On my down to Cornwall with a bag full of books and a heart full of the hope that there’ll be enough sunshine for me to arrive in Dublin next week sporting the tan I had earlier in the summer.

(PS, I just finished The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal, linguist extraordinaire and all-round cool cat. I very rarely read anything non-fiction that is longer than an online thinkpiece, so it made a nice change - and at times made me say things out loud, which is really what all works of literature should strive for. The things I said were mostly “oh that’s cool” and “oh yeah, that totally makes sense,” which are both good things to say.)

Book Blog Backlog Logbook #6: Aspects of Modern Fiction

(Also known as EN3206, Honours module at the University of St Andrews.)

The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

Detectives in Victorian London crossed with political commentary about anarchists, punctuated by an obsession with clocks/time imagery. Heart of Darkness this is not.

Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence

Lawrence is at his best when he’s writing from an impersonal narrative perspective; the first section of Sons and Lovers, depicting not the experiences of Paul (Lawrence’s fictionalised but generally autobiographical younger self) but those of Gertrude Morel, is much more poignant and vivid than the rest of the novel. Nostalgic, morally didactic, sensual.

Selected Stories - Katherine Mansfield

I think I feel about Katherine Mansfield the way any lover of Virginia Woolf must: “I love this! Oh…fuck.” Read ‘The Garden Party,’ ‘Prelude’ and ‘Miss Brill.’

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

The best introduction to Joyce: difficult, but not impossible (and more engaging than The Dubliners).

A Passage to India - E. M. Forster

JUST THE BEST BOOK. An exposé of Anglo-Indian colonial attitudes, beautifully written, highly cinematic, occasionally very funny - and always so tangible.

To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

A three-part novel about the potential for human connection and the effects of perspective. Despite the (purposeful) gaping void in the middle, a book about hope. Sort of. Oh, Ginny.

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie - Jean Rhys

Okay, so aside from Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys only ever wrote one story: woman is wandering outsider, mistreated by everyone (especially men), is unhappy. And she wrote it about seven different times. But this is a good version - and the ending is especially beautiful.

Nineteen EIghty-Four - George Orwell

Surely I don’t need to go into this? Read it, if you haven’t already.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - John Fowles


When I first read this at about fourteen I thought it was a Victorian novel BUT I WAS FOOLED. It’s actually a kind of pastiche of the form, with all sorts of meta commentary on the process of writing a novel. It made for a bad and boring Victorian novel, but a much better not-a-Victorian-novel.

Darkness Visible - William Golding

Golding is convinced the world is going to shit and he put it all in this weird book. Atrophy and despair. Sigh.

[For more Backlog Logbook, click here! It’s reviews for people who hate reading long reviews!]

A Thunderstorm in Town

(A Reminiscence: 1893)

She wore a new ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
     We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
     Had lasted a minute more.

          –– Thomas Hardy


James Dean at the breakfast table


James Dean at the breakfast table

(via englishmajorinrepair)

Moving the Rosa Reads operation (as well as the Rosa’s Real Actual Life operation) to Dublin has not been an easy task so far, which is why there’s been a(nother) lull in posting. Plus I disappeared off to Edinburgh last week to get away from my responsibilities, because I am an adult.

Anyway, here are some things I’ve been reading recently:

  • A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood
  • The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

Also I watched Kill Your Darlings, the semi-biopic about the young Allen Ginsberg and his relationship with Lucien Carr (as well as William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac). Ginsberg is played weirdly convincingly by Daniel Radcliffe, and I enjoyed it very much, although I did wish it focused a little more on the Beat movement itself ‘cause I’m a super-geek. Also, more shots of Columbia, pls.*

Also when I was in Edinburgh I saw some really excellent stuff at the Fringe, including the incredible White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and a truly excellent production of The Addams Family musical by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

What about you guys? I feel like I don’t ask this question very much - and I’m sure it’s obvious why (hint: I’m a massive narcissist and only care about myself). So, here we go: what have you guys been reading (or watching) recently? Should I read it? Is it the worst thing you’ve ever been subjected to? Tell me of your woes.

*Columbia, in case I hadn’t mentioned it previously, is my dream school for my PhD. I took my GRE test this week, which was the first step in beginning my application. Eek, eek and triple eek.

Review: The Player of Games

My friend Jay has been recommending Iain M. Banks to me since I can remember - even going so far as to lend me this very book…about three years ago. But better late than never, right? Right?!

Anyway, I’d been putting off reading it mainly because it’s sci-fi, and I have to be in a very specific mood for sci-fi (although this does not, I have come to realise, extend to sci-fi films, which I am invariably in the mood for). Apparently that particular mood found me last summer, and I have to admit that I needn’t have worried.

The Player of Games is the first of Banks’ ‘Culture’ novels - works set in a world in which the concept of possession does not exist, people can change their personal characteristics (including their appearance and biological sex) at will, and machines are sentient. And in such an idyllic world, with no responsiblities or capitalist economy to uphold, people devote themselves to pastimes such as game-playing. Cue: curtain up.

These world-building facts, although described with meticulous detail, are however not dwelled upon - instead the story accelerates very quickly into something much more complicated, and much less cosy. The book ended up being quite dark, and certainly more grown-up than I’d anticipated.

In many ways The Player of Games reminded me of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game; not only for the obvious, game-related reason, but also in the attention paid to the specific mechanics and hierarchies of their respective worlds - something I find is often passed over too quickly in novels set in futuristic utopias (and even dystopias). These two books transcend that.

