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What to read and when, with Francesca Beauman • #115

Book recommendations galore from author Francesca Beauman, who is also publisher and bookshop proprietor of Persephone Books. In her latest book, The Literaray Almanac, Francesca aims to guide readers in choosing books that chime with moments in the year – from hopeful books to read in March to school-curriculum classics not-nearly-as-boring-as-you-remember them in September.

We also explore the delights of the Persephone publishing list with old favourites and some exciting new titles.

So listen in and share in the joy of giving ourselves permission to say when we don’t like something, and turn instead to something we will love. 

Book recommendations

The Pineapple, King of Fruits and Matrimony, Inc., by Francesca Beauman

The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi

Ulysses by James Joyce

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

As It Was by Helen Thomas

A Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

Free by Lea Ypi

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


Many thanks to the Edward Thomas Fellowship for giving permission for us to read Adlestrop, and for anyone curious to learn more you can visit the Study Centre at Petersfield Museum who have some 2,500 books by and about Edward Thomas, his network, poets and authors inspired by him and first-edition copies ofAs It Was and other books by Helen Thomas.

What To Read Transcript

If you want to listen to this show as well as read along (or scroll to a particular bit), you can do so here.



Kate 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Book Club Review. I’m Kate.

Laura 0:11
I’m Laura.

Kate 0:13
And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get you talking.

Laura 0:17
We love a book about books here at The Book Club Review. And so we were delighted to have the chance to interview Francesca Beauman, author of The Literary Almanac: A Year of Seasonal Reading, in which she makes book recommendations that link to the seasons, ensuring that you can always choose the right book for the right time of the year.

Kate 0:35
In addition to being an author Francesca is also bookseller and publisher at Persephone Books, the much loved imprint founded by Francesca’s mother, Nicola, that has been bringing forgotten gems by female writers back into print since 1999. After many years in London, the Persephone bookshop recently relocated to Bath, a delightfully bookish city in the southwest of England.

Laura 0:55
And so who better to talk to for book recommendations from The Literary Almanac, her own library and favourites from the Persephone list. Keep listening for tips on what to read and when, plus what Francesca herself has been reading recently.

Kate 1:09
That’s all coming up here at The Book Club Review.

Laura 1:16
Kate, I’m very jealous that you got to go off on a little bookish trip to Bath. I have such a hard time saying Bath, let’s just linger on that for all North Americans because we really want to say Bath with a harder ‘a’ – that’s wrong. But it also feels silly to say “B-ah-th” because I feel like I’m faking it in the English accent. B-ah-th. How was your trip to Bath, Kate?

Kate 1:33
[Laughs] It was great. Also, I’ve noticed the longer you stay in Vancouver, the more your Canadian accent is reasserting itself. But yes, Bath. Booktown! I didn’t realise! I have been to Bath before, I went to University in Exeter, which is not so very far away from Bath. So it’s not like I’d never been there before. But I have to say I hadn’t been there for many a year. And I hadn’t realised what a book-lovers delight that town is. So there’s Topping & Company which is a wonderful, independent booksellers that recently have moved into this huge Georgian building. It feels like a real, kind of, testament of faith in independent bookselling that they’ve taken over this huge space and you walk in and it is just this vast, beautiful, book-lined double-height space. And then you go into little rooms off the side, and then you go down the stairs. And there’s even more, and it was the kind of place where everything you look at you either didn’t know it, or the way that they had sort of compiled little edits of books on a theme was just really exciting. And it just felt like exactly what you want when you walk into a bookshop. And then there’s Mr. B’s Emporium of Bookish Delights, which is, again, probably well-known to many, just a really interesting, exciting, independent bookshop, where I felt the sense of the expertise and the kind of passion of the staff and their knowledge about the books that they were selling really comes through when you walk into that place. And it has this nice thing where you go into a little room and there is this old cast iron roll top bath, literally with taps coming off the side and it’s full of books, they’ve piled it full of books. It was cute. I liked it. And then there’s Persephone, Persephone, who have recently relocated from their very well-established, much-loved shop in London down to bath.

Laura 3:14
And what is it like, the Persephone bookshop? Because I used to love the Lambs Conduit Street location, is it the same in Bath? Is it different?

