May 2016Two biographical works today – one an autobiography and one a biography; one a male astronaut and one a female poet. Chris Hadfield’s book has an openly didactic purpose, to teach us the life lessons he has learnt through his training and work as an astronaut, and Green’s book has a different purpose, to reclaim the reputation of a rather lost poet. I’ve been reading like anything to try to gain a clean sheet to start #20BooksofSummer on Wednesday, so hopefully you’ll read a few reviews over the next two days …

Chris Hadfield – “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

(3 June 2015 – The Works)

The autobiography of the famous Canadian (OK – did you realise he was Canadian?) astronaut, including life tips gained from his very rigorous training and equally rigorous way of life. These include gems for the less flippant such as always be prepared, even to extremes (he once taught himself to play Rocket Man on the guitar IN CASE Elton John realised he played the guitar and invited him up on stage. He didn’t), preparing for the worst, sweating the small stuff and taking pleasure in the effort not the outcome.

But even though his children apparently call him The Colonel, it’s not all barking instructions. It’s amusing and self-deprecating, although the aforementioned rigour does come in, apparently gained from his own upbringing and carried through into his own raising of his family (he does appear to be wistful about some of this).

I loved the details of his space training and life – including why jam is tricky on the International Space Station, what to do when you’re exercising, and general life in space, and it was also interesting to learn that it was one of his sons who was behind a lot of his social media phenomenon. Being fairly honest-sounding, admitting his mistakes, giving lots of interesting details and being well-written, this was a pretty compelling and quick read.

This book will suit … people interested in self-help through learning life lessons, people interested in space exploration

Richard Greene – “Edith Sitwell”

(2 April 2015 – Fopp in central London)

I bought this book, along with Michael Rosen’s Alphabet one, on a trip to London where I claimed I wasn’t going to buy any books. But how could I resist this one, as I’ve been collecting stuff about the Sitwell family for years?

This is a very good biography which pays as much attention to the development, inspiration, reception and technique of Sitwell’s poetry as it does to her chaotic and argumentative life, seeing to restore her lost position as one of the best twentieth century British poets. He traces her development to Walt Whitman and other American poets and suggests that the lack of anyone else writing like her, as well as post-war fashions in poetry, have dragged her reputation down as no one really knows what to make of her.

Greene keeps very competent control of the skeins and ribbons of Sitwell’s family, retainers, associates, friendship circles, feuds and enmities, keeping us clear on who is who, too. He retains a clear affection for his subject while not drifting into the hagiographical: he is clear-sighted about her profligacy, slip into alcoholism and increasing bad temper, while seeking explanations but not excuses. He’s also very funny on occasion.

He’s very good on the reviewers of her book and the context of poetry and literary criticism, and hopefully this will indeed do something to restore her reputation. The book is beautifully referenced, and a real work of bibliographical art.

This book will suit … any Sitwellaholics who might be out there. Anyone else?

I’m currently finishing Virginia Woolf’s rather un-Woolf-like “Night And Day” in my slightly delayed reading for Ali’s #Woolfalong. It was published almost contemporaneously with Dorothy Richardson’s “Deadlock”, and I’m drawing lots of interesting parallels as I go.