Thursday, 7 March 2013

World Book Day 2013

So.... I don't seem to have kept my pledge to blog more books....

But my intentions, they were so very intent! I took pics and highlighted quotes in preparation and all. ....and shall continue to pretend that I will eventually work those up into future blogposts. So in the meantime, some short notes about shorts:

i.e. recent short story kick:
Richard Adams, The Iron Wolf -- retellings of various folk 'n' fairytales from various traditions, that really flag up the meta telling process bit. Which can be a bit jarring when the (usually fairly arch and consciously old-fashioned) narratorial tone clashes with the kind of story that needs more ingenuity to sell. One story features a spectacularly bad mockney narrator. I was doomed to disappointment anyway, having so much of Watership Down (especially the El-ahrairah myths) by heart.
Diana Athill, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse --my first fictional Athill and definitely not my last. Uneven like all short story collections, but her prose is gorgeously limpid and unpretentious and her insights no less pointed for being gentle.
Sarah Hall, The Beautiful Indifference -- pretty much maintained my 50:50 experience with SH's novels. Half the stories left me cold (like The Electric Michaelangelo), the other half (including the title story) is still haunting me (like The Carhullan Army); she is never boring.
Stella Gibbons, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm -- like pretty much every non-Cold Comfort Gibbons I've read, fun and readable enough but fairly forgettable. The title story is of course the highlight, and it's got a few genuinely LOL gems -- truer to the spirit than Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, at any rate [which I also quite enjoyed, unlike the majority of the fandom :P]
Edith Wharton, Roman Fever and Other Stories -- I love Wharton and shorts show off her strengths (stings) to best advantage.
Giles Gordon and David Hughes ed., The Minerva Book of Short Stories I and Angela Carter ed., Wayward Girls and Wicked Women both collect stories from women writers. I much preferred Angela Carter's collection, dancing around the ideas of feminine subversion from about a hundred years mid C19th-mid C20th. There are a range of styles and genres but my favourite stories were all on the witchier/fabulist side: AC's own 'The Loves of Lady Purple', Leonora Carrington's 'The Debutante', Suniti Najimoshi's 'Three Feminist Fables' and Djuna Barnes' 'The Earth'. [Also, go check out Barnes' Book of Repulsive Women if unfamiliar :D]

More shorts, a play and some poems
Robin Robertson, The Wrecking Light -- technically brilliant and conceptually meaty but a bit relentlessly austere like so much good modern poetry. Any recommendations?
Richard Bean, England People Very Nice -- revisiting a play I barely sat through a few years back. Turns out? Still dreck.
Good Evening Mrs Craven, The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter Downes -- I can't help liking MPD despite her oh so cushy middle class cosiness. These were nice; her journalism offers a bit more kick.
Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories -- more kick still, and overall my favourite of all these collections. Read it online here.

Longer but still short stories
Muriel Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye -- predictably snide but surprisingly unmalicious for Spark. Also not terribly funny -- maybe her kind of wit needs that spark of cruelty to work.
Julia Strachey, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding -- one of those slight but HIGHLY PORTENSHUS volumes that reinforce all my emperor's new clothes biases about literary fiction.

Random Recommendation
Firebrand, by Ankaret Wells is a frivolous romp of an adventure-romance (with airships!), set in the Brontë's deliciously lurid fantasyland of Angria. Like Wells' earlier science fantasies (Requite series), its clever, knowing games with gender and genre leave this geeky feminist at least with a helpless, utterly charmed grin on my face.... 
Buy it with 20% off from lulu with code SPARK until March 8th or from amazon (.com or


  1. Wow thanks for sharing! Time to head over to amazon lol, xoxo.

  2. I love Katherine Mansfield, natch. I love book posts. :)

    1. Huzzah! <3
      And while I have you, what should be my first Pasternak?

  3. You have reminded me that I want to read Watership Down again in this life time. But where's the time?

    1. There's ALWAYS time for Watership Down. Just manage a page or two a day and then all of a sudden you'll be 3/4 of the way through wondering how you got there so quickly.

