I am championing Ashleigh Young’s collection of essays ‘Can You Tolerate This?’ as part of the Rathbones Folio Prize blog tour today. The eight books on this year’s shortlist include four novels, a novella, two non-fiction books and a collection of poetry whittled down from a list of 80 works published in the UK in 2018 chosen by members of the Folio Academy.
‘Can You Tolerate This?’ is Young’s non-fiction debut (she is also a poet) and tackles a diverse range of subjects, mostly leaning towards her own personal experiences of growing up in Te Kuiti in New Zealand as well as a smattering of historical portraits and other topics too. The 20 essays in this collection include her experience of working as the manager at Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace (‘Katherine Would Approve’), Japanese recluses known as hikikomori (‘Sea of Trees’), 19th century French postal worker Ferdinand Cheval (‘Postie’) and her resentment towards a childhood pet (‘Black Dog Book’). However, the main recurring theme in her work is the body, from the short opening essay about a patient with two skeletons (‘Bones’) to musings on her own body hair (‘Wolf Man’) poor eyesight (‘Absolutely Flying’) and yoga and her eating disorder treatment (‘Bikram’s Knee’). Continue reading
‘Feel Free’ is a new collection of over thirty essays, reviews and interviews by Zadie Smith divided into five sections. The first and last of these, ‘In the World’ and ‘Feel Free’, cover current events and some autobiographical “life writing”, while ‘In the Audience’, ‘In the Gallery’ and ‘On the Bookshelf’ concern her musings on film, art and writing respectively.
Covering a vast array of topics, the collection opens with an impassioned defence of libraries (“the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet”) while a new security fence constructed around her daughter’s primary school is the springboard for a nuanced and insightful piece on Brexit. As to be expected, some of the more in-depth reviews may only be of real interest for those who already know about the subject matter. I am familiar with some of the films and authors discussed here (‘The Social Network’, ‘Get Out’ and Karl Ove Knausgaard are all featured), but it has to be said that the more academic essays about art were less appealing to me and I skimmed most of these. As well as subject matter, the essays were originally written for very different audiences across different publications and while many pieces first appeared in the New York Review of Books and Harper’s magazine, some were delivered as lectures. Continue reading
‘How to Be Alone’ by Jonathan Franzen is an interesting collection of fourteen essays loosely based around the theme of solitude and privacy. I enjoyed his most recent novel ‘Freedom’ but I definitely struggled with ‘The Corrections’ which I thought would have been much improved with a bit of decent editing. However, I found Franzen’s non-fiction work to be much more readable in terms of content and also more manageable in terms of length with this collection clocking in at around 300 pages.