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Birds of America by Mary McCarthy
We are, undeniably, living in changing times. The news is full of apocalyptic sentiment and terrifying stories of a world gone mad. It feels like this is the end, that this is the world changing beyond recognition and any sense of idealism is naïve and utopian. No, I am not describing 2018; instead, it is the world that Mary McCarthy paints for us in our fiction choice this month.
A young man flees to Europe to escape conscription in the Vietnam war. He is idealistic, romantic and desperate to cling on to the world he knows so well. This is a searing portrait of the 1960s and the events that shaped our culture today, but it does not focus on those large events that we are so familiar with from this era. Instead, we are trapped inside the mind of a slightly narcissistic young man and we follow his every move, from living with his mother on the coast of Maine to exploring the likes of Paris and Rome.
Full of McCarthy’s iconic wit and sharp eye, this one of those books that people describe as an ‘antidote to the times we are living in’, and they might be right. It can be reassuring to see that this isn’t the first time we have panicked that the world is changing too fast (and for the worse), and if this novel is anything to go on, we’re probably overreacting…right?
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Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan
A professor of English at Oxford, Sullivan has spent much of her adult life critiquing the style of poets, particularly focusing on modern poetry’s love of free verse and how that speaks to the evolving nature of the art form. In this, her debut collection, Sullivan reminds us of the true joy of longer poems, blessing us with three of her own.
These poems span fiction, fact and philosophical ponderings. The first, “You, Very Young in New York” is a beautifully lyrical story of someone looking for excitement in the Big Apple but finding themself disappointed at every turn. The second is a sort of love-letter to the philosopher Heraclitus’ idea that it is impossible to step in the same river twice, in which she charts the life of an oak tree and studies history through repetition. Finally, we have the most personal of the three, which deals with the death of Sullivan’s father and the birth of her first child. A humorous and poignant poem, it is the perfect ending to Sullivan’s excellent collection.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”8031″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
The Debatable Land by Graham Robb
Those of us who have been raised in Scotland often like to think that we know all there is about its history; that the years of primary school teachers preaching about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the long-suffering Higher History teachers trying desperately to make us understand the strategy of William Wallace would mean that we are experts on the events that shaped our great nation.
The reality is that we can never know it all, as I discovered when I heard about the ‘Debatable Lands’ in the borders. I had no idea that this patch of our world existed, that there was so much rich, bloody history contained in the small piece of land that has only ever been the backdrop of a car journey for me. As it turns out, I have been ignoring a place which used to have its own laws, outside those of England and Scotland. A place in which some residents saw a wheeled vehicle for the first time when Sir Walter Scott visited in 1792. This is not a region to be ignored, nor is it one to fear – Robb’s study of this remarkable slither of our country is fascinating, enlightening and dispels many myths that have been borne of its notoriety over the past centuries.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”8033″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Ella, Queen of Jazz by Helen Hancock
This is a smart, caring and elegant look at the undisputed Queen of Jazz, centred around her friendship with Marilyn Monroe and the impact these women had on one another. Whether you are a fan of Ella or not, this is a vibrant picture book with heart that will no doubt capture the imagination of any young reader.
What will Ella do when the best club in town refuses to let her play? A helping hand from a famous friend can’t go unappreciated. This is an excellent book teaching children about the life of an icon and also showing them the value of female friendship and how to use your privilege to help others.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]