Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Book Diary 2014

ISo, last year I stopped keeping my book diary as I was a judge on a book prize and it would have meant giving long list details away. But this year I am judging-free (for now...) so book diary is back on.

As before, I will indicate if it's a new or re-read, with a thumbs up or down review.

Happy reading!

Sylvester, Georgette Heyer (new): I came rather late to Ms Heyer and although The Grand Sophy and Venetia are my favourites, Sylvester is good fun.

Alfred and Emily, Doris Lessing (new): a touching novella of what her parent's lives should have been, with a short memoir/reflection of the reality.

The Summer before the dark, Doris Lessing (new): a fantastic novel about a woman's summer away from her family, and what it means when women rebel against convention.

When I lived in modern times, Linda Grant (new): I can't believe I hadn't read this before. It's a fantastic novel about a young Jewish woman going to Israel in 1946.

We had it so good, Linda Grant (re-read): Linda Grant's last book is about the baby boomer generation, from 1960s students to 60 year olds.

How to be a heroine, Samantha Ellis (new): part tour through literature's best heroines, part memoir this is a must read if you love Austen, the Brontes, Little Women, Valley of the Dolls, Lace, Cold Comfort Farm and more. Love love loved it.

Someone at a distance, Dorothy Whipple (new): just started this last night and wish I was curled up reading it now, instead of at work.

Lace, Shirley Conran (re-read): like eating a huge bar of Dairy Milk and feeling a bit sick afterwards. I love the story lines about their careers and women's friendship.

Paris France, Gertrude Stein (new): just wonderful. She is wonderful. Or, as she would say, 'she is very lovely'.

Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender, Rhian E Jones (new) It takes an angry and political look at the portrayal of/impact of Britpop on class and gender and how it's influenced our idea of class today - particularly around 'chav' and working class women. It's brilliantly political and angry and well researched, as well as an exploration of Britpop itself.

The Clothes on their Backs, Linda Grant (new): I'm having a real Linda Grant moment and loving it. This is about a young woman living in London trying to understand where her family has come from.

Claudine in Paris, Colette (re-read): Question - do you need four copies of this book? Answer, yes. Because it's ace. (ftr - in Claudine collection, one in French, one on Kindle and one because I needed a book when I took myself out for lunch and saw it in the charity shop).

The Lie, Helen Dunmore (new): Of course it's brilliant. It's Helen Dunmore's new book and it's heart wrenching and tender and understated and explores shell shock. She is ever awesome.

The Sweetest Dream, Doris Lessing (new): This is so epic in scope and ambition and she pulls it off brilliantly. But of course she does, she's Doris Lessing.

Sedition, Katherine Grant (new): It took me a while to get into this, as it is such a strange book with such weird and unpleasant characters. But once I got into it, I enjoyed it.

The Driver's Seat, Muriel Spark (new): Dark, unsettling, weird. I sometimes people ignore how dark, unsettling and weird her writing is.

Quartet, Jean Rhys (re-read): Rhys' superb roman a clef about her horrible time with Ford Madox Ford. "she could afford to display coldness, and that no good ever comes from being too polite."

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (re-read): Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it though? Is there anything like this book? I don't know. "You changed my name and that is a kind of obeah too"

Wise Children, Angela Carter (re-read): After the misery of Rhys, I needed a rollicking sexy ride through 20th century theatre land. Oh "what a joy it is to dance and sing!"

A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett (re-read): Because sometimes you need a children's book.

Heartburn, Nora Ephron (new): Inspired by Hadley Freeman, I read this and loved it. I want to give it to all my friends. It's bittersweet, and hilarious, and painfully honest.

The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy (re-read): I used to read this in the library as a teen. It is wonderfully weird and funny and touching. When I go to Paris in April, I'm totally wearing an evening dress at breakfast time. Hopefully won't fall in love with violent thieving pimp though.

Mrs Hemingway, Naomi Wood (new): I really enjoyed this novel that explores Hemingway's four marriages from the perspectives of their ends. It was beautifully written with a really interesting use of tense in the Hadley section.

I feel bad about my neck, Nora Ephron (new): I feel eternal gratitude to Hadley Freeman whose book, How To Be Awesome, introduced me to the truly wonderful Nora Ephron.

Crazy Salad, Nora Ephron (new): Nora's journalism about the women's liberation movement is not only a brilliant read for the quality of her writing, it's a fascinating history of second wave feminism with lessons for how we work within the movement today.

How to think more about sex, Alain de Botton (new): This book was recommended to me and it is really interesting, if sometimes uncomfortable reading, about how our attitudes towards our own sexuality are complicated by societal expectations about sex and relationships.

