New Books Summer 2023

Even though many of our readers have now left Oxford for the vacation, the new books haven’t stopped pouring into the library. We’ve been working hard to get them all out on the library’s shelves, ready for everyone to come back for the start of Michaelmas Term!

Because we’ve had so many new books arrive at the library (nearly 150!), this month’s new book post is a little different. We’ve selected a few books which show the huge range of genres, subjects and ideas represented among the new books, from poetry and fiction to literary studies and criticism. Click here to see the new books for this month, or keep reading to see the titles featured in this month’s new book post. Alternatively, you can visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals.

If you can’t wait until September to start reading, the library is open 9am-5pm on weekdays until Friday 11 August. The library is closed from Monday 14 to Monday 28 August, re-opening at 9am on Tuesday 29 August. Find all the details about our vacation opening hours and contact details on our website.

We hope everyone is enjoying a restful vacation, and look forward to seeing you all back in the library soon!

The Books

You may have heard that we’re making some changes to our library system this summer, and that includes some behind-the-scenes changes to SOLO. One of the consequences of this is that the permalinks to find items on SOLO will be changing.

Because of that, we’ve not provided direct links to the catalogue in this month’s new book post. Instead, keep reading to see a list of titles and whether they’re available as an e-book, which you can use to conduct your own SOLO searches. If you’re having trouble finding anything, just get in touch with the library – we’re happy to help!


Bulley, Victoria Adukwei, Quiet (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Davidson, Peter, Arctic Elegies (2023).

Dudley, Nikki, I’d Better Let You Go (2021).

Fowler, SJ, The selected scribbling and scrawling of SJ Fowler: asemic poems (2020).

Howe, Sarah, Loop of Jade (2015).

Le Guin, Ursula K., Collected Poems (2023).

Marson, Una, Una Marson: Selected Poems (2011).

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna, Collected Poems (2022)

Oswald, Alice, Nobody (2019)

Prynne, J. H., Kernels in Vernal Silence (2020)


Literature: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century

Behn, Aphra, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1987). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative (2018). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Finberg, Melinda C. (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists (2009).

Gay, John, Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (2016). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Middleton, Thomas, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (2007). Also available as an e-book.


Literature: Nineteenth Century

Beckson, Karl, Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose (2005).

Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Collins, Wilkie, The Moonstone (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Cox, Michael, and R. A. Gilbert (eds.), The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (2003).

Lady Dilke, The Outcast Spirit: and Other Stories (2016).

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories (2014). Also available as an e-book.

Gaskell, Elizabeth, Mary Barton (2012). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales (2007).

Nesbit, E., Horror Stories (2016).

Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe (1997). Also available as an e-book.

Seacole, Mary, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (2005).


Literature: Twentieth Century

Buchan, John, The Thirty-Nine Steps (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Giono, Jean, The Man Who Planted Trees (2022).

Hurston, Zora Neale, Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir (2010).

Isherwood, Christopher, Goodbye to Berlin (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, At the Bottom of the River (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, The Autobiography of my Mother (2022).

Lehmann, Rosamund, Weather in the Streets (2018).

Marechera, Dambudzo, The House of Hunger (2022).

Morrison, Toni, Jazz (2001).

Murdoch, Iris, The Black Prince (2013).

Naipaul, V. S., The Mimic Men (2011).

Orwell, George, Decline of the English Murder (2009).

Orwell, George, Inside the Whale (2022).

Pym, Barbara, Excellent Women (2022).

Rhys, Jean, Wide Sargasso Sea (2000).

Sackville-West, Vita, Seducers in Ecuador & The Heir (2018).

Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners (2021).

Sillitoe, Alan, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (2008).

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., In the First Circle (2009).

Wilson, Angus, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (2011).

Wyndham, John, The Midwich Cuckoos (2008).


Literature: Twenty-first Century

Baume, Sara, Seven Steeples (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Daoud, Kamel, The Meursault Investigation (2015).

Masud, Noreen, A Flat Place (2023).

Morgan, Clare, Scar Tissue (2022).

Shamsie, Kamila, Home Fire (2018).

Spiegelman, Art, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004).


Literature: Travel- and Nature-Writing

Aldersey-Williams, Hugh, Tide (2017).

Bullough, Tom, Sarn Helen: A Journey Through Wales, Past, Present and Future (2023).

Clark, Timothy, Ecocriticism on the Edge: The anthropocene as a threshold concept (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Hoare, Philip, The Sea Inside (2014).

Mabey, Richard, Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature (2019).

Macfarlane, Robert, The Lost Words (2017).

Mackintosh-Smith, Tim (ed.), The Travels of Ibn Battutah (2016).

Torma, Franziska (ed.), A Cultural History of the Sea in the Global Age (2023).


Literary Studies: Old English and Medieval Studies

Jeffs, Amy, Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain (2021).

Jeffs, Amy, Wild: Tales from early medieval Britain (2022).

Karkov, Catherine E., and Nicholas Howe (eds.), Conversion and Colonization in Anglo-Saxon England (2006).

Newman, Barbara, The Permeable Self: Five Medieval Relationships (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Niles, John D., God’s Exiles and English Verse: On the Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry (2018). Also available as an e-book.

Owens, Susan, Imagining England’s Past: Inspiration, Enchantment, Obsession (2023).

Robertson, Elizabeth, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience (1990).


Literary Studies: Politics, Philosophy and Culture

Davies, Stephen, Art and Its Messages: Meaning, Morality, and Society (1997).

Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2021).

Matthews, Steven, and Matthew Feldman (eds.), Samuel Beckett’s “Philosophy Notes” (2020).

Odell, Jenny, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Quashie, Kevin, Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Spires, Derrick R., The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Early Print Culture in the Early United States (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Tatar, Maria, The Heroine with 1,001 Faces (2021).


Literary Studies: Imperialism and Colonialism

Ulka Anjaria (ed.), A History of the Indian Novel in English (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Erica R. Edwards, The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of US Empire (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Philip Steer, Settler Colonialism in Victorian Literature: Economics and Political Identity in the Networks of Empire (2020). Also available as an e-book.

Winter Jade Werner, Missionary Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century British Literature (2020).


Literary Studies: Shakespeare and Early Modern Theatre Studies

Bourne, Claire M. L., Shakespeare / Text: Contemporary Readings in Textual Studies, Editing and Performance (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Shakespeare, William, The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile (1996).

Stern, Tiffany (ed.), Rethinking Theatrical Documents in Shakespeare’s England (2019).

Syme, Holger Schott, Theatre History, Attribution Studies, and the Question of Evidence (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Wright, Laura Jayne, Sound Effects: Hearing the Early Modern Stage (2023).


Literary Studies: History of Literature, Biography, and Other Topics

Bhanot, Kavita, and Jeremy Tiang (eds.), Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation (2022).

Bostridge, Mark (ed.), Lives for Sale: Biographers Tales (2005).

Caruth, Cathy (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995).

Puchner, Martin, The Written World: How Literature Shapes History (2018).

Sloan, John, Andrew Lang: Writer, Folklorist, Democratic Intellect (2023).

Sullivan, Hannah, The Work of Revision (2013).

New Books June 2023

Just because we’re into the Long Vacation doesn’t mean the new books have stopped pouring in here at the library! We’ve had a wide range of new arrivals this month, including fiction from around the world, studies foregrounding culture, gender and race, and a selection of poetry.

Keep reading to find out more about a few titles which caught our eye, or visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals. Vacation loans are now in full swing, meaning any books borrowed don’t have to be returned until October, so if you’d like to pick up any of these intriguing titles you might want to act fast!

Cover image for 'Season of Crimson Blossoms' by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. The cover has a blue background, with an abstract image of a woman in profile wearing a red hijab with black circles in place of her face.Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Season of Crimson Blossoms (2017) 

In this debut novel, Ibrahim tells the story of an illicit affair between a 55-year-old widow, Binta, and 26-year-old ‘Reza’, a street gang leader. Set in the conservative, predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, the novel explores both Binta and Reza’s relationship and the world around them. With a backdrop of political violence and domestic squabbles, Ibrahim takes his time to tell the story of Binta and Reza. This slow, unhurried pacing, combined with a ‘gorgeous tapestry of language’, creates a rich narrative exploring ‘love, heartbreak, hope, desire, the human condition and our collective humanity’. 


