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Bookends #3 March 2018

Article: 21st century women writers

My chosen article this week was published by The New York Times to mark Women’s History Month. In Vanguard Books by Women their staff writers considered which women writers in the 21st century are at the helm of new paths in writing. They wanted to identify those women who are opening new realms and whose works ” suggest and embody unexplored possibilities in form, feeling and knowledge.”

They ended up with a list of 15 books that they considered remarkable. From Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah to Zadie Smith’s NW, Hang Kang’s The Vegetarian and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado which seems to be a curious blend of fantasy, police procedural and horror. They admit the choices are idiosyncratic and there are numerous good books that were not included. Even so some of the selections are strange. Why choose NW when On Beauty or White Teeth were infinitely better? Why not Ali Smith whose How to Be Both surely counts as inventive? And what possessed them to leave out Hilary Mantel who has surely broken the mould for historical fiction?

What do you think – do you agree with the list or think there are some glaring omissions?

Book: The Fisher Child by Philip Casey 

A little away day to Dublin this week gave me a good excuse to pop into a bookshop. Just at the point where I had to admit I was lost (despite having a map) I saw Books Upstairs, one of the shops Cathy at 746books recommended, and apparently the oldest independent bookstore in the city. What a friendly team they have in the shop – not only did they put me on the right path to my destination but they shared their deep knowledge of contemporary Irish writers. I could have bought at least half a dozen but I my laptop bag was already too heavy so I had to limit it to just one – a novel by Philip Casey, a writer who was a regular at Books Upstairs until his death in February this year.

This is the blurb:

The Fisher Child is in three parts. In the first, Kate is happily married to Dan, both of them second-generation Irish and comfortable in their middle-class north London lives. They have two children, a boy and a girl, with another one on the way. But when Meg is born, Dan cannot accept her as his child, and retreats to Ireland in bewilderment. In Wexford, his family are partaking in the the bi-centenary commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion, and he learns about his ancestor Hugh Byrne, a rebel who was forced to flee Ireland, presumably to America. Dan will never know what the reader discovers in part two – that Hugh had not settled in America but in the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where he fell in love with Ama, a black slave whose genes have lain hidden in Dan’s family for two centuries.

Blog Post: A stranded reader

Blogger Harriet Devine had a miserable experience recently which she wrote about in this post. It’s a miserable enough experience having your travel documents, credit cards and cash stolen. Add to the misery the fact that you can’t get home until replacement documents are issued (you may be on a warm, sunny Mediterranean island but even paradise palls when you have no money to spend). But imagine having to endure that without anything decent to read! The bookcases in some hotels may be full of paperbacks other visitors have left behind but they are seldom the kind of book I want to read. And so it proved for poor Harriet….

 

Bookends #2 March 2018

Today’s Bookends post comes from inside my snowy bower in Wales. My village was in the eye of the storm that came through on Thursday, recording the highest snowfall in the country. Though the snow is still coming down it looks as if the road out of the village is now clear. Hope so because after two days confined to barracks I’m getting a little stir crazy. There is only so much baking, eating, reading one can do….

When I relaunched Bookends last week I said that each post would consist of just three things that have caught my attention, aroused my curiosity; stimulated my interest

  • a book
  • a blog post and
  • an article

So let’s kick off this week with a book that has been in my ‘to read’ collection for a very long time. But since it’s International Women’s Day in a few day’s time (March 8), it feels appropriate to highlight a collection that explores the lives of colourful, intrepid women in history.

Book: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

Almost Famous Women

The women who feature in this debut work are creativly impulsive, fiercely independent and sometimes reckless. In They include a cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs, an aviator and writer who lives alone in Nairobi; Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter; Oscar Wilde’s wild niece, Dolly; and James Joyce’s daughter. This is a work of fiction though Megan Bergman based each story on biographical information (sometimes very scanty).

 

 

Blog Post: The Emerald Isle beckons

It’s March so it must be time for Reading Ireland month which is hosted by Cathy at 746books.com. It’s easy to take part — you just read something which is related to Ireland. It could be a book by an Irish author, or set in Ireland or characters who are of Irish origin. If you’re stuck for ideas, Cathy has a list of around 100 suggestions on the site. More info can be found on the Reading Ireland announcement page.

And finally…

Article: Can novels change our attitudes to death?

In an article for Electric Literature, professor John MacNeill Miller asks whether novels such as Lincoln in the Bardo, which deal with the afterlife, can help address our phobia about death.

Maybe not the most uplifting topic for the end of the week but one that got me thinking about death scenes in literature. Two come to mind immediately: Emma Bovary in Gustav Flaubert’s Madam Bovary and Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son. The first is not how most people would want to spend their final moments on this earth; the second is considerably more traditional though rather sentimental.  Have you come across any scenes that are more realistic, neither sentimental nor dwelling on the gruesome?

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