The Poetry Shelf: Sonnets From the Portuguese

The Poetry Shelf: ‘Sonnets From the Portuguese’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The first poetic work I wanted to explore in The Poetry Shelf series is a sonnet cycle by my favourite writer, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Whilst it might be somewhat predictable that I would start this series with an exploration of a poetic work from Barrett Browning, ‘Sonnets From the Portuguese’ might seem an odd choice for someone who has often written about the value of seeing more friendship represented in media than romance. The cycle includes Barrett Browning’s most famous individual poem, ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’, and has often been written off as simply a collection of cliché poems that belong on the inside of cheesy Valentine’s Day cards. Yet so often those who write off this sonnet cycle fail to see it as a complete poetic work in itself, revealing Barrett Browning’s incredible internal journey from despair to hope through her relationship with Robert Browning. Read more


A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

The first that I had ever heard of Yiyun Li was when I stumbled across her memoir Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life and was so intrigued by the title that I bought it instantly. As you may remember from my review last year (and my 2017 Favourites post), I fell in love with Li’s writing and the way that she saw the world. Since then, I have been keeping an eye out for more of her writing so you can imagine how excited I was to find a copy of her short story collection A Thousand Years of Good Prayers in a charity bookshop earlier this month. I’ll admit a slight apprehension that I would not enjoy Li’s fiction as much as I enjoyed her memoir, but I can safely say that this apprehension proved to be completely unfounded. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is the type of short story collection I aspire to write: filled with ordinary characters portrayed with beautifully understated writing. Read more

The Poetry Shelf: Introduction

The Poetry Shelf: Introduction

Over the past few months, I have had a number of conversations with people about poetry, with people asking why I enjoy it so much and which poems I would recommend. I have to say this has been surprising to me since I would not say that I read a massive amount of poetry in comparison to prose, nor am I overly informed and qualified to speak on the subject, but I do have a genuine love for poetry and a desire to see more people engaging with this medium. After realising that I wanted to spend more time on this blog discussing poetry, I was first considering making a list of my favourite five poems; immediately, however, I started encountering the difficulties of classification. Should I include novel-length poems in the list, since they tend to have more narrative? What about cycles or sequences of poems meant to be read as one poetic work?

Instead of making one post about poetry, therefore, I have decided to do a series of posts exploring my favourite poetic works one at a time. I cannot guarantee that I will upload these posts particularly regularly, but I hope that this can be a good way for me to share some of my thoughts about the poetry that has been most influential in my life.

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Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed had been recommended to me by several people, so I knew it would move to the top of my To-Read list pretty quickly; whilst I have mixed feelings about the number of modernised retellings we have been seeing recently, I knew that The Tempest would be in safe hands with Margaret Atwood. Being someone who enjoys Shakespeare, I had a feeling I would enjoy this novel; I was surprised, however, by just how much fun I had reading Hag-Seed. A strong narrative, engaging characters, adaptation theory, and literary criticism made for a book I was completely engrossed in and finished within a day. Read more


Winter by Ali Smith

The two novels I have read from Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet have given me the eeriest feeling that this will be a series that is studied one day to better understand this period we live in. Autumn, released in October 2016, was often called the first novel to deal with post-Brexit Britain, but no-one could have predicted how much would change over the course of the next year. Winter is set in a world where Donald Trump is the president-elect, and includes a brief flash forward to Grenfell Tower, an event that will surely feature in Summer; Spring meanwhile, seems likely to have the backdrop of the Spring 2017 terror attacks. For me, these novels are bigger than the characters, the narrative, and the writing: they are an archive of what it is like to live in the UK at this moment, in this period of time. Read more

Escaping Escapism

Escaping Escapism by Dave Griffith-Jones

Have you ever seen the title of a book and known immediately that, on the one hand, this is a book you should definitely read, but on the other hand, this is a book that will challenge you on a very personal level? For a few weeks, it felt as though Escaping Escapism was following me around the internet, the title alone reminding me of all my bad procrastination and binge media consuming habits. Eventually, after another evening of feeling frustrated at myself for avoiding some big tasks I had been putting off for far too long, I decided that perhaps being challenged about this area of my life wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Whilst I was right that this would be a book that challenged me, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Griffith-Jones anchors his writing on this topic in assuring truths of the gospel; a necessary aspect since escapism has its roots in fear. Read more

A Secret Sisterhood

A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

One of my Christmas books that I was most looking forward to diving into was A Secret Sisterhood: the hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf. In this book, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney look to unpack some of the key literary friendships of famous female authors, friendships which have often been overlooked in favour of the literary friendships of famous male authors. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that this covered two topics I am very interested in, women writers and literary friendships, so this was always going to be a book that I enjoyed. However, what really made this book a favourite for me was that it wasn’t just an exploration of these particular friendships, but a statement on how friendships with other writers can inspire great writing. Read more

Far From the Madding Crowd

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Having read Tess of the D’Urbervilles over the summer, I decided that the next Hardy novel I would go for would be Far From the Madding Crowd as I knew it would be somewhat less depressing. Having already seen one adaptation of it, I knew the general outline of the narrative, but I enjoyed seeing how it all played out in the source text. While I found Tess of the D’Urbervilles an important text, I definitely enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd more; it is a far lighter narrative that made for easier reading. Read more

The Miniaturist (BBC, 2017)

The Miniaturist (BBC, 2017)

Over the past year, I have enjoyed reading Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist and The Muse so I was excited to realise there would be an adaptation of the former airing over Christmas. I was even more excited when I saw the cast list: Romola Garai is always great and I loved Paapa Essiedu in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet. I enjoyed watching this series over a couple of days, although there were a couple of aspects that fell a little flat for me. Read more

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

(Previously The Virago Book of Fairy Tales and The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales)

Proving that she knows me very well, my housemate bought me Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales for Christmas this year. I was very excited when I opened it and read the inside cover, discovering that this was a collection of fairy tales from all over the world curated and edited by Angela Carter; this book sees my interest in fairy tales crossing over with my interest in different cultures and I have very much enjoyed exploring these tales. From familiar, to fascinating, to bizarre, to somewhat grim, these fairy tales are texts that help us understand the global tradition of oral story-telling as well as the influence that culture has even on tales from the same starting point. Read more