Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Literary reputations versus actual books

A radical disagreement in our reading group about the political stance of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, raising the question of how far books can suffer from their authors' meta-literary reputations. See our discussion here.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Can literary authors write good thrillers?

I hate it when people say they can't, but Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley seems to prove the point. Read our reading group discussion here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Who cares about poetry?

I'm musing the meaning of the fact that a poetry reading I attended on Sunday was also attended by, at my estimate, another 300 or so others, and in a small town in North Wales. The occasion was the Caernarfon stop on Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's 'Shore to Shore' tour of the country coinciding with Independent Bookshop week, celebrating poetry and community and the independent bookshops at the heart of communities. She is accompanied on the tour by Jackie Kay, the new Makar of Scotland, Gillian Clarke, the outgoing National Poet of Wales, Imtiaz Dharker, and on each stop of the tour by a local poet, on this occasion Ifor ap Glyn who is taking over Gillian Clarke's role. Entertaining musical interludes are provided by the musician John Sampson.

It's true that Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay always command big audiences, due to their hugely accessible and moving poetry which has given them prominence in school curricula, but it's easier to find this unremarkable in large towns such as Manchester, and here the audience was not especially young. People had clearly travelled for miles around North Wales to this event in Caernarfon's Galeri. Is it a result of the starvation of rural communities when it comes to national public/cultural events? Or is it because this is Wales, land of the bards? Though many people in the audience were clearly English. In any case, the whole audience around me was totally engaged in the poetry, which was dynamic, entertaining, deeply political, utterly moving, and utterly relevant to the current political events. It was an evening that showed that poetry matters, and it most certainly mattered to this audience. And afterwards the local bookshop holding the event, Palas Print, did a roaring trade.

Something to chew on at a time when publishers are telling us that the public has no appetite  for poetry (or short stories, or indeed any form of serious creative literature). All honour to Picador, Carol Ann's publisher, who are behind the whole tour.

Perspectives for reading

Our reading group recently read A Farewell to Arms, and found a difficulty in knowing what perspective through which to read a book which seemed very much of its time. Discussion here.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Accessing my website

I've discovered that my web domain has been down for about a week, so anyone trying to access my site through elizabethbaines.com won't have got through. (Apparently the domain owners have sold on their business; the new owners are saying that my domain has expired - although it's paid for - and are insisting that I need to sort it out with the previous owners who are unobtainable and, it seems, no longer even exist!) I don't know how long it's going to take to sort it out, but in the meantime my website can be accessed via the basic url:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Latest reading group discussions

Here are our latest discussions:

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, which we found striking but slightly problematic, and
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald, the prose of which we all admired for its elegance and economy, though we differed in our responses to the book's moderation of tone.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Edge Hill Prize long list

It's that time of year again - the longlist is announced for the Edge Hill prize for a single-author collection of stories. This year my own book Used to Be, is on the list - a massive list, and there's huge competition, with some big hitters in the short-story world there, including Colum McCann and Kate Clanchy, two of my favourite writers. And a good proportion of Irish and Scottish writers.

Crossposted to my author blog.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Two reading group discussions

Here's our latest book group discussion, of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, a novel which impressed and horrified our group in equal measure.

And here's our pre-Christmas discussion which I seem to have previously omitted, the very sixties The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, which hadn't really stood the test of time for most of our group and failed to engage.

Our archive discussions can be found here and a list of the books we have discussed, with links to the discussions, here