Cover image for 'Culture' by Martin Puchner. The cover has a yellow background with floral motifs on it. There is a red diamond shape in the middle, split into four smaller diamonds: at the top, a line-drawing of a bust of Nefertiti; on the left and right, geometric patterns; and at the bottom, a Chinese drawing of a person.Martin Puchner, Culture: A New World History (2023) 

In a political landscape bounded by extremes, Puchner makes the case for the necessity – and long-standing fact – of cross-cultural exchange. In 15 ‘lively case studies’, he traces the movement, interpretation and re-interpretation of objects and ideas across time and space, encompassing Egypt, Jerusalem, Ethiopia, the Ottoman Empire, Tokyo, Berlin and more. With his assertion that ‘everyone is influenced by someone’, Puchner makes a powerful case for the fact that cultural transfer is to be found ‘at the heart of the story of human expression’. 

Also by Puchner at the EFL: Stage fright: modernism, anti-theaticality, and drama (2002); Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, manifestos and the avant-gardes (2006); The Written World: How Literature Shaped History (2018).  

Cover image for 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy. The cover has a grey background, with a red flame shape in the centre. In the flame shape are blacked-out silhouettes of a man and a boy walking.Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2022). 

The Road is McCarthy’s tenth novel and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. It is a bleak story of a father and son’s fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. We’re never told what disaster has happened but, ‘faced with such loss’, it’s almost irrelevant. It’s a story not only of survival, but of what makes that survival meaningful; the father repeatedly reassures his son that they are ‘the good guys’. The prose is almost as sparse as the landscape they travel through, with ‘an economy of words, even an economy of thought, that parallels [the story]’. But despite the horror, a certain beauty remains: ‘In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose.’ 

McCarthy died earlier this month at the age of 89. 

Also available as an e-book (2009 edition).  

There are many works by McCarthy available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'The Great White Bard' by Farah Karim-Cooper. The cover is an image of a painting of a Black person, with the title in large white letters on top. Farah Karim-Cooper, The Great White Bard: Shakespeare, Race and the Future (2023) 

Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe. That background in education is reflected in the book’s aim ‘to restore the swan of Avon as a playwright for all’. She is careful to understand Shakespeare within his Tudor context while emphasising that this was not an all-white England, and argues that Shakespeare’s work remains relevant to modern readers and audiences. The challenge is to consider ‘how students … or actors of colour … can get to grips with the excessively valued and quite sublime poetry that just happens to, at times, diminish their own bodies’. 

Also by Karim-Cooper at the EFL: The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (2016). She has also edited a number of volumes about Shakespeare, which you can find on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'Bread and Circus' by Airea D. Matthews. The cover has a light blue background, with a composite silhouette of a person's face in profile, made up of images includes photos of body parts, a circus tent, and the suits (club, space, heart, diamond) of a desk of cards.Airea D. Matthews, Bread and Circus (2023) 

Bread and Circus is ‘a hybrid and palimpsestic memoir-in-verse‘, ‘a bold poetic reckoning with the realities of class and race and their intergenerational effects’. As an economics student, Matthews became ‘fascinated and disturbed’ by the ideas of Adam Smith, and here she issues a ‘direct challenge’ to his theories. She demonstrates how Smith’s emphasis on self-interest as the driver of capitalism falls apart when the individual becomes a commodity. From the perspective of the different roles she has performed through her life, Matthews ‘asks what it is to have survived, indeed to have flourished’ amidst this capitalist failure – ‘and at what cost’. 

Cover image for 'The Trouble with White Women' by Kyla Schuller. The cover has a yellow background with a pink-toned image of a woman on the left hand side. The title is in large black letters across the cover.Kyla Schuller, The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism (2021) 

In this work, Schuller aims to ‘demonstrate the case for the end of white feminism, and its replacement by intersectional feminism’. To that end, the book is structured around comparisons between the writing of white feminists and intersectional feminists. Schuller makes clear that she sees ‘white feminism’ as a political position rather than an identity, one which upholds both the patriarchy and white supremacy. This is an incredibly rich account, full of ‘complexity, contradiction and nuance’ which succeeds in its aim to bring to the fore intersectional feminists whose work and ideas are not as celebrated as they could be. 

New Books May 2023

The end of Trinity Term is slowly approaching – but the new books haven’t been slowing down at all! As ever, we had lots of new books at the library in May. Find out more about a few which caught our eye this month below, or head over to LibraryThing to browse all the latest arrivals.

Cover image: The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think by Carolyne Larrington. The background image is a drawing of orange flames, with a man in a red cloak and winged helmet on the right hand side, standing over the body of a long-haired woman with a winged helmet. The title and author's name are in a white box in the middle of the coverCarolyne Larrington, The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think (2023)

This is the third entry in a series exploring ‘Myths that Shape the Way We Think’ – the first two looked at Celtic and Greek myths respectively (both can be requested from the offsite store). In this book, Larrington explores the contemporary resonances and popular reimaginings of Norse mythology. It’s a fascinating study, full of examples drawn from the myths themselves, historical and archaeological findings, and popular culture, including Marvel, Tolkien, video games and even death metal.

There are many works by Larrington available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: Liberation Day by George Saunders. The cover has a cream background, with black silhouettes of birds in flight. The author's name is in black text at the top, and the title is in black text in the middleGeorge Saunders, Liberation Day (2022)

Liberation Day brings together nine short stories by Saunders – four are new for this collection, the other five having previously appeared in the New Yorker. The stories feature characters who are trapped, imprisoned, and suspended, often by ‘their own foolishness’. Themes of ‘brainwashing, thought control and mindless violence’ underpin the collection, reflecting the state of modern American politics. Though revelling in un-reality, these stories are nothing less than political; Saunders suggests it is impossible to be otherwise.

Also by Saunders at the EFL: Tenth of December (2014); Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).

Cover image: Searching for Juliet by Sophie Duncan. The image is of Juliet about to take her life. She is wearing a red dress, and her face has been painted over with red paintSophie Duncan, Searching for Juliet: The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s first tragic heroine (2023)

This engaging study explores the cultural imaginings and re-imaginings of Juliet in Western culture since the sixteenth century, from Shakespeare’s original sources to Taylor Swift and beyond. Duncan’s in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, this ‘tragic heroine’ shines through; she even spent time as one of Juliet’s Secretaries in Verona, answering letters seeking love advice from the city’s Juliet Club. The result is a compelling cultural history ‘as vital and provocative as the character herself’.

Also by Duncan at the EFL: Shakespeare’s Women and the Fin de Siècle (2016).

Cover image: I Used to Live Here Once by Miranda Seymour. The background is yellow, with a cut-out black and white photo of Jean Rhys on the left. The title and author's name are on the right.Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys (2022)

Like much of the recent scholarship on Rhys, this biography considers Rhys’s upbringing in and exile from the Caribbean as key to her writing without making the ‘mistake’ of using fiction to fill in biographical gaps. While Seymour does not shy away from any detail of Rhys’s life, she does not present Rhys as a victim. Instead, she writes with ‘an acute empathy’, drawing a ‘highly readable, sympathetic portrait’ of a complex woman.

Also by Seymour at the EFL: A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and his literary circle, 1895-1915 (1988); Robert Graves: Life on the edge (1995); Mary Shelley (2000).

Many of Rhys’s works are available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image: Courting India by Nandini Das. The cover image is of a Mughal king and his court, with a smaller figure in Jacobean dress at the bottom left corner. Nandini Das, Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (2023)

Courting India follows Sir Thomas Roe, seventeenth-century ambassador to India, investigating his impressions of the Mughal court through a wealth of literary sources. Roe is often interpreted as the herald of empire, yet he achieved very little; Das is more interested in Roe’s embassy as an ‘unpropitious moment of intercultural contact’. It is the cultural legacy of Roe’s time in India, of the images and truisms which bled into British understandings of India and empire, which remains Das’s focus.

There are many works by Das available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: The Bees by Laline Paull. The background is yellow with a copper honeycomb pattern on top. The title is in the upper middle with the author's name below. The honeycomb section beneath the title is filled in black, with an image of a bee in the centre.Laline Paull, The Bees (2015)

The Bees is Paull’s debut novel, nominated for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The story follows Flora 717, a sanitation bee who must contend with the orthodoxy of the hive and its injunction to ‘accept, obey, serve’. The novel combines a bee’s fairytale biography, an examination of dystopian totalitarianism, and an exploration of the importance of bees in human lives, with an undercurrent of race and difference – all through the lens of ‘our appealing insect heroine’. 

