'To what purpose, April, do you return again?'
An April review of the reading, writing, and listening I've enjoyed this month
‘To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.’
Last month, I published my first monthly review of great reading, listening, and watching I’d discovered in March. The post seemed popular, so I thought I would make it a monthly addition to my newsletter! If you enjoy this post, please consider a free or paid subscription to receive weekly literary discussions straight into your inbox.
Now, on to spring reading…
Despite Edna’s words, I have definitely been enjoying the April signs of beauty and nature waking itself up around my part of the world! This has been a big month for me personally, as I recently left a work role I held for the past five years but had outgrown. Leaving behind some wonderful colleagues was hard, but my new position is a fresh challenge, and importantly, it also allows me much more time to devote to my writing.
It seemed apt that this new chapter should begin in spring.
The word spring itself has such a positive sound about it, doesn’t it? It elicits in me the idea of ‘springing’ into action; like the new-born spring lambs we spotted last weekend in a local farmer’s field.
With this in mind, I’ve been looking out for some light and inspiring reading to greet the new season.
April reading…This month, I’ve been immersed in a new non-fiction book by the TV nature presenter Kate Humble, Thinking on my Feet: The Small Joy of Putting One Foot in Front of Another.
I’m not big into nature documentaries but do often enjoy a nature memoir. This one appealed to me because it is about walking, something I love to do.
Humble takes us on a journey of her walking year, both around her countryside home in Wales, and on her trips abroad. She evokes her surroundings – whether walking in the Welsh mountains or a Caribbean Island – with a gentle appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. She even introduced me to a new word for the nightly walk me and my husband like to take every evening: ‘the post-prandial walk’ - meaning a walk taken after a meal. I never knew there was an official name for something we’ve been doing quite naturally for the past few years!
Apart from the nature writing she indulges us in though, she also interviews others who have found inspiration through walking, including an ex-soldier who, struggling with PTSD after a tour of Afghanistan, set off on a coastal walk that has literally been his lifeline. As I researched ideas around trauma and PTSD for my MA dissertation last year, I found his story inspirational.
As she points out, walking is the perfect antidote to stress and lethargy, and allows for our minds to wander.
The book was a perfect one to pick up this month, as the weather starts to flirt with spring (it’s still pretty cold here) and the flowers and trees are starting to show some colour. It made me inspired anew to pull on my trainers and get out into nature.
Other reading…a topic that continues to fascinate me and inform my research is women who choose their art over/in combination with motherhood. As this piece about Chinese-British author Xiaolu Guo illustrates, the creative life is never simple.
Following on in this vein, something that was a good news/bad news story this month was a report by NPR on the way women are now dominating the book industry, yet lagging behind in other areas of creative industries.
As a further discussion on women and art, I was intrigued to read this piece on another of my research interests: the use of the male gaze in art and literature. In the article, journalist Anna Smith discusses a new documentary looking at some of the most iconic film classics and examining how they have encouraged a culture of harassment of women.
The articles around censorship and book banning are still circulating since my piece on the Roald Dahl/sensitivity reader issue. This interview from Judy Blume sheds light on the worrying increase in banned books in the US. As this article suggests, a similar problem is rife in UK libraries.
The piece that most made me smile this month…speaking of libraries, I was touched to read a piece by the son of the late children’s author and illustrator Shirley Hughes, sharing his journey to Ukraine to donate some of his mother’s books. I loved sharing Hughes’ children’s books with my own two children, and still have a few that I can’t bear to part with.
The piece follows his visits to various libraries in the country who have remained open throughout the fighting as a refuge and safe space for children. As well as a space away from the devastation around them, they also offer other services such as a scheme with the criminal justice system for incarcerated juveniles and a project where children can get involved in preparing tiny poetry editions to send to Ukrainian soldiers.
The piece strengthened my belief that libraries around the world offer a unique place of safety and quiet contemplation as essential parts of the community.
“Libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world”.
I loved this Substack post by Jessica Rose Williams, who is a writer and vlogger I have followed for a couple of years. I like the way she tries to live a slower, more intentional life – imperfectly. (Plus, she’s from the same part of the world as I am, so I feel a connection to the places the visits on her YouTube channel!)
And finally…what I’m listening to this month…I don’t often talk about music on my newsletter. Despite a childhood growing up in a house full of music – my father was/is a musician, but of the rock/pop variety, rather than classical – I know nothing about music and have no musical abilities at all!
But at home, we always have the radio playing to one station or another, and of course, there’s Spotify. Since my youngest child has been obsessed by the Netflix phenomena Stranger Things, and discovered Kate Bush’s revival of Running up that Hill, I was reminded of how brilliant her music was and have been listening to some of her tracks on Spotify. This one in particular has been inspiring me this week.
It reminded me of what an inspiration she must have been in the 1980s to female singer/songwriters, and her songs have aged really well. Also, seeing as she wrote her famous Wuthering Heights about the classic Emily Bronte novel – what’s not to love?!
That’s it for this month’s review. I’d love it if you’d let me know if you have any other reading/listening recommendations - please share in the comments!
Back on Sunday with my regular post.