My old shit – April Edition

So, at the start of this year, I cast myself across my TBR in what will inevitably be a doomed attempt to clear it or at least reduce it. Here’s the latest update on my old shit.

And for the record, my TBR is now down to 68. I think that is not so bad.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

So this is One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, except with more kissing. Okay, that’s slightly glib of me. I picked this up largely because the fictional asylum where the book is set is based on High Royds Hospital (previously Menston Asylum, previously the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum) – where I have actually been. Err, not as a patient I hasten to add. I’m just kind of into … places you’re not supposed to go, I guess. And derelict asylums are, well, they’re one of my favourites.

Quite a lot of Menston has been demolished and turned into other stuff, but what was still semi-extant when I was there in mid-2000s was a couple of wards and the admin block, which is so gloriously fucking gothic I can’t even. It’s all chimneys and this clocktower and the slate-gray Yorkshire sky. Like Sharston (the fictional asylum in the book) it was designed to be a self-sufficient community – so it had huge grounds for farming and kitchens and laundries and a dairy and even its own motherfucking railway line. Not much of this is left— there’s just these amazing vaulted corridors, full of endless archways and beautiful mosaic floors, ornately moulded ceilings, the occasional still-vivid stained glass window, the clocktower, which felt super steampunk, and … of course… the ballroom.  There’s just something so wildly incongruous about its very existence. I can still remember how strange it felt standing there: this huge, decaying room, with its high yellow ceiling and the watery wash of light from high set windows.

Picture randomly hoiked from Google. Sorry if it’s yours.

So, anyway, actual book. I felt the atmosphere very keenly indeed, though it was hard to separate that out from my memories of Menston itself. But basically I think I liked everything that wasn’t the actual, um, like plot? You get three viewpoint characters: Ella who has been sent to Sharston for breaking a window in the factory where she works, John who is depressed following the death of his wife and child, and Charles Fuller, a doctor in flight from the expectations of his family. The parallels between them are pretty marked—they’re all, in their own way, struggling against the roles that have been forced upon them, and the way gender, sexuality and class simultaneously restrain and liberate all three of them is genuinely fascinating. Also it’s hard not to be drawn into the love story between John and Ella because, well, I’m a total sap. And it’s genuinely good-feeling inducing to see something hopeful and beautiful flourish somewhere that would seem, on the surface, to be utterly devoid of both.

I should probably mention at this point that I was somewhat relieved Sharston itself was portrayed in a fairly balanced way: it’s unpleasant and dehumanising and restrictive on account of being, y’know, an Edwardian loony bin, but not—at least until the end—ever consciously malignant.  A lot of power, I think, came not from cruelty versus kindness so much as the complexities surrounding the care of people who are deemed unable to take care of themselves, especially in times of social flux. The book is set at the height of a big Eugenics debate about sterilisation of the “feeble-minded”.

Of course, all stories that involve mental asylums are required by cultural mandate to have a doctor go off the deep-end and commit, or attempt to commit, acts of terrible inhumanity. And The Ballroom does not disappoint. Sigh. The third POV character, Dr Charles Fuller, undertakes this role and I honestly felt pretty meh about it. Clearly the dude is a mess (which of these three people is really the mad one, oh d’you see) but … I dunno. While I got that he was driven by a need to make something out of his life to spite his father, I wasn’t entirely convinced that this would outta-nowhere manifest in trying to non-consensually sterilise another dude. It didn’t help that part of Fuller’s messed-upness is related to his homosexuality so essentially we have a book in which a heterosexual couple find the beauty of love in a dark place and a deranged gay in a position of authority gets upset about it and tries to de-dick the dude. And I mean obviously being gay in 1911 was probably rubbish. But so was being a working class man. Or a woman. I guess I just think a lot of things got tangled up in problematic ways in Fuller—I understand why you might go for tormentedly queer character while exploring themes of social alienation, but once you combine that with eugenicist the optics, well, they’re not great are they? Villainous gays who are jealous of heterosexual penises is a pretty damn tired stereotype.

But I still romped through the book, mostly appreciatively.