New Books April 2023

We’ve got lots of lovely new books (and DVDs!) at the EFL, ready to welcome everyone back for Trinity Term. If you’re worried you might have missed out on some of the new arrivals while away from Oxford for the vacation, don’t worry – catch up on all of them over on LibraryThing, or keep reading to see a few selections that caught our eye in April …

Cover image for The Wife of Willesden by Zadie SmithZadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden (2021)

Chaucer’s Alison, the Wife of Bath, has a long history of being interpreted and reinterpreted – she is Chaucer’s ‘most enduring and appealing character‘. In Smith’s retelling, Alison is reimagined as Alvita, ‘an unashamedly sex-positive woman in her mid-50s’. Over the course of a lock-in at the local pub, Alvita tells her story of living life her way, refusing to be told what she can and cannot do by husbands, society, religion – or anyone else for that matter.

The Wife of Willesden is Smith’s debut play, written to tie in with the Borough of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. As much as it celebrates Alvita, it is also a love-letter to Willesden and its vibrant community – a common thread in much of Smith’s work.

There are lots of works by Smith at the EFL. Browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction by Benjamin BatemanBenjamin Bateman, Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (2023)

In this study, Bateman works to find an alternative to what might be termed ‘queer progressive narratives’ in contemporary fiction. By placing modernist classics by authors including E. M. Forster and Willa Cather in conversation with contemporary queer and environmental fiction, Bateman ‘refuses the common wisdom that queerness becomes louder and prouder over time, delineating instead a minimalist and daydreaming subjectivity wherein queerness finds escape, respite, and varied opportunities for imaginative reverie’.

Ultimately, Bateman brings together literary studies, queer theory, and the environmental humanities to offer critical alternatives to ‘coming out’ narratives, to revise theories of gender and sexual performativity, and to explore a world in which ‘queer disappearance’ might be just as important as queer presence.

This title is also available as an e-book.

Also by Bateman: The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (2017, e-book).

Cover image for Black Female Playwrights: An anthology of plays before 1950, edited by Kathy A. PerkinsKathy A. Perkins (ed.), Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950 (1990)

This anthology brings together nineteen plays from seven African American women, written between roughly 1910 and 1940. While this selection cannot be comprehensive, it is nonetheless representative of the works African American women were producing in the early twentieth century and the importance of these playwrights in the development of African American drama more generally. Perkins presents the plays alongside biographies of the seven playwrights which outline ‘each writer’s education, dramatic interests, and achievements‘, in addition to an Introduction to the collection which outlines the historical background of these playwrights’ work. The result is an anthology which forms a valuable starting point for explorations of ‘a neglected segment of black theatre‘.

Also by Perkins: Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology (1996).

Cover image for The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets (2021)

The Prophets, Jones’s debut novel, explores queer love between two enslaved men in the antebellum south. With lyricism and a ‘rich, distinctive‘ style lending itself to comparisons with Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Jones delivers ‘an outstanding novel […] but also a great sweep of history‘, all while compensating for that history’s elision of the human. The nucleus of the story is the love between Isaiah and Samuel, but their world is also populated by a plethora of characters, each ‘richly evoked, rendering the complexity of their desires and depravations‘.

This is far from an easy read. But what Jones has created, amid the horror and cruelty, is a testimony to the fact ‘that humans do still love, even when the most terrifying threats hang over them’.

Cover image for Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830, edited by Cecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard WingardCecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard Wingard (eds.), Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830 (2022)

This collection of essays brings together literary scholars and art historians to trace developments in satire from the seventeenth through to the early nineteenth centuries. Over this period, satire became less genre-driven and increasingly visual, flourishing in various formats. The contributions to this collection consider works of satire by well-known figures like Swift and Milton, as well as lesser-known manuscript sources and prints from the period. While there is a general focus on England, the collected essays also consider satire across Europe, in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The result is a fascinating study which maps the development of satire, revealing it ultimately to be a key vehicle for the transgression of boundaries.

This title is also available as an e-book

Cover image for The Farwell, directed by Lulu WangThe Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang (2020)

The Farewell is a ‘beautifully bittersweet‘ comedy starring Awkwafina as Billi. Born in China but raised in the USA, these two aspects of Billi’s identity start to clash when she and her extended family return to China to say goodbye to their matriarch, Nai Nai – but no-one has told Nai Nai that she is terminally ill. The result is a witty, funny, and ultimately endearing exploration of identity, culture and family.

Many DVDs arrived at the library this month – you can browse the latest arrivals on LibraryThing. Portable DVD players can be borrowed from the enquiry desk. Alternatively, you can view films in the computer room; just ask at the desk if you’d like help getting set up.

New Books March 2023

The end of another month brings another blog post highlighting just a few of the books which arrived at the library in March. From short fiction to memoirs, historical studies to explorations of the power of narrative and storytelling, there’s lots of variety in this month’s new book selection.

As ever, this is only a snapshot of the new books that have arrived at the library. Check out the whole selection on LibraryThing!

Cover image for 'Treacle Walker' by Alan GarnerAlan Garner, Treacle Walker (2022).

Treacle Walker is a ‘short but profound‘ novel, shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Garner’s work is often divided by publishers and booksellers into children’s literature and adult’s literature, though Garner has said he doesn’t see such a distinction – and Treacle Walker undoubtedly blends the two.

While the story is about a child, ‘its philosophical meditations and terrifying climax mean it is definitely for adults’. It is ‘a flinty fable about a convalescent boy visited by a rag-and-bone man’, exploring themes of time, our relationship to the present and its roots in an older mythic and folkloric past.

There are many works by Garner at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO.

Cover image for Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace, edited by James Buzard, Joseph W. Childers, and Eileen GilloolyJames Buzard et al. (eds.), Victorian Prism: Refractions of the Crystal Palace (2007).

The Great Exhibition of 1851 is synonymous with the Crystal Palace, the great glass-and-iron cathedral to science which housed it. This collection of essays takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Exhibition’s significance, legacy, and impact around the world.

Reviewers generally agree this is an interesting collection. Some criticisms include a lack of thematic coherence, with the loose concept of ‘modernity’ doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Others note an uncritical use of sources in parts and an assumption that the reader will already know ‘the basic story‘. That said, it offers interesting and valuable interdisciplinary perspectives on the Crystal Palace’s significance and legacy.

Cover image for Black Vodka by Deborah Levy.Deborah Levy, Black Vodka (2017).

Black Vodka is a collection of ten short stories, set across a handful of European cities. No matter which city Levy’s characters find themselves in, they are complex, flawed and surprising people, disconcerting to each other and to us.

These are ‘fragmentary, elliptical’ stories which ‘refuse to settle down into something immediately recognisable’. The stories and characters are layered and elusive, seeming to reveal something yet leaving the sense that much more has been concealed. With her ‘incantatory, gorgeous writing’ and ‘coiled, polished sentences’, Levy has created a powerful exploration of what drives us together, and what keeps us apart.

Also by Levy at the EFL: Hot Milk (2017); The Man who Saw Everything (2019).

Cover for Metamorphosis: A life in pieces, by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Metamorphosis: A Life in Pieces (2023).

In 2017, Douglas-Fairhurst was diagnosed with MS. In Metamorphosis, he recounts his response to this diagnosis, and how turning to literature helped him.

With writing full of ‘elegance, wit and insight‘, Douglas-Fairhurst explores the power of stories. As a professor of English at Oxford, turning to books was an instinctive response. He ‘read furiously‘, finding ‘no shortage of authors and characters as beleaguered as him‘. Through this bibliotherapy, Douglas-Fairhurst has created not just a record of illness, but a funny and raw exploration of the relationship between literature and life.

Also by Douglas-Fairhurst at the EFL: Victorian Afterlives: The shaping of influence in nineteenth-century literature (2002); Becoming Dickens: The invention of a novelist (2011); The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the secret history of Wonderland (2015); The Turning Point: A year that changed Dickens and the world (2021).

Cover image for 'Romantic Women's Life Writing: Reputation and afterlife', by Susan Civale.Susan Civale, Romantic Women’s Life Writing: Reputation and Afterlife (2019).

Civale presents case studies of the life writing by and about four Romantic women: Frances Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson, and Mary Hays. She fully contextualises each woman’s life writing, exploring their other work, their biographies, and their social, cultural and intellectual contexts.

Crucially, Civale considers not only the women’s writing but how their readers responded to it, from the texts’ publication right through the long nineteenth century. She notes that this is a key departure from the existing historiography. It is this which makes Civale’s work such a fascinating study of women’s life writing in the Romantic period and beyond.

This book is also available as an e-book.

Cover image: 'Seduced by the Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative', by Peter BrooksPeter Brooks, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative (2022).

Brooks laments what he calls the ‘storification of reality‘ – the omnipresence of narrative which turns us into uncritical consumers of information. But instead of attacking narrative, he offers ‘a potent defence of attentive reading and its real-world applications‘.

