Hello and happy spring… sort of. I hope all my UK-based readers have recovered after the onslaught from the Beast from the East and didn’t have to spend a whole week trekking to and from work in two feet of snow like yours truly; a month later and I’m still waiting for all my socks to dry out!
I write to you from a now stunningly sunny Glasgow, which I’m still in the process of moving to permanently just now, but so far so good and a million thanks to the fantastic friends and family members who have helped to ease the transition - you know who you are and I owe you pints for eternity! Needless to say, it’s been a very manic few months, between packing up my life in one city to come and seek my fortune in another, even if that other city is just a short ferry ride away (though it definitely doesn’t feel so short when you’re hungover from a work leaving do, I can promise you), and getting myself sorted out with a job to keep me afloat and some new digs to store all my books in, but I’m pleased to report that I’ve still managed to find a little time here and there to drum up ideas to share with you lovely lot. Not only that, but I’m ecstatic to announce that I’m now actively taking steps to establish myself in my dream career of arts journalist by writing for The Wee Review, covering art platforms from plays to albums to hopefully books and comedy shows in the future. You can check out my first review here.
Now, a couple of you may be asking, why the hell have I jumped ship to Glasgow of all places? Honest truth: couldn’t afford Edinburgh. Besides, I don’t know a single person living there who hasn’t had a mouse invasion in their flat at some point. Ever since I left St Andrews, though, I’ve been hoping that I could make it back to Scotland to live and work, to be close to the friends and family I have in this wonderful part of the world, and to soak up the rich, creative energy that I’ve always felt here. So with a bit of luck, once I’m fully settled and have processed the immense information overload in my new job, I can start writing on here again on a more frequent basis.
For now, to celebrate the return of longer days and a little more sunshine (theoretically), I’ve thrown together another one of my seasonal reading lists. Most of the books in this list are simply ones that I’ve either picked up by chance in the last couple of months, with a couple that have been sitting in my To-Read List for far, far too long. My target on this year’s Goodreads Challenge is to get through 35 books before the end of 2018, and so far I think I’ve done an okay job of not cheating and just reading a bunch of short or “easy read” books, and as ever the aim here is to offer recommendations from more than one genre, so here goes.
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
With Netflix a few weeks away from airing the second season of their series adaptation, what better time to reclaim your childhood and expand your vocabulary? For me, the 2004 Jim Carrey film version fell short in a lot of ways, where the more recent series starring Neil Patrick Harris has been a little more faithful to the source material, so really this recommendation doubles up as one for binge reading and binge watching. I’ll confess, it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve been able to finally finish reading the entire thirteen-volume tale of the Baudelaire orphans, having stopped at Book Eight, the Hostile Hospital, when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and my deepest thanks go to my good friend Sam for letting me borrow his copies to bring some closure to my youth. Following the sudden and tragic death of their parents, Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, three bright, resourceful and talented children, are sent to live with their strange and sinister guardian, Count Olaf. Over the course of thirteen novels, filled with Violently Frightful Disasters, secret organisations and innumerable, a word which here means “an insane amount of” word definitions and explanations of commonly used expressions, children and adults alike can enjoy and learn from this series, and their accessibility means that it’s by no means impossible to get through more than one book in a single sitting, should you find yourself with a few free hours.
Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Count Olaf in the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Credit: The Sonnenfeld Company, Paramount Television, 2017.