The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn

This is five books, by the way. FIVE. Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, At Last. And they are so magnificently awful that I actually took a break from reading altogether after I finished the fifth one.

So: Edward St Aubyn is a rich-ish, upper-class English bloke whose father raped him when he was five-years-old. His fictional alter-ego, Patrick Melrose, shares this history and the five novels cover Patrick’s life from the time of his father’s abuse to the death of his mother. What prevents them being a five-volume misery memoir (although I’m pretty sure they’re that too) is the thin layer of fictionalisation St Aubyn has spread gently over the top. While the novels are about Patrick, who is a barely bearable tangle of extreme privilege and extreme suffering, they are just as much as about his world, and the other (let’s be honest here: awful) people in it. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so thankful to have been born working class.

The books are bleak and hilarious, and offer titillating glimpses of a decadent, fading, entirely inaccessible social class.  Which is to say: they’re absolutely irresistible, if you like that sort of thing. Obviously the overriding but mostly unspoken theme across the whole series is the abuse Patrick suffers at his parents’ hands (his father, of course, is obviously a sadist but over time he slowly comes to understand his mother’s complicity in that sadism): the ways it has shaped and irreparably damaged him, and to what degree he can ever really come to terms with it or recover from it. The thing I … liked is not the correct word in this context … but what I appreciated about the way the abuse, and its affects, are treated across the series is that its literal unspeakableness is fundamental to its presence. It is rarely addressed directly but its reality is absolute and ever-present, a shadow from under whose darkness it is impossible to step.

Which is not to say it’s completely hopeless. While conventional sources of both solace and destruction consistently prove to be either inadequate or otherwise inapplicable, I felt the final book left Patrick in about as good a place as he could reasonably expect to be. I think the way St Aubyn termed it in an interview with him that I read somewhere or other: not consoled, but not inconsolable either.

Obviously, there’s stuff I could criticise. Pacing is sometimes a little off. The second half of the second book is mainly Patrick wandering around New York trying to acquire heroin. And then using the heroin. And I’ve read a lot of books about young men wander around New York trying to acquire drugs and then use them. Patrick’s kids, who star in the final two books, are unbelievably wise and charming—which strikes an odd note in a series that otherwise recoils in upper-class horror from anything approaching sentiment. But equally I could see why, if you were St Aubyn and writing a book series that explicitly references Larkin’s This Be The Verse, you might be enthralled and bewitched by the innocence of your own, as yet unfucked up children.

I find it really difficult to do anything as banal as recommending these books. I found reading them to be profoundly moving and terrible.

What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

I read this out of a vague sense of obligation because it seemed like everyone in the world was raving about it. Although I am a seriously non-ideal audience because my tolerance for dreary queer lit has hit a lifetime low. And, honestly, I nearly checked out on the first page when I ran face-first into ‘coterminous’. I mean, I know I have precisely zero grounds to complain about excessive use of inkehorne terms but … coterminous. Seriously. This is what we’re doing now?

Anyway. I didn’t actually hate this.

It’s relatively slim little thing, divided into three parts. In the first, our narrator—a teacher—is obsessed with a Bulgarian prostitute called Mikto he meets in the toilets of the National Palace of Culture. So far so dreary queer lit, although the stripped-down style intrigued me. There was something so deliberately alienating about it, despite fairly tedious material. In the second part, he receives a letter informing him his father is probably dying, which propels the narrative into something else entirely: a fragmented, rage-filled meditation on growing up in America surrounded by implicit and explicit homophobia. In the third part, his father is dead, the narrator is in a relationship, and then, of course, Mikto comes back into his life, essentially tangling the various themes of the previous sections—love and desire and language and identity and shame and the transactional nature of all of these—into a painful and unresolvable knot.

I had many sad feelings. And, coterminous aside, genuinely loved the writing.

In a strange sort of way of it reminded me of Cucumber: an exploration of unspoken historical shame within a context of presumed liberation.

Blue Days, Black Nights: A Memoir by Ron Nyswaner

This was a slightly unfortunate phase of reading in which everything I seemed to pick up was about a gay man falling in love with a hustler. So, uh, yes. This is a memoir. About that.

