

You’re a son of a gun, Sammy

maltese falconThe Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett

I’ve been meaning to read this for years. As a fan of Raymond Chandler I figured I should read the original gritty noir American detective, so I was pleased when my book club picked this for one of our “classic” reads. I was late to the book club discussion but I think we all felt the same way: this is worth reading but not as good as Chandler!

I guess I was hoping for that luscious purple prose that Chandler is such an expert at – it’s ridiculous and yet in a way beautiful. Hammett has none of that. Which isn’t to say this is badly written, it’s just a bit plainer, but still very entertaining and with moments of beauty…

Comic books short reviews

The thing about comic books in series is that’s kinda hard to say that much about them after volume one, so here’s some brief thoughts on comics I’ve read lately.

modesty blaise grim jokerModesty Blaise: The Grim Joker
by Peter O’Donnell (writer) and Enric Badia Romero (artist)

I’ve jumped in my reading of Modesty Blaise from strips from the early 1970s to those of the early 1990s and it shows. While the stories themselves are still very gung-ho pseudo Bond adventures and they still look quite 1960s, the gender politics and subject matter have moved on. Modesty is no longer the only capable female on the block, though there are still gratuitous scenes of her nearly or fully naked at least once in every storyline. This volume collects three stories: one is about amnesia and the bond between Modesty and her best friend/right-hand man Willie Garvin; one is about two very different treasure hunts that collide; and one is about a series of murders that Modesty and Willie decide to risk their lives to solve. The dialogue can be clunky and the plots a little predictable, but these stories remain enormously fun, with a great sense of style…

Night Safari: Love in the Natural World

Natural History Museum, London
Monday 16 February 2015

Dippy has a tail

Our Valentine’s long weekend in London was largely built around Tim managing to get tickets for the Natural History Museum‘s special Valentine’s tie-in evening event. I almost didn’t care what the event was, I was so excited by the prospect of being in the museum at night, sharing it with only 50 or so people. If you’ve ever seen the ridiculous queues to get into the Natural History Museum, particularly on a weekend or school holiday (which this last week was for most of England) you’ll understand why that was exciting…

It became frightening to step back onto firm ground

getting-the-pictureGetting the Picture
by Sarah Salway

When new publisher Dean Street Press offered up any of their books for review, I picked this one partly because the synopsis sounded good but mostly because they had a quote from Neil Gaiman on the cover. Not the greatest reason but I think it worked out.

The book opens with Maureen accompanying her model friend Pat to a photographer’s studio. Maureen is married with a young child and the photographer, Martin, specialises in nude portraits – tasteful ones, but nudes all the same – so Maureen is nervous to be there but undeniably attracted to Martin. Cut to 40 years later and Martin is moving into a retirement home. He writes a letter to Maureen to tell her that he picked the same home that her husband George is in, because he wants to finally understand why she went back to her husband after their affair ended…

Politics are what brought us together, in this room

asylum and exileAsylum and Exile: the Hidden Voices of London
by Bidisha

I picked this book up at its launch in London last week after hearing a few samples from it read aloud. It’s a short, jauntily written memoir that is deceptive in the power of what it has to say.

Bidisha is a British author, journalist and broadcaster who in 2011 started to run creative writing workshops for asylum seekers and other migrants in London, organised by English PEN. She quickly realised that most people who turned up for the class were not interested in becoming writers – they were there to improve their English or to spend some time with people in a similar situation or even to receive the free tea, cake and £8 travel subsidy provided by the charity. But she also found that didn’t matter because she discovered amazing people and had her preconceptions of refugees challenged…

Sunday Salon: So much stuff

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a busy week, full of bookish stuff, plus friends and family, and that work thing, so I am too tired for our weekly pub quiz and instead am sat at home watching junk TV instead of reading any of the many piles of unread books lying around. I should probably feel bad about this but I don’t…

A gleam of light in the impenetrable mystery

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
translated from French by Katherine Woods

This is my first read for Classics Club and it may have been an odd place to start, or maybe a very good place. I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t the book I expected and yet, thinking about it, I really should have known exactly how it would be.

First of all, it’s a children’s book, which I knew, but so many adults rave about it that I suppose I thought it wouldn’t read quite so very much like one. Also, it was written in the 1940s and has the moralising tone to suit, though it’s an unusual set of morals that it’s selling…