This post almost didn’t make it; in fact, these are the only three books that I read in January (if you don’t count a few Enid Blytons). It was a difficult month. I was exhausted, and extremely anxious about the fires close to my family, so I gave my mind some time off. I watched a lot of episodes of Midsomer Murders, walked slow laps of the local park, and did the bare minimum of work I’d committed to.
It’s no secret that the internet often presents a shiny misrepresentation of reality, and I never want what I write to feed into that. I’m conscious that when I regularly post three books each month, it can give the impression that every reading month is similar for me. In truth, there are peaks and troughs, and I’m still on my way up out of a pretty serious trough. This post was on my mind all through January, it felt like a hard commitment, and it added to the pressure – which I really didn’t need – I could have just not posted at all. I love doing this though, I love putting wonderful books in front of people, so I decided I would do it with openness and honesty. It’s as much a message to myself as anyone else. We’re all human, there are times when work flows abundantly, and times when it’s scrabbled together from a limited fund of resources. I don’t have a long list to pick from today, but I do stand by each of these books as well worth shouting about.
Best Novel: The Night Circus, by Erin Morganstern. I was looking for something to read on the plane home, and remembered that everyone had been talking about The Starless Sea recently. No-one wants a hardback on a plane though, so I picked this up instead. And what a treat it was. I cannot get over the astonishing breadth of imagination Morganstern has. The circus on its own would be enough to make this a fantastic read, with its treasure-box of internal stories, and equally, the tale of the duel would be wonderful even in a simpler setting. I wish so, so much that there was more of this world to read about.
Best Poetry: How High Did She Fly, by Tania Hershman. I’ve been a fan of Hershman’s writing for a long time, she’s one of the handful of writers I’d buy anything by, sight unseen, probably even her bound and published shopping lists. This pamphlet contains wonderful stand-alone poems, with the trademark delightful oddness I’ve come to expect, but mainly revolves around a sequence of poems inspired by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I’ve always been interested in poems that respond to other art forms, but it’s more common for the inspiration to be some piece of visual art. Hershman is known for stretching convention with her work though, and this sequence works marvellously.
Oh she flew alright, and didn’t we know it, so pleased she was with
herself after, crying, I flew, did you see me Abigail, I flew! And we was
trying to hush her, but really, truly, we was wishing we had.
It didn’t matter at all that I’ve never seen The Crucible, further proof of the success of the work. There’s lots to choose from in Hershman’s back catalogue besides this newest book, I’d urge you to try any or all of it.
Best Queer Read: The Anarchists’ Club, by Alex Reeve. Another author who I put in my pre-orders for and stalk the letterbox at release time. Leo Stanhope lives in Victorian London and his position as secretary to the Medical Examiner has given him the experience and insight to notice leads and form conclusions the police have overlooked. He’s also transgender, meaning he lives in constant vigilance and anxiety. It’s impossible not to be drawn in when Leo’s generosity and empathy send him into danger on behalf of others, when all he really wants is a peaceful existence. Reeve is a master of character, and I want to read dozens of books about Leo and his friends. Start with The House on Half Moon Street if you haven’t read it yet, and then grab this and devour it too.