Hello. A few minutes before thinking about uploading today’s post, I received an email from Barbican Library about their plans to reopen in the next month or so. They have thought very carefully and cleverly about their plans and so I mean no criticism of them but something that shocked me a little (though the need for it is obvious) is that when the library reopens visits will be limited to 30 minutes per person. There will be no full-blooded browsing and the kind of dallying in the stacks that can reap huge rewards. Today’s guest librarian, Morwenna Blackwood, tells us how important it is to take a chance on books we find, so we are going to have to wait a little longer.
When Morwenna was six years old, she got told off for filling a school exercise book with an endless story when she should have been listening to the teacher/eating her tea/colouring with her friends. The story was about a frog. It never did end; and Morwenna never looked back.
Born and raised in Devon, Morwenna suffered from severe OCD and depression, and spent her childhood and teens in libraries. She travelled about for a decade before returning to Devon. She now has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter, and lives with her husband, son and three cats in a cottage that Bilbo Baggins would be proud of. When she is not writing, she works for an animal rescue charity, or can be found down by the sea. She often thinks about that frog. Let’s have a look at her choices:
If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino
If ever there was a novel I wish I’d written, this is it! The inextricability of stories has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and when I read this, it was like I’d come home. I think it was on the ‘suggested reading’ list for my first degree, and I decided to read it primarily because the title is written like the start of a sentence, rather than in the traditional manner. The novel addresses the reader and all readers, and the readers’ possible thoughts as they read; it blurs the stories read and interpreted by possible readers as well as their own; it morphs and twists; it’s thought- provoking, entertaining and bonkers – I love it!
Truant (notes from the slippery slope) by Horatio Clare
This is a beautifully written true but fictionalised story. My copy was given to me by a family member, as I had been vaguely connected to the author at the time some of the events in the novel occurred. Truant resonated deeply with me on a lot of levels, and gave me the confidence to write about things that I thought no-one would be interested in reading about – significant moments in my own life. It also shows that when you smile at people in the street, you probably have no idea what’s going on in their lives. The author’s rendering of mental collapse when you believe you are finding the answers and are better now than at any point in your life, is truly brilliant; as is the way he conveys the all-encompassing feeling of inevitability and total lack of agency. It really is exceptionally well-written.
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
Another wonderful book I just stumbled across! I’d had dental surgery, and had wobbled my way up to town to meet my (now) husband who’d been shopping and was my designated driver. I was early, or he was late – it was all a bit hazy – and I ended up – as I usually do – browsing in a bookshop. I had some vouchers left over from Christmas, and on a whim I thought I’d go for something out of my preferred genres, by someone I had never heard of. I saw Angelmaker and didn’t understand the connection between the cover and the title, but liked it and it was a big fat book so I bought it – and I am so glad I did! This novel could fit into pretty much any of Amazon’s granular categories! The concept is exceptionally imaginative, and is fantastic in every sense of the word while simultaneously being entirely plausible. I adore the descriptive passages about London’s underbelly, and that was what hooked me. Read it!
Morwenna concludes: These novels came to me by chance – or Fate, or whatever – and I took a chance on reading them. I hope someone does the same with The (D)Evolution of Us and ends up loving it as much as I do my chosen three.
Ah, yes, The (D)Evolution of us: a book that’s been described as honest, ambitious, complex, disturbing, shocking, compelling and clever. It pulls together different threads of trauma and explores themes of mental ill health and coercive control. Fans of psychological thrillers should check it out.
And I’d like to thank Morwenna, not just for her choices, but for making us think about what it is that draws us to individual titles and influences our relationships with them: a timely consideration.