Posts Tagged ‘non fiction’

Almost all the books I read in 2014 and the things I thought about them.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

So, for the first year ever, I actually kept a book journal, and wrote down in it almost every book I read throughout the year. I say almost, because towards the end I got really bogged down in — and vexed by, as you’ll see — DeLillo’s Underworld, and forgot to document some of the poetry books I read. But this is about 98% of what I read this year, along with some often-bitchy miniature reviews. Hooray, books!

#58 of 365
(Photo credit)

JANUARY

Fiction
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
(Didn’t expect to like this. Loved it. But then, I loved Ablutions, so…)
Terry Pratchett Soul Music
(Re-read for about the one millionth time. This book is like an old friend.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
Helen Mort Division Street
(I’m afraid I didn’t get the hype. It went to the charity shop.)
Rebecca Elson A Responsibility To Awe

Gossip from The Forest - Sara Maitland
(Photo credit)

FEBRUARY

Poetry
Patricia Pogson The Holding
Patricia Pogson A Crackle From The Larder

Non fiction
Sara Maitland Gossip From The Forest
(I abandoned this halfway through. I feel guilty, but sorry, I found it a bit dull.)

93/365 American Wife
(Photo credit)

MARCH

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Christos Tsolkias The Slap
(I abandoned this because it is a book that seems to be entirely about men walking around objectifying women and getting angry erections. Literally the most misogynist book I have ever read… and the few women characters who are allowed to have any kind of meaningful narrative are so badly written it’s painful. I actually dumped this book on a train. I didn’t want the charity shop folks to even know I had read it.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver Thirst
Dorianne Laux Smoke
(Re-reading)
Kathryn Simmons The Visitations
Kerry Hardie Selected Poems
(Re-reading. I am a mega Kerry fangirl.)
Patricia Young More Watery Still
(Re-reading)

wild geese
(Photo credit)

APRIL

Poetry
Michael Conley Aquarium
(I also reviewed it!)
Mary Oliver Wild Geese
Patricia Young Summertime Swamp Love
(OK, I love this woman. I have read everything she’s ever written. I was so excited that she had a new collection out, pre-ordered it, waited impatiently to get it from Canada… and was so utterly disappointed. It’s a book where every poem is about the sex life of a different animal… and you can tell she got really caught up in the gimmicky concept and let the writing slip a bit. Or in places, a lot. Sad times!)
Karen Solie The Living Option
(Thank goodness for Karen Solie! The best poetry book I have read for years. Everyone, go out and get it and read it and marvel. She’s amazing.)

Copies of The Luminaries being prepared.
(Photo credit)

MAY

Fiction
Roxane Gay An Untamed State
(Beautifully spare, very harrowing, utterly amazing. Read it.)
Nina de la Mer Layla
(Most inventive use of second person I have ever seen, but… let’s just say I’m curious to know what real sex workers make of this book.)
Eleanor Catton The Luminaries
(Ugh. She’s so talented it’s obscene.)

#100HappyDays Day 148: Enjoyed hearing Eimear McBride talk, upon winning the Bailey Prize, about how this should be a wake-up call to publishers to take more risks after receiving years of rejections not because they didn't like it but because they didn't
(Photo credit)

JUNE

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld Sisterland
(Yeah, I love Curtis.)
Eimear McBride A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
(I hated this. I’m afraid I ditched it halfway through. Am I broken?)
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black
(My first foray into the world of Mantel! I liked it! Though it could have been 150 pages shorter.)

Talye Selasi, Author of Ghana Must Go
(Photo credit. Taiye Selasi is stunning.)

JULY

Fiction
Paul Auster Man In The Dark
(Meh. Auster is Austerish.)
Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go
(I was ready to hate on this with all the hate I could summon… this woman was helped to publication by her personal friends Toni Morrison and Andrew Wylie, but it turns out? Not nepotism. She actually deserved the hype! Mind you, I agree with the reviewers who said it didn’t really hit its stride til Part 2.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
(Yep, re-read it in the same year.)

