What We're Reading

Ever wondered what's on our reading list? Find out which books make the literature team tick!

Each month we publish a blog with the literature team's current reading list. Come back each month to take a peek at the reading list of a literary programmer. Are you reading any of these books? Let us know what you think on Twitter @LitBritish.


Swithun Cooper: I've just finished reading Polly Clark’s new novel Larchfield, followed swiftly by her poetry collections Farewell My Lovely and A Handbook for the Afterlife. Larchfield tells the twin stories of two English outsiders in the Scottish town of Helensburgh: Dora, a woman in the present day who struggles with new motherhood and persecution, and W.H. Auden, who taught there in the 1930s while writing his famous poem 'The Orators'. It's beautifully written – lyrical yet clear – and although events initially reflect another, there's a surprising twist at the novel's centre that firmly binds these characters together. After reading it, I returned to Clark's poems, which now seem like companions to the novel, with its images and ideas echoing through them.

Ed Cottrell: I've recently finished reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. It's a deceptively simple book, and I'd never come across anything quite like it. It's almost like an anti-bildungsroman. What struck me was the way the plot moves with a sense of Calvinist predetermination, and the incredible sense of dark cheerfulness as the characters' lives unfold. Brilliant. I'm currently reading Vertigo by Joanna Walsh, and Blindness by José Saramago.

Jim Hinks: In The Cage, by Henry James (Penguin Modern Classics), is about a telegraph clerk who infers the secret lives of her customers from the telegrams they send. The intrigue doesn’t really add up to anything of consequence, but James’ forensic descriptions of his protagonist’s interior landscape are wonderfully engaging and immersive – he’s an excellent writer of the way people ponder their problems. I recommend reading this in a distraction-free environment, as you’ll probably have to take a few runs at the page-long paragraphs with their seemingly infinite sub-clauses. Still, by the last page, you feel like you’ve really read something, with the kind of weary satisfaction you get upon returning from a long country walk.

I’ve also been proof-reading the forthcoming Sonnets Exchange poetry pamphlet (a British Council publication), which features tri-lingual translations of the work of six wonderful Scottish and Russian poets: Christine De Luca, Jen Hadfield, Stewart Sanderson, Marina Boroditskaya, Grigory Kruzhkov and Lev Oborin. The poetry is exquisite - insightful, clever and fun - and the process of translation uncovers thematic preoccupations shared by poets from both cultures. All the poets are touring Scotland from 14-16 March (book tickets here), and if you attend one of the events, you get a copy of the pamphlet for free. 

Rachel Stevens: This week I’ve been reading Grace Nichols’ latest collection of poetry, The Insomnia Poems. I find Nichols’ work easily accessible and very much enjoy her wit. This collection is placed in that middle of the night time when sleep evades us. It addresses the strange mental state and reflections that come to us all, and weaves in folk narratives and personal memories in true Nichols style. I’ve also really enjoyed Santiago by Cheryl Follon, collection of poems based on eighty-one everyday objects. Some of the pieces, more like vignettes, stay with me for days and made me laugh out loud. It’s an unusual, but great fun collection.

Sinead Russell: I've just finished Sarah Crossan's book One – a beautiful, heart-breaking story narrated by 16 year old Grace as she and her conjoined twin sister, Tippi, start a new school, grapple with love and face a life-determining decision. It is the first book written in free verse to have won the Carnegie Medal for children’s books and it is a classic example of crossover fiction in its appeal to adult audiences as well as young adults. An enjoyable and thought provoking read. I’m currently reading The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest.

Harriet WilliamsFlaneuse by Lauren Elkin is a necessary and beautifully written book that attempts to re-gender the ‘flaneur’. Why, asks Lauren Elkin, should the flaneur always be a man? She takes the reader through brief lives of some of the most famous women writers and walkers of the 19th and 20th centuries: George Sand, Virginia Woolf, Martha Gelhorn, Jean Rhys and filmmaker Agnes Varda, all of whom have wandered the streets of their cities in search of inspiration and solace. Currently reading: The Things I am Thinking While Smiling Politely – Sharon Dodua Otoo.

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