Well I’ve got two books from the North today (one further North than the other), both with trademark deadpan humour and surreal juxtapositions, but one eminently readable and the other Very Confusing. And then, to bookend October, which started of course with my mega-book-buying in Cornwall, we have a little pile of lovelies picked up in Buxton last weekend.
Simon Armitage – “Walking Home”
(25 December 2015, from Sian)
I absolutely loved this account of his walk down the Pennine Way (the ‘wrong way’) from Scotland to his home village. I went to a reading by Armitage centred on this book years ago at the Birmingham Book Festival with Sian, and, helped by persuading Matthew to have a dip into the audiobook, I heard the whole book in his distinctive voice.
It’s funny and wry and self-deprecating, of course. It looks upon the surreal and provides a photograph, more often than not. It’s lovely on birds, which was a super surprise and a really great punctuation throughout the book. It lets you into secrets about the Pennine Way, like the attitudes of the people whose land it crosses and the efforts of its instigators to help walkers navigate the odd motorway.
The book is full of lovely little details, like, the waitress who “‘ducks’ beneath the poem as she passes in front of me with a Cumberland sausage,” because of course Armitage is also performing for money given into a sock at a variety of venues down the spine of his journey, recording the money and stray objects he receives and relying on the kindness of strangers to transport his suitcase.
It’s a walk through memories as well, of his family in particular, and those parts are very affecting, as he muses on being someone who’s never moved more than a few miles from where he was born (is this a common thing nowadays, I wonder?). He makes new friends and meets up with old ones, filling in descriptions with a wonderful poet’s shorthand. Excellent book.
Halldor Laxness – “Under the Glacier”
(25 December 2015, from Jane in the US for my Librarything Virago Group Not So Secret Santa)
I want to say first that I loved the other Laxness I’ve read so far, Independent People, and this was on my wishlist.
I was just lost. I did not understand this book at all. Fleeting scenes of a young man investigating a priest gone a bit wrong, random cakes, a mysterious package on a glacier, a disappearing wife … it was just like I was actually reading it in my poor Icelandic (although I’m sure the translation was good). Susan Sontag either understood it enough to write an introduction I couldn’t work out or was pretending. Lost, I was: lost. And I’m sure it was entirely my fault.
I’m wondering what Sian or Karen, both keener than me on weird European fiction, would make of it.
This was written in 1968 and so I’m adding it to the Century of Books, but will swap it out if I read another from that year!
OK, rather hastily onto those book purchases now … I picked all of these up in the Brierlow Bar Bookshop just outside Buxton, having gone up there to meet my friend Laura (we cover each other’s editing work but luckily no one needed one of us!). It’s a great remainder book shop with a good stock that apparently changes regularly. We then went round all the charity shops, which had lots of good books that I already had and compelled Laura to buy!
Jenny Colgan – “Class” – bought purely and simply because it’s set in a girls’ school in Cornwall – I couldn’t even work out which bit of Cornwall on a quick flick. I was glad I got this as looking at the TBR shelf, it’s rather low on fiction (11 to 25 non-fic now on the main shelf).
Muhammad Yunus – “Banker to the Poor” – he’s the chap who invented microfinance on a big scale – the precursor to all the Kivas and similar, and won a Nobel Prize for it. Hopefully some good and uplifting reading to cheer and provide solace in these dark days of seeming selfishness and entitlement.
Carol Watts – “Writers and their Work: Dorothy Richardson” – a real find, it discusses “Pilgrimage” in some detail, yet is small enough to post around all the “Pilgrimage” readers who would like to read it next year and find out what the series was all about. What a random and excellent find!
Ronald Rice – “My Bookstore” – an America book with delicious untrimmed edges which interviews lots of American writers (Jill McCorkle!) about their favourite places to read and buy books. Looks altogether delightful.
Russell Taylor – “The Looniness of the Long-Distance Runner” – I’m a sucker for running books and this is about a man who signed up for the New York City Marathon then had a year to get fit. It looks funny but is hopefully not TOO silly, and a good inspiration I’m sure.
That’s not many really, is it, and you’ll see tomorrow that the TBR really isn’t that bad still. Hooray!
I’ve also finished Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread”, read on the train journeys to and from Buxton (when I wasn’t reminiscing about Birmingham nightclubs of the 1990s with a bloke I ran for the Stockport-Buxton train with). A bittersweet read in itself, made more bittersweet by it being her LAST book (and I’ve read every one of the others), and will be reviewed in the wrong month as there’s no room for it in October.
Have you read any of these? Have you read a book you couldn’t understand recently??