Good Reading : February 2010
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) Woolf 's fouth novel takes place on a single day, as Clarissa Dalloway prepares to host a party. A subversive stream-of- consciousness portrait of English society between the wars. Bloomsbury Modernism. Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933) A pioneering jour nalistic novel about Orwell's experiences as a dishwasher in Paris and a tramp in London in the 1920s. Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (1959) Contemporary with the Beats in the US, this was the first novel o feature the British eenager -- and became he bible of the Mods in he 1960s. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (1970) A delightful romance in letters between a New York writer and an antiquarian bookseller. Charing Cross road is still a magnet for bibliophiles. Downriver by Iain Sinclair (1991) Sinclair is best known for his psycho-geographic' non-fiction. This novel picks over the bones of Margaret Thatcher's 1980s. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (1995) After almost 20 years in the UK, Britain's favourite American took one ast look around his adopted home before returning to the US. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding (1996) Ayearinthelifeofa 30-something single woman looking for love in all the wrong places. Middle class London in the nineties. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000) In its complexity and colour, White Teeth is the closest thing to Dickens for the 21st century. Brick Lane by Monica Ali (2003) Set in the East End, this story of an immigrant Bangladeshi woman's arranged mar riage to a man 20 years her senior is a very different portrait of moder n London. ALEXANDRA IRVING talks about some of the poetry books that she recommends this month. Killing the Black Dog (Black Inc, $24.95) is a collection of poems Les Murray wrote while he was dealing with depression. Accompanying the poems is a short biography explaining his depression and the impact it has had on his life. He speaks candidly about the trials he has faced that may have contributed to his illness. He also reflects honestly on his failings. A number of the poems are more abstract than his previous work, which he attributes to the haze that can accompany depression. This is a highly personal collection, and Mur ray's short biography allows for an uncommon insight into the poems. The classic T S Eliot poems that inspired the musical Cats have been brought to life with playful illustrations by Axel Scheffler in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (Faber, $27.99). These cats are full of personality. There is the elusive Macavity, who inflicts destruction on household items before fleeing the scene; Gus, the theatrical cat who knows every speech by heart; and many scruffy, one-eared, tough alley cats. The rhyming sing-song verse, combined with colourful drawings, make this a great introduction to poetry for young readers. It is also a great gift for anyone who loves Eliot's poems, has a soft spot for feline friends, or is a fan of the musical. Better known for his essays and television appearances, Clive James is also an accomplished poet. His latest release, Opal Sunset (Picador, $39.99), is a collection of his poetry from 1958 to 2008. Fans will recognise his wit and social commentary in the poems. Most are short and succinct, never using more words than necessary. He writes about whatever strikes him at that time; there are poems about literary figures, the onset of old age, and the decline of grammar. The opening poem The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered is particularly funny and sets the tone for the warm, mostly gentle poems in the collection. POETRY round-up WALKING LITERARY LONDON As well as walking tours, it has an amazing list of literary landmarks and bookshops by area. You could spend a year and still not see it all. LONDON HISTORY There’s simply no more readable and comprehensive history than London: The biography by Peter Ackroyd. If you have room for its 800 pages, it’s well worth the weight. Anna Quindlen wrote, ‘It is probably impossible to write about London without owning a copy.’ Endlessly fascinating.
December January 2010