Yet again I am playing catch up with myself! It’s the same old story – reading? Good. Reviewing? Bad. I feel like one of my old school teachers, ‘Cathy could do so much better if she would just apply herself more…’
In my defence, November has been a rather rubbish month. The obvious political situation was a downer to say the least and I have been incredibly busy in work again. I’ve also been ill and am writing this from my sick bed under the influence of strong painkillers, so if I veer off topic, or my writing appears more confused than ever, then that’s my excuse.
Despite being busy in work, I did have a really lovely month. I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Hollinghurst, who came to talk about life in Oxford studying under Seamus Heaney and I also met one of my all-time favourite poets, Bernard O’Donoghue. I don’t think poor Bernard knew what to do with me as I made him pose for photographs, sign all my copies of his collections and listen to me be a real fan-girl, but I don’t care! If you’ve never read any of O’ Donoghue’s poetry, please do. The Definition of Love is one of the most beautiful poems I know.
I also had the pleasure of hosting a panel event for The Glass Shore, a new book of short stories by Northern Ireland Women Writers, edited by the indomitable and inspiring Sinéad Gleeson. Spanning the last hundred years and featuring a range of writers including Lucy Caldwell, Rosa Mulholland, Polly Devlin and Bernie McGill, this is a wonderful and necessary collection and I hope to review it on 746 Books next week.
In terms of getting the 746 into the 500’s before the end of the year, I think I’m still on track. I’ve read three more books since my last round up. Please do forgive these VERY mini-reviews, my critical faculties are not firing on all cylinders at the moment and I have a feeling I would end up making even less sense than usual if I tried to review them properly!
In 2009 Susannah Cahalan was a thriving 24 year old, with a new boyfriend and her dream job as a journalist for the New York Post, yet the unthinkable and unimaginable happened when she, for all intents and purposes, lost her mind. After a period of mood swings, hallucinations and extreme paranoia; all of which was put down to too much alcohol consumption by one doctor, Cahalan suffered violent seizures and psychosis, which caused her to be hospitalised for a month before being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease where her body was essentially attacking her brain.
Cahalan remembers nothing of this month in hospital and using her journalistic skills, she pieces together what happened from medical records and interviews with her immediate family. This a clear-eyed and sobering memoir, however Cahalan has that reporter’s objectivity which means that the personal side of the story is harder to access. The book is both an investigation into a patient’s illness and a personal account of being that patient, but ultimately the personal side of the story is less effective. Despite this, Cahalan is unflinching in exploring what happened to her and the strain it put on her loved ones and what comes from the book most clearly is her sense of good luck – luck in having a supportive family, luck in having parents who could afford her necessary treatment and luck in finding the right doctors at the right time. As she herself notes, others have not been so lucky.
Read On: Book
Number Read: 143
Number Remaining: 603
No 603: Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Michel Faber is another author I have had the pleasure to meet in the course of my new job. Despite having three of his books in the 746, I had never got round to reading his work, but decided to rectify this.
I have seen the weirdly wonderful movie adaptation of Under The Skin, and would advise that if you have neither read the book nor seen the movie, then read the book first. Knowing the premise of Under The Skin before you read it definitely takes away from this oddly intriguing and otherworldly book. It is hard to review Under the Skin without giving key things away.
The book follows Isserley, a strange otherworldly woman who drives around northern Scotland picking up hitchhikers. As each new passenger enters her car, we learn a little more about this odd creature and her search for the perfect specimen of man – bulky, filled out, with as few family ties as possible. Faber drip feeds the reader information on Isserley’s plans for these men, to the point that when we realise what is happening, our concern is less for them and more for Isserley and her own victimisation. Written in beautifully restrained prose, Faber has created a chilling, metaphysical tale that takes its time bringing the reader where he wants you to go.
Read on: iBook
Number Read: 144
Number Remaining: 602
No 602: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
One of my aims this year was to take part in Heaven Ai’s Woolfalong – a wonderful celebration of the work of Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to take part as much as I would like, but thanks to Ali, I finally got round to reading Mrs Dalloway, which I adored and now A Room of One’s Own.
Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for 200 years merely, but from the beginning of time
Virginia Woolf’s classic study of what a woman needs to write on the same basis as a man, still holds a great influence today. It was interesting to read this whilst also reading The Glass Shore, and hearing how contemporary women writers still feel they need to create their own space, whether in a house, on pages or in the virtual world, to be granted the same consideration as their male counterparts.
Based on two lectures given in 1928, A Room of One’s Own is both a beautiful and invigorating read, which mixes solid down-to-earth advise to female writers (health, money and space matter) alongside a soaring polemic for the female writer to ‘be truthful…and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting.’ Her exploration of what would have happened to a female Shakespeare is at once entertaining and sobering and her call to celebrate the androgynous mind seems as pertinent today as it did almost 100 years ago.
This slim book is a marvel and I just wish I had read it years ago. My thanks go to Ali for giving me the necessary push to pick it up. It may be the first time I’ve read it, but it won’t be the last.
Read on: Book
Number read: 145
Number Remaining: 601
So, there we have it. Two more books and I will be in the 500’s! Given that it’ taken me three years, I really shouldn’t feel so pleased with myself, but it’s time to celebrate the small victories!
Up soon on the blog, will be my third birthday annual round up of my reading year.
How has everyone else’s reading been this year, have you reached your goals? I look forward to seeing everyone’s ‘best of’ lists.