What did the beginning of the year bring us reading wise?
Apart from Toby Litt & NewCon Press titles that is...
Writing Poems (Bloodaxe Poetry Handbook)
This was more a 'why write poems' and 'how to write better poems' than a basic primer. This is not a one stop shop if you want to learn how to write poetry (or indeed write better poetry) and fails as a primer, assuming that you have the basics already. It also seems to assume that the reader will be teaching others to write poetry. Still it's a book that would be handy to you if you ever did decide to write poetry, but I can't help thinking that there are better out there. This does get a vast amount of great reviews, so perhaps there aren't?
Open to recommendations on writing poetry books...
Light on a Dark Horse by Roy Campbell
Campbell is like the poetic version of Hemmingway - he was a bullfighter, s deep sea fisherman, he fought in the Spanish civil war (on the side of Franco) and was fully immersed in 1920'2 & 30's literati society. He was born in South Africa and this book (the first in a two book anthology) covers his early childhood and early literary success. I would have like to learn more about his exploits in Spain and WW2, but that would mean tracking down volume 2, and I'm not sure I can be bothered.
Campbell is an interesting character but very not PC (surprise!) and pretty right wing. I've not read any of his poetry (which I think I should, just because I no know lots about his life) but expect it to be just as dismissive of leftish leanings.
It's an interesting read despite the dodgy politics, good old fashioned racism and misogyny because it does conjure a lost world of pre-world war two (he tried to sign up to fight in WW1 but was discovered to be too young).
I mainly got this because of As I walked out one Midsummer by Laurie Lee, where Lee meets the poet, who makes a big impression on him. The introduction to this book is by Lee.
Galore by Michael Crummay
A whale is washed up dead on the Newfoundland coast. There is a man in the belly. He is alive. He has miraculous powers. There is a sprawling family saga between the Sellers and Devine families. When I got to the end of part one I put it down and wasn't inspired to pick it back up again. i don't know how it ends and have no desire to find out. The writing wasn't bad as such, but the characters were studiously quirky and the type of family saga with no real plot didn't really do it for me.
The Refuge collection volume one
This is a collection of short stories set in the strange town of Refuge (where everything is clearly NOT alright) with more than a soupcon of horror. All the proceeds go to refugee charities and therefore it's worth supporting for that. Luckily it's also a great little collection where each story adds layers to the town and the recurring characters and with there being several more volumes coming I'll be following along. Full disclosure - I'll be writing a story for a later volume so there's that too.
Wired for story by Lisa Cron
Our brains are wired for story - it is a result of our evolution and why we are so successful as a species (if you believe that - and we aren't the equivalent of yeast about to drown in our own waste... ) and this book uses the science of psychology to highlight what good stories do. It is the usual mix of storytelling advice wrapped in a pop-psychology jacket. It is actually a good writing advice book. But it's not the only one out there and you may get on with another better. Anyone who tells you they have THE answer when it comes to storytelling is either mistaken or trying to sell you something...
Bone by bone by Sanjida Kay
(More on this elsewhere - the launch is soon and Sanjida will be providing a guest blog)
Lectures on literature by Nabokov
I was so looking forward to this book. I have huge respect for Nabokov as a writer and looked forward to getting his insights into several classics. Sadly the lectures seemed to mostly be summaries of the books that were set texts for the course. Having struggled through Mansfield Park I flipped through the lectures on Bleak House and although there are gems in there (no doubt) they were buried in the summary. It's an odd mix, fully expecting the student (reader) to have read the text (which I confess I ddin't) but then spends around 80% of the lecture summarising what happened chapter by chapter and the other 20% is mostly detail about the period...
A slip of the keyboard by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett wrote numerous essays over the years, many of which were published in various newspapers. This book collects them together. They are, as you'd expect, amusing, erudite and eloquent. I sat down to read "a couple of essays" and before I knew it I'd read most of the book. This is an essential purchase for Pratchett fans and also well-worth buying if you are an aspiring writer (lots of insight into being a writer).
I found that for the last few chapters, as pTerry struggles with Alzheimers and the ethics of choosing your own way to die were just heartbreaking. For me (and until fairly recently I assumed everyone else but several people have disabused me of the notion) the fear olosing your mind is much greater than that of physical injury and the thought that you'd lose it by degrees knowing that you were losing it, and not being able to do anything about it, or end it whilst you were still you, fills me with horror. That it happened to someone like pTerry is a tragedy, and I did find that there was something in my eye as I read through some of those final chapters. In 2013 at World FantasyCon I had the chance to go and see pTerry in public for what was one of the last times. I decided that I didn't want to remember him struggling under the weight of the terrible disease that had took hold of him. Others that did said it was like watching a dragon die.
I did a tribute to Terry Pratchett for Far Horizons magazine which can be seen in our anniversary issue last April available here
What If? by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
The guy who draws XKCD has a blog where he allows people to ask stupid questions about science (he's a physics graduate & self-proclaimed science geek) which he'll try to answer with serious science. The questions are in the style of - "what would happen if the sun went out" or "what if i took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool." amongst many many others.
Munroe does both an admirable job of explaining the science simplistically and also give entertaining answers, with amusing illustrations. This is a bit of a dipping into book and ideal for the mini-library by the side of the toilet (what do you mean you don't have one?)