What I’ve Been Reading



Usually I’d post this on GoodReads but I find their interface a bit messy and frustrating, so I’m running it here this week.

First off, I loved ‘Larchfield’ by Polly Clark, about a mother-to-be in a remote past of Scotland, fighting with the neighbours, trying to stay sane and write poetry, and finding a surprising connection to a young schoolmaster who used to teach there decades earlier – WH Auden. The two stories dovetail beautifully, and it’s a debut novel.

Next, Caryl Brahms & S J Simon’s ‘Don’t, Mr Disraeli!’ has been providing me with amusement – it’s a rollicking Victorian story written in the 1940s that manages to include every cliche and character from Victorian literature in a single slim volume (plus the Marx Brothers), and is charmingly mad rather than hilarious.

Barry Forshaw’s ‘Italian Cinema’ is his latest volume studying European, British and American movies, and succinctly covers everything from exploitation and Giallo to the high priests of Italian film. He unearths a few films I haven’t seen and has driven me to seek them out, but also highlights some of the key problems with Italian cinema, not least its troubling attitude towards women.

Max Décharné’s ridiculously pleasurable ‘Vulgar Tongues: An Alternative History of English Slang’ sweeps from decadent abuse to rogue’s Latin, sexual innuendo, criminal language and most interestingly, the way patterns of speech change across the decades. A huge amount of slang came from experience in wartime, and the UK’s adoption of US slang, primarily among its working class population, is explored. I have been known to slip into RAF jargon from time to time.

Peter (brother of Ian) Fleming’s travel writings are variable – it must have been easier to get about when you always arrived  bearing letters from the consulate – but his ‘Brazilian Adventure’ is still pretty amazing as he goes in search of Col. Percy Fawcett, who set out to look for the Lost City of Z and was never seen again. Jungle tales from when there was still something left to explore.

I’m still discovering Shirley Jackson. This is because after she died a stack of manuscripts was discovered under her house, and have only just reached these shores in elegant Penguin paperbacks. You forget what a startling writer she could be. As she once said, ‘I am tired of writing dainty little biographical things that pretend I am a trim little housewife…I live in a dank old place with a ghost.’ Her books still haunt.

7 comments on “What I’ve Been Reading”

  1. davem says:

    Shirley Jackson is a rather special writer.

  2. Brooke says:

    Shirley Jackson biographies have also arrived…definitely no dainty housewife; but the husband from hell. Her stories may not be fiction.

  3. Davem says:

    Lot of books in the pile.

    Has someone been working on an Automatic Grammatizator?


  4. Roger says:

    I think that you can say of Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley Hyman, that they only ruined two lives by marrying each other, whereas they’d have ruined four lives if they’d married other people.

    Caryl Brahms & S J Simon’s “No Bed for Bacon” is famous for definitely not being the inspiration for “Shakespeare in Love”. I disagree with you about “Don’t Mr Disraeli”. I think it is funny as well as charmingly (the mot juste, as Henry James would say after careful deliberation) mad.

  5. agatha hamilton says:

    Agree with Roger in re ‘No Bed for Bacon’ and Tom Stoppard’s version (!) Also fond of Caryl Brahms and S J Simon’s ‘Bullet in the Ballet’.

  6. admin says:

    While I struggle with the ballet books, ‘Don’t, Mr Disraeli!’ is a delight that I’ll return to – but I remember seeing ‘Shakespeare In Love’ and thinking that the idea had to be taken from ‘No Bed For Bacon’. I’ll take another look…

  7. Roger says:

    The interesting thing about comparing “Shakespeare In Love” and “No Bed for Bacon” is that in Brahms and Simon Burbage can say to Shakespeare of the disguised heroine “The lad’s in love with you.”, over fifty years later there could be no ambiguity to Shakespeare’s heterosexual credentials.

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