Tuesday, 15 November 2011

books what I've recently and rather liked #2

For the Messengers - Jude Cowan.

I have been meaning to post about this for so long. I performed alongside Jude in 2009 and she's all kinds of wonderful. In early 2008 Jude began to write poems in response to the un-packaged daily news footage she was archiving for the Thomson Reuters news agency. She continued throughout what proved, globally, to be a tumultuous and historic year. This book is filled with beautiful and thought-provoking poems. I highly recommend it.

Saudi Arabia: Oil Hunters

Before the oil we were shepherds
and drivers of camels, chasing stars,

crossing unmarked borders. Beneath
the wide tent we drank-in quiet,

our teapots nestled in roasting charcoal.
Then came oil. Wellheads bloomed, their

metal trunks withstanding desert heat,
growing strong on rich calories of black blood.

Riyadh teems with petrol pumps, and down
its streets we shunt in mighty machines,

managed by signs directing our migrations.
Transparent parabolas praise the cliff

of Kingdom Tower, water plays
like children at its palm-strewn feet.

Jude's got a mixed-media exhibition of 'For The Messengers' in London this month, running until the 27th November. I'm hoping to get there myself. It's had rave reviews. All details here


Why Be Happy When You Could by Normal? - Jeanette Winterson.

“I don't know how to answer. I know what I think, but words in the head are like voices underwater. They are distorted.”

I have loved Jeanette Winterson's work ever since reading 'Oranges are Not The Only Fruit' -one of the books, as Rebecca Makkai put it, that 'saved me'. Why Be Happy... is the autobiography behind Oranges. I made the mistake of reading the majority of it on a train. Do not do this. I managed to avoid crying the first time, but just an hour ago, whilst finishing it on a train to London, I ended up blubbing and received some strange looks. However, I care not. This book is worth that. It is worth so much more than that.

Jeanette's honesty and bravery in this book is so powerful. She is adopted. Her adoptive mother has no time for anything but God; she sews 'The summer is ended and we are not yet saved' on Jeanette's gym bag. They all live in the End Time, waiting for the apocalypse. Books are banned in the house, so Jeanette collects them and hides them under her mattress. Her mother finds them, throws them out of the window and burns them in the back garden. When Jeanette falls in love with a girl, the whole church tries to exorcise the devil from her; her mother disowns her. 'After the exorcism, I went into a mute state of misery. I used to take my tent and sleep up in the allotment. I didn't want to be near them. My father was unhappy. My mother was disordered; we were refugees in our own lives.'

If you love Oranges then you will love this. If you haven't read Oranges, then I'm not speaking to you until you do.

“I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.”

there but for the - Ali Smith

Another one I've been meaning to blog about for ages. I read it one sitting, the day it came out this summer. Ali Smith, like Jeanette Winterson, is a god to me. Seriously. This is the story of Miles, a man who doesn't know where his life is going, who locks himself in someone else's bedroom when attending a dinner party. Miles is questioning everything in life: its point and the absences in it, and the dinner party is held by Jen and Eric [generic, get it? She's so clever]. This book is about time and place and history. It is about identity. It is beautiful.

What shop did this book come from? she asked. Her father was looking worried at the cooker. He always got rice wrong. I don't know, Brooksie, he said, I don't remember. That was unimaginable, not remembering where a book has come from! and where it was bought from! That was part of the whole history, the whole point, of any book that you owned! And when you picked it up later in the house at home, you knew, you just knew by looking and having it in your hand, where it came from and where you got it and when and why you'd decided to buy it.

I'm just narked that I'm going to have to wait another few years for another book of hers. I've read everything she's written, more than once. I must re-read again. If you haven't read any Ali Smith before, I'd start with her short stories, or The Accidental, or this, or her play, or anything of hers really; it's all fantastic.


The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes.

This may seem a slightly boring/predictable choice, as it just won the Booker Prize and so it's on a lot of people's 'to-read' piles, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't shout about it. I enjoyed it, very much. It's only a little thing, but manages to be a wonderful mixture of funny, heart-breaking and a slap in the face. I like to think that the end of the book is set around Archway Road [where Ripping Yarns is], but it probably isn't. Still, I shall pretend. There's a big twist, and I didn't see it coming. I now want to re-read the whole thing because I know I'll read it in a completely different way.


St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves - Karen Russell

Simply the best short story collection I have read in years. I cannot do it justice here. I only ask that you read it.

So, go on. Off you go. x


  1. I LOVE St Lucy's!! SO much.
    I just got interested in Jeanette Winterson's bio - saw it at the shop and it sounded great. I am ashamed to admit I have not read any of her work yet, though I recently acquired Lighthousekeeping. I will get to it, so you speak to me. ;)

  2. I love that title and wish I were raised by wolves...or perhaps that I had thought of that first.

    Thanks for this, I have been looking for stuff to read!

    Hello from Australia!

  3. Wow, these look lovely. I'm usually not an easy poetry reader, but I like Jude Cowan's style.

  4. Hooray for book reccs - thanks! I have added some of the above to my to-read list...which is depressingly long, really....hmmm.....:) (@badcushion)

  5. Nothing beats a Winterson book, especially when that book is a memoir! I have read everything by her and her words are simply under my skin :)