Thursday, 7 February 2013

things what I've read recently and rather liked

Here are some books I've read recently and rather fallen in love with. Hopefully something here may catch your eye (or all of them!).

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly 

This book made my heart happy. I love a twisted fairy tale, and here are several beautifully intwined. Think Alice and Pan's Labyrinth and Return to Oz. This is David, and he loves books. They talk to him. His mother has died and his father has remarried (oh, the real-life wicked stepmother!). Only she’s not so wicked, David just resents her, and he resents his new half-brother, too. Out in the world there’s a war brewing, and the fighting outside and the fighting in David’s head soon become confused. When a war plane crashes in his back garden, David finds himself stepping from his own garden into a forest - somewhere he’s never been before. Here there are wolves born from Red Riding Hood, a Crooked Man who promises he can help him, and whispers of terrifying creatures and women that live beyond. So begins David's quest. Everything he's read in books, and everything that he hasn’t, has come to life - and nearly all of these things seem to want him dead.

Grow Up - Ben Brooks

'One thing I have learned from being alive for seventeen years is that people like to touch things very much. Things that people like to touch: Vaginas. Expensive things in shops. Jelly that is not ready to eat yet. Cigarette lighters. Necks. Dead things. Dogs. Piercings. Toddlers' cheeks. Snow. Each other's knees.

People also like to touch death.'

This book is hilarious. It's also very dark. Meet Jasper. He's very anxious. He goes to see a psychiatrist because his mum thinks he's racist. He isn't. He just likes making people believe stuff to wind them up. His best friend is Tenaya. She's sad at the moment. Jasper's life ambitions are to sleep with Georgia Treely, convince the police that his stepdad is a murderer, not fail his AS Levels, and also win the Booker Prize for the novel he's writing in the shed. Oh, and to forget that the incident with Abby Hall ever happened. Yes. It's wonderful. Please read it.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

I need some time to heal. This novel hit me quite hard. Somehow, as he normally does, John Green finds the perfect balance between the funny and the tragic. I think this is the best I've seen him. This is the story of Hazel and Gus. They are teenagers who meet at a cancer support group. This is a story about where we belong in the world, and what we will leave behind. It's about small infinities and big infinities. It's about feeling scared, and not wanting to be a grenade - realising that no matter what you do, you're going to hurt the people who love you because you can't make them not love you.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture.”

“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.”

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”

This falls into the former category.

Goat in the Snow - Emily Pettit

I first heard of Emily Pettit when I was looking through the Goodread Finalists in the Poetry category a couple of months ago. I tracked down a couple of her poems online to see if I'd like them (the reviews on Goodreads were very favourable), and decided to order myself a copy from the States. I'm glad I did; the first poem confirmed that I was going to enjoy this book:

'...I want to know more about 
normal accidents, owls misplaced in the arctic, breathing in code, 
dead fish on the sidewalk, extinction in the meadow, 
red wings collapsing.' 

The narrators of these poems are always seeking information whilst, at the same time, trying to instruct the reader in abstract ways: poems entitled 'How to lose lost objects,' first line: 'This is a memory of a house, so no one lives here.' Intricate, wonderful riddles to shed light on a different way of looking at things: 

'How to be irresponsible 

You've forgotten where you put your map 
of the basement. Remember the basement? 
It's under the house. If you still had a shadow
it'd be dancing on top of the basement.' 

It's a fantastic collection, with beautiful lines such as: 

'There are a couple of places 
in which human activity is generally missing.
It's hard to fit into a hummingbird's bill. Clouds refuse to carry us. 
There are quiet parts of our brains' 

'If this is breaking your heart / close your eyes.'

Fair Copy - Rebecca Hazelton

The perfect balance of old and new. On her 29th birthday, Rebecca Hazelton decided to take the first line of every 29th Emily Dickinson poem, and use it as an acrostic to write her own piece. She said that this helped her engage with Dickinson's poems better; the themes unravelling in her own work. This book is just beautiful. It made me want to read it inside a cave, or under the sea; it has such magical qualities:

'The wind was a man who carried me 
high over the world in his elbow crook 
Eggshell he called me, fingernail girl 
wrapping me tight in his breast pocket.' 

None of these lines feel forced as an acrostic; the words slot into place with such precision. Every word is exact. 'This is pretty, pretty your sleeping body, / hair shocked out against the pillow, / eyes closed, lashes like a girl's. / Men in sleep aren't boys, but aren't / exactly men, either - they soften / revert to animal, / curled up beast.' 

I think my favourite poem (though it's hard to choose, and no doubt I'll change my mind later), is 'The Nearest Dream Recedes, Unrealised', which begins: 

'Then we set up a sort of camp beneath the sea, 
hung shells stuffed with phosphorous plankton, 
emitting a cool green light - by which to read.'

An Island of Fifty - Ben Brooks

Yes, another Ben Brooks. Slightly in love at the moment.

This is a wonderful experimental novella. It's almost like poetry. In fact, it is poetry. It defies form and narrative. It's about a group of people 'advancing' in civilisation but in a way that makes them fall apart. It's about island, but about how everyone there is an island themselves. It's about industrialisation and greed and slavery. It's about the differences between men and women, and the differences between towns and the countryside. It's got elements of Virginia Woolf, and of Animal Farm. The text is also in all different sizes. I thought, at the beginning, that this would really bug me, but it didn't. After a while I rose and fell with it; like the tide. It's written almost as a religious text, headed with 'books' such as 'hunger', 'light' etc.

Hunger II

Marsha stalked the bears through
mountains. Miles behind her red
eyes and soft footfalls as she traced their
paths. She crouched beside the mouth of
their cave. The night fell scarlet around
her, clouds drew together and made a
solemn temple in the sky. Gates opened
& a thousand sparrows made quick
their escape.
The bears slept
, cradling each other's bodies
the insanity of the
. She crept in & slit their throats
with a rock from the floor. Their heads
were slowly removed & she climbed into
the body of the bear.

Marsha slept wet with tears and blood
inside the bear.

I'm looking forward to rereading this book already.


  1. I LOVE The Book of Lost Things. It was definitely one of those books that stuck with me, and I recommend it to people all the time!

    1. Hi Patricia! If you love The Book of Lost Things and haven't already read 'New World Fairy Tales' by Cassandra Parkin, then do :) I think you'd like it.

  2. I have the Book of Lost things! It is in hardback on a section with all my prettiest hardbacks. It was a random find in a 2nd hand bookshop. It's strangely disconcerting isn't? Just a bit on the edge of fairy tale.

    1. I like my fairy tales to be as messed up as possible ;)

  3. "Book of Lost Things" and "Fault in Our Stars" were recommended to me recently by the same coworker. I will have to send her to this post for the other titles you've reviewed. ;) And I will have to get reading....

  4. Hi. I just wanted to let you know that I gave you a blogger award on my blog.
    You may well not go for those kind of things which is fine, but although I mainly exist in the fashion-blogging sphere I love your blog and wanted to pass it on to some of my friends.