I can’t quite believe September has rolled around already. Although I’m sad to say goodbye to the long, lazy days of summer, I do love the hint of autumn that’s now hanging in the air: the perfect excuse to put my feet up with a good read!
My August pick for ‘The Year in Books’, Station to Station by James Attlee, was certainly that. A mix of travel, history and philosophy, it follows the author as he journeys on the Great Western train line between London and Bristol, searching for stories along the way. Some sections are devoted to various figures who lived along the route (the actress Dianna Dors, Oscar Wilde, the famous Astor family), others to architecture and the impact of the railway on 19th-century society. There are also plenty of Alain de Botton-esque musings on the nature of travel – the hypnotic effect of landscapes rushing past windows, the ability of shared journeys to break down social barriers. And there are sensitive references to contemporary events, including the suffering of refugees arriving in Europe (and the general population’s apparent willingness to turn a blind eye to it).
My only criticism of Station to Station is that the latter part of the book felt a little rushed – half way through and we’d only reached Reading, which meant that later chapters seemed to race through Wiltshire and Bath in an effort to catch up. I very much enjoyed the last section on Bristol, though, which focuses on Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The great engineer shaped so much of the city I know today, designing the railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and more, but I knew very little about his life before reading this book. Attlee portrays him as a conflicted character who veered between massive success and abject failure, and it left me wanting to learn more. And thanks to Attlee’s writing, I’ll certainly take the chance to gaze out of the window the next time I travel to London, rather than focusing on my phone screen as so much history whizzes by unnoticed.
For my next read, I’ve chosen Tessa Hadley’s novel Clever Girl, which follows a woman’s life from her childhood in 1960s Bristol to the present day. I’ve read very mixed reviews – people seem to love Hadley’s elegant writing or bemoan the lack of plot – so I’m keen to get started. I’ll report back at the start of October…
‘The Year in Books’ is a monthly blog series run by Laura of Circle of Pine Trees, with the aim of encouraging people to make more time to read; I’m taking part by reviewing books set in or connected to Bristol over the course of 2015. There’s also a regular Twitter chat where everyone can share recommendations. Head over to the information page to find out more – and happy reading!