Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ode to Flowers: A Celebration of the Poetry of Flowers by Samuel Carr

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Well, this book is very pretty. Samuel Carr has collected around fifty poems whose uniting feature is a floral theme, or at least a floral mention. If you think that’s a good enough reason to assemble some poems, then you may enjoy reading this book. The poems are written by famous names from Chaucer to Seamus Heaney, whose best work this collection does not usually represent, and some not-at-all-famous names, too, about whose poetry all I can safely say is that they all mention flowers. But enough of the poetry (or more about it, if you prefer dog poetry)! The reason I shall keep this book is its beautiful illustrations. There are more pictures than poems, happily, and although they range in style from watercolour to silkscreen to William Morris, they somehow coherently present the glorious, multifaceted
ecstasy of an enormous bouquet. It is unfortunate (and surely unfair to the artists and designers) that the picture credits merely list the archives from which the illustrations were sourced. I guess that Transport For London may have produced the delightful stylised cover picture, but it is not made clear.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

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I am not quite sure what to take from this novel. Its protagonist is hard to relate to, even though she seems to share her every thought and feeling (and every thought about her feelings) in lucid, agonising detail. Yet the satisfaction of absorbing each perfectly balanced sentence somehow outweighs the frustrations of the almost plotless tale. It could have been subtitled “Lee goes to a much posher high school than her parents intended and grows up a bit over four years”. As beautifully written coming-of-age narratives go, I much preferred The Secret History, with its elements of the thriller and its hints of the bygone mysteries of classical Greece. Mention has also been made of Catcher in the Rye, and given the quality of the self-analysis, perhaps even fair mention. I was hardly ever bored while reading it, yet I don’t feel in any special hurry to read her other novels, which to be fair, all sound a lot more interesting plotwise. After reading some glittering reviews of Sittenfeld’s work, I wanted to read her weakest novel first, and perhaps I have.

The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

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Ah, Mary Stewart’s light mystery romances. Always almost as good as going on holiday to nice warm places in southern Europe, with a little excitement thrown in. In this one, our heroine goes to a remote Cretan fishing village on her hols, there to be accidentally embroiled in a thrilling tale of a jewel heist turned murderous, with conveniently placed male fellow tourist to fall for. In some ways very dated, the story is nevertheless very enjoyable, time after time. I realise this author has also written quite a heavy-duty trilogy about Merlin and King Arthur, but I prefer her holiday escapism.

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver

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Now, I’m definitely more of a cat person than a dog person. Mainly because I hear dogs require far more time and attention than does a cat. (Those who say so have not met my cat.) But this collection of canine poetry made me feel that the deficiency is mine in not appreciating the fidelity, charm and adoration of dogs as they deserve. These lovely, heartwrenching poems, seemingly mostly about the loss of beloved, loving dogs actually made me cry (admittedly I was in a nice warm bath with a glass of red wine at the time). And one made me laugh (about the dog wheedling extra breakfast out of the author). But the recurring themes are love and all-too-speedy loss, because compared to humans, dogs live such a short time, less than ten years of youth and vigour, usually. The descriptions of Mary Oliver’s interactions with her dogs (the dogs are clearly her own, with particular personalities) often take the form of their unspoken conversations, transcribed here to move and delight us.