I read quite a few books on holiday and it now feels like an age ago so I’m going to play catch-up with some shorter reviews of slightly unusual books I have read lately.
Trains are Mint
by Oliver East
This is a sweet but odd piece of graphic-novel-style journalism/travel writing. East took his notebook and pen on walks along railway lines from Manchester to Blackpool, drawing and taking notes on whatever grabbed his interest. Which sounds like a fascinating project. And both its niche appeal and its failure to grab me stem from exactly what it is that East finds interesting: rubbish, graffiti, kids hanging out, small railway stations and tumbleweed.
Published 2008 by Blank Slate.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Miscellaneous poems 1912–1926
Selected and translated by Michael Hamburger
I love Rilke. I don’t really understand a lot of it but I find it beautiful. In a different mood this might make me feel stupid or at least self-conscious but thankfully I read this book in the stately, studious surroundings of Cambridge and I just enjoyed floating on the words. And using the helpfully supplied German original texts opposite the English translations to remember how I once knew some German but have basically forgotten it all. It may take another read or three to get a little more from it. As Rilke says:
“Do not, do not, do not books for ever
hammer at people like perpetual bells?”
First published as An Unofficial Rilke in 1981. This edition published 2003 by Anvil Press Poetry.
The Hungry Ghost Festival
by Jen Campbell
This is a slim volume, which I have already read most of twice (see above for how this is a good thing with poetry), and I think it’s safe to say that these poems are right up my street. Campbell writes about growing up in north-east England, about being a teenager, the seaside, friendship, gossip, sex and illness. The poems tend to concentrate on the random details that give memories their surreal quality. They are both magical and grittily real.
Published 2012 by The Rialto.
The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957–1963
by Barry Miles
I started reading this book as part of my research for my dissertation at uni. I got halfway through it and then had to concentrate on finishing the dissertation so I put the book down and inevitably I had had enough of Bob Dylan and the Beat poets so I didn’t pick it up again…for eight years. I had forgotten how interesting a read it is. Miles uses lots of primary sources, plus his own interviews with many of the people involved, but slips them seamlessly into the narrative. He has a good grasp of what makes an interesting anecdote. If you have even a passing interest in the Beats I definitely recommend it and defy you to come away not wanting to go straight to Paris!
Published 2001 by Atlantic Books (UK) / Grove Press (US).