The Cat, Colette (re-read): Her short novella about the conflict between Saha the cat and Camille the bride for Alain's soul is disquieting, beautifully written and full of Colette's trademark sensuality.

Minka and Curdy, Antonia White (new): When Antonia White had writer's block writing the Frost in May books, she wrote this. Never has writer's block created something so joyous.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (new): How how how amazing? How wonderful is this book? She's incredible. It's stunning. Read it! Read it now!

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Gertrude Stein (re read): I love this book. It's one of my favourite books of all time. It's a fascinating discovery of the arts and literary scene of Paris from 1907, full of funny and personal stories about Picasso, Braque, Marie Laurencin - the whole gang! But most of all it's a love story about one of the most enduring marriages in literary history.

Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel (new): stunning. Simply stunning. 

From Whitechapel, Melanie Clegg (new): v enjoyed the new Melanie Clegg book - about 3 women whose lives become entangled as a result of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Be Awesome: modern life for modern women, Hadley Freeman (re read): love love love her.

How to be a heroine, Samantha Ellis (re read): revisited this book as I was searching for my literary heroines in Paris.

Bossypants, Tina Fey (re read): got into a "reading memoirs by funny clever women " tip it seemed! 

The Paris Wife, Paula McClain (re read): well, I was in Paris! And was eating dinner in Pre de Clerc when reading about Hem & Hadley eating their dinner there too! 

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (re read): see above! 

Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway (new): and again. I love the first section, when young Tom remembers Paris. Ahh, Paris. What a wonderful week I had!!

Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively (re read): I forgot I read this again a few weeks ago. One of my favourites, a desert island book.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (re read): it's been a while. It's spectacular. So much passion & rage & desperation. I'm reading Jane Eyre again next.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (re read): always #teamjane! I read this again last year too. I love it so much. Mostly when Rochester talks about the cord that binds them, and Jane's incredible "do you think because I am poor and plain" speech.

Frenchman's Creek, Daphne du Maurier (re read): One of my all time favourite books. I cry every time.

Three Lives, Gertrude Stein (re read): Her classic exploration of the lives of three women. I love the way she uses repetition to create strange rhythms.

The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn (new): I think the Lucy bits work better than the Anne sections to be honest.

Paris without End, Gioia Dilberto (new): This biography of Hadley, Hemingway's first wife, is a real joy to read. It reads like a novel (good for someone like me!) and brings to life the world the Hemingways lived in, and the vitality of Hadley. 

The Other Side of the Story, Marian Keyes (re read): no one gets million pound book advances anymore do they? But it's nice to dream...

The Blazing World, Siri Hursvedt (new): this is an extraordinary book, really spectacular, made up of fragments, notebooks and interviews to explore identity and sexism and art and psychology and philosophy - it wowed me totally.

The Nonesuch, Georgette Heyer (new): because sometimes you need Ms Heyer.

Cheri, Colette (re read): Just started re reading this. It's her masterpiece. Sex, food, loss, female strength, intelligence - all Colette is here.

The Last of Cheri, Colette (re read): I had forgotten just how incredible this book is. It's really special.

What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt (new): It's just superb. So so fantastic, so beautiful, so incredibly intelligent. I think I love her.  

Women of the Left Bank, Shari Henstock (new): If you want to know everything there is to know about the women of 1920s Paris - which I do - this is THE book.

Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (new): I loved this. I loved it. My favourite of his novels so far. Understand why people rank it up there with the best. 

For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway (new): technically this is a re read but at 15 I didn't know what was going on. It's a special book isn't it? Full of Hem truth. Chapter 13's section on seventy hours vs seventy years is monumental.

HERmione, H.D (new): This is a beautiful book that overwhelms the senses with its dense poetic prose. Have long been intrigued by H.D so glad to finally read her properly. 

The Queen's Fool, Philippa Gregory (re read): my fave. Robert Dudley is so swoony. 

Gertrude and Alice, Diana Souhami (new): it's a truly brilliant & passionately researched biography, full of both their voices. You have to read it if, like me, you are fascinated by the pair of them.

Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise, Sally Cline (new): meticulously researched and thorough biog of Zelda that is honest whilst empathetic. Horrific indictment of 1930s treatment of mental illness.

Save me the Waltz, Zelda Fitzgerald (re-read from a long time ago): So much more than a literary curiosity. It's an intense read.

Been reading lots of sections of The Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, which has been a joy.