Kate 3:22
Yeah, I think anyone who frequented or was familiar with that London shop would feel instantly at home in the new one. It has that same lovely open airy feel, flowers and vases, there these beautiful piles of books with these iconic dove-grey covers and vintage posters and fabrics on the walls. And yeah, you don’t want to leave.

Laura 3:41
Well, I’m very envious of this trip, this pilgrimage shall we say that you made to Bath and I’m dying to hear more about The Literary Almanac. So shall we get to it?

Kate 3:49
Yes. Although before we talked about it, I couldn’t resist asking Francesca about her first book, which was on pineapples. That’s kind of a niche subject, so I wondered how she’d come to it.

Francesca Beauman 3:59
When I was about twenty, I was panicking looking for something to write my undergraduate dissertation on. I did history at university. And most people were going to write about the causes of World War One or something sensible, but I was really clear I wanted to find my own thing. I have always loved that idea of being the world’s expert on something, even if it’s your shoe lace, or that bit of peeling wallpaper, having my own little piece of the world. I love that idea. That so we went on holiday to Dunmore Park, which is a Landmark Trust in Stirlingshire that you can rent and it’s in the shape of a pineapple. It’s really extraordinary, built in the 1770s. And when I looked into why this building was in the shape of a pineapple, it turned out they grew pineapples on the estate there, even though it’s Scotland and rainy and cold and in no way suited to what a pineapple needs, but actually it turns out pineapples were the status symbol of the 18th century. And then when I began to look into it, it just kind of really spiralled out of control. I found there was so much fascinating material that no one had ever researched really let alone written about. So I wrote about that university, and then kept coming back to it and then turned it into a book. And that was my first book when I was 26. And I’m still so fond of that book.

Kate 5:11
And I love the title. It’s called The Pineapple King of Fruits.

Francesca Beauman 5:14
Yes, that’s what it was often called in the 16th century, because of its crown and Spanish explorers and Portuguese explorers. They’d all talk about it as the king of fruits, which I would certainly agree with.

Kate 5:20
Another interest of yours has been the personal ads. And recently you published Matrimony, Inc. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Francesca Beauman 5:31
Matrimony, Inc. is a history of personal ads in America, I found that no-one knew how far back advertising for love went in America. I mean, I found them right back to 1720. Really, in every culture with the first magazines and newspapers, you get the first advertising for love. You get the first people saying I’m looking for husband, I’m looking for a wife. I found New York’s first ever personal ad in 1778. Then Boston’s and then they really spread all the way through America. It’s such a fun insight into what men look for in a woman and women look for in a man and how that changed or didn’t change. You know, it was a really fun three years of trawling through American newspapers looking for, you know, husband wanted or wife wanted, some of them so funny. Some of them really sad. I’m particularly proud of that book, because it came out in October 2020. I finished it in like April 2020. It came out in October 2020. So really through the sort of sweaty first lockdown, that book came out and so it will always have a very special place in my heart because of that.

Laura 6:31
I love Francesca Beauman’s taste, you know, in her academic research, I feel very aligned with that interest to dig into the niche subjects of history. But when are we going to get to The Literary Almanac?

Kate 6:43
Right now! I love the introduction, so I got her to read a little bit from it.

Francesca Beauman 6:47
‘As a child, I used to get into trouble with my parents if I forgot to bring a book with me any time we left the house, the dentist, a long car journey, in a restaurant, on holiday. They were doing what they could to shield me from the horrifying prospect of having three minutes to spare with nothing to read. Sometimes when our family had had a particularly busy or difficult day, my mum and dad would go as far as to compel us to read while we were eating: ‘Supper’s ready, bring your book’, they would shout up the stairs. To others it may have seemed strange or even unfriendly. I however, felt like the luckiest girl in the world. Decades later, I maintain a close to psychotic compulsion to carry a book around wherever I go. I even took The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford with me to the hospital when I went into labour with my first baby. You know, just in case I got bored in between contractions. It won’t surprise you to know that I didn’t even crack the spine. Sometimes though, I wake up in the night worrying about all the books I won’t have time to read before I die. Will I take my last breath wishing I’d spent that long weekend in February immersed in Zadie Smith rather than irritated by Jonathan Franzen, entertained by Elizabeth Gaskell rather than filled with ennui by Herman Melville. I mean, probably yes, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. The dilemma of what to read next can become overwhelming, can’t it? Paralysing even. Flummoxed and exhausted by book recommendations from friends or newspapers or social media, you give in and buy the latest new release that everyone says is a masterpiece. However, a couple of chapters in you find yourself flinging it across the room in frustration, thinking there’s something wrong with you. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not you. It’s the book. Maybe it’s – whisper it – not actually very good. Maybe it doesn’t suit your current mood, or your current age or just your current pyjamas. And you know what, that’s just fine.

