A prolific essayist, Chris Arthur’s writing is marked invariably by an expansive curiosity, an omnivorous reading life and spooling philosophical enquiries that begin with an attentiveness to the ordinary. His finely wrought essays are what challenged me to think about essaying as an activity outside the schoolroom, beyond those dry-as-dust abstracts and arguments of professionalised, templated writing that sometimes masquerade for life in the Humanities….
Banner-maker, community artist and textile curator, Clare Hunter won the Saltire First Book Award for her debut work, Threads of Life (2019), which became Waterstone’s Scottish Book of the Month and a Radio 4 Book of the Week. Embroidering Her Truth continues this historical thread, weaving readers through episodes in Mary Stuart’s life, with an intricate examination of embroideries, tapestries, and textiles, and the subliminal messages these held.
Decades after leaving Iran as a child refugee, Dina Nayeri travels back to the location, both psychological and geographical, in which she waited for her asylum claim to be processed. Late in this powerful memoir, after a particularly distressing moment in her research, Nayeri must remind herself why she feels compelled to return to those early moments of her life: ‘Now that I have a daughter, it’s time I made sense of my own story and identity so she can be certain of hers.’ It is, of course, a common enough experience to find oneself reflecting on one’s origins, but to return to the themes and scenarios of Nayeri’s youth takes an especially courageous and direct gaze.
Polly Morland’s book builds on the irony of first finding a copy of The Fortunate Man (1967) hanging ‘in suspended animation’ while clearing out her mother’s house, John Berger’s witness account of the vicissitudes of a country doctor’s life in the same Gloucestershire valley in which the author now resides. This find sets in motion a series of emotionally charged events pinning memory, persons, place to what it is to be a woman GP in a country practice in the last two years of Covid.
Chitra Ramaswamy’s second book explores what home means in an individual life and the role family and language play as fundamental elements in its evolution, as much as the physical place we find ourselves living. She opens up the shifting relationships between homeland and motherland, between the actual place we are situated and an elusive sense of origin, of connection with an elsewhere which is indirect—imaginal even—tugging at the mind and heart.
In her debut book, Hattrick addresses with gusto the poorly understood condition of ME/CFS with which both she and her mother live. Her title plays on the ambiguities relating to this ‘medically unexplained’ illness, whose very labelling continues to be contentious and divisive. Hattrick unpacks the ways sufferers feel ill, but also the feelings they have about being ill and about the attitude of others towards CFS….
Bette Howland (Picador, 2021) pbk, £14.99 Originally published in 1974, this is an account by the author of the time she spent as an inpatient in a psychiatric ward of a hospital in Chicago, having taken a life-threatening overdose. It piqued the interest of Brigid Hughes, editor of Public Space magazine, who came across it Read More
Neuropsychologist Paul Broks combines an exploration of consciousness and mortality, framed within a personal experience of losing his wife to cancer. He warns the reader it is a ‘rambling, ramshackle house they’re about to enter’ where ‘fact sits alongside fiction’ and ‘science tangles with myth’. Acknowledging a shared human fragility, he intersperses descriptions of patients with neurological disorders who ’inhabit the twilight zones of the mind’ with a meandering series of visits to some of his own.
Maria Stepanova has been a popular and prolific poet, essayist and journalist in Russia for many years, but 2021 was the year her work was brought to the English-speaking world. In Memory of Memory is one of three books published in translation this year; a poetry collection War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe) and The Voice Over, a collection of poems and essays (Columbia University Press).
A. Kendra Greene is no stranger to museums. As an artist and essayist who has spent most of her career dedicated to museums, she exhibits her own work in museums, and has managed many collections in the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the Chicago History Museum, and the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. She has worked herself into them and around them. This collection of essays takes Greene far from the United States, searching the curiosities of Iceland’s isolated museums.