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!