Kate 8:35
So much I love about that opener. I love immediately this frankness about, you know, we don’t always like everything we read. Sometimes we read things that we find that really boring, or they’re just too difficult or too depressing. And I love that in this book, you’re very open about that. Acknowledging that you’re not saying every book is amazing.

Francesca Beauman 8:52
I get very frustrated these days with a sort of cultural hegemony. The idea that we all have to like the same books, and that if you don’t like Sally Rooney, there’s something wrong with you. And it’s okay not to like Sally Rooney. It’s okay to love Sally Rooney. It’s okay not to like Sally Rooney. And we can always somewhere along that continuum, but what with social media or newspapers or whatever it is, we’re all made to feel like there’s something wrong with us if we don’t like certain books, and I do feel really strongly often it’s not you it’s the book, or it’s the moment in your life, or you might like it next year or whatever, but we really need to feel okay to be like, ‘You know what, that book’s not for me’, doesn’t mean we have to be vicious about it, but it’s okay to say that’s not for me.

Laura 9:30
Okay, that must have resonated with you, not to like Sally Rooney.

Kate 9:34
Well, I think is the idea of it being okay not to like Sally Rooney, which sometimes it feels like you can’t admit. And I’m not saying I don’t like Sally, really [laughs] I think I’m very on the fence, book to book my feelings change. But yes, it’s a relief, isn’t it? To be allowed to say you don’t like something. Now you and I are readers Laura. We’re pretty familiar, I’d say, with a lot of books. But one of the things I loved about this book was the number of titles she flagged up that I’d never heard of, and I think as a reader, is it not the most exciting thing when that happens, when someone suggests something – I’ve never heard of that author! So in March, for example, she writes about a book called The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi. First published in 1957. Have you heard of that one?

Laura 10:14
[Laughs I have not heard of that one. Tell me more.

Francesca Beauman 10:16
That is such a marvellous book, which I actually read for the first time relatively recently, in 2019. Although in my defence, it was only relatively recently translated and re-available in English. And it’s a really extraordinary novel and set in the 1890s, about a woman in Japan called Tommo, whose husband sends her to Tokyo to find him a mistress. The idea is that in those days, the wife would have some input on who the mistress was – not input on whether it was okay to have a mistress, it was accepted that that was okay for men, but she’s sent to Tokyo to choose who that should be for her husband, and then to bring this young woman back to live in the household. And we adjust to that life. It’s such an unusual novel. It’s very slim, it’s sociologically fascinating about life in Japan in the 1890s. Very sad, very melancholy. And for me, it really was unlike anything I’d ever read, really. It’s recently been reissued by Vintage with this rather unusual cover.

And it’s very mind-expanding, I suppose, you know, this kind of global literature, and particularly by women, of which there isn’t a huge amount that’s widely available – but this global literature, I was really keen in The Literary Almanac to make the book as wide ranging as possible. So to recommend some classics, some really obscure books, and then everything in between. So there’ll be some books, you’ll be like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s my favourite’, or ‘that’s a bit of a cliche’. Some books that might seem really obscure, some books that are not obscure in the country in which they were written or the language in which they were written, but perhaps haven’t gained the English-speaking audience that they should have done. And then hopefully, everything in between as well.

Kate 11:51
And then in June, which is the month that Ulysses takes place in, she includes Ulysses by James Joyce – not the obvious choice for an enjoyable read. But I have to say she’s quite persuasive on it.

