BOOK CLUB: Spring 2019

Freya Parr

The weather can be unpredictable this time of year - but whether you end up on a park bench in the streaming sunlight, surrounded by crocuses... or tucked away listening to the drumming of the rain - we're sure there'll be something for you in our Spring book club.

You Know You Want This (Kristen Roupenian)
I have already waxed lyrical about this book to anyone that will bother listening, so I’m fairly sure we’ve got this one covered. It’s the debut collection of short stories following on from the viral success of one of its stories, Cat Person, on the New Yorker in late 2017. Following this global sensation, the release will undoubtedly be picked up all over the place – rumour has it, it’s already being adapted into an HBO series. In a similar way to Cat Person, the rest of the stories explore the to and fro of attraction and revulsion that we’ve all experienced at one point or another, analysing the power dynamics in relationships. A fascinating and repugnant series of stories, all tremendous examples of what this unsung hero of a literary form can do.

A Love Story for Bewildered Girls (Emma Morgan)
This book completely took me by surprise. For some bizarre reason I thought it was YA fiction, but then became completely invested in it anyway, and then realised all the characters were 30-odd. Not so young adult after all. The author Emma Morgan’s story is refreshing. She was part of the first intake of mentees on the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme aged 48, yet more proof that these schemes are worthwhile and give a platform to incredibly worthy writers.
The story follows the lives of three women, all varying in sexual orientation and perspective. Morgan explores the dynamics of female friendships and relationships in all their myriad forms. Despite myself, I found this a totally compulsive read, and the diverse range of characters made for a more engaging story.

The Face Pressed Against a Window: A Memoir (Tim Waterstone)
This book is like soft porn for any booklover. No, really. It will make you fall back in love with bookshops in a way you won’t expect. Tim Waterstone grew the legendary Waterstone’s bookshop business from a small bookshop in South Kensington in 1982, for which he advertised for staff in the Evening Standard, looking for the ‘best, happiest, literary booksellers’. This advert set the precedent for what Waterstone’s would become, and how it would change the way bookshops were organised and run. He also goes back and tells the story of his early life growing up in postwar England, and it is just a fascinating story of an enduring British high-street bookshop. 

Mouth Full of Blood: Essays, Speeches, Meditations (Toni Morrison)
The Nobel Prize-winning author returns this month with a new collection of intensely thought-provoking essays exploring themes of race, gender and globalisation. And no, it’s not an easy read. But her writing. Is just. Unparalleled, truly unparalleled. This collection is taken from speeches and writing from over the years, diving into the role of the artist in tempestuous political times. My, my, I do wonder why she decided to publish it now?!
The writing is rooted in recent historical events, with prayers, tributes and eulogies for those killed in 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr and James Baldwin. If anyone can write about this, it’s Toni Morrison. It’s powerful stuff. As you read it you find yourself circling every second sentence – everything is quotable. She truly is a master of language.

Late in the Day (Tessa Hadley)
Oh boy, Tessa Hadley can really write. I’m not sure how this is the first of her books I’ve actually read, but I am now thoroughly invested. This is the perfect example of domestic fiction done well.
Late in the Day follows the intersecting lives of two close-knit couples, one of whose husband dies in the first chapter. His widow moves in with the other couple to seek solace, and we gain an insight into their past relationships, learning that initially each of the women was with the other man, making for a tangled web of emotions and a sort of Shakespearean couple swap. As the three of them live together again, their relationships morph into those from the past and get utterly muddled. Hadley’s prose is measured, spare and utterly perceptive of the human condition.

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant (Joel Golby)
Vice journalist Joel Golby’s debut book is somewhat genreless. It’s a sort of collection of thoughts and musings – ‘essays’ if you will. It’s a little formless, lying somewhere between a memoir and collection of thoughts. It reads like the slightly neurotic interior monologue of a twenty-something, considering modern life as we know it with all its eccentricities. He discusses everything from the death of his parents and contemplations on death, to his fascination with video game communities. The constant switch between the poignant and the banal is amusing, if a little tiresome. The strong authorial voice often heard in his articles is ever-present, but in such a vast book the scatty prose and brash, dark humour becomes a little wearing. Not for me maybe, but I have no doubt it will fly off the shelves and I’ll inevitably be proved very wrong indeed.

Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion (Michelle Dean) - paperback release
Calling all lapsed English Literature graduates. This one’s for you. Journalist and book critic Michelle Dean has sifted through the history books and tiresome biographies of ten of the most influential social critics of the 20th century, from Mary McCarthy to Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion to Nora Ephron. Sharp looks back on the lives of these women, examining how they forged their careers and navigated difficult sexist landscapes. Unlike the biographies we’re all used to reading, Michelle Dean explores how these women’s lives intersected throughout the time. It’s still got quite a lot of academic detail, so is not for everyone, but it’s written in an accessible manner so will be a warm and familiar style for English grads, while also not making them guilt-ridden at convoluted sentence structures and confusing narratives. 

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