It’s fine. I mean, grim and honest and darkly funny.  And, yeah, fine.

I’m glad I read it. That probably sounds like the faintest of faint praise but I’d already read three other books on this exact same subject.

But in general I prefer fiction—or at least fictionalisations—because life is random and fiction is subject to rules. It is genuinely to Nyswaner’s credit that he manages to weave a meaningful narrative out of this particular part of his life, and also to his credit that he resists turning it into a story. But the downside of things-that-have-happened-to-you is that, when you get right down to it, they are just things that have happened to you.  And taking a lot of drugs is a relentlessly dull thing to be happening to you.

I am glad Ron Nyswaner is okay now.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

This is beyond amazing. The end.

Well. I guess I could probably say a bit more.

Basically, I admire the fuck out of MDR. She just inhabits genre and character and language with such utter conviction. If I could write like anyone it would be her – except I never will because she is monstrously good at what she does. And I am me. In general, I try not approach books in a writerly mode. I do what I do and I’m fine with it. Other people do what they do and I value that. But MDR makes me painfully aware of the unfathomable distance between people. I can’t even aspire to be like her, because I have no idea where to begin.

Anyway. So Doc is about Doc Holliday. A book about Doc Holliday written by Mary Doria Russell. There is not enough yes in the universe for this. It’s set in Dodge, before the (in)famous events in Tombstone, which brings a freshness to familiar stories. And, interestingly, it is the relationship between Doc and Morgan Earp (rather than Wyatt) that takes centre stage—making his untimely death even more of … well … a bummer.

God, I don’t know. I’m having a really hard time talking about this because I’m so full of feels my brain won’t work and the only thing that’s coming out of my mouth is a passionate burble. I loved this book so fucking much. It is so full of things: life and death and ugliness and beauty and love and despair. And the characters have such depth and realness, such vulnerability and strength. And then there’s atmosphere and the language and the way the book inhabits its genre so completely.

I felt I was there. Like I knew these people. Maybe that I was them.

God. I’m embarrassed by my own vulgar sincerity here … but sometimes reading is fucking magic, y’know? Sometimes it is living.

And that is how I feel about Doc.

I recommend it, is what I’m saying. It is my favourite.

*stamps it with a kiss*

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46 Responses to My old shit – April Edition

  1. Beej says:

    Will finish reading later, but you just made my day by using the word ‘hoiked’.

    I use it all the time but I haven’t seen it written down for yonks…btw that’s my ballroom – hee hee x

  2. christine armstrong says:

    Sometimes reading is magic and your writing captures that often .
    In terms of tbr my kindle has 3400 books of which at least 1000 are unread and I got 40 books in the last week alone so I’m never getting to the end of mine .So saying i will just go find Doc now.

    • Good grief, that would cause me to have some kind of … breakdown. I just don’t think I want to die owning more books than I’ve read. But, equally, acquiring books is so ridiculously easy on Kindle that I can totally see why you own thousands. But actually 1000 unread of 3400 owned isn’t bad percentage wise 🙂

  3. ancientreader says:

    I love the Patrick Melrose books in part exactly because Patrick’s such an asshole. OK, this is a little hard to explain and probably everyone will disagree with me, but I feel like I have read/seen so many narratives of the Noble Survivor Speaking Out Proudly, and … I never felt like that, I always just felt like a person trying to get by with this, this fissure in my history, and of Patrick what I thought was “I would hate you in real life [and to judge by interviews I’ve read with St. Aubyn, I really fucking would], but you, Patrick of the book, speak to my experience of this sort of damage more exactly than anyone else I’ve ever encountered.” This although in external terms, including the circumstances of our abuse and the identity of the perpetrator, Patrick Melrose / Edward St. Aubyn and I have little in common.

    I read the last book first, then circled round and read the entire series twice in a row, but I’m not at all sure I could have gotten through them if I hadn’t known At Last was coming. You get serious Readerly Grit props for reading them in order. Sheesh!

    • God, you are so right. Patrick is awful. And just when I think I can’t stand to read him for another second, he’ll say something so *funny* that I’ll be helplessly charmed. And keep going.

