Wolf Hall, via Bring Up the Bodies, which apparently is 'easier'. I've watched Hilary Mantel with curiosity over the past few years, fascinated by what she has to say about writing and by her peculiarly determined presence. She's obviously totally committed to the intangible leap-of-faith vocation she has chosen. Earlier in my academic career I was an early-modern historian, which meant that I dutifully made a number of attempts with Wolf Hall, but it was not to be, and I've been reassured by friends that 'the first fifty pages are the hardest'. Inspired by Mark Rylance's applauded invocation of Cromwell on the BBC, now is the time. I'm going to ease myself in with Mantel's short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.
Meadowland and its soothing effect on the soul, I will make further forays into books about the outdoors. Oxford as a city is a lucky place in which to live, with its sandstone, spires, and old Victorian houses, but at the end of days bouncing from suburb to city, I sleep better with some green space in my imagination. Thanks to dovegreyreader I've just discovered the Wainwright Prize for UK nature and travel writing, and its long-list will be waiting for me after I read Costa Book Award winner H is for Hawk, and Robert Macfarlane's enticing voyage over the English countryside, The Old Ways.
Testament of Youth has brought the lives of women in WWI to the nation's screens - but it is much more than just another war memoir. As a child I listened to the audiobook, read by Cheryl Campbell; Brittain chronicles her transformation from provincial young lady, to army nurse, to bereaved post-war student at my old college, Somerville, and her story is extraordinarily intimate despite its cool delivery. This month Testament of Youth was my main book, broken only by reading for review another Somervillian Jane Robinson's sympathetic history of illegitimacy in twentieth-century Britain, In The Family Way. Happily for me, Brittain wrote at length, and I'll be thinking about her and her peers for many months to come.
|Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh|
So another year of reading awaits, in-between thesis-writing and sporadic attempts at baking, and I can already see the rising tide of books filling the nooks and crannies of my room, hours, and mind. For the past few months I've been abstaining from buying books, with a view to rediscovering what I already have; happily the book windfall at the turn of the year has equally had the effect thus far of making me dig out the old and dusty, the dog-eared and abandoned. A library is as much an experience of mind as a physical collection of books, and it's exciting with a new year to see in mine new constellations, and new lineages, as well as glossier covers.