Some critics have pointed to the preponderance of old, white, male authors in Brooks’s examples of novels; others have wondered why he doesn’t consider other media – especially narrative creation and consumption on the internet. These criticisms notwithstanding, this remains a powerful demonstration of the power of narrative and the dangers of our over-reliance on it.

There are many works by Brooks at the EFL – you can find them on SOLO. These other works include Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (1985), Brooks’s first study of the significance of narrative.

New Books February 2023

February may be the shortest month, but there has been no shortage of books arriving at the library! With a number of anthologies as well as fiction, poetry, and literary studies all making their EFL debut, there’s plenty to choose from. Keep reading to find out more about a few select highlights, or browse all our new books on LibraryThing.

Cover for Forbidden Journeys, edited by Nina Auerbach and U. C. Knoepflmacher.Nina Auerbach & U. C. Knoepflmacher, Forbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers (1993).

This anthology brings together eleven stories by Victorian women writers, all of which were previously inaccessible to readers in modern published forms. They are presented here with their original illustrations, along with critical introductions and biographical notes which illuminate their historical and social context.

Auerbach and Knoepflmacher group the stories into four sections. The unifying theme is subversion, both of the tropes of traditional children’s literature and of the gendered expectations placed upon Victorian women.

Some reviewers have questioned Auerbach and Knoepflmacher’s commentaries. They’ve queried how subversive women’s association with fairy tales could be, given the genre’s association with domesticity and childcare, as well as a general contemporary acceptance of children’s literature as appropriate for women writers. Others have wondered whether the concerns of late twentieth-century feminism drive the editor’s commentaries, rather than the texts or the authors themselves. Forbidden Journeys is nonetheless a fascinating collection, though it perhaps reveals as much about late twentieth-century reappraisals of fairy tales as it does about the Victorian women who wrote them.

There are numerous works by Auerbach and by Knoepflmacher at the EFL – click the links to browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for The Oxford Book of The Sea, by Jonathan Raban.Jonathan Raban, The Oxford Book of the Sea (2001).

When the subject of your anthology covers seven-tenths of the earth’s surface, no-one is going to be entirely satisfied with your selections – making it all the more impressive that reviewers almost unanimously agree that this remains an excellent anthology.

Raban organises his selections chronologically, ‘from bitter Anglo-Saxon to wry Updike, without the breakwaters of chapter divisions’. But that structural continuity doesn’t mean there’s been no change in literature about the sea. In fact, underpinning Raban’s selections is a growing attention to and curiosity about the sea, especially after the Enlightenment.

With such a large topic, one anthology is never going to cover everything. There is a geographical focus on British, with the addition of some American, writing – while this makes the subject infinitely more manageable, Raban notes that ‘the French sea, the German sea, the Japanese sea are importantly different places’ and an equally rich anthology could be compiled on each (p.xvii). All the same, ‘although the ideal Book of the Sea, the whole sea and nothing but the sea, has yet to be written, this foretaste of it makes a very agreeable companion’.

There are numerous works by Raban at the EFL – you can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver.Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead (2022).

Demon Copperhead – winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 – takes Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield as its inspiration. Those familiar with Dickens’s work will recognise not only many characters but many of the events in the titular Demon’s life, as Kingsolver transposes the Victorian poverty, suffering and injustices that Dickens exposed to her own home territory of Appalachia, and a community in the grip of the opioid crisis.

Kingsolver paints a grim picture of ‘a society so ailing, the word bleak is a cheerful way to describe it’. The novel is rescued from becoming merely a grim melodrama by the wry humour and weary cynicism of its narrator, Demon. Many have praised Kingsolver’s characterisation of Demon and her use of ‘the natural poetry of the American vernacular’, a key element of Demon’s charm.

Comparisons will always be drawn between Demon Copperhead and David Copperfield – though not always favourably. Like Dickens, Kingsolver has produced a damning critique of society’s marginalisation of the most vulnerable. It is a striking and compelling examination of poverty and addiction ‘tucked away in the richest country on earth’.

Other work by Kingsolver at the EFL: Flight Behaviour (2013); Unsheltered (2019).

Cover image for Was It for This, by Hannah Sullivan.Hannah Sullivan, Was It for This (2023).

Was It for This is Sullivan’s second collection – her first, Three Poems, won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2018. Encompassing themes of home, tragedy, and the passage of time, this collection is just as stunning as her debut.

The collection contains three poems. The first focuses on the Grenfell fire in 2017, blending the personal with the collective and political as Sullivan, who lived nearby at the time, is wrenched from the ‘cocoon’ of new motherhood and confronts the tragedy. The second explores home: the places Sullivan has lived, the generational chasm synonymous with home ownership, and the memories our homes hold. The third and final poem, Happy Birthday, is preoccupied with ageing and the passage of time.

Sullivan’s poems are powerful and emotional, so compelling that ‘the masterful architecture of her writing is almost invisible’. Her poetry often shifts into prose, as she ‘moves instinctively between forms as if stepping from one room into another’ – fitting, in a collection to which homes are so central. All these elements come together beautifully, as they ‘combine to consecrate the orindary among the exceptional’.

Other work by Sullivan at the EFL: The Work of Revision (2013); Three Poems (2018).

Cover image for The Decameron Projected, edited by the New York Times Magazine.New York Times Magazine (ed.), The Decameron Project: 29 New Stories from the Pandemic (2020).

In the fourteenth century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote The Decameron. The story takes place during the Black Death which ravaged Europe at that time, following a group of young people who flee Florence, hole up in a country retreat, and share stories to entertain one another – and to process the enormity of the plague.

In 2020, the New York Times Magazine revived the idea and structure of The Decameron in response to COVID-19. They gathered an international group of authors, each of whom crafted their response to the pandemic in the form of a short story. The stories were first published in the New York Times Magazine in July 2020, and are now brought together in this edition.

The stories all have fascinating premises, though the quality of their execution varies; these are after all rapid-fire responses to immediate crisis. The definitive COVID novel is yet to be written – and we almost certainly need more distance from the pandemic before it can become reality. But while we wait, these stories show the power of fiction, and its ability to help both storyteller and listener process anxiety and the isolation which the pandemic brought.

Cover image for The Wife of Bath: A Biography, by Marion Turner.Marion Turner, The Wife of Bath: A Biography (2023).

Following her biography of Chaucer in 2019 (available at the EFL and online), Turner has written another biography. This time, she focuses not on the poet but on one of his creations: Alison, the Wife of Bath.

It may seem strange to write a biography of a fictional character, but what Turner has achieved is a compelling account of both the ordinary medieval women Alison represents and her literary legacy in the 600 years since Chaucer wrote her. Turner argues that Alison is the first fully-rounded character, male or female, in English literature, presented in all her complexity. This complexity has been celebrated, demonised and censured, according to the values of her various interpreters, but ‘at no point has she been a neutral figure’.

Chaucer wrote Alison as ‘a rounded character with an interior life’, and it is this which draws readers to her. Yet adaptations of the Wife of Bath have more often than not depicted her as a monster or reduced her to fit within narrow gender stereotypes – as Turner says, ‘it is only in very recent years that new adaptations are no longer less progressive than the original’. Nevertheless, the Wife of Bath – and our fascination with her – persists; ‘her voice is now louder than ever’.

Also available as an e-book.

Turner discussed this book in a piece for The Conversation – we’ve republished it on the EFL blog.

Other work by Turner at the EFL: A handbook of Middle English studies (2013); Chaucer: A European Life (2019).

New Books January 2023

January seems to have flown by, with Hilary Term now well underway. If the hectic start of term has meant you haven’t kept abreast of all the new books arriving at the library this month, don’t worry – you can find them all on LibraryThing or just catch up with the highlights in this blog post!

This month over 70 new books have arrived, covering subjects from medieval studies to explorations of the modern city, as well as literature and fiction old and new. But did you know we regularly get new films as well? You can browse our latest DVDs and Blu-rays on LibraryThing. And if your laptop doesn’t have a disc drive, all is not lost – we have portable DVD players you can borrow from the enquiry desk.

Cover of David Pearson's Book Ownership in Stuart England. A photo of a library with wood panelling, a fire place, and a wooden table with a book open on it.David Pearson, Book Ownership in Stuart England (2021).

This fascinating study explores who owned books in seventeenth-century England, and which books were in their possession. It’s based on the 2018 Lyell Lectures which Pearson delivered in Oxford, and which you can read about on the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book blog.

Pearson makes clear from the outset that he’s not interested in what people read, much less what they might have thought about what they were reading. Instead, he focuses on the book as object, seeking to establish ‘what books people owned, but also why they owned them‘. One of Pearson’s key arguments is that the evidence for book ownership is much broader than many historians lament, including evidence for women and non-elite individuals owning substantial numbers of books.