& Sons
(Photo credit)

AUGUST

Fiction
Janet Fitch White Oleander
(Re-reading for about the fifth time, because I just love this book.)
David Gilbert & Sons
(I expected this to be really macho… and it is, but in a brilliant, self-aware way. One of my favourite novels of the year.)

Poetry
Jean Sprackland Sleeping Keys
Colin McGuire As I Sit Quietly, I Begin To Smell Burning
(I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McGuire is Scotland’s most underrated poet. Read it. Read it now.)

Gone Fission
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER

Fiction
Jennifer Egan The Keep
(She is the writer I would like to be. That said, this was not quite as sublime as Look at Me or Visit from the Goon Squad.)
Don DeLillo Underworld
(Holy crap this thing is a slog. Notice how I only got round to one other novel all year after this?! And sorry not sorry: it is so not worth it. It’s like Infinite Jest. The length of it is just male posturing (as is the dudebroish waxing lyrical about how this or Infinite Jest is like the totes best evar. So you read a long, smartypants book. Big whoop). Male GANs (Great American Novelists) have an obsession with size which just isn’t healthy. Stop it DeLillo, DFW, Franzen! You’re just showing off, dammit! My advice? Skip this one and read Cosmopolis. It’s the stunning DeLillo prose without the bullshit.)

Poetry
Katherine Larson Radial Symmetry

Reading Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER

Poetry
Austin Smith Almanac
(A poetry collection all about farms. Shouldn’t be good. Is amazing.)
Nancy Kuhn The Wife of the Left Hand
(This was less accessible/more abstract than I usually like, but this collection actually made me think differently about poetry. Gobsmacking!)
Mary Oliver Blue Horses
(New collection! And it’s delightfully “IDGAF” in tone. Mary Oliver, be my surrogate auntie?)
Matthew Dickman Mayakovsky’s Revolver
(Hipstery poems about Portland! Read it while drinking artisan espresso and twirling your moustache!)
Dionisio Martinez Bad Alchemy
(This dude has the best name ever.)

Untitled
(Photo credit)

NOVEMBER

Fiction
Michael Chabon Wonder Boys
(If you hate the fact that male novelists dominate the world of SRS LITERATURE and are often pompous windbags, then this book is for you. It’s about one of them getting a series of hilarious come-uppances. I actually LOLed in public at this book.)

Poetry
Thomas Lux Selected Poems
Kerry Hardie The Zebra Stood In The Night
(Another new collection I waited impatiently for… but this one did not disappoint.)
Alan Gillis Scapegoat
(I second what Dave said about this one.)
Leanne O’Sullivan Waiting for my Clothes
(I did Leanne O’Sullivan wrong. I had never heard of her and read The Mining Road, liked it well enough, but didn’t know til last month that in the early 2000s she’d been this 20 year old writing prodigy genius person. Holy wow.)

Marie Howe
(Photo credit. That’s Marie Howe, btw.)

DECEMBER

Poetry
Melissa Lee-Houghton Beautiful Girls
(Once upon a time, I published Melissa in my tiny, Xeroxed poetry zine Read This. I am so chuffed to see how far she’s come since then… she deserves all the praise, her poems are great.)
Marie Howe What The Living Do
Mary Oliver Dream Work
(I am an Oliver addict.)
Tiffany Atkinson So Many Moving Parts
Helen Dunmore Recovering A Body

Non-fiction

Robert Boice How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure
(This is long-winded as hell, out of print and a hard copy will rush you at least £60. But holy wow, it’s very, very, very useful.)

A few final stats:

Total fiction: 17
Total poetry: 32
Total non-fiction: 2

Books by men: 16 (7 fiction, 8 poetry, 1 non fiction)
Books by women: 35 (10 fiction, 24 poetry, 1 non fiction)

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What did YOU read this year?
(Related reading: my top 10 independent bookstores of 2014)

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

I wrote some stuff you might like to read.