      Like you, I really value … non-heroic narratives of suffering. It feels far more comforting to me than shiny promises of wholeness and redemption and blah blah blah. I can see why there’s a deep need to find something meaningful in terrible things – but sometimes shit is just terrible, and that’s what it is. Sorry this is a deeply uncheerful response! Do have an *internet hug* from a stranger if that this is the sort of thing you would not hate.

      I think having them in one chunky e-volume meant it didn’t even occur to me to start with AT LAST. I do know I’ve been meaning to read these for years and not quite having the stones so I guess I just plunged in determined to go all the way through. I think the first two are definitely the most difficult – because Patrick is helplessly vulnerable in the first tone and seems absolutely without hope in the second (and is blitzed out of his mind for most of the book). But the next three offer faint glimmers of possibility the way the others don’t.

      Also I would not have appreciated the death of Nicholas so bloody much if I had started with AT LAST. I hated that man with such visceral passion I was slightly distressed by it. I mean even more, in a way, that David or Eleanor – I think because he’s so disgustingly complicit and complacent and, ahhhhh … I was honestly almost as happy to watch him die as I was to leave Patrick in a place of potential continuance.

      • ancientreader says:

        I am happy to get a non-cheerful, non-uplifting response! And thank you for reminding me about Nicholas’s death, oh my God. IIRC my initial impression the first time I read At Last was “Hmm, not such a nice guy,” which rather understates the case. But there was something to be said, too, for meeting him in the first books after having attended his funeral, thus knowing what the future would bring.

        Patrick’s wit, yes, and then also, at least for me, he’s saved by the knowledge of how gravely injured he is and how much pain he’s in. Meeting him in real life of course you’d never know any of that, unless you were Johnny after that excruciating dinner conversation (I’m laughing right now thinking of Patrick trying desperately to get rid of the waiter), so you’d only see the nastiness. Like being bitten by an animal when you had no way to know that its leg was caught in a steel trap.

        The comic sensibility of the books generally is another part of what I love about them. Patrick shlepping his father’s ashes all over Manhattan, remember? I think I spent that entire book with a hand clapped over my mouth holding back the appalled laughter. Piety is fatal, and piety is what those books have exactly none of (unless I guess you count Patrick’s feelings about his kids).

        Except for my partner (bless her), I have not been able to strong-arm one single person into reading the novels, so thank you for the opportunity to blather about Patrick to someone who has.

        • I haven’t felt about Nicholas the way I’ve felt about someone since Chris Finch in The Office. My reaction to his death was pretty much on par with the moment David Brent tells Finchy to fuck off. Perfect.

          Also I’m so thrilled you mentioned the scene with Johnny Hall – I think that might be my favourite bit in the whole series. It’s just so hilarious and tragic and perfect. I was going to quote a bit of it in the body of the post to try and demonstrate what the books are like for potential readers, but it turned into this act of grotesque butchery because the scene needs to flow exactly the way it does.

          The bit with the ashes is also sublime – and when they send Patrick to the wrong funeral. I’m kind of laughing-half-crying just thinking about it.

          And thank you so much for commenting. I *also* haven’t had a chance to talk about the books with someone else who has read them so this was delightful.

  4. Sloan Logan says:

    I adore you – you always amaze me Thank you

  5. Shelby says:

    YES to derelict asylums and sneaking into them. We have some magnificent ones in the US, but they’re being turned into touristy ghost-hunting sites. I’m going to read The Ballroom based on the Edwardian asylum factor. And also Doc because you sound like me describing YOUR work. 😉

    • I’m also totally fascinated by all the ghost towns you have over there. I would absolutely love to visit some.

      Also *scuffs* thank you.

      And let me know what you think of The Ballroom. The writing is so appealing, de-dicking gay aside.

  6. neverwhere says:

    Bless you for spreading the gospel of Mary Doria Russell <3

  7. Araminta says:

    I’m definitely going to put the Patrick Melrose books on my TBR list but bah to you for making mine 5 books longer now.