To borrow Pearson’s phrasing, this study takes ‘the parachutist, rather than the truffle-hunting, methodology’ (p.7). What that means is, instead of looking at one or two individuals and their books, Pearson takes an incredibly broad view, compiling evidence of book ownership across all levels of society. That breadth is what makes this such an interesting and invaluable book.

Also available as an ebook.

Also by Pearson at the EFL: Provenance research in book history: A handbook (1994)Oxford bookbinding 1500-1640 (2000); English bookbinding styles, 1450-1800: A handbook (2005)Books as history: The importance of books beyond their texts (2008).

Cover for Lauren Elkin's Flaneuse: Women Walk The City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. A line drawing of a nineteenth-century man with a skirt doodled on top.Lauren Elkin, Flaneuse: Women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London (2017).

The flâneur emerged in nineteenth century cities, especially the Paris of Charles Baudelaire and Honoré de Balzac. He was – and substantively remains – a male creation who enjoys a degree of urban freedom that, even today, women can struggle to lay claim to. That’s partly what leads Elkin to champion the radical potential of the flâneuse.

Elkin’s narrative interweaves the flâneuserie, as she terms it, of women writers who have walked the city – from Virginia Woolf to Martha Gellhorn – with her own personal experiences of urban walking. For all of Elkin’s flâneuses, herself included, taking to the streets on foot is a liberating act, enabling women to shift ‘from being looked at to looking‘. 

Ultimately, flânerie for Elkin is about freedom, disruption, and the joy found by walking through the city streets. Through her discussions and reflections, flâneuserie becomes ‘not just a means of traversing the city but a way of life and even a form of ethics‘. As Elkin puts it, in a world where the flâneur is becoming subsumed by the commercialisation and industrialisation he first took to the street in protest against, ‘the flâneuse is the more radical idea’. 

Cover of Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother. Purple background with black and white photo of the sea.Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2021). 

As the subtitle suggests, Lose Your Mother is a journey, in more ways than one. Hartman travelled to Ghana as an academic, researching the slave trade from the other side of the Atlantic. But what started as a scholarly exercise became deeply personal as she searched for her ancestors’ voices, with her narratives morphing into a meditation on identity, loss, and grief.

Hartman’s writing is haunted by the unknown and the unknowable. She has described the book as being ‘about those losses that haunt us, those ancestors we know but can’t name’. She considers the ‘irreparable violence’ of the slave trade, those who have disappeared from the archives – if they were ever there – and the consequences of that loss for their descendants in the United States as well as those who remain in Africa.

It’s undeniable that Hartman’s moving account demands ‘significant emotional expenditure‘ from its readers. But it is above all an intimate and accessible narrative that unites the academic and the personal in its search for the past.

Also by Hartman at the EFL: Scenes of subjection: Terror, slavery and self-making in nineteenth-century America (1997); Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate histories of riotous black girls, troublesome women, and queer radicals (2021) – also new at the EFL this month!

Cover for Yiyun Li's Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. A drawing of a woman sitting reading on a bench, with a tree branch with autumn leaves above her and leaves falling around her.Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (2018).

Li’s Dear Friend is a memoir with a difference. In it, we learn very little of Li’s life, either in China or in America, and she expresses her discomfort with the word ‘I’. (If you saw the December new books blog post, you may remember that Christine Brooke-Rose’s Remake is another new-to-the-EFL memoir which avoids that particular pronoun.)

Instead of narrating the events of Li’s life, Dear Friend is at heart a profoundly thoughtful book. It discusses language at length, including Li’s decision to abandon her native Chinese, not only writing but thinking exclusively in English. Her ruminations on language sit alongside a series of meditations on both reading and writing, as Li reflects on the importance of literature in the wake of her hospitalisations following suicide attempts. Reading was her means of survival, and ‘literature offer[ed] her both recovery and discovery‘.

Above all, Dear Friend is beautifully written – it’s been described as ‘calm, but not soothing, matter-of-fact, yet dreamlike‘. It is a moving exploration of the possibilities and limits of language, and how to cope with the point at which thinking ends and feeling begins.

Also by Li at the EFL: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2006); Where Reasons End: A Novel (2019).

Cover for Brian Dillon's Objects in This Mirror. The cover is white, with the title and author's name in navy blue italics.Brian Dillon, Objects in This Mirror (2014). 

This collection brings together essays written and published over a decade. Together, the essays explore a huge range of subjects as Dillon seeks to make the most of what the essay form can be and the possibilities it contains.

There’s no real theme that underpins the collected essays; featured topics range from hypochondria and taste to the Dewey decimal system and slapstick. Instead, ‘Dillon’s wide-ranging curiosity is the unifying force‘. As another reviewer said, few writers are ‘more consistently interesting on as wide a range of subjects‘ as Dillon is revealed to be in this collection.

Perhaps the other unifying element is the importance Dillon places on the essay form itself. In interviews, he’s described the ‘conjunction between unlikely topics or unlikely narratives‘ that is uniquely possible in an essay. He has also expressed admiration for, and his desire to continue, the tradition of essay-writing as it’s developed since the seventeenth century. What motivates him – and what is clear from this collection – is ‘a sense that in the essay you can write about absolutely anything‘.

Also by Dillon at the EFL: Essayism (2017); Suppose a Sentence (2021).

Cover for Toni Morrison's Recitatif. The background is an abstract pattern in peach and shades of blue, with the author's name in red and the title in white text.Toni Morrison, Recitatif (2022). 

Originally published in 1983, Recitatif is Morrison’s only short story, and appears in this edition with a new introduction by Zadie Smith. The story follows two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who become inseparable as children at St. Bonaventure’s orphanage, but as fate throws them together as adults differences and tensions emerge between them.

Race and the perception of it are key to the story. One girl is black, and the other is white – but Morrison never tells us which is which. The effect is to shift the story’s focus from the characters’ race to the reader’s perception of racial difference. Smith draws out the implications of this in her introduction, which is well worth reading.

But it’s not just race that separates the two girls as adults. There are socio-economic differences between them, as well as the dividing line of memory. There was a disabled worker at the orphanage, Maggie, and while differing memories of her fate divide Twyla and Roberta as adults, her story can become lost in the reader’s efforts to solve the mystery of racial identity. This is undoubtedly a story that benefits from being read, reread, and reread again.

Many of Morrison’s works are available at the EFL. Find them on SOLO.

New Books December 2022

2022 may have come to a close, but the new books were flying into the library right up until the last minute! You can find a selection of books which caught our eye below – why not pick up something new for the new year?

As ever, if you’d like to browse all of the EFL’s new books, head on over to LibraryThing.

Cover image for How long til black future month? by N. K. JemisinN. K. Jemisin, How long ’til Black Future Month? (2018).

Jemisin has written a number of works of fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction, including three (highly decorated) series: the Dreamblood duology, the Inheritance trilogy, and the Broken Earth trilogy. How long ’til black future month? is her first collection of short stories, and won the Locus award in 2019.

The collection contains 22 stories, and takes its title from an essay Jemisin published on her blog in 2013. Most of the stories were written between 2004 and 2017 and had previously been published, while four are new for this collection. They contain themes of community, revolution, justice and power, and often feature characters on the margins of society. While they all sit under the umbrella of speculative fiction, they are written in a smorgasbord of different styles, from cyberpunk and steam punk to alien invasion and high fantasy.

Some of the stories explore the same worlds as her novels, such as ‘Stone Hunger’ which takes place in the same universe as the Broken Earth trilogy. Others provide tantalising glimpses of Jemisin’s ideas, and read ‘like a provacative sketch for a much longer work‘. Across all the fascinating stories in this collection, Jemisin revels in the ‘uncanny moments in which the human integrates with what feels profoundly inhuman‘.

Also by Jemisin at the EFL: the Broken Earth trilogy (2015-17).

Cover for 'Remake' by Christine Brooke-RoseChristine Brooke-Rose, Remake (1996).

Brooke-Rose (1923-2012) was an experimentalist writer who wrote novels, short stories and poems as well as criticism. Her work is often described as ‘playful and difficult’, and Remake is no exception.

Remake is autobiographical in the sense that Brooke-Rose was writing about her own life. But she was extremely resistant to the idea of writing an autobiography, and arguably did not write one: Remake has been described as ‘an autobiographical novel with a difference’ (from the publisher) and even as ‘a kind of antibiography’. Discussing the process of writing Remake, Brooke-Rose talked about struggling with a long list of the ‘facts’ of her life, a list she said ‘even I couldn’t re-read’. Her writing was only really enabled when she found ‘a constraint’ in the form of writing an autobiography containing no personal pronouns and no possessive adjectives.

