So the days of leisurely reading my way through book after book while my baby napped or fed for hours at a time are now gone. Increasingly she is a nap avoider and feeds are like wrestling a lapful of kittens while she is distracted by everything and everyone in the immediate vicinity. As time has compressed itself, my reads have needed to adjust to fit. Here are two of my ‘dipping’ style reads, offering up little chunks for the shorter reading windows as they happen.
Elizabeth Taylor, Complete Short Stories
Because of some of the bloggers I follow (Stuck in a Book, A Gallimaufry, Dove Grey Reader, Tales from the Reading Room, amongst others), I’d heard a lot about Elizabeth Taylor but had never read anything of hers. So when I spotted this bumper collection of short stories in my local library it seemed the perfect way to dip in a toe. I’m still working my way through but I can see just why so many feel that she’s gone (unjustly) unrecognised as the great writer that she is. Each story is perfectly nuanced; the sort of writing that makes you realise anew that good writing is a craft. Some of the best stories are only a handful of pages long, offering a fleeting moment that encapsulates a whole lifetime. I’ve seen Taylor compared to Pym and I can understand why, given that they’re both writers of a particularly English kind featuring people who you can only imagine existing in their very English worlds. But Pym has an underlying humour that shapes both her writing and her characters. Taylor’s stories are gentle and often affectionate in a similar way but also poignant and sometimes terribly sad. Try ‘Taking Mother Out’ and ‘The Letter-Writers’ for great examples of her style.
Tim Parks, Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books
On the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve really enjoyed reading this collection of essays on bookish things by Tim Parks. They’re brief, pithy and on a range of subjects covering the world of books, the art of writing, what and how we read, and the place of literature in history and culture. I haven’t read anything else by Tim Parks – which surprises me given how prolific he’s been – but as an author, critic, translator, essayist, literary professor and columnist, he’s uniquely placed to have some interesting views. I hesitate to say he’s being deliberately provocative with some of those views but there’s a definite, and perhaps playful, sense of dropping a literary bomb and then leaving an open ‘discuss’ hanging in the air. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of his opinions but I found the essays engaging – sample titles include ‘E-books are for Grown-ups’, ‘The Dull New Global Novel’, ‘What’s Wrong with the Nobel?’ and ‘In Praise of the Language Police’ – and they really opened my mind to many things I’d never considered before.
Any suggestions for other bite-size reads I could consider?