In short – some recent reads

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

Oh, what a nostalgia trip this book was. There has been so much love for it all over the blogosphere, and quite right too. I rediscovered so many books I’d forgotten, I might even re-read some of them. There were others I’ve never read but would like to – can you believe I never read the Just William books?. Of course there were minor disappointments when personal favourites (Garner, Storr) didn’t appear, but that was more than compensated for by her witty and wise words about reading. I was lucky enough to hear her talk in conversation with Katherine Rundell recently too, so got my copy signed. Only the lack of a proper index disappointed – the chapter by chapter reading lists at the end lacked many of the author’s names. Small quibble though. If you haven’t read this book yet, do! (9.5/10)

Here are some favourite quotes:

“…the bookworm’s prime directive: any book is better than no book. Always.”

[of Richmal Crompton] “…her early stories had been for adults, and she had chosen her language (and honed her satiric edge) accordingly. Now I saw that an author’s vocabulary should exceed her audience’s grasp – else what’s the bloody book for?”

“…you simply never know what a child is going to find in a book (or a graphic novel, or a comic, or whatever) – what tiny throwaway line might be the spark that lights the fuse that sets off an explosion in understanding whose force echoes down the years. And it enables me to keep, at bottom, the faith that children should be allowed to read anything at any time. They will take out of it whatever they are ready for. And just occasionally, it will ready them for something else.”

Source: Own copy. Lucy Mangan, Bookworm (Square Peg, 2018) Hardback, 336 pages.

BUY now in paperback from Amazon UK or Blackwell’s via affiliate links.


Two Books of Poetry – Alice Oswald and Blake Morrison

Continuing my poetic education with two from the library. Alice Oswald’s acclaimed Falling Awake (2016), and Blake Morrison’s Shingle Street, (2015).

It may have won prizes, but I’m not ready for Alice Oswald. The first poem, ‘A short history of falling’ was superb, ten rhyming couplets about raindrops. Then I turned the page to ‘Swan’ and was confronted with this:

‘A rotted swan
is hurrying away from the plane-crash mess of her wings
  one here
  one there.’

and that was the first of many morbid and fractured verses in this book. There were lovely ones in between, like ‘Fox’ – but then came pages of Orpheus’ severed head floating down the river. The second half of the book stayed with the Ancient Greek theme, a rambling thirty-five page long poem called ‘Tithonus – 46 minutes in the life of the dawn’. Too high-concept for me I’m afraid, I stopped there. (DNF 42/81 pages).

Whereas Blake Morrison’s Shingle Street  was simply superb! So much so, I’ve ordered a copy so I can revisit these poems. The opening poems are all set along the Suffolk coast – an area of the country that’s gradually returning to the sea. The opening poem, ‘The Ballad of Shingle Street‘ was full of rhythm and rhyme as you’d expect from a ballad form – it needs someone to set it to music!

‘A cul-de-sac, a dead-end track,
A sandbanked strand to sink a fleet,
A bay, a bar, a strip, a trap,
A wrecking ground, that’s Shingle Street.’

I very much enjoyed all these landscape and nature poems, which were followed by a different set. ‘This Poem’ is a set of nine topical poems covering issues from Jimmy Savile to redacted military documents, from hacking to ‘inappropriate’ – a pre-me too poem. Shingle Street’s poems were varied in tone, but weren’t as oblique, esoteric and fragmented as Oswald’s. They spoke volumes to me. (10/10)

Source: Both from the Library.

Blake Morrison, Shingle Street (Chatto, 2015), paperback original, 80 pages. BUY at Amazon UK, or Blackwell’s via affiliate links.

14 thoughts on “In short – some recent reads

  1. heavenali says:

    So glad you enjoyed Bookworm, it was marvellously nostalgic and I came across things I hadn’t come across as a child, and was reminded of many things I had loved.

  2. Dark Puss says:

    I remember “Just William” and many of the other collections as a source of great pleasure when I was young. However I am clearly NOT a bookwork as I don’t agree with “any book is better than no book. Always”; much preferring to sit and think rather than read a book that is not giving me anything back.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      She’s really referring to childhood reading – when bookworms just devour whatever they can get their hands on – Enid Blyton etc etc etc. As an adult – you have the skills to surround yourself by good books to make that true – and you don’t need to finish a book… Thinking too hard keeps me awake! 😀

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    Bookworm was a highlight of last year’s reading for me. Good news: I don’t get on with Oswald’s poetry either! I managed to finish this and a previous collection, but didn’t appreciate them. I had no idea Morrison had written poems; after loving my first tastes of his fiction and nonfiction last year, I will certainly be seeking this out.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      As I said to Dark Puss – she’s really writing about childhood reading. However, I would slightly defend that PoV as an adult – I surround myself with good books, so any book is worth at least trying. You can always put it down and read something else…

  4. JacquiWine says:

    Bookworm sounds an absolute delight from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of the Just William books either, although the gist of the stories are familiar to me from the TV series. It must have been lovely to see Mangan discussing the book in person – she always comes across as being smart and funny in her Guardian pieces.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      She was smart and funny – but thoughtful too in person. It was fascinating to hear her and Katherine Rundell who is so jolly hockey sticks in a modern way chat!

  5. Liz Dexter says:

    I loved Bookworm, too – she’s almost my exact contemporary which was lovely. Such a good book. In fact I think I read an e-copy and I need to buy a paper one to keep!

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