  8. Kelly says:

    “Bleak and hilarious.” Perfect description of the Patrick Melrose novels. 😉 To this day, I’m not sure why I kept reading? But I did. Probably for those passages of the the unexpected.

    • I’m not sure why I kept reading them either. I kept taking long, despairing, weeping showers. But there was just enough … I don’t know what … to keep me going. The fact that they kept making me laugh too, I think. And, yes, these odd moments of beauty. Fragments of hope.

  9. Gillian says:

    “… but sometimes reading is fucking magic, y’know? Sometimes it is living.”

    Yes, yes and yes!! Thankfully, not every book is like that (I don’t want to be emotionally destroyed *every* time!) but when a book comes along and gives us exactly what we need, when we need it…well, it’s fucking glorious.

    • Yes. Completely this.

      I can’t decide whether I want to take Doc with me to the proverbial desert island. Or never read it again.

      • Shaheen says:

        Glitterland is that book for me. Funny and gut wrenching and amazing, and I can’t read it again. It is a DIK, I just can’t actually read it yet. I am working myself up towards re-reading For Real though. It is also amazing, but a little less likely to rip a hole in my chest and pull out my heart….

  10. Ariana says:

    Recently did a spring clean of my tbr and figured out that the best way to reduce is to create another list (or lists) where you dump books you know you won’t read for a while, if ever.
    This gives the brilliant illusion that your tbr is really short. I felt liberated! XD

    There could be appropriate names like:
    ‘I know I’m kidding myself’
    ‘Love the cover, meh to the contents’
    ‘will I, won’t I!’
    ‘all my friends liked this one’

    I’m sure your boundless imagination could think of some cracking names!

  11. Lennan Adams says:

    My TBR is insurmountable, mainly bc I don’t want to read 50% of the books on it anymore but I can’t delete them bc… books. So I’m just going to buy Doc and read it next. It sounds amazing. I’ve only read The Sparrow and Children of God by MDR but they are among my top 10 favorite books ever (in a list largely inhabited by Alexis Hall, so I know a bit about trying to be a writer and unfathomable distance.) Your blog posts are so enjoyable *heart eyes* And “oh d’you see,” ahhh it’s my fave.

    • At this point I am basically trying to get an oh d’you see into each blog post just to tease you 🙂

      Part of my old shit project was being realistic about what I was genuinely going to read. So anything in my tbr that is just sitting there like a corpse in a bathtub I’ve moved to a separate collection. Probably I will/should delete it, but I’m definitely not letting its existence make me feel bad about myself. I think the major reason projects fail is when they become a stick to beat yourself with rather than an intriguing challenge. So I’m doing my best to stop that happening, and abandoning books if I’m having no fun with them and stuff.

      I love The Sparrow but its insanely traumatic – and so I haven’t dared read the second one yet. While Doc is a completely different book, they definitely have themes in common: the nature of suffering and the reality of faith among them. Although a minor plot point that I’m unreasonably bugged with when it comes to The Sparrow is that they find this dude, tortured and abused and borderline dying in a prison cell, and they’re like “oh yes, this is definitely what consensual homosexuality looks like, this man has degenerated into sensuality and vice.” I mean, I know they’re Jesuits but come on.

      And thank you for the kind words <3

      • Lennan Adams says:

        Everyone to whom I’ve recommended The Sparrow/COG has hated me afterward but I think that’s bc they stop after TS, which I get wanting to do. It’s really traumatizing. It’s been a while since I read it and I don’t really read *traumatizing* anymore, if I can help it, BUT from what I remember about the duology, they should be one book. COG explains TS. I mean it’s not like “oh everything’s ok now” more like “oh d’you see” 😉 but I think it mitigates some of the trauma of the first book (or maybe it introduces a new kind of trauma, idk.) Anyway, I think the fact that the Jesuits are like, “oh yes, consensual homosexuality/vice” is basically what the whole series is about–how hubris leads to misunderstanding which leads to disaster, esp the kind of hubris that makes us act with blind benevolence. The second book explores this further. Sort of along the same line of making assumptions is the fact that the Jesuits thought they were making a deal with God, to do good stuff for him and therefore they assumed they would reap good stuff in return—which is the worst kind of hubris for a person of faith. Also it shows a complete ignorance of the God of the Bible (just look at what became of nearly all of Jesus’s disciples.) Anyway, I found those themes to be really profound—I think about the duology a lot. I won’t say YOU MUST READ COG after this whole dissertation on the pitfalls of hubristic benevolence but it was worth it for me.

