Birthday Book Haul

On my birthday (November 9th), I woke up to several messages that looked something like this: ‘Happy Birthday! OH GOD DON’T CHECK THE NEWS!!!’ Despite the good intentions of my friends, as we have all had the horrible experience of learning: Trump is impossible to ignore.

According to every good story ever, hate doesn’t win*. How long are we supposed to wait for that outcome, exactly?

Times like this – like when my country voted for Brexit – it is very easy to feel distant from the rest of humanity, to start seeing the whole thing as nothing more than a mass of hatred and misunderstanding.

This is a bad road to go down. Even though I know that – even though we all do, really – it still feels like a cliff I am forever scrambling up the edge of. For me, the footholds are often my books.

Fortunately for me, on November 9th I acquired some new books. (courtesy of my mum – thanks, mum!)

My reading list for the next few weeks is as follows:

After Alice – Gregory Maguire

after-aliceWhen Alice fell down the Rabbit hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance? 

Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings – and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Caroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but arrives a moment too late. Tumbling down the rabbit hole herself, she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. 


The Death of the Moth and Other Essays – Virginia Woolf

the-death-of-the-mothA while back I read an essay from this collection called ‘Street Haunting’. It is about that moment when you feel compelled, for no particular reason, to abandon Netflix and wander the cold streets alone, creeping in the windows of random houses and imagining the lives of the strangers living there. This is the sort of thing I do all the time, so I thought I should ask for the book in order to find out what else Virginia and I have in common.

If you haven’t ever read a Virginia Woolf essay, please do. They are almost always absolutely wonderful.


The Pedestrians – Rachel Zucker

As I’ve recently written, I’m having a poetry moment. I found Rachel Zucker on Stephanie Danler’s instagram.


*J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for, honestly.


No Matter the Wreckage


I am one of those people that left school with a certain ambivalence toward poetry. It morphed into something more aggressive when I got to university, and poetry was used to aid the degradation of what other students and teachers considered to be ‘low’ culture (in other words, everything I had enjoyed reading up until then) class after class.

Then I had to read medieval poetry, which really was like banging the nails into an already pretty well secured coffin. I didn’t understand what I was reading half the time, my grades floundered (which was the case through much of my education, honestly. Eventually I figure it out, but it takes me more time than most. At this point, I am coming to the conclusion that I am, however unintentionally, probably a lifelong proponent of doing things the hard way) and I started to blame ‘Poetry’ for my various academic failures, past and present.

… Yeah. I was one of those people. Poetry was to me symbolic of everything I was surrounded by and excluded from at that time: academic success, being able to talk like a smart person, ease with the hyper-academic environment of university and… rich parents (it is less of an issue now but to say I had a chip on my shoulder at the time is an understatement. It was more of a boulder with which I would inadvertently bludgeon rich kids with when they mentioned their parents’ second homes or the fact that they had ‘playrooms’ when they were children).

Thinking about it now, this was a heavy burden to place on a form of writing.

All of this is to say that when I found Sarah Kay’s work and fell in love, it all came as quite a surprise. I came to it, as I do so many great things, through a TED Talk she gave a few years back about kids and creative expression. During the talk, she performed two of her poems, ‘B’, and ‘Hiroshima’. It was like a switch was flipped somewhere inside of me. I didn’t know poetry could be that way.

During a time when stories – which before my degree had always been a place of refuge for me – had for the first time in my life left me feeling excluded and insecure, Sarah Kay’s words invited me in. They inspired me. There is an air of fragile yet relentless hope in her writing that I wanted for myself. I scoured the internet for every video of her performing and watched until I had the words memorised.

Then she released a poetry book, and I didn’t buy it for two years.

I was afraid that it wouldn’t be the same on the page. I had got into the habit of watching people perform it, but I still didn’t read poetry. I didn’t know how to do it outside of a class, analysing it line by line [Me: What is Sylvia Plath talking about? Teacher: What do YOU think? Me: ARGH!]. I was afraid that the special relationship I had with this woman’s work would be ruined if I tried to sit down and read her. What if the worst thing happened? What if I wasn’t smart enough for it? What if the feeling that happened when I listened to her speak went away? What if it was broken?

When No Matter the Wreckage finally arrived (the day before I was going on holiday. I read much of it over the course of a seven hour car journey), I realised I needn’t have worried.

It took me forever to get past the first poem, the playfully named ‘Love Poem #137’. Not because I didn’t understand. No, I quickly realised that reading Sarah Kay’s poetry was like listening to my favourite songs. I wanted to read them over and over again.

No Matter the Wreckage is a beautiful collection of poetry filled with open heartedness, gratitude, heartbreak and a persistent sense of joy in the face of a challenging world. It’s concerned with being a young woman in the world, a traveller, in love and out of it. It’s about family. The sincerity of her words ripped chunks out of me even as it helped me place others back together.

I started making lists of the poets I plan to read in the future. Me and poetry are on better terms these days.

A Book Haul

This may be the first time I have had enough unread books at any one time to do a haul. I am going for it.


In the next few weeks, I will be reading my way through…

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine #2) by Ransom Riggs

A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Shwab

Unhooked – Lisa Maxwell

The Raven Boys – Maggie Steifvater (I am pretty sceptical about this series, but nobody will shut up about how wonderful it is, so I’m giving it a go with at least half of an open mind).

No Matter the Wreckage – Sarah Kay (amazing poet)