Love Your Library, February 2023
Thanks to Cathy, Elle and Sarah for contributing with their recent library borrows!
While shelving in the large print area at the library I noticed something I’d never seen before: a “Dyslexic Edition” of a novel. I opened it up and saw that it has large type, but various other features: the font is a sans serif, in medium to dark blue, and there are lots of short sections rather than lengthy paragraphs. Instead of passages being in italics, they appear in bold face. The overall effect is fewer words on a page and maximized readability. We shelve these with large print, but there are plans to pull them out for a future display on disability awareness. There are also some children’s series geared towards dyslexic and reluctant readers, as well as the “Quick Reads” books put out by the Reading Agency for adult readers who may struggle with literacy.
This isn’t library-specific, but most of you will have heard about the new UK expurgated versions of Roald Dahl children’s books commissioned from the consultancy Inclusive Minds by his literary estate. Dahl’s work still flies off the shelves at my library. What’s more, it’s inspired countless other writers with his particular brand of snarky/edgy humour. Apparently the specific changes made are to, in hundreds of places, replace words like “fat,” “stupid” and “ugly.” In general, I’m leery of censorship, preferring that parents speak to their children about the appropriate use of words or, if that can’t be guaranteed, adding an introduction or afterword. (The unaltered “classic” Dahl collection will still be sold, too.)
Yet I am sympathetic in this case because I know how hurtful some stereotypes can be. For instance, we have Jen Campbell to thank for this addition to The Witches (who are portrayed as bald and wearing wigs): “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.” She has various genetic conditions including alopecia and has long been opposed to casual associations of disfigurement with evil in popular culture.
What’s your take?
And my own library reading since last month:
- The New Life by Tom Crewe
- Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire
- How to Be Sad by Helen Russell
- Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
- City of Friends by Joanna Trollope
- Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Plus a load of picture books about winter and snow; I reviewed them here.
- A Fortunate Man by John Berger
- The Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent
- Martha Quest by Doris Lessing
- Nightwalking: Four Journeys into Britain after Dark by John Lewis-Stempel
- His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
- Manorism by Yomi Sode
I also have the rest of the Folio Prize poetry shortlist out on loan to read soon. A lot of the other books pictured in this post have already gone back unread. I never consider that a problem, though, as it still helps libraries retain funding, and authors get royalties!
What have you been reading or reviewing from the library recently?
Share a link to your own post in the comments. Feel free to use the above image. The hashtag is #LoveYourLibrary.
Young Writer of the Year Award: Shortlist Readings Event
On Saturday I attended an exclusive bloggers’ event at the Groucho Club in London with four of the authors shortlisted for the Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award (Sally Rooney was unable to make it from Dublin). Also in attendance were fellow shadow panelists Annabel and Clare and some other notable names from the UK blogging community, including Eric Karl Anderson and Naomi Frisby. It was lovely to meet them, and Annabel, for the first time, and to have time to chat with the shortlisted authors.
The event was chaired by Robert Collins, a former deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times now with Intelligence Squared. Each author gave a short reading from their book and answered questions from the chair and the audience. In every case, what I heard helped me appreciate the work and the author more. All four writers were so funny and warm, and seemed equally humbled and delighted to be in the running for this award.
Minoo Dinshaw reminded me of an Oxford don twice his age. (Indeed, his father is an Oxford don, and his mother is Scottish writer Candia McWilliam, so he has a proud literary pedigree.) He first became aware of Steven Runciman as a child when he and his mother spotted the wizened old man in a hotel lobby in Edinburgh, where they had traveled for the book festival. He then read Runciman’s Crusades books at school, and when in 2011 he met Runciman’s niece and she asked him to write the biography, he said he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do. (And still can’t.) Reading from his Kindle as “I didn’t want to break my wrist” (!), he chose a late passage featuring Steven in his nineties. Dinshaw said that while writing about Runciman he felt by turns flirted with and accused. Living in his subject’s house, working in his library, even sleeping in his bed (just the once), he felt he “had a very strange ghost in my life.” Dinshaw said the project captured his attention because he’s romantic and competitive, but that he’d like to try writing fiction in the future.
Julianne Pachico read a party scene from “The Tourists,” as it’s approaching the festive season. I was intrigued to learn that the interlinking structure of her book only emerged late on in the editing process; she’d originally meant to write a post-apocalyptic novel set all in one house, but found that setting too limiting. “I sort of work it out as I go along,” she said. So is it short stories or a novel? She’s sick of this question! Really she just wanted to write the kind of book she likes to read, citing Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten as examples. Asked about her mentors, Pachico cited her mother, who told her “you’ll never be lonely, you’ll never be bored” as long as you read; and her first tutor, Andrew Cowan, who told her no one out there was writing anything like her story “Junkie Rabbit” – just the affirmation she needed. With all that’s happened in 2017, Pachico said she plans to turn to writing as a way “to outcreate the abyss” (a phrase from her twin sister, who’s also a writer). Pachico also teaches creative writing at Sheffield Hallam.
(As Sally Rooney was not in attendance, Collins read on her behalf a passage about Frances and Bobbi’s early friendship at school.)
Claire North, aka “Cat” (real name: Catherine Webb; her fantasy and science fiction books are under various names) was in a way the odd one out at this event. Collins opened by saying that this award is all about getting in on the ground level with these writers, several of whom are debut authors. But North is a teen phenom who published her first book at age 14 and is set to release #20 next year. All along her parents called her a freak and demanded that she get her GCSEs and go to uni because writing “isn’t a proper job” (“but we’re very proud of you!” they’d usually append). She’s experienced the full gamut of responses over the years: some swore she wouldn’t have anything to say until age 40; others sighed that once she turned 18 she could no longer be marketed as “young.” She read the perfect passage from The End of the Day: a frantic, bravura account of the riders of the apocalypse together on a plane. She loves that science fiction “makes the extraordinary domestic” and playing with death appealed to her “flippant nature.” Charlie is, she thinks, the kindest character she’s ever written.
Sara Taylor read from one of Ma’s earliest stories about how her parents met. She wrote The Lauras while she was supposed to be completing her PhD thesis on censorship in American literature. At the time she was coming to terms with the fact that she was going to be staying in the UK, as well as remembering family road trips and aspects of her relationship with her mother that she wishes were otherwise. Her agent wasn’t comfortable with the focus on an “agender” character, but Taylor held firm. She’s used to ignoring the advice her (older, male) professors and advisors tend to give her. Instead, she gets tips from her ten-years-younger sister back in the States, who knows exactly how to “fix” her work. Taylor feels the USA is 5–10 years behind the UK on gender issues, and revealed that The Lauras is a response to the novel Love Child (1971) by Maureen Duffy. She has recently finished her third novel and hopes to get back into teaching since writing non-stop for nine months makes her “go a little funny.”
This was such a special event. There were no more than 20 people in the room, and at the end I got a chance to speak to each of the authors as they signed my books. I normally get shy in such situations, but everyone was completely approachable. (Sara Taylor and I confirmed that we were indeed on the same study abroad program to England, a few years apart, so spent some time reminiscing about Reading and our formerly women-only colleges. Her mother went to Hood College, my alma mater – thus the brief mention of it in The Lauras.)
Important upcoming dates:
- November 24th: shadow panel meeting in London
- November 27th: deadline for shadow panel winner decision
- November 29th: shadow panel winner announced on STPFD website
- December 3rd: shadow panel winner announced in Sunday Times
- December 7th: prize-giving ceremony at the London Library
I’ll be aiming to post my last couple of reviews on Wednesday.