        • ancientreader says:

          So I’m following this conversation and as I am up for learning about an excellent writer but also absolutely not up for traumatic reading right now: are there any MDR novels that aren’t traumatic?

          • Doc is not very traumatic. At least not compared to The Sparrow.

            I mean, obviously a major deal is the fact Holliday is dying of Tb and one of the plot threads involves the murder of a mixed race kid – so death is kind of a THEME there. And there’s a pervading sense of life being cheap, but I think the undeniability of death gives the novel an energy. It’s often quite funny in a dark kind of way and the characters have a kind of … how to describe it … a complicated, grubby realness to them. So I would recommend it as a MDR starting point.

            The Sparrow is also astonishingly good, btw. It’s just … yeah. *sits in horrified silence for a moment or two*

        • Pam/Peeakers says:

          Omg. The more you talk about this Lennan, the more I want to read this. Both books, though 🙂 The traumatic aspect scares me, but everything else you’re saying here really speaks to me. And saying it’s traumatic is, kind of another way of saying it’s incredibly powerful. Some of the best books I’ve read have been like that 🙂

      • cleo says:

        I actually found the second book much easier to read. Reading The Sparrow was really traumatic for me too – it gave me literal nightmares. The second book was good but not quite as amazing as the first, but it did not give me nightmares. Which I appreciated.

        • I still sometimes have anxiety dreams that someone has SPOILERED my hands.

          Maybe there should be a support group for people who’ve read too much MDR.

          • ancientreader says:

            Ha ha ha you know, despite your suggestion to start with Doc, this conversation is not exactly luring me in to the wonderful world of MDR. I wouldn’t have thought anything could scare me off after Edward St. Aubyn, but …
            *retreats to Pat the Bunny*

  12. cmc says:

    this is kind of obnoxiously adorable, AJH. also I did not need new books to read, so thank you very much for that too.

  13. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Omg! Before I even finish reading this I have to comment – and apologies if someone else has said this already, I haven’t read the other comments yet either – but … a ballroom in a lunatic asylum? How strange …

    Also,I giggled when I noticed this. Did you see the titles of those 5 books make a bizarre sentence? “Never mind bad news, some hope: Mother’s milk, at last! (sorry/not sorry)

    Okay, now on to read the rest of your post ❤

    • Pam/Peejakers says:

      Oh dear. I really feel kind of bad making a joke out of those titles, now I’ve read what the book was about 🙁 That sounds like such a harrowing read. I’m . . . sort of interested, but I don’t know . . .

      I think I might try The Ballroom though. But Doc, omggg, I am absolutely reading that one. ASAP! Also, awww – I love that you loved it so much 🙂 You’re giving me feels just reading what you said <3 And you sounded just fine talking about it. But then, being so full of feels I can’t talk about a book is a very familiar feeling to me. Especially when talking about books by this one British guy, you might now him? Sometimes goes by AJH? <3

      You keep adding to my TBR you incorrigible person <3 Speaking of, do you know, I have 92 unread books in my Alexis Recs collection on my Kindle alone?! Yes, I really do have that collection <3 It’s, um, pretty much everything you’ve ever mentioned that you liked, which I actually bought. The full list of those is 159 though, so at least I’ve read 67 of them 🙂 As for how many I have in total – I don’t even know at this point :/ At some point I replaced my Kindle & I’m not sure I ever re-downloaded all the ones I haven’t read yet from Amazon. I have 310 downloaded on my Kindle at this point. And that doesn’t count the, um, several hundred “real” books I have in my house, many of which I also have not read :/ And I’m pretty sure I buy them faster than I read them. None of this bodes very well, does it? 😀

  14. Araminta says:

    Did you know there’s going to be a TV series, based on the Patrick Melrose books, with Benedict Cumberbatch?

