More Seasonal Reading

I like this reading with the seasons lark. It’s a shame that my library hold on Ali Smith’s Autumn didn’t come in until well after it turned to winter here in England, but I was intrigued by the sound of her post-Brexit seasonal quartet. Then, as if one winter anthology wasn’t enough, I tried another – this time a broader range of literature, history and travel writing.

Autumn by Ali Smith

autumnSmith is attempting a sort of state-of-the-nation novel in four parts. Her two main characters are Daniel Gluck, a centenarian dying at a care home, and his former next-door neighbor, Elisabeth Demand, in her early thirties and still figuring out her path in life. The present world Elisabeth and her mother navigate is a true-to-life post-Brexit bureaucratic nightmare where people are building walls and hurling racist epithets – “news right now is like a flock of speeded-up sheep running off the side of a cliff.” Mostly the book is composed of flashbacks to wordplay-filled conversations between Elisabeth and Daniel when he used to babysit for her, as well as dreams/hallucinations Daniel is having on his deathbed. But there’s also a lot of seemingly irrelevant material about pop artist Pauline Boty and Christine Keeler.

This was most likely written very quickly in response to current events, and while some of Smith’s strengths benefit from immediacy – the nearly stream-of-consciousness style (no speech marks) and the jokey dialogue – I think I would have preferred a more circumspect, compressed narrative. In places this was too repetitive, and the seasonal theme felt neither here nor there. I’ll listen out for what the other books are like, but doubt I’ll bother reading them. Aspects of this are very similar to Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (the state-of-Britain remit, even the single mother hoping to appear on a reality show), but I much preferred his take. [Gorgeous cover, though – David Hockney’s Early November Tunnel (2006).]

My rating: 3-star-rating

[For more positive reviews, see those by Eric of Lonesome Reader, and Lucy of Hard Book Habit.]

Winter: A Book for the Season, edited by Felicity Trotman

img_0832This seasonal anthology contains a nice mixture of poetry, nature and travel pieces, and excerpts from longer works of fiction. Some favorite pieces were W.H. Hudson on the town birds of Bath in the late nineteenth century, Mark Twain on his determination to keep wearing his trademark white through the winter, a Hans Christian Andersen dialogue between a snowman who longs to be by the stove and the yard-dog that warns him away, and Richard Jefferies on those who go out to work on a winter morning. But I enjoyed the poetry the most. Trotman includes a wide range of celebrated poets, from Shakespeare and Keats to John Clare and Wordsworth. I particularly liked a more recent contribution from Carolyn King, “First Snow,” in which a cat imagines that a giant wallpaper stripper has produced the flakes.


All told, though, there are too many seventeenth-century and older pieces with archaic spellings, and a number of the history and travel extracts, in particular, feel overlong – with nearly 40 pages in total from Ernest Shackleton’s South. Especially given the thin pages and small type, this represents a tediously large chunk of the book. Shorter pieces increase the variety in an anthology and mean the book lends itself to being picked up and read a few stories at a time. This is one to keep on the coffee table each winter and dip into over several years rather than read straight through. (See my full review at The Bookbag.)

My rating: 3-5-star-rating

As it happens, I’ve now read five books titled Winter: besides the Wildlife Trusts anthology and the novel about Thomas Hardy, both of which I’ve already reviewed here, there’s also Rick Bass’s wonderful memoir of his first year in Montana and Adam Gopnik’s wide-ranging book about the season. But beyond those with the simple one-word title, there are a whole host of titles on my TBR containing the word “Winter”. Here’s the whole list!

Have you read any “Autumn” or “Winter” books this year?

17 responses

  1. Not since 2013, it seems for me! I’m not by my double-stacked TBR at the moment, but I can’t think of anything off-hand. I was considering buying the set of those seasons anthologies but think I’ll just keep a look out in the charity shops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s the one you read in 2013?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You must like multi-part epics and single-author projects; I find them daunting!

      I’ve never read any Pym, but Quartet in Autumn sounds very appealing.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ha, I suppose I do. I do all of Iris Murdoch every so often and I’ve enjoyed doing all of Hardy and now lots of Woolf this year. Trollope year next year …

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Quartet in Autumn is one of the best (if the the best) of Pym’s.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Quartet in Autumn is a wonderful book, very deserving of its reputation and a great study of ageing single people a few decades or so ago. Definitely worth a read 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    3. I have several Trollopes on the shelf, so I may join you in reading at least one in 2017. I keep meaning to read the whole Barsetshire Chronicles, but I have a feeling the volumes are split across here and in storage in America.

      My local library has a copy of Quartet in Autumn! I’ll borrow it next time I’m there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually I quite like the sound of the Winter anthology—the one you review here and the Wildlife Trusts one! And I’m still keen to read Autumn, though I’ll keep your caveats in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree about the Autumn cover. As always, great reviews! I read your whole list of “Priority — find” WOW!! (131) Love you, Marm

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. In March, I read In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. It’s the first in a police procedural series which I doubt I will continue.

    In 2005 I read Cathie Pelletier’s The Weight of Winter set in upstate Maine. I enjoyed it very much!

    In 2012, I read the picture book A Prairie’s Boy Winter by Canadian artist Wiliam Kurelek. It was a treat for both the text and the illustrations (paintings).

    Winter in Wartime by Jan Terlouw was a great children’s chapter book that I read in 2013. Set in occupied Holland in the winter of 1944-45, Europe’s bleakest winter of WWII, this winner of the 1973 Best Dutch Juvenile Literature prize, tells the story of fifteen-year-old Michiel and his family.

    And I cannot fail to mention my all-time favourite seasonal book Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik. It’s based on his CBC Massey lectures and I read it also in 2013.

    I’ve also read a few not-worth-mentioning winter titles. Whew! For a person who hates winter more each year, I focus on it a lot in my reading!


    1. I like the sound of the two children’s books you read. I’ll also look into the Pelletier.

      I was certainly surprised by how many “Winter” titles turned up on my TBR! More so than any other season, surely.


  5. I love seeing all your ‘winter’ titles. A quick check on GR tells me that the only book with ‘winter’ in it I’ve read is The Winter of Our Discontent. I’ve also read books by both Michael Winter and Kathleen Winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoyed Annabel by Kathleen Winter. A very interesting one to compare to Middlesex.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have just found your blog via Heavenali, and on reading about Ali Smith’s novel, Autumn, I have now ordered this book.
    Margaret P


    1. That’s great, Margaret! I’m glad my lukewarm review still convinced you to take a look. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.


  7. […] Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton): Read in November 2016. (See my blog review.) While some of Smith’s strengths benefit from immediacy – a nearly stream-of-consciousness […]


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