Things I’m Reading Thursday (erm, Friday!) #2

Apologies for the lateness of this post — my Thursday this week was rather busy, but in a good way! Full of good meetings and progress, which is always good. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week…

The Wonder by Diana Evans
I’m actually not all the way through this book, but I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. The Wonder is a family saga that spans three generations and shuttles back and forth between a small Jamaican village, a dance school in Notting Hill in the 1960s, and a becalmed narrow boat on the Grand Union Canal, present-day. The novel is mainly about dance — Evans was a professional dancer before she turned to writing, and you can tell — but it’s also about coming-of-age, self-belief, displacement and alienation. Unfortunately, it’s also very long.
Over at Vulpes Libris this week, the following question was posed: why do novelists these days feel that their novels need to be so darned long? The Wonder is a complex tale, yes… but I’m only halfway through and I already get the feeling that I could have got here a lot faster than I did, without missing anything vital. Evans’ prose is simple, her voice not particularly stand-out or unusual (sorry, fans!)… so there seems no proper reason for the book to be this long. She has a tendency to repeat the same details again and again, too — if I have heard that Carla’s hair was “shaggy” and “foresty” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times already. Like I say, I am enjoying the book, but I constantly have the urge to skip bits. Hopefully the final pay-off will be worth the 300-page wait!

Sixty Women Poets, ed. Linda France
I’ve been ploughing through this book for a while, dipping in and out of it as I am wont to do with anthologies. I think this one has been spoiled for me by the fabulous Women’s Work — I defy anyone to put together a better selection of contemporary poetry by women right now. But then perhaps a comparison between the two is unfair — Sixty Women Poets was compiled nearly twenty years ago and seeks to do something really quite different. There are the old favourites in there of course — Carol Ann Duffy makes an appearance — but there are also some of the great unsung female poets of the past fifty years featured here. The selection of poems by UA Fanthorpe is brilliant; I also enjoyed the pieces by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanaín. Often I find that dipping into an anthology of contemporary poetry can really inspire me — this one felt a bit too serious at times and didn’t really have the same effect, perhaps because of the way the poems are ordered (in ‘blocks’ by each poet rather than by theme, or more randomly). I did make some great discoveries though.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back To Poetry, ed. Billy Collins
Perhaps because of the ’serious’ feeling I got from Sixty Women Poets, I found myself hunting out this old favourite once again this week. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this anthology — cover to cover — but it must be a lot. I love the concept behind the book, for a start — Collins made it one of his missions as Poet Laureate of the USA to create an anthology of poems that absolutely anyone could pick up, leaf through and find something they’d enjoy. He then incorporated the anthology into a school reading programme — thousands of high schools across America joined in with the scheme, under which a poem from Poetry 180 was read every morning at registration class over the school tannoy. However, because the book came first it doesn’t feel at all like a school textbook. It’s full of gems from poets old and new, and even though I’ve read it a million times, it always surprises me. This time for example, I unsuspectingly came across John’s Updike’s poem “Dog’s Death,” and ended up blubbing into my cup of tea… all thanks to Billy Collins’ cunning poem choice/placement.
Basically, if you don’t already have this poetry anthology, buy it. The end!

OK, your turn — tell me what you’re reading this week, what you want to read next week, what you thought of the latest book you read, etc etc!

(Photo by samie.shake)

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9 Responses to “Things I’m Reading Thursday (erm, Friday!) #2”

  1. Lauren Says:

    I’m currently reading a shed load of feminist history and literary theory books for uni.
    On the side I’m reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. Both are excellent but very different. It’s nice to have a break from reading Rand’s aggressive philosophy with Carter’s fantastic and imaginative prose.

  2. David Says:

    I finally got through with the essay so can put WCW and Elizabeth Bishop to one side for a little while! (much as i love them both)

    At the moment a lot of my extra-curricular reading comes as part of a job I’ve taken on. I have a volunteering job in the brilliant Lancaster Litfest Bookcase -
    ( which is a platform for small presses / independent publishers to showcase and sell their writer’s work… I’m writing reviews for the books at the moment and have been ploughing slowly through what’s on offer.

    I’m particularly keen on:

    Cliff Yates - Emergency Rations (Smith/Doorstop)
    Marianne Burton - The Devil’s Cut (Smith’s Knoll Pamphlet)
    Julia Darling - Apology for Absence (Arc)
    and Miriam Gamble - This Man’s Town (Tall Lighthouse)

    Oh and I’m also reading Anne Rouse - The School of Night (Bloodaxe) which I’ve not found to be anywhere near as strong as the 4 books above. However, there are moments in it when she hits the nail exactly on the head. The poem “Sighting” is wonderful.

    D x

  3. Katja Says:

    I’m preparing for my Victorian Lit course at Uni, so I’m reading Wuthering Heights at the moment (having finished The Picture of Dorian Gray last week).

    In between I read Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and I loved it. There is something special, a certain flavour and atmosphere about Japanese literature that I absolutely adore.

    I think I need to look up Poetry 180, myself! Thanks for the tip.

  4. Crafty Green poet Says:

    I bought Sixty Women poets years ago and loved it and still dip into it now.

    I’m currently reading Blindness by Jose Saramago, an excellent and chilling novel about a plague of white blindness that is used as an excuse by a dictatorial government to lock people up.

  5. David Says:

    Blindness is so good! I loved that book!

  6. Gareth Says:

    “Dog’s Death” is such a beautiful, heartbreaking poem!

    Currently I’m just reading “Nine Horses” which continues to go wonderfully: “Study In Orange And White”and “Bermuda” are my new favourites! I’ve finished “The Big Sleep”, which was an enjoyable read and occasionally offered some fantastic imagery, but I don’t think it worked very well as a whodunit novel, and on the whole, I found it fairly forgettable.

    I’m currently in the market for a new book — someone recommended Blindness to me the other day actually, so perhaps I’ll give that a go. That or Hard Times methinks.

  7. Michelle Says:

    Women’s Work is a first-class anthology. I’m loving it too.

  8. Rachel Fox Says:

    Yes, I go back into the Women poets anthology over and over again. That other anthology you mention sounds like one for me too.

    I’m reading John Glenday’s poetry collections ‘The Apple Ghost’ and ‘Undark’. I’ll get to his new one eventually. There’s a poem in the first one I mention called ‘Second-hand Books’ that I think we all can love. Also still looking at ‘The Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry’.

    Got a whole pile of novels looking at me…which one to start next?

  9. Col Says:

    This week I read The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975, which is the first half of his work. His work, whilst influenced by William Carlos Williams, has a pleasure of its own. Seemingly simplistic, but also joyous, especially as you find yourself falling / flying down into new worlds of meaning. However, the later work was a bit too short and fragmentary, too Delphic, to be really satisfying. Worth putting a nose in, all the same.
    Also read ’Left Out in the Rain’ by Gary Snyder. Ah, how much do I love Gary Snyder? Well quite a lot, actually. If you like him and don’t have this book you’ll love this too. More on nature, and Buddhism, from this member of the San Francisco side of the Beat Generation.