January 2019 Newsletter

Picture a badly-heated church hall on a Wednesday night. Plastic chairs are laid out in a horseshoe, upon which a dozen authors are sitting in their fleeces and drawstring pants. I push my chair from under me with a screech, rise to my feet and proudly declare: ‘My name’s Erin and I haven’t looked at Goodreads for two years now.’

Lots of you reading this will be on GoodReads.com already. For those of you who aren’t members, it’s an online booklovers’ forum: a bit like Amazon but with reviews only rather than sales rankings. It is, overall, a force for great good: testament to the blogging community who were so instrumental in bringing He Said/She Said to the bestseller lists, and I am grateful for every review. I love that there’s a purity about GoodReads that you don’t get on retail sites: there’s no risk of someone giving a book they loved one star because the postman left it with a neighbour who then went to Torremolinos for two weeks, for example. Or the man who bought a book for his wife and gave it three stars ‘for the benefit of the doubt’, not realising that Amazon counts a three-star review as negative. And yes, I speak from experience here.

But. But. GoodReads is not somewhere I should ever set digital foot. I once read a review that began ‘I do hope Erin Kelly isn’t one of those authors who comes on here…’ an opening sentence which should have had me closing my laptop and going for a nice long walk in the fresh air. But I read on, and the review was so brutal I thought about changing my career. I know, I know, no one’s making me log on. But it’s there. Writers are swirling vortexes of ego, arrogance and oversensitivity. What are we supposed to do?

There’s a scene in one of the Narnia books – the sublime Voyage of the Dawntreader*  – where Lucy finds a spell in a magic book that lets her see what her friends are really saying about her. Let’s just say that they’re not gushing about her many excellent qualities. Sometimes when you go fishing, you catch a boot. It’s better by far for me to stay in my bubble.

*scroll down for my definitive ranking of the Chronicles of Narnia

Erin

A Book In The Bath: What I’m reading this month 

The Binding by Bridget Collins, The Borough Press

Imagine a world where books are not something to be read for pleasure but something too dangerous to be shared. In the world of The Binding, if there’s something you want to forget, you visit a bookbinder who will draw your painful memories out of you and set them down in a book. Emmet Farmer doesn’t know anything about bookbinding until he is summoned to become a binder’s apprentice. He enters a sinister world of secrets and lies, memories and pain. Then one day, he finds a book with his name on it…

Every once in a while, a book comes along to remind me why I fell in love with reading. The Binding is set in an unspecified (yet undeniably English) town in an unspecified (yet recognisably 19th– Century) time. It’s a fantasy, a romance and a parable; imagine Phillip Pullman and Sarah Waters reworking The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and you’re halfway there. It has plausible magic and forbidden, powerful love. I blurb a lot of books but this is the only one I’ve endowed with the ultimate praise: ‘I wish I’d written it.’ I loved it so much that a) I re-read it within a week, and b) I then went into a massive depressive funk where I couldn’t write because whatever I came up with wouldn’t be as perfect. It’s not a thriller but it has the grip of the best crime novels. I think you will love it, and if you don’t then I just don’t see how we can remain friends.

 

This month I’ve been watching…YOU on Netflix, an adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’s darkly funny novel about Joe Goldberg, a serial killer and social-media stalker who manages a New York bookshop. It’s rare that a TV adaptation lives up to the book, but this might be even better.

 

As promised, The Chronicles of Narnia rated in order of excellence. I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when i was six, and I’ve revisited the entire collection over three decades, finding something new every time. This is the definitive version, don’t @ me

1. The Voyage of the Dawntreader. This sublime adventure on magical seas is the funniest and most romantic of the Narnia books. The lure of the Utter East thrilled me as a child, as it does now. Plus, who doesn’t secretly want to go clubbing with Reepicheep the mouse?

2. The Magician’s Nephew. Coming-of-age Victoriana as shot by Hammer Horror. This book is so weird and dark. Vibrating magical rings (stop it), ATTICS, and in Digory Kirke, a deceptively profound meditation on childhood grief.

3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This book has had quite enough attention already. Moving swiftly on…

4. Prince Caspian. This book didn’t mean much to me until I was about twelve, when suddenly it dawned on me that Prince Caspian was a massive sort. If Lion, Witch is a kids’ book, Prince Caspian is prototype YA.

5. The Last Battle. This whole book is one whacking great metaphor for Christianity and even at six I remember being enraged that Susan got cast out of heaven for liking lipstick. I know a lady vicar with an absolutely smokin look which will if anything get her pushed up the queue at the pearly gates.

6. The Silver Chair. I can’t actually review this as I only managed to finish it once, when I was seven, and I instantly forgot it. Seven is a good age to learn the lesson not to persevere with a book that’s making you want to eat your own ears with boredom.

7. The Horse and His Boy. Yeah, this feels massively racist now. Even a talking horse can’t save it.