In February, I was in Paris, and while there I read a short novel called Margaret the First (Catapult, 2016). It is a semi-biographical work about the writer Margaret Cavendish, an eccentric and revolutionary celebrity of the 17th century. In Paris, I felt sad, alone, and inelegant. Cavendish felt this way there too; strange and wrong in a place that respects those born to it. However, though Cavendish’s character often feels melancholic and lonely, Margaret the First does everything to remind the reader that things are beautiful in the world. The prose glimmers; it is earnest and energetic. Much like Cavendish was herself, Margaret the First is not afraid of being special.
Words by Pema Monaghan
I’m currently rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Bloomsbury, 2003). At the end of a long, hard day at uni, I highly recommend returning to a well loved series that reminds you of your own messy, adolescent years as a young witch or wizard.
Words by Hannah Adam
Break Blow Burn (Vintage, 2006) is a study by Camille Paglia in which she reads forty-three great poems, with specific attention to how language is enacted to break, blow, and burn. It is a direct book, free of pedantry and firmly rooted in artful logic. Many of the poems included are not found in the traditional canon, but Paglia does not argue for their place on the grounds of personality or politics. Rather than attempting to be shocking or irregular, she includes writers always with the aim of increasing scope while maintaining quality. It is the best critical survey I have ever read, and I highly recommend it.
Words by Harry Peter Sanderson
I’m reading a biography of the English poet Philip Larkin, Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury, 2014), by James Booth. I find it an intensely satisfying, comforting read, and also quite daring. Booth achieves so much – superb close readings and criticism of Larkin’s poems, detailed attention to his letters with family and friends, a perceptive rendering of his inner life as poet and man, and an honest toying with his legacy. I was bound to read this book because I love Larkin’s poetry. It’s grounded, centred yet ambivalent, taut and colloquial with human feeling. It reads like a budding thought unfolding, or an emotion stirring. Larkin is very much a novelist’s poet, having started out as a novelist himself. For readers more comfortable with the novel he is a dear companion, I have loved returning to his poems again and again. Booth has written a generous and immersive biography.
Words by Ryan Suckling
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 3 SOAP.