Mythos by Stephen Fry
I actually read this book over Christmas, having gotten the hardback as a birthday present, but in the last few weeks I also treated myself to the audiobook, narrated by the delightful Mr Fry himself, and let me tell you, it’s a proper treat for the ears. This re-telling of the classic Greek myths begins with the emergence of the First Order from Chaos, takes the reader through the conflict between the Titans and the Gods, and outlines the creation of just about everything from seasons and spiders to humanity and honey, along with a collection of some of the best-known stories from Ancient Greece, for example the tales of Persephone, Sisyphus, Europa, Arachne, and King Midas. Fry’s use of more modern language and expressions renders the narrative that little bit more accessible and more upbeat than the classics, while still conveying all the drama, pathos and intrigue of the originals, making Mythos a real winner that can be followed up by Neil Gaiman’s similarly treated Norse Mythology.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
What I love most about this book is how it brings two of my favourite cultures together: steampunk and Japanese. Protagonist Thaniel’s life is a simple routine, steady and constant as clockwork, until he receives a mysterious pocket watch from an unknown admirer. From there, his world is turned completely on its head, as his conceptions and expectations of everything he believed his life was and would be are challenged in the most strange and magical of ways. Set against a backdrop of political and cultural tensions in nineteenth century London, this is a delightfully creative and thrilling piece of fiction, and if by the end of it you aren’t struck by the urge to either invest in a good pocket watch or build yourself a clockwork pet of your own, all I can say is you need to go back and read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street again. And again.
Cover art for the novel. Credit: Bloomsbury, 2015.
Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote
Funnily enough, I came across this American title about seven years ago during a Spanish cinema lecture at university. Referenced in Pedro Almodóvar’s sensational masterpiece, Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother), protagonist Manuela buys her son a copy of Music for Chameleons for his eighteenth birthday. The film itself is a must-see showcase of strong female characters and a celebration of homosexual artists in post-Franco Spain, but back to the book before I go off on any more of a fangirl tangent. Bringing together both fiction and non-fiction short stories, Capote deals with a real American crime story, shares a conversation he once had with Marilyn Monroe, and treats readers to some moody, yearning tales that will linger in the mind for a long time after reading.
Iconic scene from Pedro Almodóvar's Todo Sobre Mi Madre. Credit: Warner Sogefilms, 1999.
Hings by Chris McQueer
This one has been out for a while now, courtesy of Scottish indie publishers 404 Ink, and in my defence I’m only getting around to reading it now because this company has brought out so much other great stuff to read in the last twelve months, such as their outstanding collection Nasty Women, which is also well worth a look. Hings is a short story collection that offers a glimpse into life in working-class Scotland, often with a slightly dark or surreal element added. If anything, though, the real adventure in Hings is the language, with a fair few of the stories being written in pure Scots, making for a reading experience reminiscent of Nadsat in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Perseverance will definitely be rewarded in this case, though.
Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt
The first instalment in a series brought to you by Australian publishers Twelfth Planet Press, this book has been hailed as the perfect read for anyone who has previously enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum collection. Personally, I would almost go as far as to say that Sharp Shooter is nearly a little too similar to Evanovich’s works in some ways, with the protagonists both taking on unconventional detective jobs to scrape a living, keeping somewhat unusual companions and partners, and getting into no end of dramatic yet hilarious scrapes. That said, Marianne Delacourt’s Tara Sharp does have the unique edge of being able to see other people’s auras, adding a touch of extra imagination and intrigue that brings the novel into its own nicely. As with A Series of Unfortunate Events free time levels permitting, you could easily get through Sharp Shooter in a single sitting and possibly even move right on to the second instalment, Sharp Turn.
Greedy Man in a Hungry World by Jay Rayner
Definitely one of my favourite non-fiction works in my recent reading list, the Observer’s restaurant critic par excellence explores our commonly held beliefs about food culture, and how that culture has evolved over the years. Chapters range over numerous subjects, including: the environmental impact of veganism vs the omnivore diet, buying from farmers’ markets over supermarket shopping, and the comparative advantages in agriculture that certain countries have over others, to name but a few. Rayner takes what he refers to as the “sacred cows” of British attitudes towards food shopping and consumption and, to quote his own ad for the book, he “takes them all out into the market square and shoots them dead.” Informative and witty in equal measure, this book will open your eyes and your stomach, and if you’re able to catch Mr Rayner in one of his one-man shows touring the UK this spring, as I plan to do myself, it would certainly be worth the trip.
As ever, I hope this list will inspire you to broaden your reading horizons, if that is indeed what you hope to achieve here. Enjoy the unpredictable UK spring weather, friends, I’m off to shop for furniture.