What We're Reading

Neil's picture
Neil

To The Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace, by Kapka Kassabova (Granta 2020)

To The Lake is the follow up to Kassabova's earlier, well- received travel/history title Border, which looked at the area where Bulgaria, her original home, joins Greece and Turkey. In To The Lake she travels to her grandmother's place of origin, and a place where she spent childhood holidays - Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa in the borderlands area between Albania, North Macedonia and Greece. It's a mysterious region, rarely visited by outsiders and off the international tourist trail, but deep in conflicted and tragic history.

Neil's picture
Neil

Specimen, by Madison Hamill (VUP 2020)

Specimen is another collection of personal essays, that once obscure genre which has recently become wildly fashionable. If the quality of Madison Hamill's debut book is anything to go by, it's easy to see why there is a sudden hunger for this kind of writing - it's not only elegantly composed, but the scenarios are by turn uncomfortable, embarrassing, funny, surreal and wise. The subjects cover a wide range of topics, from religion and girl guides, to school life, a psychology internship in South Africa, to boredom and social awkwardness. A great debut.

Neil's picture
Neil

Weather, by Jenny Offill (Granta 2020)

Weather is an unsettling collection of domestic vignettes, almost prose poems, which gradually reveal the fear about the state of the world that we all feel. Lizzie Benson is a librarian, an observer of people, an unofficial shrink and care giver for her mother and addict brother. In the first person, she relates conversations, snippets of news and observations on current events. It's an oblique, sideways glance at contemporary America in the age of Trump, climate change, inequality etc; none of these are examined in detail, merely observed, which somehow adds to their dark menace.

Neil's picture
Neil

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson (Granta 2012)

At just over 100 pages, Train Dreams earns the description 'an epic in miniature'; it's also described, quite accurately in my opinion, as 'a small masterpiece'. Set in the American West early in the 20th Century, Train Dreams has the feel of a fable. It tells of the life of Robert Grainer, a labourer, and his experiences of violence, love and loneliness in sparse, beautifully honed prose. It only takes a few hours to read, but will stay with you.

Neil's picture
Neil

Confessions of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell (Profile 2019)

The welcome sequel to Diary of a Bookseller; I could read any number of these books by the charmingly grumpy Shaun Bythell. It does what it says on the tin, by turns funny, sad, weird and kind-of inspiring, they are the perfect, light and amusing reads for booklovers or misanthropes.

Neil's picture
Neil

Outpost, by Dan Richards (Canongate 2019)

Outpost is subtitled 'a journey to the wild ends of the earth', and in it Dan Richards is in search of silence, isolation and adventure in the wilderness. He's guided by writers and artists, his father (Tim, an arctic explorer), and others who have been before. He's attempting to discover why we are drawn to wilderness, and if it can be protected. He travels to the fire watch lookouts in Washington State, to Svalbard, Iceland, a lighthouse in the North Atlantic, and similar remote locations.