Hello babies! Thank you so much for reading part one of my books roundup– I was so heartened by the response! It was particularly interesting that the book most people said they bought after reading my post was Apple Tree Yard, and I don’t doubt you’re going to love it.
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
This was my 50th book in 2014 and I am so, so happy with that timing. Richard Yates is one of those authors I knew I would love if only I read anything by him, but after having seen the film of Revolutionary Road a few years ago, I feared it was all going to be such an emotional undertaking that I kept refusing to be ready for. I was right. I started with The Easter Parade, which is an emotional wringer of a book about an unremarkable life, career and series of loves. To me, it asked the question “could a life truly slip through your fingers?”, which is a frightening question to address as a young woman in what I assume are the ‘best years’ of my life. It’s devastating on mental illness, gender, aspiration and opportunity, and I suspect these elements will be present as I read more of his novels.
100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I knew it was a mistake to make it to the age of 24 without having read 100 Years of Solitude. I read this on holiday in Portugal, where I was uncomfortably hot most of the time so enjoyed moments where I got to sit very still on a sun lounger and read in the shade. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed that time half as much if I’d been reading anything else. I’m sure many more intelligent people than I have said many more intelligent things about 100 Years of Solitude, but I found it utterly captivating and enchanting and mind-bogglingly beautiful and infinitely surprising. Actually, on second thoughts, I think this is a better book to just experience, rather than talk about. If you haven’t read it, waste no more time!
Just Kids by Patti Smith
I downloaded Just Kids to read in New York this summer. I thought it would be a good accompaniment to strolling the streets of Manhattan, sometimes alone. It seemed doubly apt since on a previous trip to NY I saw Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos in the Guggenheim. Unfortunately, I started reading Just Kids the weekend before I went on holiday, and finished it the next day, so had to renew my quest for reading material. I didn’t regret it one bit. Patti Smith’s early life and friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is enviable only in terms of the depth of their bond. The precarity of their lives, the biting winter cold, the lack of homes, the illnesses, the lack of money – none of it sounds romantic or fun. Their relationship and beginnings of their artistic practice, though, is fascinating and absorbing and insightful. Patti Smith writes as beautifully as you would expect, and the entire work is a joy.
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
In 2014 I read this book for the third time. I left many years between the first and second time I read it because there are bits of it I didn’t feel psychologically / emotionally ready to deal with again for a long time, but after numbing and bracing myself to it after a second reading, I decided to go in for a third. This is possibly my favourite book ever, which explains why I’ve devoted so much time to reading it when there are innumerable important works I’ve never read. The way Siri Hustvedt weaves fictional with real art and fictional art and real characters (people are always shocked when I tell them the last third of the book is based on real events) is extraordinary and compelling. There are moments in this book that make my eyes prickle when I think about them, and make you want to shout ‘no no no no why why does this have to happen’ in the same way as horrible, sad things happening in real life. The more I read What I Loved, the more I understand it, and I hope I am never in a position where I truly empathise. There is no one I wouldn’t recommend this to.
Carol by Patricia Highsmith
If there’s a book that’s made me want to fall in love every day, it’s Carol. I’m pretty sure that even if I didn’t know Patricia Highsmith wrote thrillers, I would still be here telling you that this has the pace, tone and momentum of a thriller without even being one. It captures early infatuation and obsession and all the good and bad traits these things bring out in you so incisively and so accurately it just makes your head spin and your heart ache. I don’t know anyone who’s read Carol without being completely enchanted and captivated. It’s liberating and refreshing in so many ways, not least the ending which I won’t spoil for anyone but manages to set itself apart from many other queer romances in the same vein. It’s sexy and beautiful and I raced through it. Todd Haynes’ film adaptation is looking like the highlight of my cinematic 2015 already.
Vita by Victoria Glendinning
I know the desire to be able to relate things to your own experience is a vain and pointless pursuit (why must everything be ‘relatable’?) but if I had read this book a few years earlier, I think it would have clarified many things about my character and how I want to do my life. There were passages about Vita’s nature that cut through my layers of artifice and self-deception and showed me a personality that, in some ways, was so close to my own that it chilled me. Although I have never and will probably never read any of Vita Sackville-West’s work, this biography is extraordinary. I have never enjoyed a biography so much, or taken so much away in terms of historical context. Victoria Glendinning writes beautifully, packing masses of detail about Vita’s interior and exterior life and loves and social environment into clear, clean, well-organized chapters. Accept no imitations – two reviews I read of a Vita S-W biography that came out this year stated that the critic wished they had just read the Glendinning biography instead.