Francesca Beauman 12:02
That book is quite personal to me. I first read it travelling around Croatia on my own while I was trying to get over a heartbreak. So I travelled round Croatia on my own, and it was out of season. So every night I’d have dinner in these totally empty tavernas on the beach. Just me and my copy of Ulysses, you know, it’s really that time in your life when you have time to read something like Ulysses. There’s so much noise around Ulysses but what certainly I hadn’t realised at the time, and maybe that was my failing was how funny and weird it is. Funny and weird, and also really, the importance of – you don’t have to read every word, it’s okay to skip. In fact, it’s great to skip and that’s really fine, you know, to feel free to enjoy some bits and not other bits. So some chapters of Ulysses I adore, some are a bit boring. And you know what, that’s okay. Especially it’s such a long book. The first chapter is amazing. The last chapter is amazing, there’s wonderful bits in between, but I love its oddness. I love its hilarity. I love it’s crazy vocabulary. I love the way you can just dip in and out with these, like, crazy imaginative sentences and weird words and extraordinary characterisation. And there are just passages in that that really stuck with me.

Laura 13:10
She paints such an atmospheric picture of her sitting heartbroken and alone in these empty cafes on the Croatian coast. My heart goes out to her. Having felt you know, a similar heartbreak in my 20s. Goodness …

Kate 13:23
I think we’ve all been there.

Laura 13:25
We’ve all been there. I mean, power to her that she read Ulysses, I know that you and I with heartbreak probably would have just read Georgette Heyer novels.

Kate 13:31

Laura 13:31
I mean, I came to Georgette late, so I didn’t know about her back then. But that’s what I would have been feeding myself. Anyway, what about Persephone authors? Does she reference any of those in the Almanac?

Kate 13:42
She does. Of course she does! And I’ve got one of those books sitting beside me right now, actually, I was sufficiently intrigued that I’ve brought a copy back with me. It’s called The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher

Francesca Beauman 13:51
Fisher is an American writer. It came out in the early 1920s, at the same time as The Great Gatsby. And it’s a really, really interesting case study on why some books like The Great Gatsby really endure and become part of the literary canon, and some books like The Home-Maker don’t necessarily endure, they go out of print, but they are just as wonderful – some of us might argue more wonderful. The Home-Maker is about a family living in New England in the early 1920s. The father, Lester, works in a department store and hates his job. And the mother Evangeline is at home with the children and sort of dying inside because of the drudgery of childcare and cleaning and all of that. And then one day – and this isn’t giving any plot away, don’t worry – Lester has an accident, a bad accident, and they have to swap roles. So she goes out to work and he stays home with the children. And it’s really about the transformative effect of this role swap. So it’s incredibly ahead of its time.

I genuinely think it’s the greatest book ever written about the parent-child relationship, whether you’re a parent, whether you’re a child, whatever you’ve been, the power relation between an adult and child and the way it’s evoked in the homemaker will stay with you really forever. There’s scenes in it like when the child’s teddy bear gets washed or he’s taught to use an egg whisk or they put newspaper down on the kitchen floor so that they don’t have to bother to mop it. These are just little vignettes that are so moving and so insightful about that power dynamic between the adult and child and that really is one of my favourites.

Can I tell you about my other real Persephone favourite – although of course we don’t have favourites at Persephone, just like we don’t have favourite children, we don’t have favourite books – but one of the Persephone books that I always think flies slightly under the radar – it’s not one of our huge bestsellers, like Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day or the Fortnight in September. But one of my favourites at Persephone Books is called To Bed With Grand Music. And it was written by Marghanita Laski in 1946. And it is about a woman called Deborah who waves her husband off to war and stays at home in an English village for about a week being terribly brave, knitting and darning. And then after a few days, she thinks, ‘Gosh, I’m bored’, and she moves to London and has affairs or loads of RAF airmen.

And so really, it’s a book about sex in wartime, about how for so many women in a way that hasn’t been written about very much, it was an incredibly liberating period to do what they want and explore their sexuality. And because it was written in 1946, almost contemporaneously, it’s really, really vivid and really immediate. And like so many Persephone books just incredibly surprising. I love it. It’s really jolly and extraordinary and fun.

