Poised For The Next Catch – 14 April 2024

If you are the hardy customer to whom I this week promised that I would finally read Far From the Madding Crowd, I apologise. I will. But not today. To the impeccably dressed Mathias Enard fan, I offer similar regrets. And to the outraged child who discovered that I haven’t read all the books in the Pages and Co. series, you are right: what have I been doing with my time?

My reading lists are pulling me into all sorts of contortions.

On Monday, I went to see Percival Everett speak about his new book, James, a reimagining of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from Jim’s point of view. I will read James next, I thought. Except I ought to re-read Mark Twain first in order to appreciate James which is, by all accounts, outstanding. And my shelf is already weighed down by only a portion of Everett’s backlist – all of which I have been longing to read since our discussion of The Trees in book group several months ago. 

On Tuesday, I saw Harriet Baker reflecting on the Rural Hours which affected the writing of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Rosamond Lehmann and noted the urgent and firm instruction to read Lehmann’s short stories. I had better read those now, I thought. Tonight. (More on the excellent Rural Hours in last week’s newsletter.)

Wednesday found me preparing for a discussion of Bukowski’s Ham on Rye. Thursday contemplating the work of the two poets who performed wonderfully in the shop last night, Robert Walton and Jessica ‘Jj’ Haines. Friday reading the debut novels which we are launching in the shop in May (details below).

Throughout the week I have assured people that I am poised to read Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan. Soon. Honestly. In all its 656-page glory. But it sounds so thoroughly addictive – the story of a well-known writer and academic with connections to the wealthy and not-altogether-great-or-good of London whose success is about to melt away – that I’ll need to clear my schedule completely for this state-of-the-nation thriller.

When I am eventually crushed beneath a pile of hardbacks, please know that I was at my happiest.

Here are a few titles to add to your own teetering towers:

Dead Animals by Phoebe Stuckes
A woman wakes up after a party, seriously assaulted. She takes pictures of the evidence. Then she has to go to one of her several waitressing jobs. The trauma and rage can hardly fit in her body; in her vicinity fuses blow, crockery smashes, mould grows impossibly quickly. When she meets another woman who has been abused by the same man, they start a relationship. And, perhaps, they also start a plan for vengeance.

Birding by Rose Ruane
In the nineties, teenagers Lydia and Pandora had a hit with their pop song, ‘Up For It’. You can imagine the music video, the billboards, the sickening and male-controlled presentation of their young bodies. For Lydia, the return years later of someone who wants to check that his name is not about to feature alongside the hashtag ‘MeToo’ leads her to question what happened and what choices she was able to make. Meanwhile, Joyce, who has never left home at the age of 46 and dresses identically with her mother, begins to feel an anger – an anger once folded away beneath those hideous clothes – bubbling over. The two women will meet and uncage themselves.

We are so pleased to be launching Dead Animals and Birding in the Clifton Arcade on Friday 10th May. Phoebe and Rose will be in conversation with author Ash Bond. Tickets are available in the shop or on the website.

Choice by Neel Mukherjee
In London, Ayush is trying hard to do the right thing – for the environment, for his children and in his job as a publisher. One story he publishes is about an academic, drunk in an Uber, who foggily witnesses the driver hitting a pedestrian and zooming away. In a discussion with an economist, Ayush learns about a scheme which donates cows to impoverished women in India, an intervention which has had successes and failures. The stories of Ayush, the Uber passenger, and a family destroyed by the charitable scheme form a triptych which asks if we can ever identify, and then make, the just choice.  

Come Here to This Gate by Rory Waterman
A stunning poetry collection written in three parts united by explorations of boundaries, storytelling and home. Waterman writes movingly about the final year of his father’s life, peers out behind closed gates and opens others and brings odd Lincolnshire folk tales into the modern day.

Our monthly Poetry in Herons series has a new format from next month beginning with the launch of Come Here To This Gate with Rory. Get your tickets in the shop or online for the launch at 6pm on Saturday 18th May. Also on the bill is the brilliant poet Zoe Brooks.

Future poetry dates for your diary:
15th June: Ralf Webb, author of Rotten Days in Late Summer, with support from Florence Grieve
13th July: Jonathan Edwards, author of My Family and Other Superheroes with support from Adam Elms
17th August: Martyn Crucefix, poet and translator, launching his new translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems, Change Your Life

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who came to celebrate Ben Garrod’s new children’s book, Jack-Jack, A Dog in AfricaI am thrilled to report that the shop can successfully host Border Collies, Lurchers, Cockapoos, Toy Poodles, Beagles, and Dalmatians. It is probably good that the Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog waited outside…

As well as dogs, many children came to hear Ben reading from this playful book, told by his rescue dog, Jack. There was a warm community feeling to the whole day which left us glowing and happy as we swept up large quantities of fur… Here is Jack, the star of the show, having a well-earned rest.

May your Sunday allow you to stretch out on the floor surrounded by books, even as they call to you, ‘Pick me; I’m next!’

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