Saturday, June 25, 2016

june 2016 books…

More book stuff:
Notes From A Small Island (Bill Bryson): I first read this book 20 years ago (I remember enjoying it but, frankly, couldn’t remember any significant details). After living here for nearly 20 years, Bryson decided to take a jaunt around the UK prior to returning to the USA with his family… and this is the subject of the book. Bryson is opinionated, sometimes a little boring, frequently rude… and consistently very funny. A light, affectionate and enjoyable book… perfect holiday reading material.
Stet (Diana Athill): For nearly five decades, Athill acted as editor for some of the most celebrated writers in the English language. This is the second Athill book I’ve read (“After A Funeral” was the first) and I found this elegant, beautifully-written and extraordinary memoir even better. The first half provides an insight into her profession and her own career journey, whilst the second part focuses on particular writers with whom she has worked (eg. VS Naipaul, Jean Rhys and Brian Moore).
The Forbidden Zone (Mary Borden): This is a gem of a little book (first published in 1929). Borden, born in Chicago, set up a hospital unit on the Western Front for French soldiers in WW1 and worked as a nurse there for four years. I’d expected the book to be something of a documented account of her time there and, whilst it certainly conveyed the terror, pain and suffering of the war, her memories and impressions are written in a wonderful, almost poetic, manner which is both powerful and intimate.
Liza Of Lambeth (W Somerset Maugham): I like Maugham as a writer. This short novel, first published in 1897, was his first book and it tells the story of the trials and tribulations of an 18 year-old girl (Liza) living in Lambeth, London (set some 40 years earlier). It paints a convincing picture of working-class life in degenerative slum conditions – although with a fair sense of humour too. I have to say that I found the dialogue rather cumbersome at times (the book’s full of sentences such as: “Wot ‘as ‘e got the needle abaht?”…) - but I suppose this was unavoidable. The book apparently “made a stir” when it was first published and helped launch on his writing career.
The Soulwater Pool (Claire Williamson): I went to a “Literary Evening” at St John on the Wall, Bristol recently and Claire Williamson (a friend of our daughter Ruth, as it turns out) was one of the authors/poets reading their work. This is a short book (published in 2008) explores a domestic drama unfolding over two tense days. It features five characters and is set out in short, poetic reflections (often just a single page long) – each given a heading in the form of the named character and their location (eg.”Ella: In the Park”). It’s a surprising and subtle book – enhanced by the starkness of its rather beautiful format. Excellent.   

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