Name: Liam Bishop
Just Read: Lucy Ellmann’s, Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggars Press) and Alvydas Šlepikas’ In the Shadow of Wolves (Oneworld). An absolute dream of daring independent and translated fiction.
On the Go: I’m really interested in the dynamics of mental health and artistic creation, so I’m reading W.Jackson Bate’s biography of Samuel Johnson, first published in 1977. I’m intrigued by this revered figure’s prodigious output in the context of his mental and physical health. As Bate writes: ‘one of the ironies of literary history is that its most compelling and authoritative symbol of common sense…should have begun his adult life, at the age of twenty, in a state of such intense anxiety and bewildered despair that, at least from his own point of view, it seemed the onset of actual insanity.’
Next Up: Vahni Capildeo’s new collection, Skin Can Hold (Carcanet). Capildeo seems to be ascendancy at the moment and I can’t wait to see the new heights reached here.
Name: Daniel Carpenter
Just finished: I am Sovereign by Nicola Barker. The perfect marriage of Barker’s recent experimental novels, such as The Cauliflower or H(a)ppy, and her previous, more domestic books, like Darkmans or Behindlings. I am Sovereign is a novella set across just twenty minutes, features cameos from real life Youtubers, and Barker herself, who shows up in the final half to argue with a particular character. It’s utterly bonkers and I loved every minute of it (all twenty of them).
On the go: Nightwalking by Matthew Beaumont. A literary history of London at night, this non-fiction book from Verso Books is about our transgressive journeys through the city after dark, from nightwatchmen in the Middle Ages to Dickens, it’s a fascinating read so far.
Up next: The Migration by Helen Marshall. This slice of weird fiction infused with climate change sci-fi sounds brilliant, and Marshall is a hell of a storyteller. I can’t wait.
Name: Lucy Chatburn
Just Finished: Natalia Ginzburg – The Road to the City. A quietly tragic 1940s domestic drama. A little bit Katherine Mansfield, a little bit Elena Ferrante. At 74 pages it was over in a flash and I’m now on a mission to read anything else that I can get my hands on.
On the Go: Maggie O’Farrell – I am, I am, I am. A memoir organised around near death experiences. Inventively structured, adventurous writing which never gets in the way of the reading. Also Natalia Ginzburg – Valentino, which I’m enjoying just as much as I hoped I would.
Next Up: Danielle McLaughlin – Dinosaurs on other Planets. In my opinion her story was one of the highlights of Being Various so looking forward to it.
Name: James Doyle
Just read: A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler. A European companion to Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, just as concise and moving, the story of one man’s life and the mountain he lives on. “‘It’s a messy business, dying,’ he said. ‘As time goes on there’s just less and less of you.'”
On the Go: David Park, The Poet’s Wives. Three novellas portraying the widows of poets that revolve around the fragility of the families and lives that we build. “Was it his voice, or was it his voice in a poem, and what were the chances of these ever being the same thing?”
Up Next: Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things. Stegner should be regarded with the awe James Salter receives. Here a retired man witnesses the end of the 1960s in California. Stegner has a unique ability to describe the natural world and weather: “the air beyond the tree was scratched with fine rain.”
Name: Carola Huttmann
Just read: Stoner, by John Williams: originally published in 1965 and republished in 2012 by Vintage Books, this is writing about academia at its finest. The novel follows Stoner from his humble beginnings on a Missouri farm, through his academic career as student and lecturer to his death. Beautifully written, it’s a 20th Century classic, imo.
On the go: The Valley at the Centre of the World, by Malachy Tallack (2018) is a story about the past, the present and future. It is also about the complex relationship between community and isolation. For some this unique corner of Shetland is place of escape from what has gone before and the opportunity for new beginnings.
Next up: Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier (2014) is the fictionalised biography of the remarkable English fossil hunter and palaeontologist, Mary Anning (1799 – 1847). Born into a large impoverished family and almost entirely self-taught she struggled to find recognition in a male-dominated world.
Name: Jackie Law
Just Finished: A Killing Sin by K.H. Irvine. Psychological thriller set in a near future, post-Brexit London. An enclave in Tower Hamlets has become a police no-go area and imposed Sharia Law. When extremist Muslims take a wealthy and well connected woman hostage, and then maim her live on TV, her tech savvy friends, who advise government and have the ear of the Prime Minister, set out to find and free her assisted by multi-agency operatives. Interesting issues explored within the roller coaster plot. A slow burner with an explosive denouement.
On The Go: The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. A young woman living in Bangalore tries to deal with grief following the death of her mother by travelling to troubled Kashmir in search of a travelling salesman who her mother befriended. The pleasure of reading is in the language and imagery. Enjoying this immensely.
Next Up: Have three books lined up by authors whose previous work I enjoyed: Expectation by Anna Hope; The Carer by Deborah Moggach; Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls. Hopefully some good reading ahead.
Name: Valerie O’Riordan
Just finished: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Irritating: the plotting was painfully deliberately constructed.
On the go: Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine, in advance of a Bookmunch podcast interview. Loving it so far.
Next up: The Quelling by Barbara Barrow. Sounds very Shirley Jackson, so looking forward to this one.
Name: Amy Riddell
Just read: Watch What You Say by George Weinstein. Successful podcaster Bo Riccardi’s husband is kidnapped in broad daylight. His abductor surfaces and demands an interview with Bo, with the added condition of a promise to complete secrecy as to the reason for his placement on the show. To save her husband’s life, Bo must sacrifice her privacy, her dignity, and her career. Weinstein delivers a narrative that does not stop to breathe for a second, with both constantly rising stakes and magnetic characters to recommend it.
On the Go: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Yuki Oniki, translator). This work and its premise has inspired so much media in the last decade that it hardly needs an introduction. A class of high school kids is stuck on an island, given weapons, and commanded to kill their peers until only one is left standing. I’m about halfway through at the moment, and it’s every bit as cruel and brilliant as I imagined.
Next up: The Nail House by Gregory Baines. One of three advanced copies from the upcoming Fairlight Modern novellas collection that I’ve managed to pick up, The Nail House follows an Australian project manager as he attempts to persuade an old man to give up his house to planners who have claimed the land.
Name: Pete Wild
Just finished: Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. Review to follow.
On the go: I’m reading Treats author Lara Williams’ debut novel Supper Club and also Chaos by Tim O’Neill (subtitled Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties), which aims to do for Vincent Buglioso’s Helter Skelter what Sarah Churchwell did for every Monroe biography ever in The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe.
Next up: Tim Lott’s When We Were Rich, a sequel to the 1999 novel, White City Blue, which we liked a lot.
Name: Chris Oleson
Just Finished: This has been the month of reading Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, 30 or 40 pages a day for the entire month. The most intensely moving, innovative, and hilarious novel that I’ve read in many years.
On the Go: Eve Babitz’s L.A. Woman, Mark O’Connell, To be a Machine, Lucy Ellmann, Sweet Desserts, her first novel from the late 80s. Curious to see the origins of her writing that has blossomed into Ducks.
Next Up: Ann Quin, Berg, Paul Stanbridge, Forbidden Line, Sjon, CoDex 1962.