The Feast of Saint Heron – 11 February 2024

I’ll be up front with you. I’m going to mention the Feast of Saint Valentine in this newsletter.

Some of you will immediately begin muttering about such brazen commercialism. Some of you will roll your eyes, go for a coffee with a friend and discuss all the issues with people assuming romantic love must be everyone’s aim. Some of you will glance at your partner nervously and make a note that you ought to slip out to pick up something, after last year’s claim that they ‘didn’t want anything’ turned out to be more complex than it seemed. Some of you have already sorted the roses, the chocolates, the theatre tickets; you’ve handmade a shamelessly soppy card, written an earnest poem, even put the champagne in the fridge, only to find that they have done the same.

To the first group, I say: I’m at the mercy of Fitzcarraldo who are publishing the book I am currently obsessed with on 14th February. To the second: you are right; I get it. And Amy Key does too. To the third: you’re looking for a thoughtful little something to demonstrate deep personal connection and understanding? Have you heard of… books? To the fourth: there is no shame in basking in clichés once in a while; have a lovely time and feel free to add a pink book to the cliché basket.  

To all of you, I say: have you heard about The Book of All Loves by Agustín Fernández Mallo? The end of the world has arrived and a couple sit together to explicate love. In short fragments and long swirling paragraphs they offer definitions of silent love, statistical love, geodesic love, asymmetric love, pet love, fanatic love, language love… Between these they address one another, remembering their lives together, counting the ways they adore one another, examining infinity in the face of apocalypse. It is an intense and careful weaving of novel, essay, poetry and play and a deeply special book.

If you aren’t in the mood for crystallized love, I have some other recommendations:

How I won a Nobel Prize by Julius Taranto
Where can you go as an academic who has been fired and publicly vilified? Fortunately a multi-billionaire has built an institute on an island with a tower – fondly known as the Endowment – which looks down on Yale. As long as you’re exceptional in your field, you are welcome here. When Helen’s PhD supervisor is fired she is forced to go with him to the island to continue her work. Nuanced ways of talking about cancel culture are few and far between; this novel is brilliant. I tore through it, alternately laughing at and challenged by the attitudes of the characters.

Lublin by Manya Wilknson
Three Jewish boys leave their home in Mezritsh, Poland. They are bound for the market town of Lublin armed with a map, some provisions, their holy books and 480 brushes to sell. Elya is confident – he’s read a book on outdoor living – the others less so. But nothing can prepare them for the discomfort, danger and futility of their absurd journey.

Pity by Andrew McMillan
Andrew McMillan’s debut novel – you may know him already as a poet – is a slim but expansive book about three generations of a family in South Yorkshire. The miners’ strike hangs over their story, threaded through daily life and the larger narrative but the detail of the story is about the men in the family struggling with masculinity, queerness, and how to present themselves to the world.  

Rebel Island by Jonathan Clements
Clements tells the history of Taiwan from the archaeology that makes it unique to the modern day, placing the tensions it faces now in the context of the multiple invasions it has faced. It is a fascinating political history which explores how the history of Taiwan’s indigenous people has not been told in its own right and questions the fate of the island now.

The Price is Wrong by Brett Christophers
Taking a fresh look at why the transition to green electrification is moving so slowly, Christophers argues that capitalism cannot save the planet, driven as it is by profit, not price. The problem, he says, is not that the transition is too expensive but that saving the planet is not profitable enough and the solution is a major intervention and wholesale policy change.

It has been a delightful week for the nostalgic children’s picture book fans among us with new ones from Allan Ahlberg (yes, he’s 85 and still writing beautiful stories) and Nick Butterworth (only 77 years old…). Elsie finds a lot of unexpected friends, some of them rather large Under The Table in Ahlberg’s new book, illustrated by Bruce Ingman. And Percy the Parkkeeper helps a sad hedgehog to experience the joy of a balloon despite the danger his spikes present in Hedgehog’s Balloon.

Meanwhile, one can learn that all important lesson, How to Cuddle a Crocodile, from Sam Wilde and Sarah Horne’s new book or, if you are looking for something a little fluffier, Holly Webb’s The Missing Bunny is lovely. In case the jeopardy of the title is a little too much, I can assure you that all turns out well…

Next Saturday our monthly poetry series continues with a reading from Anna Maughan and Jan Swann. Do let me know if you are coming along; I suggest arriving a couple of minutes before 5 so that we can offer you a drink and squeeze all of you in to hear from these brilliant local poets. You can find out more about our events here. Lots of updates are coming soon…

May your Sunday lunch be undisturbed by finding a rhino under the table,

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