      (my childhood favorite book and one of my favorite comfort reads)


  4. I didn't receive an email notification today that you had a new post. Weird - I always get the notifications!

    1. :( the great world book day conspiracy!

  5. I haven't been reading short stories recently, but I was thinking that might be a nice change of pace.
    I'm currently reading Murakami's 1Q84, but since that's a heavy hard-cover, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is the book coming along in my bag every day. (Or, you know, one of the things I *should* be reading and studying.)

    I don't really know what your taste is, but I've been in the right sort of mood for Southern Gothic, so there's a good chance I'll go for Flannery O'Connor's short stories when I finish Eugene Onegin.

    1. Eugene Onegin is my very favourite Russian thing. I like the James Fallen translation.
      I also adore Flannery O'C :) She's not in this list because I've read dem all.

    2. Awww, I love Eugene Onegin as well...OK, it's the opera (but the libretto is very faithful to the original prose so it still sort of counts)I think I will look for Falen's translation after I scan through my current one (edit by Yamolinsky...can't fine the translator = = ...), which isn't bad as all...but I believe you have great taste in everything.

    3. Citrine, I am a total child at the opera -- just in it for the fidgeting and chocolates.
      But my love for Eugene Onegin is such that I can not only sit through the opera but I actually cry at (spoiler?) the end of Act 2.
      The Fallen translation is just so bouncy. I like that he doesn't resist a bad pun, basically. lol

    4. I've been reading the Stanley Mitchell translation (2008), but since I haven't actually read Onegin before, I don't have anything to compare it to. Mitchell did have praise for Falen's translation in the intro.

      I read O'Connor in high school and she made such a strong impression on me that I was shocked to realize it had been 10+ years. I turned DH onto her stories back when we were long-distance dating, so I was all pleased to discover his copy of A Good Man is Hard to Find tucked away in one of our bookcases.

    5. I <3 that story, Proximity. Books are a good way to find those good men ;D

  6. Urh, I did not love Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, and was similarly lukewarm about Cassandra at the Wedding which I read around the same time. What did you like/not like about CWFTW? I am on a Jean Rhys kick and am about to start my first Anna Kavan (had to cave and get a dead tree version)!

    I roar for moar book posts. >O

    1. I like your roarmoticon :D

      CW was just so....nothingy. It didn't help that it was sold to me as a delicious slightly arsenical bonbon, and what I got was a spoonful of cold thin gruel.

      Please tell me more about the AK as you make your way through it! New to me and looks fascinating.

  7. I like pretty much anything connected with Angela Carter. So deliciously dark.

  8. Hi, Kate.

    Just wanted to let you know how glad I am to have found your blog. Beauty AND books? And by someone who loves speculative fiction? It could be better only if you also had an interest in biathlon, but I am being greedy now.

    I bought Firebrand yesterday, based on your recommendation, and it was very much my kind of entertainment. As I finished it last night,I bought The Maker's Mask for today. You have also motivated me to finally tackle Mansfield, it has been on the list for ages.

    When it comes to the Russians, my favourite has always been Chekhov. And, of course, every book-loving Estonian teenager has gone trough The Master and Margarita phase (with good reason, it is indeed a wonderful book) and I had a Yessenin-obsession as well (no regrets). Pushkin is beautiful, but reading Onegin always made me angry.

    1. .....I may have had to google to verify that biathlon couldn't possibly be a term for some delicious pastry.

      I am so glad you liked Firebrand! :D Hope you enjoy the Require books too, though I can't imagine that you wouldn't. She has such an excellent line in sensible and unconventionally feisty (gag) heroines. Not quite as fun as the Master&Margarita, admittedly ;)

      Chekhov is my mother's favourite. She made me read his stories after I bounced hard off the plays (bizarrely my education overlapped with some kind of massive Chekhovian revival here -- so many terrible student productions, oy)