May 21, 2020
David Mitchell on his selection:
I hope you’re well, whoever you are, wherever you are. If my readings were songs on a playlist, I’d call it "A Winter, Some Ghosts and The Summer." I hope you enjoy it, and I hope to revisit New York soon.
1) John Connolly is a contemporary Irish crime writer and fantasist. This is my favourite very short ghost story. Thanks to John for letting me read it here.
2) Wisława Szymborska was a Polish poet, translator and essayist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. This cool shot of vodka of a poem is translated here by Joanna Trzeciak.
3) Henry Cecil was a lawyer and writer from the mid-20th century, mostly forgotten now. This story came from a spooky anthology I owned as a kid, called The House of Nightmare. It has a killer ending...
4) Edward Thomas died in the trenches in 1917. The poem evokes a ‘before the war’ moment, when a golden peace was on borrowed time. The train platform in the poem strikes me as a liminal space between life and death.
5) The Country Child is another book from my childhood about a childhood. I love the animism of the trees in this passage. Alison Uttley also wrote A Traveller in Time. She had a historian’s eye and a poet’s ear.
6) “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal.” William Wordsworth at his shortest. Having to learn ‘the one about the daffodils’ at school bleached Wordsworth for my generation. Discovering this poem, a few years later, put the colour back in.
7) I found James Wright’s collection The Branch Will Not Break in Auckland, NZ on my first visit to the country as a published author. I loved it then and I love it now. On the face of it, the final line from “Lying in a Hammock…” is a downer: why do I find it so uplifting?
8) Ursula K. Le Guin woke up my hunger to write narrative, and to (try to) make other people feel what this novel made me feel. Most hungers consume, but the writing-hunger sustains. I didn’t know Ursula well, but we emailed occasionally. She was sharp, funny and gracious, and the world is a little less magical now she’s no longer in it. Luckily, we still have her writing to make the world more magical than it otherwise would be. This exquisite passage from A Wizard of Earthsea, written (so she told me) on her kitchen table at night after she had put her kids to bed, doubles as a metaphor for the whole, glorious, transformative Wow of Art.
Nocturnes at Bookshop.org
“A Word on Statistics” at Poetry Foundation
“Adlestrop” at Poetry Foundation
The Country Child at Penguin UK
“A Slumber did my Spirit Seal” at Poetry Foundation
The Branch Will Not Break at Bookshop.org
A Wizard of Earthsea at Bookshop.org
Music: "Shift of Currents" by Blue Dot Sessions // CC BY-NC 2.0