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

My review of Kerry Hardie

So, I mentioned last week that I wrote a review of Kerry Hardie’s most recent collection, The Oak & The Ash & The Wild Cherry Tree for The Edinburgh Review Issue 136. You can now buy the issue online! BUT, you can also read my review free and gratis — the folks at Gallery Press liked it so much that they put it on their website. Thanks folks!

The UFOlogists podcast

You may also remember me writing a few weeks ago about the launch of sci-fi poetry anthology Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems From The UK? I was super-chuffed to have three poems in it, and I’m even more super-chuffed that the folks over at Nature picked one of them to go in their “Where Rockets Burn Through” podcast this week. Thanks again!

Scary

Aaaand this is a bit of a scary one, but I am proud of myself for writing it and chuffed that it was published at xoJane, which is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favourite sites. I’ve written here before (but then destroyed the link in post-publication-panic) about my teenage struggles with a rather extreme form of thanatophobia. It seemed pertinent to write about it in a rather more serious way, given the recent OBSESSIVE APOCALYPSE HYPE that I’m sure you’ve all noticed. Of course, the world didn’t end yesterday — hooray! But I wanted to draw attention to this anyway. And for the first time ever, I connected to a fellow thanatophobia sufferer (in the comments), so double hooray!

Happy holidays!

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You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Things I’m Reading Thursday #31: The Whole Woman

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

germaine greer. the whole woman.
(Photo credit)

Funnily enough, the Flickr caption for the picture I decided to use for this post was, “so smart in some places, so stupid in others. a great, challenging book full of rage.” Had I been asked to summarize this in as few words, my response would have been pretty similar.

Confession of a bad feminist: though I practically inhale pop feminism books, and can get through four or five a month if the going’s good… I had never read any Germaine Greer until now. I bought a collection of her essays while on holiday over the summer, shipped it back from Canada (I bought about ten times my baggage weight in books and thus gave Canada Post a lot of very lucrative business), and then promptly forgot about it. I was, of course, aware of The Female Eunuch, as it’s cited — not always kindly — in just about every pop feminist book there is. In fact, annoyingly, no one seems able to say the dreaded f word without automatically getting Germaine on speed-dial. I think I’ve yet to see a TV panel debate or review of a new feminist book where she is not invoked, or at least mentioned. I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of the very silly things she’s said in the past (accusing JRR Tolkien of being a fascist sympathiser was, oddly enough, my least favourite piece of Germaine-snark, rather than any women’s issues comment), and I’ve heard, seen and read a lot of very uncharitable things said about her by other people — often people in the women’s movement who know what they’re on about. Needless to say, I did not have desperately high hopes for this book. I was expecting a hike in my blood pressure levels, at the very least.

So actually, I was pleasantly surprised. The Whole Woman is shockingly pleasant to read — well written, well structured, far far less academic and stuffy than say, Susan Faludi’s Backlash which, essential reading or not, sent me to sleep and got put back on the shelf after two chapters. And Germaine says a lot of very sensible stuff about a lot of things. Many times — at first in a kind of horrified way, then less so — I found myself nodding at her ‘this is the grim reality of what it’s like, sometimes, being a woman’ -type statements. The book is extremely well researched. For me, the most enlightening, shocking and educational sections were those on the state of women’s health, and the treatment of women by pharmaceutical companies and health providers; the sections that provided statistics and case-studies on “real” rape conviction rates, domestic violence, the ratio of caesarean sections to natural births, etc. Germaine isn’t messing around here. She knows her stuff and it shows. Since The Female Eunuch, which I hear is so polemical it practically spits on you as you read, she’s obviously learned well the old adage that the plural of anecdote is not data. This is a lesson a lot of pop feminist writers would do well to cotton on to.

