Monday, 5 November 2018

Eternal Boy by Matthew Dennison: review in Literary Review

I've reviewed Matthew Dennison's new biography of Kenneth Grahame, for Literary Review. Read it here.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Monday, 1 October 2018

Short Children's Book Round up for Literary Review: October

Here's a link to my short young adult / children's books round up for the October issue of Literary Review, featuring: Mr Godley's Phantom by Mal Peet; The Lost Witch by Melvin Burgess; and The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

On Reading Habits

The author, Will Self, has come under fire for admitting to reading up to 50 books at a time - electronically, dipping in and out.

The reaction was predictable. He must be lying. "I stop reading Dickens cos it's so boring, therefore everyone else must!" is the cry. It made me wonder: how can anyone know what anybody else's reading habits are like? At university, I was always reading several books a week: the primary texts we were studying; a smattering of secondary texts; and then a novel or two on the side which had nothing to do with my courses.

These days, I'm usually reading about ten books or so at a time, at various stages. I read, re-read; sometimes I'm looking at a book for the third, fourth or even fifth time. As a book reviewer, I always have the tome I'm currently working on - at the moment,  it's three: a work of fantasy for the TLS; a children's book for the Guardian in the pipeline; and a novel for The Spectator.

Some I've only just begun, some I'm a long way through. I'm reading G K Chesteron's The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which I dip into when I can for some prescient light relief. Since I'm giving a lecture soon on Paradise Lost, I'm studying a book about the poem by Loewenstein, as well as the poem itself and the introduction to it in the Penguin edition. I've been reading - or perhaps that is the wrong word; absorbing might be better -  The Shorter Pepys for about ten or more years now - a month at a time, savouring his love of pies and his trips down the river and his delight in acquiring new clothes.

Frances Wilson's Guilty Thing is a fabulously well written biography of Thomas de Quincey; I'm drinking it down it alongside Confessions of An Opium Eater, which I'm re-reading. I've been perusing a book by Norman Davies called Vanished Kingdoms, about the kingdoms, large and small, which once dotted Europe; in almost total contrast to this serious work, I'm half way through the second volume of Simon Raven's amusing and louche Alms to Oblivion Series, which I read a few pages of before sleep, as a kind of tonic.

I've been completing my awareness of Henry Green for some time, being half way through the final novel of his that I haven't yet read, Concluding; alongside this I'm dipping into his contemporary, Evelyn Waugh, simply because my old copy of Brideshead Revisited turned up, and I couldn't help but immerse myself in it again. (Funny to think that everyone thought Green would be read long after Waugh.) A biography by Hannah Pakula of Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Victoria, who married the future Emperor of Germany, has been keeping me company in the small hours. Yesterday, I re-read Hamlet, because I'm teaching it next term; today, I'm looking again at Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, each time finding new resonances and mirror images.

Is this bragging? Or is it just part of the way that I read? Reading, to me, is so much a part of life, that I would not be able to live without it; and that, of course, feeds in to writing. Why roll your eyes when someone says they're reading something "difficult"? Why not, instead, try it yourself? You never know - you might find something worthwhile. There's many books on the shelves, and one of them, somewhere, will set your soul on fire in a way that Dan Brown never can.