Laura 16:19
I love the sound of both of those books. But what about book club books? You must have asked her about book club books. Was there anything divisive? Much recommended?

Kate 16:27
Oh, yes, I think she’s got just the book,

Francesca Beauman 16:29
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple is about an affair destroying a family. And so it brings up very strong feelings about who’s in the wrong, who’s in the right, the morality of the situation, good and evil, and how black and white one can be about those issues. That’s always fun for discussion.

I mean, for a book club, controversially, I love something like The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, which is a really chunky sci fi novel, but it’s like properly. I mean, love-hate is a cliché, but it really is. But that’s why it’s so fun. Because for many people, it means reading very far outside their comfort zone, it certainly did for me. And when I finished it, I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I liked it?’ But is ‘like’ even the relevant term in this context? I appreciate it for what it is, it was so unlike anything I’d ever read before. And I felt very nourished by it. I was like, ‘I’m not sure I liked it.’ Partly because sci fi, I thought isn’t really my thing. But this is a Chinese sci fi novel, fascinating about China. And just bonkers in so many ways, at least, from my perspective, it was so different to what I’d read before. That’s always fun to discuss in a group, because people have such strong feelings about it. And fun as well, because it was such a huge bestseller in China, millions of people are reading that book. And that’s a fun perspective to

Kate 17:40
I have to say my husband was given all three books for Christmas by someone who does not know him that well, he’s not really a reader, and he’s certainly never going to read that.

Francesca Beauman 17:49

Kate 17:50
So then I acquired them. And I had heard about it. And I was curious. And so I opened up the first one. And I actually do rather like sci fi, but I have to say it completely defeated me. But then when I read what you wrote about it, I was like, ‘Oh, I gave up on that book way too soon. I should have given it more of a chance.’

Francesca Beauman 18:05
I mean, I’m not sure, look, I’m a big advocate on giving up on books, a couple of chapters in if you’re not feeling it, you know, you’ve only got one life. If you do finish that it means you’re not finishing The Count of Monte Cristo. You know, we’ve got to make choices in this life. So I’m a big advocate on giving up on books if you’re not into it, but personally, I was pleased. I persevered as I say, I’m not sure exactly liked it. But I enjoyed the experience of being opened up to this whole new world.

Kate 18:31
And how about your own reading? What have you been reading lately?

Francesca Beauman 18:33
Oh, I just finished the most magnificent memoir called Free by Lea Ypi about growing up in Albania under communism in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kate 18:44
Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize, wasn’t it?

Francesca Beauman 18:46
Yes, it’s a memoir, but just so clever and insightful about what it means to live under communism and what it means to live under a lie, and then one day realise it was all a lie. So that’s something I’ve read recently that I really just thought was extraordinary.

Kate 19:04
And for Persephone, what things did you got in the works? What have you got coming out?

Francesca Beauman 19:07
Oh, at Persephone we’ve got two marvellous novels coming up, which I’m so excited about. The first is called As It Was by Helen Thomas. And it is a memoir written in 1926. Well, the first volume was 1926. And the second was 1931. It’s a extraordinary memoir of marriage and motherhood. It’s very hard to describe without saying the words ‘she was the wife of Edward Thomas, the poet’. I don’t want to define her in relation to who she was married to. On the other hand, she was the wife of the World War One poet Edward Thomas, who wrote the poem Adlestrop and was then killed at Ypres I believe It’s the most direct memoir about Helen and Edward meeting. Her writing style reminds me in a way of Ernest Hemingway, because it’s so, yes, direct. The first time they sleep together, she writes something like ‘he stood. He undressed, I knelt’ – full stop end of chapter. And you’re like, like ‘what?’ You know, this was all written in 1926. And it’s so devastating when he gets killed in World War One, you just weep and weep at the end. So that’s really extraordinary.

