There was a moment of great excitement in the Setterfield household at lunchtime today. The postman rang at the door with this box:
And a few seconds later it was like this:
And – more prettily arranged, with the aid of my obliging houseplants – the contents are these:
Six new books. Yes, six. I don’t know what your purchasing habits are, but for me that is something of an event. Ordinarily I am a drip-feeder where book buying is concerned. I find it hard to pass a bookshop without going in, so I buy frequently, but usually come out with a single volume, at the most two. There are benefits to this frugality. I get to enjoy regular chats with the nice people at Daunts, as well as indulging my secret urge to eavesdrop on strangers talking about books. (I suppose that’s a secret no longer, now that I’ve told you.) Once or twice a year though it is a huge treat to splurge. And when you are used to books coming home in a bag over your arm, there is something utterly thrilling about having a whole box of them arrive at your door (thanks to the Guardian bookshop).
This is what I chose and why I chose it:
A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield
The thing about other people’s diaries is, you’re not supposed to read them. Which is why Simon Garfield is such a genius in finding these very private writings and making them available to spying snoops like me. (Which sets me thinking, what is reading anyway if not legitimized snooping? Hmm… There’s a whole new blog there, I think.) There is nothing like a diary for giving you a fine grain view of a person’s life, the inner and the outer, and I am expecting to love this one. What is more, my sister and my Mum are in the queue to read it after me.
40 Sonnets, Don Paterson
Lately I have been missing poetry in my reading. I can’t remember how or why it fell out of my reading habits but I am deliberately making a space for it now and this volume is the start. It is the only one of these six books I opened the moment I had it in my hands. I read and reread the first sonnet – it is called Here – between taking the second and the third of the photos above. The pleasures of poetry are many, but among them are the lightness of the volume in your hand, the generosity of white space around the lines, the fact that a slim volume like this is the first of my six new books to be started but will almost certainly be the last to be finished. I will read Here again when I have finished this, and again before bed. Tomorrow I will read the next one: Wave. And so on. Fourteen lines, several times a day, for forty days.
A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins
Jim Crace says this is: ‘heart-rending and heart-warming… for all its gentleness, a very powerful novel.’ By and large I am wary of endorsements unless I have a blood relationship with the person or have known them for a decade or more, but Jim Crace is, in my eyes, the author who can do no wrong. If he likes this, it must be good. I didn’t hesitate. Also it’s a translation from German, and my fondness for translators and translation knows no bounds, so if I needed a second reason that is it.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
More translations. These are volumes 3 and 4 of the Neapolitan Quartet that is selling like hot cakes all over the world. I read volume 1 with my friend C in our two-member bookgroup (and blogged about that here), and read volume 2 after receiving it for my birthday. In truth, this isn’t really my kind of book – I have never been able to generate much interest in fictional love affairs and there are love affairs aplenty here – but I am curious about the phenomenal reach of this series and a quartet that has female friendship at its heart is a rare thing, so I’m sticking with it.
Slade House, David Mitchell
This is a ghost story. Although if I’ve got the right end of the stick, it’s a ghost-story-that’s-not-exactly-a-ghost-story, which makes it even better. Many of my favourite haunted books were written with one foot in the genre and the other somewhere else altogether. Books that are easy to classify make life easy for booksellers and librarians, but for this reader nothing is better than a book which is neither quite one thing nor the other. And Christmas is coming! It wouldn’t be Christmas without something chilling to read.
So with this lovely box full of treats I am all set for a few weeks of winter reading.
One last thing: when I took them out of the box and saw the jackets together, I realized how much grey there was in my selection. Is that the new fashion in book covers? Paterson’s egg-yolk yellow is gorgeously vivid by contrast.
Diane, you have inspired me to make a bulk purchase of books before Christmas and to make sure there is some poetry among them. Thank you for this lovely post. Engaging and beautifully written as ever. Your blogs are a joy to read.
Read your blog. I was wondering what are some of your favorite “haunting” books. I am such a fan of the genre….as well as….suspense. Can you give me some book recommendations?
Looking through my reading log for recent years, these are the ghost stories that have stood out for me:
The Haunted Book, Jeremy Dyson (a modern take on the traditional ghost story)
The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson (apologies if you are a US reader, because you will already know about Shirley Jackson. In the UK she is not so well known, so I’m listing her.)
High Spirits by Robertson Davies is not one for traditional chills because it’s comic, but if you don’t mind funny ghosts it’s great.
I’ve also got a collection of Elizabeth Bowen stories on the shelf that I’ll be starting some time soon. I found a single ghost story of hers in an anthology and loved the way it trod the line between ghost story and psychological tale. The collection is a mixed bag and not all the stories are ghostly.
But the ghost story that has influenced me more than any other is a children’s book. When Marnie was there, by Joan G Robinson is a story I couldn’t get enough of when I was about ten. I read and reread it, and I see little bits of it everywhere in The Thirteenth Tale. I have reread it as an adult and the power is still there.
So fun to see what you’re reading! I have requested the Elena Ferrante (book 1) from the library and made a purchase request for the Jean Lucey Pratt. Sounds like two fantastic reads. Can’t wait! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Beth – and happy reading!