Wow, June has been a busy bookish month! I kicked the month off with a week's holiday, during which time I went to Cornwall and (amongst other things) met the lovely Marie Phillips, author of 'Gods Behaving Badly' and 'The Table of Less Valued Knights', a review of which will be forthcoming shortly, along with a short interview with Marie. Then, at the end of the month we had Independent Book Week which, of course, necessitated a visit to the excellent Booka Bookshop and a lovely haul of books. I also got oodles of reading done - mainly during my holiday week - hence why this is the first of two wrap up posts - I thought the post might get a bit long if I put all of my books into one wrap up this month. So, I'll post one wrap up this weekend and another next weekend and maybe a cheeky review in the middle of the week if I have the time and energy after finishing work! So without further ado, here are some of the books I read in June...
The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to Women and the Media by Holly Baxter & Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
More than just another feminist manifesto to emerge in the wake of Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to Be A Woman’, this is a timely look at women in the media and a scathing examination of the women’s magazine market, journalistic standards and lad culture.
Based on the successful blog of the same name ‘The Vagenda’ (a portmanteau term gleaned from a magazine and being an amalgamation of ‘vagina’ and ‘agenda’ – yes, seriously) exposes the silly, manipulative and often damaging ulterior motives behind some of our best loved magazine’s headlines and features. Examining everything from the babyfication of female language (because nothing, absolutely nothing, should ever be described as "totes amazeballs") to the control that magazine try and exert over every aspect of their readers’ lives (are YOU wearing the right shade of nail varnish this season?) in order to sell advertising space, this witty and insightful book is a call to arms for the modern woman.
When I wasn’t laughing out loud at the writers’ outrageous humour and acerbic wit, I was raging at the idiocy of ad men and the worrying ignorance displayed in some portions of the media. An excellent book which deserves to be read by men and women alike and has completely altered my perception of media culture. I may never buy a women’s magazine again!
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed…
So begins Julian Barnes’ startlingly honest and insightful non-fiction/memoir which gives us, firstly, the life of the ballooning pioneer Nadar and his forays into aerial photography then moves on to tell the story of Colonel Fred Burnaby, reluctant admirer of the extravagant and enigmatic Sarah Bernhardt before, finally, telling us the unflinching truth of his own grief following the death of his beloved wife.
At only 128 pages, this is a slim book but it packs an emotional punch. The blend of early ballooning history and raw, unfiltered grief could sit uneasily in lesser hands but Barnes deftly weaves connections between his three sections and the insight of the final part would not, I feel, be as powerful had I not read the earlier chapters. A profoundly honest memoir which lingers long after you have finished reading the final page.
Daisy Miller & The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
I was recently introduced to the gorgeous Penguin English Library – a recently revised and re-issued collection of 100 classic English novels and novellas with beautifully designed paperback editions that have striking covers and bright, striped spines. I feel the beginning of a collection coming on but, instead of buying a new edition of an old favourite, I decided to start with something new. As a lover of ghost stories, I’ve heard of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ but was always put off reading it by James’ reputation for dense prose. However, upon seeing that the novella, bundled together in this edition with James’ other famous short work ‘Daisy Miller’, made up part of the Penguin English Library, I decided to bite the bullet and picked up a copy.
I started with ‘Daisy Miller’, ostensibly a story about a young American girl holidaying in Europe. Under the surface however, this is a cutting examination of social attitudes and the damaging effect that they can have upon youthful naivety. At only 4 chapters long, James packs a lot into a short space and his writing is sharply observed. The ending is ambiguous, leaving the reader to decide for themselves how they feel about Daisy’s character and conduct and I felt that James was inviting interesting comment and debate upon the social attitudes of his time. Given that I’d never heard of ‘Daisy Miller’ before, I was rather surprised by this one – an enjoyable and stimulating read.
‘The Turn of the Screw’ is an altogether different affair and, I have to say, somewhat of a disappointment. Having been pleasantly surprised by ‘Daisy Miller’, I was looking forward to reading this celebrated ghost story. And indeed, the twists and turns of the plot – which focuses on a young governess who starts to believe her two young charges might be being influenced by malevolent supernatural forces – are well-handled and there are some genuinely chilling moments. But to get to these there is just so much extraneous writing! Characters have countless conversations that seem to serve no purpose and laboured description of everyday activities abounds. The central premise, which touches on issues of mental stability as well as Victorian attitudes towards female sexuality, is interesting but sadly I found this to be rather long-winded, albeit a quick read. Read Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’ instead – it’s longer but just as chilling and far more satisfying.
The three books above (well, four if you count 'Daisy Miller' and 'The Turn of the Screw' as two separate books) made up the majority of my holiday reading whilst I was in Cornwall. I'd love to know your thoughts if you've read any of them - or are planning to read them - so post me a comment below or tweet me @amyinstaffs. I'll post the rest of the month's reading next week but, until then, and as always...