Remake is ‘more narratively straightforward’ than Brooke-Rose’s more experimental, ‘difficult’ novels. But Brooke-Rose didn’t see difficulty as a bad thing. For her, ‘difficulty [was] the locus of pleasure’, meaning that reading becomes more enjoyable when it makes demands of the reader. Whatever your view on difficulty, Remake is a fascinating third-person fiction capturing ‘not the facts but the content of those facts’ (from the publisher), the textures, feelings, tones and transformations of a life.

Many of Brooke-Rose’s other works are also available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image of 'Golden Hill' by Francis SpuffordFrancis Spufford, Golden Hill (2016).

Although Golden Hill is Spufford’s first novel, he has previously written in a dizzying array of genres. These include his memoir, The Child That Books Built (available in the library), as well as more experimental work, such as Red Plenty (available on Bodleian PCs) which blends history and real people with fiction.

Spufford has form when it comes to bringing authentic history and gripping stories together – and he does so masterfully well in Golden Hill. Without giving too much away, the novel follows Mr Smith who arrives in mid-eighteenth-century New York with a note for £1,000 that he wants to exchange for cash with a local trader. If Smith is not who he says he is, this would prove ruinous. The story follows Smith as he navigates this New World – and as the city’s inhabitants seek to establish what Mr Smith is hiding.

This is historical fiction underpinned by a huge amount of research, although that research is ‘worn refreshingly lightly‘. Spufford creates a vivid and authentic eighteenth-century world that echoes eighteenth-century novelists such as Sterne, Smollett and the Fieldings. But Spufford never seems weighed down by his eighteenth-century antecedents – nor does he let things like archaic spelling get in the way of what is at the end of the day a marvellous story!

Also by Spufford at the EFL: The Child That Books Built (2002).

Cover image of 'Improvised Explosive Device' by Arji ManuelpillaiArji Manuelpillai, Improvised Explosive Device (2022).

Manuelpillai is a British Sri Lankan poet who hasn’t always been a poet. He has previously rapped with an international touring band and his own band, worked with a children’s theatre company and on various other shows, and taught workshops and multidisciplinary art. All of this has been motivated by what he calls a fascination with people: Improvised Explosive Device is the result of bringing ‘[his] love for poems and people together into one collection‘.

Improvised Explosive Device is Manuelpillai’s first poetry collection, described as a ‘powerful political debut‘. It explores extremist violence, the lives and experiences of people who engage with terrorist groups, and how close we all are to acts of violence. Underpinned by extensive research including conversations with former members of extremist groups and their families as well as academics and sociologists, these are ‘complex, unnerving texts’ chronicling how people turn to violence (from the publisher).

When speaking to people for this collection, Manualpillai has described being inspired by people whose ‘stories were truly unheard’. He sought to listen without interruption or judgement, then capture their stories in his poems. The result is an incredibly powerful collection which ‘will change the way you look at the world’ (from the publisher).

Cover image of 'Imagining Cleopatra: Performing Gender and Power in Early Modern England' by Yasmin ArshadYasmin Arshad, Imagining Cleopatra: Performing gender and power in early modern England (2021).

Cleopatra ‘is one of the most renowned and enduring figures from classical antiquity, yet remains one of its most elusive’ (from Arshad’s Introduction). This study aims to establish not how we perceive Cleopatra today, but how she was imagined and used by early modern English writers and audiences.

Arshad’s key aim is to expand our understanding of the different and multiple early-modern imaginings of Cleopatra, moving beyond both how Shakespeare presented her and how we imagine her today. In particular, she shows how Cleopatra was a model for femininity and motherhood, as well as serving as a vehicle for critiques of and commentary on contemporary political developments at the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts.

Arshad’s work has generally been well-received by critics. Some have pointed out that, although Arshad states she wants to ‘decentre’ Shakespeare from understandings of Cleopatra in early modern England, he in fact frames her analysis, appearing on the first page and forming the subject of the last chapter (from review by Rutter). Others say that, while Arshad’s analysis of gendered imaginings is admirable, her discussion of race lacks depth (from review by Léon Alfar). However, the overall consensus is that Arshad has produced ‘an accomplished and varied scholarly work that provides a necessary and unexpected interpretation of a popular figure’ (from review by Green).

An e-book of the 2019 edition of this work is also available.

Cover image for 'Slammerkin' by Emma DonoghueEmma Donoghue, Slammerkin (2011).

Donoghue is a writer of novels, historical fiction, children’s books and short story collections, as well as works of literary history. In Slammerkin, she draws on the ‘nasty, brutish and short‘ (real) life of Mary Saunders, re-imagining a vivid inner life for Mary based on the merest fragments of historical record.

We know very little of the real Mary except that in 1764, aged sixteen or seventeen, she was hanged for the murder of her mistress. At the time, newspaper accounts said Mary’s crime was motivated by her desire for fine clothing. But Donoghue looks beyond this, to find a child who wants more than drudgery and poverty, whose ‘murderous outburst [is] a reaction to the physical traumas [she] suffered’ (from article by Mulvany).

Perhaps because of Donoghue’s background as a historian, Slammerkin has received a wealth of scholarly attention. Some have found elements of queer theory in Mary’s rejection of chrono-normativity (the heteronormative lifecycle of childhood, marriage, family and death), a refusal to abide by society’s rules that leads to her ultimate end (see article by Mulvany). Others have pointed to Donoghue’s use of historical fiction as a feminist political tool, rediscovering and giving some degree of agency to historical women (see article by O’Callaghan and Young). But Slammerkin is also the gripping and moving story of a young girl who tried to find a world beyond the class and gender boundaries she faces.

Also by Donoghue at the EFL: We are Michael Field (1998); Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (1999); The Sealed Letter (2012).

New Books November 2022

As ever, lots of new books arrived at the library in November, from novels and poetry to essays and literary criticism. Read on to see a selection of titles which caught our eye this month, or browse all our new books on LibraryThing.

Did you know that November was National Native American Heritage Month in the USA? Fittingly, it coincided with the arrival of a collection of Native Nations poetry at the library, which is one of the titles featured below. You can also explore LibraryThing to see the new books about Native American Literature which have arrived at the EFL recently.

Cover image for How the García girls lost their accents, by Julia Alvarez. A purple background with an orange and yellow luggage tag in the middle, on which the title is written.Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (2021).

Originally published in 1991, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was Alvarez’s first book. The story follows the four García sisters and their parents as they flee the Dominican Republic and start new lives in America.

Intriguingly, Alvarez writes in reverse chronology. The novel opens in the late 1980s with the adult García sisters, proceeding backwards through the family’s move to New York in the 1960s and their struggles to adjust, all the way to the girls’ childhoods in the Dominican Republic. This creates a sense of fragmentation and a lack of cohesion which is underscored by the narrative shifts between the four sisters.

That theme of fragmentation looms large. The tension between the García girls’ Dominican and American identities is omnipresent, as they try to understand where they’ve come from and where they belong. It’s this sense of being stuck between one place and another that makes Alvarez’s novel such a powerful exploration of the immigrant experience.

Cover image: When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, edited by Joy Harjo. The top half is a blue and yellow abstract design; the bottom half shows the title in black text on a white background.When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020). Eds. Joy Harjo, LeAnne Howe, and Jennifer Elise.

This collection of Native Nations poetry, edited by Joy Harjo – the first Indigenous poet laureate of the United States – has been hailed as ‘nothing less than a landmark’ (from NY Journal of Books review). It features 161 authors, covering more than three centuries (1678-2019) and over 90 nations across what is now the United States.

Many of the works contain themes of nature and the natural world, but they range widely in subject and style. Some address colonialism or healing from the trauma of war, others turn to personal and collective experiences of loss and cultural destruction. The result is a collection which encompasses both light and dark.

The poems are not presented chronologically. They are instead grouped by region, an editorial decision which creates conversations between poems and poets around shared experiences and events. Many reviewers have noted how unusual – and welcome – the anthology is in the way it foregrounds inter-generational community dialogues, ‘decentr[ing] the individual author and his or her accomplishments in favour of supporting an entire community’ (from The Los Angeles Review of Books).

Also new this month: Joy Harjo, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (2004).

Interested in more? You can browse the EFL’s latest books on Native American Literature on LibraryThing.

Cover image: Black Teacher, by Beryl Gilroy. On a white background, the title is in green text at the top and the author's name in blue text at the bottom. In the middle is a picture of Gilroy.Beryl Gilroy, Black Teacher (2021).

