Category Archives: Today I read

Three Moments of an Explosion

Making inroads into my Bespoke reading list, I’ve started reading Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville.

Being a fan of Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman, Mieville has been on my radar for a while now, but I’d not managed to pick up anything yet – Three moments is a collection of short stories and feels like an easier place to start than a full-length novel, or diving right into his Bas-lag trilogy. Accessibility is important here because the fiction is, in a precise sense, weird.

I don’t mean weird as in surreal or structurally experimental, although the writing style is plenty fresh so far, nor do I mean fantastic or escapist in setting or genre, but weird as in uncanny or just a little bit unsettling. For example, one story is told from the perspective of a professional poker player who uncovers a phenomenon of ‘hidden’ suits that will appear in game, if the circumstances are just right. One might be dealt, mid-round, the Four of Chimneys, or the Two of Scissors, or even (giving the story its title), the Dowager of Bees. There are special rules which appear and vanish from the rulebooks as needed, as do the cards themselves. Like I said, weird.

I’m enjoying the collection so far. I was pleased to see Mark Bould, who was a lecturer during my degree, named in the acknowledgements. Moreso, I think this’ll have an effect on my writing. Look out for things getting Weird.

Bears and books

Today I went to see the very lovely, Goodbye Christopher Robin. I’ll be writing a review for assessment and also for DURA (if it’s worthy enough!) so I won’t go into too much detail, but I really enjoyed the film. It gives an insight into the world of A.A Milne and his relationship with his son, who inspired the character of Christopher Robin.

The beautiful Sussex scenery really sets the scene for a real-life Hundred Acre Wood and Will Tilston is excellent as a very sweet and funny Billy Moon AKA Christopher Robin. Set in postwar Britain, it deals with some tougher issues like PTSD and the author’s changeable relationship with his son but overall, it’s a very charming, moving film that I think all writers would enjoy!

I’m one of those people who can’t just read one book at a time, finish it, then move on – I need to have a few on the go at the same time! So currently, I’m reading Accidents in the Home and Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley and Otherlands by Harry Guest. I was also in the middle of The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson and Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane, but those two aren’t on the MLitt reading list so they’ll have to take a back seat until I have a bit more free space in my brain!

I hadn’t heard of Tessa Hadley until recently, but I really love her writing. Her honest, real characters really appeal to me and I love the subtle little twists throughout. Feeling very inspired for some short story writing!

more Goblin

I’ve just finished reading Goblin. The ending is quite emotional, although I’ll say no more about that.

seen next to Archetypal by Joe MacKinnon, and Nursery Rhyme by Lee Robson

The story fits across time and space but is told by a central character, Goblin, whom we meet as a nine year old girl in London at the outbreak of the second world war, and simultaneously as a woman of eighty-one in Edinburgh, in 2011. As a narrator Goblin is tricksy and creative, lending the book a level of Gaiman-esque fantasy and more classical unreliability. We read the story of her life through the book, but are rewarded with new morsels of information each time the tale goes around its axis. Goblin’s identity warps over and over (especially in her younger years) but the character stays the same, constantly growing. The book has adventure, humour, romance, mystery and heartbreak; all the good stuff.

As a debut novelist, Ever Dundas’ personality, ideas and values feel clear to me through the text. There’s a strong animal-rights theme; I feel like half the named cast in the book must be non-human, and looking past the end I catch a “thanks to all who work to eradicate speciesism” in the acknowledgements. I’m looking forward to meeting her, I’m hoping my impression of the person behind this book is correct.

My only regret is my own impatience, buying the Kindle version rather than waiting for a hard copy to come in the post. ebooks can’t be signed, and worse still they can’t be lent out or passed on as gifts, which means I’m going to have to buy at least one more copy.

Hooked on Books… and Poetry

In any given week, I’ll buy more books than I read. I pounce on daily deal e-books because 99p is cheaper than a cup of coffee and a good book is every bit as stimulating as a shot of caffeine. I can’t walk past certain charity shops either. Some of them are a goldmine for pristine classics, poetry and modern literary fiction. This week’s lucky charity shop finds include In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. If those titles sound rather sombre, then I could add that e-book bargains have included The Hitchhikers Guide by Douglas Adams which, unbelievably, I’ve never read, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which I am ashamed to say has also passed me by.

Book covers
In Cold Blood, Capote
Vile Bodies, Waugh

So what have I actually been reading?