However, Germaine does not always cite well. Although most things are meticulously backed up with facts and figures, there are a few points where she’s happy to let stereotype reign. Her mentions of the sexual activities and proclivities of gay men, which are only touched on, are horribly stereotyped (yep, you guessed it: all gay guys are horribly promiscuous and prefer public bathroom stalls to any other venue when it comes to romantic activity. SIGH.). When read alongside her well-articulated, skilfully-justified thoughts on heterosexual female sexuality (and, to some degree, lesbianism, although she spends less time on this), her reliance on tired stereotypes is really gobsmacking. A few times I found myself writing “cite?!” in the margins… on one or two occasions, my marginalia was less polite.

And there are other, major problems with this book. I disagree with big chunks of it, although weirdly, not whole chapters. The funny thing about Germaine is, she’ll start a train of thought and for about three quarters of the way, you’re totally with her: you’re nodding, you’re excited to see where this theory is going. And then all of a sudden she takes things into territory so alien that you’re running for cover. How did you ever agree with this woman?! you find yourself wondering by the time the paragraph is finished. It’s a bewildering experience. Just a few examples: she makes some very interesting points about FTM transsexuals and their treatment by cisgendered men, but she then goes on to be pretty damn hateful about MTF transsexuals, or ‘men in sheep’s clothing’, as she seems to see them, and their rapist-like desire to penetrate the few women-only spaces we have (yes really. What the hell, Germaine?!). Or her very sensible chat about women controlling their own reproductive systems from cradle to grave without any kind of help or suggestion from men: oh, except all women who use chemical contraception or have legal abortions or indeed campaign for legal abortions are all misguided schmucks (I’ve read the contraception bit several times and still fail to see how she can legitimately join the dots on that one). There are parts of the chapters on these issues where Germaine is just off in cloud cuckoo land, having a rant about something that no progressive in their right mind would be swayed by… but then, elsewhere in the same chapter, she’ll be saying something I’d never have thought of, something that actually opened my eyes to a brand new idea about the women’s movement (and let me tell you, with so many pop feminism books recycling and repackaging the same old soundbites, that is a big, big deal).

I think mainly, there are just times when Germaine forgets to check her privilege. She seems to think that the only privilege that exists (among white people at least), is male. Therefore, she fails to take into account that some women are just not capable of doing as she does and thinking as she thinks, simply as a result of their background or biology. She has never had to really think twice about her own gender identity, so she feels totally cool telling those whose gender identity renders them an outcast from the gender binary how they ought to behave. This is not OK, but Germaine seems to forget sometimes that being cisgender is also a privilege, even if you’re female; that being white is also a privilege, even if you’re female; so is being able, English-speaking, middle class, college educated, etc. I’m actually a big fan of this book, and a far bigger fan of Germaine than I was before. I even like some of her (less horrendous) runaway, borderline-offensive rants — it shows that just like the rest of us, she is capable of speaking, and writing, without thinking. This isn’t the goody-goody academic feminism I’ve read elsewhere. This is one woman having a good, long, reasonably well-informed, occasionally-privileged kvetch. I can relate to that.

What are you reading this week?

Things I’m Reading Thursday #25: to read in 2011

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Reminder / Scatter-brained [43/365]
Not stuff I am reading right now (because honestly, you just don’t want to know…), but stuff on my to-read list for 2011…

Fiction

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Suzanna Clarke
I really should have read this book before. It ticks all my usual boxes — I love magic realism, I love literary pastiche and I love anything that Neil Gaiman loves. However, this one kind of passed me by when it first appeared — I remember seeing it in the window of every Waterstones in the land, but I didn’t really pay attention. Happily, The Lovely Boyfriend not only informed me of its fabulousness, but was good enough to buy me a beautiful edition of it (black-edged pages, oh my goodness) for Christmas. I’m just trying to ignore the many times I’ve heard it referred to as “Harry Potter for grownups”.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
I’ve been excited to read this book since before it was published. No, I haven’t read the His Dark Materials books and yes, I know they’re freaking amazing and my life has been a waste thus far for not reading them. They too have been on the to-read list since forever, but… I just can’t get that wound up about them, to be honest. This book, on the other hand, is a totally different story. I waited very impatiently for it to come out in paperback (not that I don’t like hardbacks, you just can’t crease the spines as easily, and everyone knows I like a book to look lived in), and now I’m having to wait very impatiently to have the time to read it. If the bun-fight in this book’s Amazon reviews is anything to go by, it’s going to be very interesting indeed…