First published in 1976, Black Teacher is the memoir of the first black headteacher in London and quite probably in the country. Born in Guyana, Gilroy was a qualified and experienced teacher when she arrived in England in 1952. But she faced hostility and racism, struggling to find a teaching post for many years.

Black Teacher documents the racism that Gilroy faced from colleagues, pupils and parents, as well as in her daily life. It has been described as a survival strategy, Gilroy’s ‘remedy to living in Britain as a West Indian woman’ (from Guardian review). But above all, Black Teacher is a testament to Gilroy’s achievements as a teacher as she forged her own path, overcoming the barriers she faced in English classrooms to assert her excellence as an educator.

When first published, Black Teacher was criticised for Gilroy’s supposed vanity, and some reviewers asked whether the racial struggles it presents were still relevant (from British Library article). But more recently, it has undergone a critical reappraisal and is now recognised as a lost classic. This edition, introduced by Bernardine Evaristo, certainly emphasises the incredible trail-blazing legacy of Gilroy’s writing, and indeed her life.

Cover image: The Mizzy, by Paul Farley. The cover features a watercolour painting of a tree, with the title and author's name in white text in the middle on the right hand side.Paul Farley, The Mizzy (2019).

Farley, described as ‘one of the leading English poets writing today’ (from the publisher), is the author of a number of poetry collections as well as other varied works. The Mizzy is his latest collection, and in 2019 was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Costa Poetry Award.

The collection takes its title from a nickname for the mistle thrush. While there’s no central underlying theme, birds appear frequently, from the eponymous mistle thrush to robins and starlings. But these birds sit alongside other subjects and themes in a ‘stirring miscellany’, including ruminations on childhood, modernity, and technology (from Guardian review). Even in these, though, birds and nature are not entirely absent; they appear in, for example, the ‘avian shrill’ of a phone that can ‘thrum in your hand like a frightened bird’.

At its heart, this collection is self-aware and vulnerable, engaging with life in its entirety from a philosophical angle. While it is sometimes unnerving and occasionally dark, it remains playful and joyful throughout.

Also by Farley at the EFL: The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1998), The Dark Film (2012), The Ice Age (2002), and Tramp in Flames (2006).

Cover image: Close calls with nonsense, by Stephanie Burt. The main image is of a boy leaning over backwards to read a book upside, with the author's name in black text at the top and the title in black text inside a blue box at the bottom.Stephanie Burt, Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009).

Burt is a scholar of post-WWII American poetry, as well as a poet and prolific writer of reviews. This collection brings some of those reviews together alongside longer essays.

The common aim underpinning all of Burt’s writing is to make poetry accessible and appealing to people who may have never encountered poetry, or who had a ‘bad experience’ and swore off poetry for good. With that aim in mind, Close Calls with Nonsense is undoubtedly a success; it has been described as ‘abounding with an excited spirit more common to film and pop music reviews than to literary criticism’ (from Publishers Weekly).

Although Burt has written about the works of a huge range of poets, this collection brings together reviews predominantly focused on American poets (with some exceptions). Burt herself has said she regrets that this was the publisher’s wish, as she would like there to be more dialogue between American and British poets and readers (from PN Review interview). If you would like to contribute to creating and nurturing that dialogue by becoming more familiar with American poetry, this collection is a great place to start!

Also by Burt at the EFL: Randall Jarrell and His Age (2002), The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (2016), and The Art of the Sonnet (2010).

Cover image: Flannery O'Connor's Radical Reality, edited by Jan Nordby Gretlund and Karl Heinz-Westarp. A black-and-white photograph of O'Connor with a blue tinted overlay except for a band across her eyes. The title and editors are in white text at the bottom.Flannery O’Connor’s Radical Reality (2006). Eds. Jan Nordby Gretlund and Karl-Heinz Westarp.

This collection of 14 previously unpublished essays explores the work of Flannery O’Connor, focusing in particular on the influence of the wider world on O’Connor’s writing and how she responded to the issues and debates around her.

O’Connor (1925-1964) wrote two novels and 31 short stories, as well as numerous reviews and commentaries. Her writing is coloured by her experiences living in the American South, her Roman Catholic faith, and her relationships, especially with her mother. Her faith in particular cannot be divorced from her writing, as she often grappled with moral and ethical concerns in her work. But a further, sadly unavoidable influence on O’Connor’s writing was her own ill-health; diagnosed with lupus in 1952, her health progressively worsened until her death aged 39.

While these more personal influences on O’Connor’s writing have been explored elsewhere (for example the special issue of the journal Women’s Studies, vol.51:4 (2022)), this collection aims to place O’Connor and her work within the various social, cultural and political contexts of the time. Many essays explore the significance of contemporary events and debates such as the Cold War or the Civil Rights Movement, and how she both responded to and ‘aesthetically transformed’ them (from Gretlund and Westarp’s Introduction). It is, all-in-all, a fascinating collection exploring O’Connor’s work and the world she lived in.

Interested in O’Connor’s work? A number of her books are available at the EFL, including her two novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1950), as well as her Collected Works (1988, ed. Sally Fitzgerald).

Fantasy and Science Fiction at the EFL

You’ll have (hopefully!) seen that we recently posted our new book round-up for October on the blog. But those aren’t the only books that arrived at the library – far from it! A number of fantasy and science fiction books also made their EFL debuts last month. Here you’ll find a few highlights that showcase the breadth of these new books, as well as some of their similarities.

The selections below range in style from high fantasy to dystopian future, incorporating visions of war, social breakdown, and eco-terrorism. But like all good science fiction and fantasy, although these books explore new worlds and possible futures they also speak to the issues and challenges we face today.

The main issue: climate crisis. All these writers are exploring what a world ravaged by climate change might look like, and how – or even if – humanity can respond. While some are more hopeful than others, they all ultimately ask the question: what if it’s too late to change our future?

Interested in finding out more? These books barely scratch the surface of the EFL’s collection! You can browse our newest fantasy and science fiction books on LibraryThing (as ever, you can also have a look at all our new books if you’d prefer) and remember to keep an eye on the new books display in the library too. Or read on for helpful pointers about some of the reference guides, films and other resources at the EFL, as well as a reminder of last year’s Fantasy Fiction: Scattered Seeds virtual display …

The Books

Cover image: N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth SeasonN. K. Jemisin, The Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season (2015), The Obelisk Gate (2016), and The Stone Sky (2017)

Each year, the Hugo Award is presented to the best science fiction or fantasy work published in the preceding calendar year. With The Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin became the first African American writer to win the prize, the first author to win three years in a row, and the first to win for each book in a trilogy. It’s easy to see why!

The story is set in a supercontinent called Stillness, home to many races and species. Among them are orogenes who have the power to control energy, meaning they can, for example, prevent earthquakes and manipulate temperatures. Because of their power, the orogenes are feared and misunderstood, often persecuted and even murdered. But now, Stillness is experiencing what is known as the ‘Fifth Season’, a period of immense climate catastrophe which comes around every few centuries. Huge clouds of ash darken the sky, civilisations collapse, and resources are scarce. Across the trilogy, we follow three orogene women who must ultimately decide: does the apocalypse offer a chance to fix what is broken and build a new world, or is destroying what is corrupt once and for all the only option left?

Throughout the trilogy Jemisin holds a mirror to our world, reflecting racial and religious intolerance as well as climate change and environmental issues. But it cannot be denied that The Broken Earth series is a masterful and gripping adventure story too!  

Cover image: Octavia Butler's Parable of the SowerOctavia E. Butler, Earthseed series: Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998)

Butler (1947-2006) wrote 11 novels in total, including Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). Together these two novels form the Earthseed series.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future (beginning in the far-off year 2024!), they lay bare the dangers and potential consequences of climate change, social inequality, and religious extremism. In Parable of the Sower, faced with the breakdown of society, one girl tries to find a different way to live, establishing her own religion and setting up a new community. In Parable of the Talents, Butler explores how this new community comes into conflict with the right-wing fundamentalist Christians and populist politicians who dominate the political landscape.

Although she was writing in the 1990s, Butler’s vision remains an all-too-plausible future. She describes a world in which basic commodities like water have become scarce and unaffordable luxuries, where physical walls separate rich from poor (or rather, just-surviving from destitute), and where a populist president rises to power with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. Taken as a whole, the Earthseed series not only exposes the dangers that could yet lie in our future, but proposes alternative philosophical and religious solutions to them.

There are many books by Butler at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image: Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup GirlPaolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2010)

The Windup Girl is Bacigalupi’s first novel and in 2010 it won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. The story is set in the twenty-second century, in a world that is fighting environmental collapse and where corporate bioterrorism is rife.

