What We’re Reading: Durham Book Festival 2022 Edition
Durham Book Festival is just around the corner which means it’s time for the staff at NWN to share their most anticipated reads from the festival! Find out what books we’re currently loving as well as the ones we can’t wait to read, and make sure to visit the DBF website to see the full programme!
I read a proof copy of Kit de Waal’s extraordinary memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood, earlier in the year and was immediately gripped by the story of her experience growing up in a working class Birmingham household, who believed the world would end in 1975! Kit’s father was from the Caribbean and her mother was of Irish heritage and together with her four siblings Kit navigated these different identities, as well as her mother’s fervent conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
This memoir explores issues of class, identity and belonging and I can’t wait to hear her talking about it at Durham Book Festival. Kit will be joined on stage for the first time by her screen-writer brother Dean O’ Loughlin (who was also one of the earliest Big Brother contestants!) and they’ll be interviewed by their fellow-Birmingham born writer, the author of Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide, Lynsey Hanley.
I just finished reading The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett, a mystery/crime novel revolving around a secret code found in a series of books written by an Enid Blyton-esque children’s author – as a childhood lover of Enid Blyton books, and a sucker for a puzzle adventure story (heightened by a recent rewatch of National Treasure), this premise pulled me right in.
It was a fast-paced and addictive read, partly because it’s written in the form of audio transcripts. This made for a really interesting unreliable narrator dynamic, as the protagonist told his story in fragments alongside tangential trains of thought looking to his past. It came together really cleverly at the end, and has left me a little bit mind-blown… It also provided some interesting commentary on education, poverty and criminal gangs which was quite new to me.
I hope to see Janice Hallett at her Murder and Mystery event with Lucy Foley – hopefully I’ll find time to read Lucy’s The Paris Apartment before then as well!
I’m lucky enough to be chairing an event with three brilliant women writers at this year’s festival: New Nature Writing with Helen Mort, Nina Mingya Powles and Amanda Thomson. And so naturally, I’ll be devouring each of their latest books, greedy for inspiration as I work on my own place-based essay collection. I’ve just finished Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles, who proves my suspicion that poets make wonderful essayists. Her precise selection of images and memories, and her quiet artistry with language, mean each piece feels like slipping into a small, reflective pool. It’s got me poised now to dive deeper into Belonging by Amanda Thomson, and A Line Above the Sky by Helen Mort.
I’ve recently read Degna Stone’s long-awaited debut collection, Proof of Life on Earth which is due to be published on 3 November 2022, and I’m looking forward to hearing them read at the Poetry Book Society Showcase at Durham Book Festival!
In ‘Mrs Stone Visits her Husband’, the ritualistic wringing of hands with sanitiser (‘She rubs them; fingers interlock,/ dance around thumbs, cradle wrists―’) before entering a hospital ward is one of many moments of dedicated consideration to life (and love) that permeates throughout Proof of Life on Earth. A familiar ritual in PPE – I visited my dad in hospital during the height of lockdown. Stone quietly lays out these moments for us to pour over: from the gorgeous wonder of ‘Northumberland’, ‘You’re never more than half an hour/from places where there’s space to think’, to the unspoken desperate sadness of ‘Vörður’. From deep grief to the ravages racism wreaks on the body in Strange Defeat, ‘Eczema makes my palms rage./ Stress dreams leave scars.’, the collection encompasses the quiet murmur of the beautiful Northumberland coastline to the silent inward scream of someone moving through a racist world. Amongst all this, Stone reminds us that to live is to be on the precipice of death: that we are ‘proof of life on earth’.
I’m not alone in being excited to read Marina Hyde’s What Just Happened!?: Dispatches from Turbulent Times; it’s one of our biggest selling events at this year’s Durham Book Festival. I already feel like I will be walking into a room of friends. How many times in the last few years of political and social upheaval have I been grateful for Marina Hyde? Whatever is happening around us, you can guarantee that the constant news cycle and Twitter rage just leave you feeling a whole lot worse about it all. Then there’s Marina Hyde. She just cuts through all that, brilliantly distilling her anger to skewer the baddies and illuminate the ridiculousness of those in power. I always save her Guardian columns to enjoy with a cup of coffee, because it feels like putting the world to rights with your cleverest, wisest, funniest friend.
I really love Don Paterson’s poem ‘Why do you stay up so late?’ which suggests the poet is a collector of moments and memories from the day, turning them over in his mind for value or meaning. I’m looking forward to reading Paterson’s new collection The Arctic and seeing him alongside Degna Stone and Zaffar Kunial at Durham Book Festival next month.
‘The Arctic’ in this collection is the name of a bar frequented by the survivors of several kinds of apocalypse with the poems being ‘as various as the clientele’.
I’m currently reading Laura Bates’ newest book Fix the System, Not the Women and I’m looking forward to hearing her talk about it at Durham Book Festival this year! This book comes ten years after Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project and connects the dots between ‘isolated incidents’ of violence against women and the institutional misogyny that is ingrained in our society.
As expected, there are sections of this book that can be hard to read but that doesn’t make them any less important. It almost feels like you’re having a conversation with the author herself as the book is, at times, very personal with Laura sharing her own experiences with sexism, harassment and assault. Many of the stories and experiences will feel familiar to a lot of readers and Bates does a fantastic job of exposing the injustices that women face and often just accept as ‘how life is’.