    • Hah! We were posting coterminously. And contemporaneously. Not to mention consecutively.

      Watching it is going to kill me, isn’t it?

    • I did hear that – and was quite excited, because he’ll be perfect.

      Although, more worryingly, I think the headline went something like “Bendlebonk Crumblemunch cast as playboy Patrick Melrose.”

      Because while I can think of a bunch words to describe Patrick ‘playboy’ really isn’t one of them.

  15. Just if anyone doesn’t know, Benedict Cumberbatch has been kind of obsessed with bringing Patrick Melrose to life for – well – pretty much as long as he’s been asked “What role would you like to play?” in interviews, which is 15 years I know of. So, now that he’s all megastarry, he seems to have acquired the rights and is bringing the books to life as a BBC series, iirc.


    Other Thing. So, everything – as in every. thing. – you said about Mary Doria Russell I have said, felt and believed about Alexis Hall.

    I think when I “discovered” you, I read For Real because it won the RITA and I was trying to learn to write Romance.

    I read it straight through three times that first day. I’ve probably read it six times, since. Not for the story or the characters or even the sex – but I want to fucking bathe in the perfect language and the exquisite simple power of prose that took me right through the page into that world. That flows so naturally and I will never achieve on the best fucking day I ever have.

    And I’m not one goddamned bit embarrassed by my “vulgar sincerity” (though sorry if it embarrasses you and you should ignore all of this because you haven’t a clue who you are and if you ever get that it’ll really fuck up the writing, so please assume I’m a moron who has no idea what she’s on about)as I am American and we are addicted to TMI and sentiment.

    And I’ll be really pissed if you say “thank you” and reduce my considered opinion to the level of “compliment.” I don’t do that.

    The point! I have one somewhere in all this interminable rambling – is that it’s a wonderful thing to have a bar we cannot reach. That if you begin to write like anyone else, I’ll be incredibly disappointed. Evolution happens. Let it be enough because this being true means –

    – maybe I don’t suck as much as I think.

    In the end, it’s all about me, you see. American. Sorry. Nice post, BTW.

    It’s a wonder, this writing.

    • I did hear about Cuddlesnack and Patrick Melrose – and I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest. If anyone can play that role, it’s him.

      Also you can’t say overwhelmingly nice things to a British man and then forbid him to say thank you … that’s inhumanly cruel. I mean, I’m bad at accepting compliments at the best of times but if I can’t say thank you I really will just have to defenestrate myself forthwith.

      Thank you 😉

      Although in all seriousness, it’s a little bit terrifying to think about someone trying to learn how to write romance from reading my stuff. Not least because *I* am still trying to learn how to write romance.

  16. Liam Elliot says:

    It’s funny, isn’t it, the way we view certain things from our own unique perspectives and through different lenses? You say that your TBR list is 68 and you hold out hope that one day you might finish it or bring the number lower.

    My perspective on this subject is quite different. A life with an emptying TBR list would be one with dwindling hope. My TBR list is an assurance that there’s More Left To Do. There are new things to experience. Feelings to feel. People to meet. Ideas to digest. When I add something to the list, it’s with a kind of secret glee. I’m tucking this potentially lovely collection of words away for a day when I need some lovely words.

    As such, obligations do not have a place on my list. Obligations are paying the bills, eating cruciferous vegetables, and doing laundry. One does these things because they must, and because it is good and healthy and keeps you in hot water and air conditioning and underwear. My TBR list? It’s a place for hope and potential. I do sometimes read obligatory books. Vegetable books. FOMO books. But I don’t need to put them on a list – they’re thorny things that lodge in the back of my mind, open loops that demand attention, tiresome things that friends insist that I Just Must Read. Sometimes, I give in and read them because I think I ought, or out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to friends, or because I can’t possibly denounce them with any authority if I haven’t gone through the motion of reading the words first – no matter how certain I am that my preconceived notions will be spot on. But when I’ve finished them – and inevitably been thoroughly disappointed by them – I can reach out to my TBR for those lovely words that I set aside for just such an occasion and take comfort in the fact that there are still so many more books left on my list.

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