And I’m super excited about that. And then the other book that Persephone is publishing next is called A Well Full of Leaves. And it’s by Elizabeth Myers. It was first published in 1946. And it’s a novel about all sorts but ostensibly about this family growing up with the world’s most horrible mother. So it’s really sad, and really unusual. The writing is really like nothing I’ve read before. It’s so over the top, like this sort of whirling dervish of exaggeration, and very over the top, I’m making it sound terrible. It’s writing like you’ve never read before, like I’d never read before. So unusual, so vivid, like many Persephone books, it’s genuinely unlike anything you’ve ever read before. And so that, to me is really exciting.

Laura 20:55
Both of those books sound great, although the second one might be a little bit too heartbreaking for me. I wish I’d been there. It sounds like you had such a good time.

Kate 21:03
Well you can get quite nice insight into it all with Francesca’s Diary of a Provincial Bookshop posts on Instagram, which are kind of modelled on E. M. Delafield’s famous book Diary of a Provincial Lady, which if you haven’t read that, listeners, I can’t recommend that highly enough. That’s a brilliant book. Anyway, they’re these really charming little vignettes, weekly into the Persephone world, just the everyday little things that happen, but I really love them. They’re great. I was hoping she might turn them into a book one day.

Francesca Beauman 21:28
Oh, thank you. That’s kind of you. I’ve not thought about turning it into a book. It’s really fun writing them as Instagram captions, because there’s no pressure. I love doing it. It’s the highlight of my week, but I just dash them off because it’s very stream of consciousness. They really are this morning, we had a cup of coffee. And then the postman came, and then you know, the internet broke. And then we discussed Dorothy Whipple, but people do seem to really respond to them and to getting an insight into what life working at Persephone Books is like. So who knows? We’ll see, I only started doing it in May 2021. So who knows? Who knows where it will go? We’ll see.

Kate 22:00
What is it that people love so much about bookshops. What makes a really great bookshop for you?

Francesca Beauman 22:06
It’s the chat and therefore the sense of community. People love coming in and having an excuse to talk to new people. I think it has a similarity with museums, whereby museums are the one place it’s socially acceptable to go by yourself and hang out for a long time. Do you know what I mean? And therefore they fulfil a very particular role. Bookshops are one of the few places where it’s socially acceptable to sort of turn up and talk quite intensely for quite a long time about something that means a lot to you, you know, to total strangers. And we find that a lot at Persephone books, people really want to talk about the books, but then why the books resonated in terms of family, or motherhood, or marriage, or whatever that is.

And I think also, there’s a community there for maybe people who don’t feel catered for elsewhere. So for example, at Persephone Books, there are people who a lot of contemporary fiction doesn’t resonate with them. And that’s okay, you know, lots of us love contemporary fiction, but lots of us don’t. And so at Persephone Books to be able to offer an alternative for the under-represented or voiceless, that is lovely, I think people really respond to as well. I hope as well, that Persephone Books and other bookshops in Bath stand for values, open-minded, progressive, liberal, welcoming values, which really come down to tolerance, and I hope that that’s what bookshops represent.

Laura 23:26
Well, amen to that.

Kate 23:27
Yeah. I really thought when I was with her that she’s someone who really thinks carefully about the position she’s in, the books that they publish, the cultural impact that they have, and why that matters.

Laura 23:39
Were there any books that we’ve actually discussed on the podcast that appear in the Almanac?

Kate 23:43
Yeah, not that many, which I think goes to that point about it being so lovely to be surprised by so many of the things that she’s recommending. She does talk about Normal People by our friend, Sally Rooney, in the September section, thinking about the idea of you know that real back-to-school feeling that you have in September and Normal People, of course, being set very much in this kind of academic environment. And so I could see that would chime really nicely. Disarmingly, as ever, she begins, ‘I hated this book, the first time I read it, I did not see the point in it at all, but perhaps a bit like falling in love it took perseverance and patience, and watching the TV adaptation, and then, finally, I was able to see it clearly for what it was.

Laura 24:24
It’s funny. I loved that book on first read, it reminded me of my university romance with my husband. Those were the days. But the TV series didn’t capture me. And that just speaks to everyone being different. And I love that Francesca picks up on that in this book. It feels very aligned with our podcast values. Kate.