How to be Both, Ali Smith (new): Very lucky to get my hands on this and WOW WOW WOW it is utter joy. She is a genius, the writer of our time. Proper review to follow.

Middlemarch, George Eliot (re-read): I read this at university but it was so wonderful to rediscover this intensely rich and beautiful novel.

The Boys on the Bus by ME!!! (re-read): I self-published a Kindle Single and you should definitely buy it, best book I've read all year ;-)

Tigers are better looking, Jean Rhys (re read): Long time since I read Rhys' short stories. Man, Ford's intro to the Left Bank is a bit me, me, me isn't it! 

Good morning midnight, Jean Rhys (re read): Why didn't you just throw yourself into the Seine? The pain in this novel is almost overwhelming. A perfectly perfect and perfectly frightening book.

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Jean Rhys (re read): I was going to do a PhD into the use of clothes and make up to construct identity in Rhys's novels. It never happened...

Voyage in the Dark, Jean Rhys (re read): I'm nineteen and I have to go on living and living and living.

Flappers, Judith Mackerell (new): Great biog of Diana Cooper, Tallulah Bankhead, Josephine Baker, Nancy Cunard, Tamara de Lempicka and Zelda Fitz. Interesting to see a different biographer's perspective on Z. 

A Lady of Quality, Georgette Heyer (new): classic Heyer but was expecting a shocking elopement and rescue tbh!! Rather than an influenza epidemic.

The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer (new): good fun. 

Upstairs at the party, Linda Grant (new): excellent new novel from one of my favourite contemporary writers.

The King's Curse, Philippa Gregory (new): I think the best Plantagenet novel remains The Lady of the Rivers. This is alright, not one of her greats. But the afterword - which covered the writing our of women of history and our collective refusal to recognise that Henry VIII committed gross acts of domestic violence, and was a cruel, vicious man – made me cry a bit.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (new): I've only read her Victorian novels which I must now change! This is a fantastic book. 

A place of greater safety, Hilary Mantel (re read): what is so hard with this book is you know how it ends and yet you become so close to Camille et al that it becomes unbearable to reach the end. I love it.

Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (new): This novel is very intense, very beautiful, frightening - I don't really know what to say about it, how to articulate it. You'll need to discover it yourself.

The Quick, Lauren Owen (new): This is a beautifully written Gothic novel, with descriptions that haunt you.

Treasures of Time, Penelope Lively (new): Another great read from this wonderful writer.

Eat my Heart Out: Zoe Pilger (new): Angry, impassioned, challenging and feminist from a really inspiring new talent.

Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (re read): Really powerful to revisit this very special novel.

Down the Rabbit Hole, Juan Pablo Villalobos, trans Rosalind Harvey (new): It's very hard to write in the voice of a child and be authentic and convincing. This book achieves it beautifully, and through the child's voice the violence of gang life in Mexico is revealed to us. 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte (re read): A long time since I re read this and I'm really glad I did. 

Jeeves volume 2, PG Wodehouse (re read): Read this up North, many chuckles and over cups 'of the old life saver'

Marilyn the passion and the paradox, Lois Banner (new): Very interesting, very sad. Was delighted to discover the dinner party with Marilyn, Shelley Winters and Dylan Thomas. 

The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf (re read): I love this book

The Other Ida, Amy Mason (new): This was a great read by an exciting new writer who is speaking at next year's Bristol Women's Literature Festival.

The Millstone, Margaret Drabble (new): A strange but wonderful book, reminded me a bit of Penelope Lively.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler (new): YES PLEASE! This book is WONDERFUL!!!

My Thirty Years' War, Margaret Anderson (new): The founder and editor of Little Review, the first publisher of Ulysses and all round amazing woman. Her memoirs are ace!

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory (re read): Because I love it.

Jeeves Volume 1, PG Wodehouse (re read): because I was tired and on a train. And you need Jeeves on such occasions. Better than a cup of the old life-saver!

Gillespie and I, Jane Harris (new): What a fantastic book! I bought this on the South Bank because my Kindle battery was low and I was immediately gripped, I read it in a day! Such a surprising, absorbing and brilliantly wicked book.

Singled Out, Virginia Nicholson (new): I'm reading this at the moment (between Jeeves and Gillespie) and it's a fascinating account of the lives of the surplus women post WW1.

Some more Wodehouse (re read): because you can't just read one!

Riders, Jilly Cooper (new): Ok. I have never read a Jilly Cooper in my life. And it seemed like it was some kind of teenage rite of passage that I had missed out on. So I read one. It was shit. I will never read one again.

The World is Round, Gertrude Stein (new): magical. 

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