Best Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Andersen)

Best Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Jean Hersholt

My sister brought me this book for Christmas, based almost entirely on how nice it looks; I know they say never to judge a book by its cover, so I will just mention in passing that this is a very aesthetically pleasing copy. A few years ago, I had started to read through a kindle copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, but for some reason, I found it much easier to read these fairy tales in a physical copy, collated chronologically rather than alphabetically. Reading this collection on holiday, I really enjoyed diving into the fairy tales, familiar and unfamiliar, that Andersen will always be remembered for. Read more

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Beren and Lúthien

Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Those who know me in person will know that I love The Lord of the Rings and the world of Middle Earth. I may not be as immersed in these books as I was as a teenager, but I was still very excited about the publication of Beren and Lúthien and glad to have received it for Christmas. I finally had some time to sit down and make the most of reading it whilst I was away and I enjoyed stepping back into the world of Tolkien for a time. Beren and Lúthien was definitely not what I was expecting when I opened the book, but I was surprised in the best way by the opportunity to see a glimpse into how the story of Beren and Lúthien developed in Tolkien’s mind and writing over the course of his lifetime. Read more

Kinder Than Solitude

Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li

If you have been following my blog over the past year, you will have noticed that I have been very much enjoying the writing of Yiyun Li recently. I first encountered her through her memoir, Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life, which I absolutely loved and which lead me to seek out more of her work. I then happened across a collection of her short stories, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, which in turn prompted me to keep looking for more of her writing. I downloaded Kinder Than Solitude, one of Li’s novels, to take with me on holiday and, having started it on the ferry, I had finished it by the evening of our arrival. Whilst this didn’t provoke quite the same reaction from me that the previous two books had, this was still a compelling and engaging novel, with intriguing characters and fantastic writing. Read more

Women Poets of China

Women Poets of China, edited and translated by Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung

When I first read the poetry of Li Qingzhao, I expressed amazement at the fact she was writing and publishing prolifically in the 11th Century. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned to the first poem in Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung’s collation of Chinese women poets and discovered that it dated from 300BC. China has a long and rich history of poetry so this perhaps should not have been such a surprise, yet, as with early English language women poets, co-translator of this collection Ling Chung notes that Chinese woman poets are outnumbered and often overlooked. Women Poets of China proved a fascinating insight into Chinese literary history, as well as the experiences of women right from 300BC to the 20th Century. Read more

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

A conversation with my Dad recently reminded me that Kazuo Ishiguro is hard to pin down into one genre: everything I have read by him has been vastly different and, as such, my responses have been vastly different. The first I had ever read of Ishiguro was his collection of short stories, Nocturnes, which is a beautiful, atmospheric short fiction collection. Never Let Me Go was next but, although I mostly enjoyed it, suffered from being read in the same week as The Handmaid’s Tale. The Remains of the Day, for me, remains to be finished: I started it a few years ago but never got further than the first couple of chapters. Such diversity of genre goes against every piece of writing advice I have ever encountered, yet it seems to work in Ishiguro’s favour. There will always be at least one book that particularly appeals to any reader: for me, The Buried Giant joins Nocturnes as my favourite Ishiguro works. Read more

Ariel

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

After reading and enjoying Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar last year, I decided that I should explore some of her poetry. I was torn between choosing one of her most famous books, Ariel, and choosing a collection of her most famous works from all her poetry. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I went for Ariel largely because it had a nice cover; however, I was also curious to find out what makes this such a famous book. I found that most of Ariel did not particularly engage me as a reader, yet the poems that did had an immediate effect on me. Read more

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel)

Earlier this month, I was in the enjoyable situation of being in Waterstones with some vouchers to spend; I had seen The Travelling Cat Chronicles recommended by a number of people, as well as by assistants in the shop itself, and so I was intrigued to find out more. As you may remember from my review of the short story ‘My Humans’, I mentioned that I am always a little wary of narratives written from the point of view of an animal: it is something that can either be a cheap gimmick or aid unique aid to the narrative. However, given the reviews I had read and the recommendations I had seen, I knew that I would be in safe hands in this novel. Sure enough, The Travelling Cat Chronicles proved to be a heart-warming novel that made for some cosy reading during our recent cold spell. Read more

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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