Reasons to be cheerful, of a reading kind

Janus La Cour, Olive Trees Near Tivoli

To the Fitz, to see their exhibition (on for another twelve days) “True to Nature”. Which we very much enjoyed (rather to our surprise, much more so than the trumpeted Hockney exhibition which is still continuing). Mostly minor works, to be sure, but the cumulative affect a delight, with some gems you would be more than happy to live with. Like these gnarled olive trees.

A list of forthcoming autumn books in one of the weekend papers. At the end of this month, we get Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait. “Winter, 1561. Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara, is taken on an unexpected visit to a country villa by her husband, Alfonso. As they sit down to dinner it occurs to Lucrezia that Alfonso has a sinister purpose in bringing her here. He intends to kill her.” OK, you’ve got me! I thought Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet was wonderful: so can’t wait for this. Then Elisabeth Strout has another novel, fast on the heels of the marvellous Oh William!: in October we get a sequel,  Lucy By The Sea. Then, not least, there is a new Kate Atkinson coming, Shrines of Gaiety. Enough said! Some happy autumn evenings ahead. Three reasons to be cheerful.

I was struck that the ones that stood out for me in that list of autumn books were all by women. And looking back at the list I keep, I see that most of the two dozen novels I’ve read this year so far have been by women. At least of the recently published ones, only one was by a man — Julian Barnes’s Elisabeth Finch. I must be missing out on something: but what?

A book taken down from the shelves one recent evening, The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry (a serendipitous as-new Oxfam purchase a while back). A real pleasure to dip into — some very engaging poetry, some familiar, some not at all. Perhaps not very challenging. Indeed, to be honest, perhaps a rather conservative selection. But then it was edited by a conservative, indeed a Conservative politician, the one-time Education Secretary Kenneth Baker. The thought strikes: which of the last six or seven Conservative Education Secretaries might have even had any literary interests, let alone sensibly edited some such book? Anyone?

Another forthcoming book: A. E. Stallings This Afterlife: Selected Poems. Something else to really look forward to. Pleasures of the reading kind will be plentiful, then. Outside books, the world isn’t doing so well, is it?

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