I read twenty-two books last month. That’s got to be a record.
—Astrophil and Stella, by Sir Philip Sidney. The first love sonnet sequence in Elizabethan literature. Astrophil gets progressively more discouraged, depressed, dark and demented.
—The Old Arcadia, by Sir Philip Sidney. Pastoral romance. Sidney had no interest in the paragraph whatsoever. Or indeed in the full stop.
—The New Arcadia, by Sir Philip Sidney. Because the Old one wasn’t good enough, I guess. Nine hundred pages long and considerably more full of epic gore.
—The Defense of Poesie, by Sir Philip Sidney. I think we should have kept calling poetry “poesie.”
—Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon. Winner of the National Book Award this year. About claims racing (horses, not cars.) Dusty and criminal and sexy and very good.
—The Shepherd’s Calendar, by Edmund Spenser. Shepherds have hard lives. They’re always either falling in love or losing all of their sheep. Sometimes they even engage in religious debates with an allegorical embodiment of Catholicism, which is pretty rough.
—Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, by Isabel Rivers. Does what it says on the tin.
—The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. My boss and I had a forceful disagreement about it and I realized I should probably read something before I criticize it. It could be an important book, but its importance depends on what its readership does with it, and it’s not forceful enough to make anyone do anything.
—Elizabeth I, by Kathryn Lasky, and Mary Queen of Scots, by Kathryn Lasky. Scholastic used to publish this great kids’ series that was meant to be the diaries of all these famous princesses. I learned most of my history before high school from them. I read them when I get stressed out. Topical, eh?
—Amoretti and Epithalamion, by Edmund Spenser. Basically like Astrophil and Stella, only our hero gets the girl in the end. (Although, Amoretti and Epithalamion aren’t their names; Amoretti are the sonnets (“little loves”) and the Epithalamion is the wedding song at the end.)
—Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Winner of the Booker Prize two years ago. I read it then, but I wanted to read it again—it’s about Henry VIII’s Great Matter (the divorce, obvs.) Hilary Mantel is undoubtedly one of the best authors I’ve ever read.
—The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Not (as per my tutor’s instructions) just the dirty ones. The prose tales are unbelievably long.
—A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engle. The sequel to A Wrinkle In Time. I think L’Engle’s unjustly neglected these days. Why? She’s a genius.
—Metamorphoses, by Ovid. Sex and violence, basically. I mean, it’s brilliant, but that’s it in a nutshell. Gods, too. Sex, violence and divinity.
–The first three books in the Song of the Lioness quartet, by Tamora Pierce. More books I read when I’m stressed out. Feminist fantasy from the mid-‘80s about a girl who becomes a knight. Responsible for most of my childhood make-believe games.
—The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser. Everything you’ve ever heard, and more. By “more” I mean “awesome”, which you probably haven’t heard. But it turns out it’s a rip-roaring yarn. It just happens to also be a thousand-page religious and political allegory, at least one-fifth of which is about the Dutch Wars. In detail.
—Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, by David Norbrook. You get three guesses.
—Virgil’s Eclogues, translated by David Ferry. By “translated” they really mean “eccentrically and inaccurately interpreted.” I find it difficult to believe that Virgil actually wrote a line that translates as “Put up or shut up.” Try again.
—The Complete Poems and Translations of Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe was a naughty, naughty boy. That is all I have to say. Except that he was also hilarious.
—The Fry Chronicles, an Autobiography, by Stephen Fry: see below!