Kate 24:40
Exactly! There you go. And another one that she mentions is Lincoln in the Bardo, which is in the section for October, I think it’s that kind of Halloween time of year. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, of course, set in a graveyard and reimagining Abraham Lincoln’s visits to the cemetery in which his young son is buried following his sudden death from typhoid fever at the age of 11. She writes, ‘The cemetery turns out to be inhabited by spirits who refuse to accept the fact that they are dead, and hence exist in the Bardo, a rather lovely Tibetan word meaning the state between life and death. The spirits constitute the main narrative voice throughout, which I know makes it sound as if this is going to be a weird, difficult book. But conversely, it is a genuinely accessible and entertaining one. I found it really beautiful.’ – I loved that book.

Laura 25:25
Us too, Francesca, us too – what a great book that was. So what do we think? Is this the perfect book then for book clubs and readers everywhere?

Kate 25:34
I think it’s one of those books – this sounds a bit weird, but it doesn’t look like much, it looks like a nice little gift book. Not that I’m not interested in nice little gift books. But when I got it, I think what I really, really loved is that there’s such substance to it. It’s this friendly, accessible, charming voice, but someone who’s spent a lifetime reading, thinking about books, recommending books, trying out books, and finding out for herself, whether she likes them or not, and really thinking a lot about the experience of the reading life. And the breadth of recommendations is really delightful. So I think, for anyone who wants to be inspired about what to read next, it is true, that idea of books that chime with the seasons and the moments of life that we’re in, I think there’s something definitely to be said for that. I think you can have a much richer reading experience if you key into that a little bit. And yeah, it’s just a lot of fun. I love it.

Laura 26:30
That’s all for this episode.

Kate 26:31
In addition to The Literary Almanac, we also talked about The Pineapple: King of Fruits, and Matrimony, Inc., by Francesca Beauman. Other books mentioned were The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Someone At a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, As it Was by Helen Thomas, A Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers, The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield, Normal People by Sally Rooney and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. You can find Francesca at her website, francescabeauman.com. That’s b-e-a-u-m-a-n, or head on over to persephonebooks.co.uk for a browse. This episode was produced and edited by me, Kate Slotover.

Laura 27:20
Mother’s Day is coming up here in the UK, which got us thinking about the theme of motherhood. In our next show, we’re joined by author Claire Lynch, whose book on fertility loss and queer motherhood, Small, has entranced readers such as Bernadine Evaristo, Lucy Caldwell, Katherine May and Emilie Pine.

We’re also joined by our friend Elizabeth Morris of Crib Notes. We are so looking forward to it. We cannot wait to share all the mother related books that have been flying around our WhatsApp chat.

Kate 27:47
In the meantime, if you’re keen for more don’t forget our archive on our website, thebookclubreview.co.uk, where you can browse over one hundred other episodes. If you’ve been feeling like you want something more substantial than a quick fix read why not try our show on long reads, in which we explore the pleasures of books that may take weeks or even months to get through. That’s episode 113.

Laura 28:08
If you’d like to see what we’re up to between episodes, follow us on Instagram or Facebook @bookclubreviewpodcast, on Twitter @bookclubrvw pod or you can email us at thebookclubreview@gmail.com.

Kate 28:22
Do subscribe to us to be sure you never miss an episode. And if you like what we do, please rate and review the show, it helps other listeners find us. If you want to go one better please spread the word about us on your social media channels. Reaching new listeners makes us so happy. We treasure each and every one, and your support helps us do that. But for now, thanks for listening and happy reading.

Listeners. If like me, you are not familiar with the Edward Thomas poem, Francesca mentioned, Adlestrop, we can remedy that together right now. Apparently steam trains were rather noisy things, as you might imagine. And so when one goes quiet in the station for an instant, the silence is unexpectedly rich.

Yes. I remember Adlestrop— The name, because one afternoon / Of heat the express-train drew up there / Unwontedly / It was late June. The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat / No one left and no one came / On the bare platform What I saw / Was Adlestrop—only the name / And willows, willow-herb, and grass / And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry / No whit less still and lonely fair / Than the high cloudlets in the sky./ And for that minute a blackbird sang / Close by, and round him, mistier, / Farther and farther, all the birds / Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire



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