The Reading List #4

By Lucy Harbron - 11:24

I’m very aware that this corner of the internet is slowly morphing into a book blog, but as of late I feel like my passion for literature has finally come crawling back out of its English degree hiding place. The slower lockdown mornings, the fresh new appreciation for little things like walks and sitting in parks, I think life has slipped back to the basics, letting us indulge in small joys and more time. Since March I’ve probably read more than I did the entirety of the year before, and I feel like I’ve really dug into the books rather than just flying through them on my morning commutes. This month especially, I got stuck into a big range from poetry to contemporary to classics, having a nice spread of bucket list books and titles I’d never heard of until I was buying them.

#1 The Flame – Leonard Cohen

Everyone knows I love Cohen, so I finally picked up The Flame. This is his last collection that he worked on up until his death, and the book includes poems, lyrics and unpublished works. I knew I’d love it, something about Cohen’s style ticks so many boxes for me, it’s beautiful but I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Reading his work feels like flipping through someone's notepad in the best way, like someone writing with no pressure or false pretenses of trying to be overly articulate and artsy. It has the same unique imagery and phrasings as his lyrics, but The Flame especially feels very open and personal, like you get the chance to understand who Cohen was in his later life.

The foreword by his son Adam is stunning, so beautiful it’s worth buying the book even just for the opener. He talks about how poetry was his father’s number 1, his intense dedication to his work and his ‘fiery preoccupation’ with writing this book. He says that The Flame was what Cohen was staying alive for, and you can really feel that in this lively and passionate collection that feels like the perfect ending to his incredible back catalogue.

#2 Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

A wild change of tone and style, this was a spontaneous read that I picked up from the wholesome book swap we have in my building. I love the Fight Club film and I was intrigued to see how they’d manage to handle that plot twist in writing so at only 218 pages I flew through it in a week or so.

Verdict – it was okay. It’s easy reading and it was nice to just settle into a simple piece of modern fiction, I also liked the random breakdowns where the language and imagery became weirder. But overall, it seems like the film manages to take this book and turn the plot from average to amazing. It’s weird, despite obviously being a novel first, Fight Club is so reliant on visuals that the text just didn’t do it for me, a bit unsatisfying. But I read it anyways and watched the film again after.

#3 Moder Dy – Roseanne Watt

I saw this collection being hyped up on Instagram, deemed a kind of exploration of language and translation so the language side of my degree was caught, captured and intrigued. I’m also trying to make more effort in supporting smaller publishing houses, so it was nice to be able to pick up a book from a little Scottish press.

Roseanne Watt is from the Shetland Islands, and Moder Dy looks into the idea that there’s certain words that can’t be translated, like little pieces of poetry built into language. So the collection moves between English and Shetlandish with a glossary at the back to define certain words. In her intro, Watt explains that when a poem has been fully translated, she made no effort to attempt to maintain meter or anything when translating which I loved, like a real dedication and focus towards celebrating her language.

But even beyond being a really interesting read linguistically, Moder Dy is beautiful. It’s packed with nature and landscapes, mixed in perfectly with more personal and feminine scenes as well as bits of folklore. With every page turn you didn’t know what you were going to be met with, but you knew it would be tender and glorious. Reading this really got me thinking about translation and all the classics that we could have all read different versions of, the way the translation of just a couple of words could alter the whole thing. It also got me thinking I really need to get back to DuoLingo and stop being an embarrassing single language speaker…

#4 Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

I successfully avoided Frankenstein throughout my entire education, I bypassed it during my gothic A-level and ducked out on the module at uni, so I was admittedly one of those people that still thought Frankenstein was the monster. Honestly, I’d never even thought of reading it until I started seeing TikToks about Mary Shelley and a band I interviewed mentioned the novel as an inspiration; my book collection is very easily influenced. Then there it was in Oxfam one day for £1.50, so Frankenstein accompanied me on a trip to London.

My relationship with the gothic is a tumultuous one. When I first read Wuthering Heights I thought it was one of the worst things I’d ever read, so painfully bleak. But after a year of studying it alongside some other texts, it’s probably one of the most significant book memories in my life. I think the thing with gothic is being able to just surrender to darkness and try to settle into it. It’s easy to get bogged down by the language and the dramatization of it all, so with Frankenstein I tried to just sink into it and enjoy the story. It immediately shocked me how easy reading this is, the language isn’t too flowery and the plot is easy to follow. For a mythic story about a monster, Frankenstein is so intensely human and confrontational about the topic of existence and necessity for a liveable life. Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ speaks so frankly that it will break your heart, the whole novel really being a tug-of-war on your sympathy. The plot isn’t action packed, but the discussions in the book really make you think. Only 200 or so pages with nice short chapters, Frankenstein opens up a debate that’s been sticking around in my head since.

#5 Platinum Blonde – Phoebe Stuckes

I will be screaming my love for this book from the rooftops forever more, I’m going to tell everyone I ever meet to buy it and savour it and share it with their friends.

Platinum Blonde feels like a book made for me, from the Hollywood starlet cover, to the title, to the female-focus and big emotions. I sat down by the canal to read a couple of poems and ended up sat their shivering for hours, completely captivated by the beauty and brutality of the book.

It's hard to put my finger on what I loved about it most, but Platinum Blonde made me feel more confident in my own writing. Female-focus works about love and heartbreak and just generally being a deeply emotional women are often put down, regarded as ‘not good’ by (usually male) poetry gatekeepers. But Phoebe Stuckes is good, very very good. This collection is full of glorious unique imagery without smothering the realness of it, it’s both so personal and frank but also so universal. I found myself sending photos of poems to my friends saying ‘this reminds me of you’, I had to stop myself underlining my favourite phrasings or else my whole copy would be scribbled over.

I know this will be a collection I’ll return to regularly, probably cite it as one of my favourite books. I’ll be lending it to everyone, flipping through the pages next time I’m heartbroken.

Next up...

I'm attempting to place myself on a book-buying ban, trying to force myself to go back and tackle the one left unread on my shelf. I have a bad habbit of avoiding reading thicker novels, but I'm determined to get through them. 

But that being said, I really want to try out Lana Del Rey's poetry book... so we'll see how I get on. 

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