Eyes on the Prize – 18 March 2023

On Wednesday I attended a superb evening of poetry, “Under the Red Guitar” held at a bar in Bedminster. I sat amazed by the skill and courage on show as people set their poems loose on the world.

One man, an asylum seeker who has only recently learned English, had written a devastating and dark poem which had the audience enthralled. Deborah Harvey, author of several excellent collections, had me in tears with a poem about Cary Grant visiting his mother who is wondering why a man who looks like a famous film star is claiming to be her son. (Cary Grant’s father placed her in an institution, told his son that she had left them and later told him that she’d died.) Bob Walton read a poem about realising how one is perceived by others when he is offered a seat on the tube which was both witty and tender.

A spell was cast over the room on this remarkable night. There was good wine too. So I am thrilled that we will be hearing from Bob tonight at the start of our Poetry in Herons series. The wine may not be as good but the verse certainly will be. We look forward to seeing many of you there and at all our upcoming events.

New books and book news

Amongst many poetry collections about which I am excited, Artifice by Lavinia Singer ranks highly. Her debut is a collection about the art of making (i.e. craftsmanship) as well as of making it up.

In fiction news:

Ladies’ Lunch by Lore Segal is a collection of short stories centring around a group of nonagenarians meeting in Manhattan to talk about the indignities and oddities of ageing.

Cuddy by Benjamin Myers is an experimental retelling of the story of St Cuthbert, incorporating prose, poetry, play, diary and historical accounts. We even have signed copies.

In Memoriam by Alice Winn is a stunning story of love between two young men, finding fleeting solace in one another, whilst fighting in the First World War.

Non-fiction:

A Stranger in Your Own City by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is a remarkable work on the experience of ordinary people in Iraq as their home was invaded and a new country invented. The author was on Radio 4’s Start the Week recently and the programme is well worth a listen.

A Stone is Most Precious Where It Belongs by Gulchehra Hoja is a stunning memoir by a Uyghur activist forced to flee from China and then to watch as her extended family were arrested in retaliation. This is a brave and revelatory account.

Elderflora: a modern history of ancient trees by Jared Farmer takes the reader across the world looking at its oldest trees and the voices that love, protect and study them. Farmer (no, really – we also stock Wilding by Isabella Tree) explores how we need the most ancient of trees now more than ever.

Children’s:

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari is a stunning story of three close-knit friends trying to hold onto their friendship and youth when one of them is drawn to a darker path. This Young Adult novel is uplifting and full of empathy.

The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros: after The End, not a final end as it turned out, Dylan and his mother each write down their thoughts in a notebook.

Bear and Bird by Jarvis is four picture books in one – each story explores the sweet and forgiving relationship between Bear and Bird, with an excellent raise of one sardonic eyebrow.

In yet more book news, it has been an epic time for prize lists. On the Women’s Prize for fiction longlist, we are obsessed with Sophie Mackintosh’s Cursed Bread and Jacqueline Crooks’ Fire Rush. On the Rathbones Folio prize shortlists, our fiction pick is Emergency by Daisy Hildyard. Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu has been longlisted for the Jhalak Prize and is perhaps the most inventive novel/prose poem I read last year. And on the Children’s/YA Jhalak Prize longlist, Needle by Patrice Lawrence is brilliant (as well as being dyslexic friendly). On the International Booker longlist, all the Fitzcarraldo published titles are excellent, and we’re also thrilled to see Pyre by Perumal Murugan there. It’s also great to see Love Marriage by Monica Ali on the Comedy Women in Print Prize shortlist. What a time to be running a bookshop!

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