I haven’t yet rushed back to Banks’ other ‘Culture’ novels, but somewhere in the back of my mind I’m quite excited for when I do.

Final Word: Dark underbelly of Huxleyan utopia - with a sense of humour.

“This book gives me more information about penguins than I care to have.”

In 1944 a children’s book club sent a volume about penguins to a 10-year-old girl, enclosing a card seeking her opinion.

American diplomat Hugh Gibson called it the finest piece of literary criticism he had ever read.

(via marxisforbros)

I read other stuff, too. You might want to read the same stuff.

A little while ago (when I still lived in Scotland - sob), I was in Edinburgh and decided it was high time I visited the self-proclaimed “birthplace of Harry Potter”: The Elephant Café. Wizarding legend has it that Queen Rowling sat at a table in this unassuming little café and penned at least some of Philosopher’s Stone.

Naturally, then, this is what the bathrooms look like - covered in messages from the HP generation. I couldn’t leave without a) a selfie, and b) some additions. One an emotional one, and one a #SlytherinPride moment. We’re so misunderstood.

They also do great breakfast and you can get 50p coffee refills. So there’s that too.

For Lenya on Her Way


by Carrie Murphy

The intimidation of the ocean which is nothing
compared to escalators which are nothing
compared to riding your bike in a miniskirt,

banjoing along the road as the vee of your turquoise
underwear is there & then not there, men looking & then not
looking, which is nothing compared to driving alone

in a strange state while a bass drum of hurricane gallops
over, rain & then thunder & then rain & then thunder,
stopping to eat corn nuts & bacon bits which are

not what you ate on the train to Portsmouth all
crooked in the arm of a man who was nothing
compared to the tracks which were such violins,

steel sirens, which were nothing compared
to the thick wings of airplanes where you see
angels leering for dear life, mouthing caution

like lyres or the sudden sound of his breath
from his body in the pitch-dark, the salt-lick
of his teeth & tongue or the solidity of your own bones,

& how you want to live in that split-second after the chain is pulled,
when the light is not on & not off.

Pretty Tilt (Keyhole Press, 2012)

(Source: gammasandgerunds)

Book Blog Backlog Logbook #5

Catch-22 - Joseph Heller

Ugh, fuck this book. No, really. I’ll rarely be this dismissive about a book, especially one that has been lauded through the ages, but properly fuck this stupid, bloated, pseudo-philosophical, machismo-laden nonsense book.

Howard’s End - E. M. Forster

The only note I have next to the title of this book in my reviews notebook is a little heart. Last summer was clearly not a particularly good time for my reviewing skills, but this book comes highly recommended. Here’s the edition I have:


The Color Purple - Alice Walker

This epistolary novel set in 1930s rural Georgia is a true masterpiece, addressing the position of women of colour in the American South in a way that is overwhelmingly moving, rather than polemical. Celie, the protagonist, writes letters to God that chart her hardships and the desires she feels she can’t reveal to anyone else - including her feelings for the glamorous and (from the perspective of the reader) frustrating Shug Avery. The novel’s interrogation of what it means to be a woman, a woman of colour, and a (potentially) queer woman, was truly brilliant.

There is No Dog - Meg Rosoff

I read this because I needed something silly and simple to shut down my brain for a little while - and it really was a little while: I finished this in two hour-long sittings. It’s a kids’ book, really, much as it seems to view itself as more than that. The premise is that god is a teenage boy: idle, useless, sex-mad, irrational (ta for the assumptions about emergent masculinity there, Rosoff). There’s little more to it than that. And there’s a character called Skype, for crying out loud - which is surely copyright infringement, but whatever. The novel’s only redeeming feature is an adorable creature called Eck, the descriptions of whose mental and emotional state give one the same squishy, heartbreaky feeling as a basket of sad homeless puppies. But Eck is not a real reason to read this book. Also, the worst thing? There is literally no reason for the title. None. None at all. WHY.

For more Backlog Logbook, click here!

My mother is Chair of Governors at a local primary school, and also runs their library. She asked me to come and help out a couple of days ago, processing donated books.
I, er, may have made a few calculated defacements.

My mother is Chair of Governors at a local primary school, and also runs their library. She asked me to come and help out a couple of days ago, processing donated books.

I, er, may have made a few calculated defacements.

“I have not read most of the big 19th—century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.”

- Teju Cole in response to the question, “What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?”

(via agnesfieldforest-deactivated201)

Here are two things you may care about:
  1. The Man Booker longlist has been announced. The Guardian did a nice little ‘In Pictures’ guide to it. I haven’t read any of them, but am interested in We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesThe Lives of Others and Orfeo. I don’t know what the hell a David Nicholls book is doing on there.
  2. To celebrate the relaunch of their website, The New Yorker has made parts of their archive available online for free, all summer. They’re releasing weekly ‘Collections’ of pieces, so that’s fun. They’ve already released a Collection of love stories, which is obviously wank, but hopefully less rubbish themes will be up next.
Ways to guarantee I’ll read a book: name a character Rosa.

(Two of the last three books I’ve read have featured Rosas - Halldór Laxness’ Independent People and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Arthur Conan Doyle failed to take my advice.)

Ways to guarantee I’ll read a book: name a character Rosa.

(Two of the last three books I’ve read have featured Rosas - Halldór Laxness’ Independent People and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Arthur Conan Doyle failed to take my advice.)