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
If you’ve been here any length of time you’ll know that I am a massive Atwood fangirl, and have been for a long time (how big a fangirl I hear you ask? The other night I found myself defending the idea of, in the dim and distant future, potentially naming my first son Atwood. That big). I wrote my Higher English personal study paper on Lady Oracle, and my Advanced Higher English dissertation on The Blind Assassin. I am now writing a PhD thesis, the cornerstone of which is Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead lectures. I really, really love me some Margaret Atwood. And I am a very lucky lady, because for Christmas this year I was gifted beautiful hardback editions of both these books — one of which was also signed and from a limited run of 1000 copies. Whether I can actually bring myself to pick these books up and sully their gorgeousness by reading them remains to be seen, but I have been wanting to read both for a very long time.

Poetry

Hard Ground by Michael O’ Brien and Tom Waits
Cue more fangirling: there are not words for how much I love Tom Waits. When I heard he was bringing out a poetry collection, I immediately assumed it must be a lie — for years Waits has shunned the title “poet”, describing it as “a dangerous word” and refusing to acknowledge that tracks like the fantastic 9th and Hennepin are in fact, more spoken word than song. However, here it is — a book that contains poems written by Tom Waits. It’s not available until March, but naturally, my copy is already pre-ordered, and I am counting down the days. I’m very interested to see if the man is as much of a genius on paper as he is elsewhere…

Here Comes The Night by Alan Gillis
I had a really, really good Christmas on the books front, as you’ve probably already gathered. Also in my Christmas stocking this year was Alan Gillis’ latest collection, which looks even weirder and more wonderful than the last two. I’m possibly a tad biased here, because Alan is my PhD supervisor, but he’s also a fabulous poet and moreover, a fabulous bloke. His poems are genuinely unique — I have never come across anything quite like them. They’re also brilliant — so often reading Alan’s work I find myself thinking “I wish I’d thought of that first.” I’m a particular fan of his second collection, Hawks and Doves, which was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize a couple of years back, so I’m very excited to read this follow-up.

Non-fiction

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women by Susan Faludi
Of late, I have become very, very interested in feminism. Writing a PhD about contemporary female writers will do that to you, it seems — I never wanted to write about feminist theory, but it kind of became necessary, and then after a while it became really, really interesting, and then before I knew it, it had kind of changed the entire direction of my thesis. I’m now an avid reader of numerous feminist blogs — which I generally prefer to books on the subject, as they’re more immediate and less absolute — including Shakesville (which you’ve doubtless seen me praise to the skies here before), Feminisnt and Tiger Beatdown (NB: all potentially NSFW), and it’s become a topic that I regularly trip out in order to bore people at house parties. Backlash is one of those books that’s still talked about and referred to constantly, in spite of its age — it really is a definitive text on the subject, it seems. I’ve managed to acquire a very beautiful shocking pink paperback edition and its violent pink and black cover yells at me every time I look at my bookshelf. Time to read it already, methinks.

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter
A newer book, this, but one that’s already being touted as definitive and very important. Less a specifically feminist book and more a general social commentary (it seems), Walter is interested specifically in the way traditional female gender roles have been re-packaged in order to make women look empowered — the new ways in which women are pressured and pigeonholed and the repurcussions of this process on girls and young women. Having recently discovered and been blown away by Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly III: Advertising’s Image of Women lectures, I am very keen to read more on the subject. I know this book is hot property right now, so if anyone else has read it I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts!

What are you hoping to read in 2011?

(Photo by cathdrwg)

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