Notes from the Heronhouse – 11 November 2023

A few weeks ago, I wrote to you with apples on the brain since they were seemingly everywhere on the page. (And I am still obsessing over North Woods by Daniel Mason…) Today, however, is peak apple day: Lennie Goodings, Chair of Virago Press, is speaking at the Clifton LitFest and I am very excited to see her. Her book A Bite of The Applenamed after that famous Virago logo, is a wide-ranging account of working at the outstanding feminist publisher and a celebration of its authors and readers. I am rather excited, grateful to the Friends of the Clifton Library for organising such a wonderful festival and armed with apple puns just in case I get to meet a virago/heroine…

Meanwhile in the shop, it is almost, er…, let’s call it festive season. If you are looking for board books or picture books with a certain theme, click on the links for a couple of lists of my favourites. If you don’t want to think about this until December, never fear: we sell books suitable for the whole calendar. Set to become a perennial favourite is the illustrated children’s edition of Storyland by Amy Jeffs. It’s a stunning mythology of Britain teeming with monsters, wild landscapes and legends of which you may not have heard. 

Of course, the time of year does mean that there are a host of new novels pouring into the shop, including the much anticipated second novel from Terry Hayes, The Year of the LocustReaders of I Am Pilgrim have been waiting ten years for another breathless thriller and it’s here in time for… well, you know.

Personally, I have been both waiting for and nervous to pick up Baumgartner by Paul Auster. I love his writing – his novels and his essays – and, since this may be his last book, I want to savour every page. It’s a slim novel about a widowed septuagenarian writer, struggling to keep his mind on track and keep events in the right order.

Similarly slim in page numbers and huge in topic is Orbital by Samantha Harvey. I loved her book The Western Wind, a medieval crime novel told in palindrome (no, really), and it turns out that she can also do space pastoral. The book takes place over the course of one day on the International Space Station as six astronauts contemplate the beauty of the Earth and are compelled by its pull.

Locked inside an industrial complex, rather than a space station, the three workers in The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada are losing all sense of perspective. Each of them has a task – shredding paper, proofreading documents, studying moss – none of which can alleviate the absurdity of the modern workplace.

If that kind of surreal absurdity leaves you searching for ludicrous joy, then you must read Notes from the Henhouse by Elspeth Barker, a posthumous selection of her essays dominated by her love of animals – everything from her delinquent pig, Portia, to her father’s bawdy parrot to her shamelessly anthropomorphising view of her hens. She wrote beautifully also of falling in love, of watching her children grow older, of being in a garden; the collection is a warm and witty delight.  

As is the poetry of Wendy Cope. A new selection of some absolute favourites has been published: The Orange and Other Poems. We’ve spent the last few days reading and re-reading these in the shop, drawing in willing customers and unsuspecting arcade retailers to the Wendy Cope fan club.

Further poetry fixes abound in the next few weeks too:

May your weekend be full of Wendy Cope-style wit and oranges.

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