Books

Thoughts: How to be Both, by Ali Smith

This was originally not on my list but had been on my radar, and when a friend offered me a copy, I considered it a sign. Before continuing, I’ll explain the structure of the book a bit. How to be Both is essentially two novellas, connected enough to warrant the one book but separate enough that some books are printed with one story first and some the other. You won’t know which order you’re reading in until you start, and that will colour your reading. You can read it again in the opposite order, of course, but I think the first reading will already have shaped your perception of the book. To be both a person who read George’s story first and a person who read Francesco’s story first is one both we cannot be.

So that’s the first thing. I read George’s story first, which means that that’s the person I am, that’s the perspective from which I write this post. The second thing is that I’m going to be extravagantly spoilery, because to not spoil this book is not to be able to talk about it, and these posts are much more “spaces for me to talk about books I read” than they are “helpful recommendations for other people”.

You have been warned.

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Thoughts: Heart of the Dragon, by Gena Showalter

Oh my goodness, where do I start?

Let’s start at the beginning. Once upon a time, a husband found two incredible-looking books in a free bookshelf and brought them home to his wife. One day, the wife picked one up and read it, hoping for some frothy, trashy* fun.

This is what she actually got.

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Thoughts: Hild, by Nicola Griffith

After the high-speed frolic of Golden Hill, the syrupy slowness of Call Me By Your Name and the spare elegance of Lady Into Fox, Hild was a thick, soft blanket, and I sank gratefully into it. Another impulse book, because it’s about St Hilda of Whitby, and I’m not used to reading historical fiction set in my part of the world.

Hild was a big, immersive doorstop of a book (though in Kindle form) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Some things to bear in mind.

Firstly, this book is set in the 7th Century. Griffith has done a lot of research, but she’s also used some artistic licence to fill in gaps and add to the atmosphere. If this is not your thing (and especially if you’re a scholar of 7th Century England and can see the joins) then this might annoy you.

Secondly, if you’re reading it on Kindle, then be aware that it skips the map. The map is useful to keep straight what’s going on, because Hild travels a lot and the place names are pretty different from what they are today. Even if you aren’t the sort of person who follows a story on a map as it unfolds (I’m not at all) I think it helps to at least glance at it and have an overview of what the world looks like before you start.

Thirdly, this is the first book of a trilogy, and it doesn’t take you up to Hild’s famous stint as Abbess of Whitby, so be aware of that. I found myself a little worried at times about the pacing (not that it’s slow, but that it covers such an early part of her life) and wondering how it was going to get everything resolved in time. Spare yourself similar worries – there will be more. Let yourself trust the story.

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Thoughts: Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman

After seeing the film I bumped this one right up the list, and I’m glad I did. With the film so fresh in my mind, I felt like I really got to see a bigger picture than I would have if I’d waited, or if I’d only read or seen one version. I’ve read plenty of books that were made into films, and seen plenty of films that were adapted from books, but nothing quite like this. Warning, this is going to be a rambling essay about the book and film in equal measure, because they’re both hopelessly tangled up inside me. Possible spoilers for both.

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Thoughts: Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford

Oh, this was fun. I put this on my list purely on the basis of a Guardian review of it, and it delivered in spades. This is going to be a hard one to review because it was just so much fun, to be honest, so it’ll be a short one (not to mention the much better review linked). Going to try not to spoil, but still, be wary below the cut.

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Thoughts: Truth and Duty: the Press, the President and the Privilege of Power, by Mary Mapes

Finally back here, whew. Busy weekend doing exceedingly badly in the German iai nationals. Don’t worry; there’s always next year.

Anyway, it’s time to talk about a very frustrating book that was quite a competent film. More below.

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Thoughts: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin

In the normal order of things, it would take me about three years to get around to this, after Ursula K. Le Guin left us in January, but I bumped her up to the top of the list because a) she is a legend and b) a few of us wanted to read The Left Hand of Darkness and discuss it together. Which we haven’t done yet, but oh well, here come my thoughts!

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Thoughts: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

I know, I keep doing this. Wasting your precious time to grab you by the shoulders and say, “You know that book that has been critically acclaimed for years, that has been made into a film which by all accounts is highly enjoyable, which you have almost certainly read or seen or even pressed upon me? I deem that book to be very good.”

Reader, I deem Never Let Me Go to be very good.

Legit spoiler warning though. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but you should go into this one as pure as you can.

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Thoughts: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

This is sort of cheating, because I’d read it before, a long time ago, but hey, I didn’t tell anyone what I thought of it, so it still counts!

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Thoughts: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel

Long time no see…

I didn’t mean for my break to go on this long! I was powering through to the end of a round of edits on a story, and then I sort of needed a break from all writing, and idiotically I used that time to read intensely, increasing my backlog, and then I had a cold, and now I’m back.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles was a Christmas present from my dad, who knows me very well, aware that I love both cats and Japanese literature. This is probably going to get spoilery, so you have been warned.

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