My bedtime book is The Names by Don DeLillo which is on our reading list. Its lean and – apologies to the tutors – accessible style belies the sheer beauty and power of the writing, the poetic rhythms which arrest and seduce you without you fully realising that you’ve been seduced. I will certainly be hunting out more titles by DeLillo in those charity shops.

I’ve also been dipping into short stories this week – I do this randomly when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or waiting for the washing machine spin cycle to end. I have enjoyed Tell Tale Heart by Marie’s favourite, Edgar Allan Poe, an equally eerie story by Henry James called, The Real Right Thing and the brilliant short, The Caterpillar by Lydia Davis.

In a strange twist of fate, Davis’s name cropped up again in an interview in the Paris Review,  so obviously I had to read that as well (Paris Review, Art of Fiction No.227).

I was particularly drawn to a section at the end of the interview, where Davis talks about a poem she wrote many years ago on the subject of grief. On this course, we’ve spent quite a lot of time looking at poetry. For many of us, it’s unchartered territory, so it was fascinating to read the process surrounding the creation of this poem, particularly since Davis admits that she does not consider herself a poet.

I’m slowly waking up to the power and versatility of poetry, but Davis puts her finger on it beautifully. I’ll leave you with what she says about her poem Head, Heart and I urge you to seek it out and have a read.

‘It’s a story about grief. When I came to try to express this particular grief, a poem was what I wanted. No “story”, no talk, but that distillation. That difficulty speaking, almost.’

New books to read

I’ve done very well over the years, at collecting books that I mean to read. The list grows.  When I moved to Dundee I deliberately left all my books, including a respectable collection of comics and graphic novels, in a box in my generous mum’s attic, bringing only my laptop and Kindle as reading material. Even with that I have several unread texts, works that I’m midway through and picking up from time to time, the most recent focus being on Archetypal by Joseph MacKinnon. Until today:

Three new texts have come into my hands, two of which in paperback. The third, Goblin by Ever Dundas, is new and wasn’t in our local Waterstones yet. As I sit to write now I’m half-way through it, and it’s great.

Ever will be speaking at the First Writes event as part of the Dundee Literary Festival later this month, and I’ll be conducting an interview with her afterwards, which will hopefully make its way onto the Dura website.

 

What am I reading? An erotic novel, apparently.

Morning all.  There’s a lot of lovely highly intellectual chat about what people are reading currently.  Certainly, coming back to Uni and being surrounded by numerous very well read and intelligent people has made me look at my reading over the past five years with a mild sense of shame- quite literally nothing but Crime Fiction (littered with the odd re-read of Black Beauty).  Now, Crime Fiction is magical, and I’ll always love it, but perhaps, it would be a good idea to break free from it for a while?  Broaden some horizons?

So, this has led to me working my way through the lovely personalised reading list which Kirsty Gunn has furnished each of us with.  The first book I purchased was “In the Cut” by Susanna Moore.  Now, I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting, perhaps something written really stylistically, with many long words and complex references I’d have to Google.  Within the first five pages some rather graphically described sexual acts occurred.  Well, OK, I thought, that’s an intense start, let’s see where this goes.  Well, onto more and more sexual encounters it would seem!  Now, I’m a cosmopolitan kind of gal, I can handle this, but problems began to arise when I was casually reading this book in the break area at work.

My lovely curious colleagues are forever asking questions about how Uni is going, so at the sight of me reading a booking, naturally they asked what it was- “is that one of your poncy clever novels?”  It was at that awkward moment that I realised the cover had the description “A ferociously uninhibited erotic thriller” in capital letters on it, and to top it all off, the front cover features a naked woman and a bit of rope.

“It’s for Uni!”  Not entirely sure they believed me…

“You don’t get prose in anapaestic dimeters” from Tom Leonard’s ‘100 Differences…’

Or, do you?! It would seem you might if you read your prose aloud!The  focus of my reading (quietly intoning in private) has been mainly contemporary poetry  of late in a desperate attempt to find a suitable collection for review (by suitable, I mean something I can readily understand and communicate its sense and meaning in a review form ) and recommend new collections by Rachel McCrum and Miriam Nash. But,  I much  prefer reading  North American prose fiction by writers such as Paul Auster, Richard Ford and Margaret Atwood (although, I’ve only just started reading from  her vast back catalogue). Anyone read/looked at Margaret Atwood’s comic book, ‘Angel Catbird’! I now wonder after Wednesday’s class on rhythm if anapaestic dimeters and the like(?) fly like ravens through comic books, too!