In a break from common science fiction templates, Bacigalupi does not locate his narrative in America or the west. Instead, the action takes place in Bangkok, where rising water levels are just-about kept at bay against a backdrop of isolationist policies in Thailand aimed at avoiding the worst of the dystopian excesses that have taken root elsewhere. That includes a ban on ‘New People’, genetically modified humans created to obey and serve – like Emiko, the ‘windup girl’ of the title, who has been abandoned in Bangkok by the Japanese businessman who bought her, leaving her with no choice but to work in a brothel and try to avoid the authorities.

With themes of climate change, ecology, and environmental destruction, Bacigalupi deftly explores issues of gender, race and corporate greed without suggesting that humanity will somehow magically solve our tendencies towards intolerance, selfishness and cruelty. In this captivating debut, Bacigalupi has undoubtedly created ‘a realistic plunge into a plausible future’ (from Travelfish review).

Also by Bacigalupi at the EFL: The Water Knife (2016).

Cover image: Jeff Vandermeer's Hummingbird SalamanderJeff Vandermeer, Hummingbird Salamander (2021)

Hummingbird Salamander follows ‘Jane Smith’ (not her real name), a cybersecurity guard and suburban mom in the American Pacific Northwest who one day receives a mysterious package containing a key, an address, and the number seven. She pieces together the clues to find a taxidermy hummingbird, which leads her deep into the dark worlds of eco-terrorism and wildlife trafficking and propels her towards a realisation of the extent of humanity’s exploitation of our planet.

Vandermeer’s setting is intriguing too. While clearly set in the future, initially that future doesn’t seem too remote. There are mentions of climate refugees and unusually intense storms but, much like Jane, we’ve become desensitised to the crisis that these events portend. It’s only as the story progresses and Jane’s quest becomes more urgent that we fully grasp the scale and inevitability of the climate crisis hurtling towards us.

Undeniably Jane is not a sympathetic character. She is selfish and single-minded, and her often-inexplicable decisions frequently put innocent people and those she loves in danger. But at the same time, her story is fascinating and engrossing, and the question it poses – whether we have realised too late the enormity of the disaster we face – should give us all pause.  

Also by Vandermeer at the EFL: Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (2013). Illustrated by Jeremy Zerfoss.

Cover image: Omar El Akkad's American WarOmar El Akkad, American War (2018)

American War is set in the late twenty-first century and concerns the events of the Second American Civil War. The root cause of the conflict is climate breakdown: while most of the USA has outlawed fossil fuels, some southern states refuse and attempt to secede from the union. However, the Civil War itself is only one aspect of the narrative.

The story is an allegorical reflection of America’s meddling in other countries’ affairs, and an exploration of how war and trauma lead to extremism and terrorism. By considering the circumstances in which extremism emerges El Akkad aims not to inspire sympathy for terrorists, but to facilitate an understanding of how ordinary people can be dehumanised and radicalised by conflict.

This central message is intriguing, yet its universalising aspects are arguably carried too far into the narrative itself. Many reviewers have observed that the story doesn’t seem very rooted in its American South setting, and that the main character, Sarat, appears neither very American nor very naunced (from the Guardian’s review and The Atlantic’s review). Even so, set against a backdrop of climate change and the horrors of war, American War is a chilling cautionary tale extrapolated from the Middle East of today to the America of fifty years hence. 

Cover image: Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (2018)

It’s a common image in disaster movies as much as science fiction: the world is crumbling, and New York stands (or falls) as a totemic symbol of either catastrophe or resilience. As overused and omnipresent as this trope can be – not least for the unfortunate New Yorkers who seem to have fallen victim to every apocalypse-level event imaginable – Robinson succeeds in putting a new spin on it.

In the year 2140, sea levels have risen 50 feet, leaving huge swathes of New York underwater. But it’s not only an inhospitable climate that twenty-second century New Yorkers face. The world Robinson creates is a consequence of (and continues to suffer under) our current financial systems and rampant toxic capitalism, of which climate change is but a symptom. Nevertheless, people have not abandoned the city, though admittedly they’ve retreated from the lower floors of buildings! Robinson focuses on the inhabitants of one skyscraper and how they both cope with the new world order and ultimately seek to change it.

The potential for change in Robinson’s narrative should not be understated. While many books (including many of the selections here) present a dystopian vision of a climate-ravaged future, Robinson keeps his narrative tinged with optimism, underpinned by a fundamental belief in people’s ability to come together. As one reviewer said, ‘beneath its anger at toxic capitalism and its despair over inadequate environmental measures is the thread of hope that somehow, maybe, we might yet balance the boat enough to make it through the ruins’ (from NPR review).  

Also by Robinson at the EFL: The Ministry for the Future (2020).

Hungry for more?

If you’d like to learn more about fantasy and science fiction literature, there’s plenty of resources available at the EFL, including a wealth of reference material, films and online databases.

The reference material available includes books such as:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (2012). Available online and in the library.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003). Available online and in the library.
  • Richard Mathews, Fantasy: the liberation of imagination (2011). Available online and in the library.
  • Patrick Parrinder, Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia (2000). Available in the library.
Cover images, clockwise from top left: The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature; The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction; Learning from Other Worlds by Patrick Parrinder; and Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews

Clockwise from top left: The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature; The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction; Learning from Other Worlds by Patrick Parrinder; and Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination by Richard Mathews

Beyond Books

Although books are great (obviously!) maybe you’re interested in fantasy and science fiction on film and TV? There are loads of online resources and databases available through the library. Some are freely available, such as films you can watch free on the BFI player, but you can get access to even more with your Oxford Single Sign-On (SSO).

Through Box of Broadcasts (BoB, also known as Learning On Screen), for example, you can access over 2 million TV and radio broadcasts from channels including BBC One, Two and Four, Channel 4, Film4, and ten foreign language channels. You can find a range of fantasy and science fiction programmes here, from the classic 1953 adaptation of The War of the Worlds and the first episode of Doctor Who (‘An Unearthly Child’, 1963) to documentaries such as 2014’s Tomorrow’s Worlds: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction. Bear in mind that these programmes are available for educational purposes, and do look over the BoB terms and conditions if you want to use any of the material in your work.  

Homepages for Box of Broadcasts (top) and Kanopy (bottom)

Homepages for Box of Broadcasts (top) and Kanopy (bottom)

Another site you have access to with your Oxford SSO is Kanopy. Kanopy have partnered with libraries and universities to provide ‘thoughtful entertainment … with no fees and no commercials’, for everyone ‘from film scholars to casual viewers’ (from Kanopy’s website). There’s an enormous range of films available, from early- and mid-twentieth-century films like Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) to cult classics such as Donnie Darko (2001) and more recent offerings like No Men Beyond This Point (2015), a mockumentary which explores a world where men are no longer needed for reproduction and face extinction.

These resources – and all the other databases you can access through the library – can be found on the Bodleian’s Databases A-Z page. If browsing all 1,700 databases at once is a little too much, try filtering by subject – you could narrow it down to databases relating to English or Film Studies for example.

A screenshot of the Databases A-Z page filtered for databases relating to English, with a red circle in the top left highlighting the drop-down menu to filter by subject

The Databases A-Z list, filtered to show databases relating to English

Scattered Seeds

Did you catch the Fantasy Fiction: Scattered Seeds virtual display in January? Written by last year’s EFL Graduate Trainee, it’s a deep-dive blog post exploring the growth and transformations of the fantasy genre from ‘Scattered Seeds’ and ‘Classic Roots’ to ‘Branching Out’.

It begins with The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, a short tale dating from Middle Egypt (2040 – 1782 BCE) and arguably the world’s oldest work of fantasy. You can read the story online or find it at the Sackler Library. From that original seed of the genre, we jump to more scattered ones with the advent of mainstream film and TV in the twentieth century. In fact, one of the oldest examples of fantasy on screen is the 1924 film The Thief of Baghdad, which is available in the EFL’s film collection. The blog post also includes a discussion of fantasy in gaming, from videogames like The Witcher to table-top RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons.

And finally …

What I hope this (very long!) post has shown is that there is huge variety in fantasy and science fiction, from books through films and TV to gaming, and that there is an enormous wealth of resources available at the EFL.

All of these works are incredible stories full of adventure and often not a little magic. But whether they look to the future or new imagined worlds, the best of the genre also say something about the world we live in today. They prompt us to think about our choices and the consequences of our decisions, to recognise and perhaps change our prejudices and preconceptions; more than anything, they inspire us to creativity and to see the world – and ourselves – in a different light.