Autumn by Ali Smith

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Ali Smith
20 October 2016
Hamish Hamilton

Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That's what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016?

Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever.

Ali Smith's new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d'esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s Pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

This is the best book I've read this year.

That is not an understatement.

Post Brexit, post Trump - post truth - this is the perfect read. Touching, heart-warming - breath taking - it's one of those books that flies by and you want to read again and again.

Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Ali Smith fan. Sadly. Her books are unique - a breath of fresh air, when done well. I find her a little hit and miss - sometimes her prose is brilliant and I just want to read on and on - and other times I find her books a battle to even finish.

This is one of her books that I love. Her style is brilliant, witty, and touching. And sad. Sad, but beautiful. It touches on themes of death, ageing, the passing of time. It's about the friendship between a young girl and an old man, but also society. Ali Smith weaves different stories and realities and turns something deceptively simple into something beautiful.

This is one of those books that is more than just a book. It's one of those books that reminds you writing is art. I came to read this book from her previous - How To Be Both - and found the difference astonishing. Compared to HTBB, which I struggled to even finish, Autumn is on a different level entirely.

The Brexit vote crops up as a theme - it's the first time I've read about it in a book. Which makes it all the more sadder - depending on what you voted for. It discusses how the vote has affected British life, what cultural divides it has suddenly brought to the surface. It contrasts ordinary life with the huge political shifts happening behind the scenes - which is something you can appreciate whichever way you voted.

That's another post entirely.

Anyway, you should read this book. It's not just a story, it's a look at time and at modern British life, the mood of a post-Brexit country and the divisions that have suddenly ripped through society - and it does it in such a subtle way that you hardly realise it. 
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Do You Ever Feel Pressured To Read a Certain Number of Books?

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Do you ever feel pressured into reading a certain number of books? I mean, eight books a month? Twelve?

I do.

I feel really guilty when I don't read. I feel even guiltier if I do read, but hardly get anything read. I mean, I have a big TBR. It ain't going nowhere. It just sits there judging me. One day it will collapse. SEND HELP.

I've always been known as a bookworm. I've always seen myself as a bookworm - I sometimes wonder if that's where this comes from. When I was younger, I managed to get through hundreds of books a year, so it always feels strange when I don't. My reading habits are deeply engrained in my life - but it feels more than wrong when I don't read. It almost feels as though I'm a fake bookworm because I'm not reading enough - which in turn makes reading itself a whole load more stressful.

This is one of the reasons I don't do Goodreads challenges - or readathons at all (with the exception of #Victober). I often see people saying that they're reading books they wouldn't normally read, such as comics or novellas or whatever, just to catch up if they're behind schedule. I don't understand. I mean, I don't have a problem with comics or novellas - but why read stuff you don't necessarily want to just to hit a target? I think it's easy to get caught up in the numbers when you're reading and you actually forget about why you're doing it (i.e. to get as far away from reality as humanly possible).

I find I put enough pressure on myself to read without having a specific number to hit. I think putting that pressure on myself ends up taking the fun out of reading. Believe it or not, BOOKS ARE MEANT TO BE FUN. (Well, most of them. I'm not sure about Mein Kampf.)

I think it's important to remind yourself that books are meant to be fun - not just numbers on a graph. If I take a while over a book, or I only read one a month, it doesn't really matter that much, does it? Some books take longer to finish than others. Sometimes I want to read different genres. Sometimes I don't want to read at all. What matters is that I enjoy it - and I think sometimes it's easy to forget that.

Besides, on the bright side, a couple of books a month is more than most people read in a year. Which is sort of nice to hear, but also really sad. Ah. Sometimes I pity humanity.

What do you think?

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#Victober Update: Wuthering Heights

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Wuthering Heights
Emily Bronte
Published 1847
#Victober Readathon

Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr Earnshaw's death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine's brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

I've seen people going crazy over this book. In the past I've just rolled my eyes and ignored them: now I understand why. In fact, now I feel a bit stupid for not having read it sooner.

If you're going to write a romance novel - this is how you do it.

Mr Lockwood, a tenant at Thrushcross Grange, visits his Tennant at Wuthering Heights. There in the vast, bleak Yorkshire moors he meets the mysterious Heathcliff. As the book continues, we find out the tragic backstory behind Heathcliff's life and the dark secrets of his past.


I'm pretty sure I'd count this as one of the best books I've read this year. If I was pushed, I'd say it was the best.

On the writing - it's beautiful. It's hauntingly beautiful, and I don't think it's ever going to leave me. Every word seems to be perfect. Not only that, it's accompanied by a brilliant plot - complex, yes, but so much better because of it. It's one of those books that you can go back to again and again - and still find something that you hadn't discovered before. There's something so special about this book - maybe it's the gothic-ness, maybe it's the feeling of tragedy - that I can't quite put my finger on.

Something I was really surprised by all the negative reviews this gets. One of the main criticisms: the characters are unlikeable.

Yes, some of the characters are unlikeable. Some of them are snobby, rude, and some of them are downright pricks. But why does that make it a bad book? Ok, I see the attraction of reading about people you can relate to - root for, but I don't see why a book has to have likeable characters just to be enjoyed? In fact, I think Bronte's characters are one of her greatest triumphs here. They came alive on the page. I'm pretty sure Heathcliff is one of the best characters I've ever seen written - I don't say that lightly. The prose is poetic, beautiful - and the characters thrive in it. I think the fact that they're unlikeable is one of the thing that contributes to the brilliant reading experience.

Read it, goddammit.
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