It’s Lit Part I – A Curated Winter Reading List

Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
Welcome to It’s Lit – a series of discussions about books. Join us every month to find out who’s reading what. First up is poet, writer and filmmaker, Greta Bellamacina. Greta credits reading as “the best education I’ve ever had – better than school or university.” Greta and her partner Robert Montgomery founded New River Press, the first poet-led press to come out of London in more than 100 years. Together, they have published seven books of poetry, including Perishing Tame, Greta’s meditations on motherhood, female identity, boredom and love. Her first feature-length documentary, The Safe House: A Decline of Ideas, investigates the rise and decline of the British public library – a space where Greta spent a lot of time as a child. “Libraries give you that possibility of ideas, no matter how small they are – those ideas are the difference between who goes to art school and who becomes a lawyer,” she says. An activist for education and reading, Greta’s favourite fact about literature is one worth repeating: “A book never loses its value no matter how long it’s sat on your bookshelf.”

When and where do you read?
I read a lot on journeys, always on trains, and especially in London where it takes so long to get everywhere. I think there’s something so great about being transported while you’re stuck waiting, so I always carry a book with me.

Never a Kindle?

No, I like the weight of a book and I like to know how many pages I have left to read. I don’t want to scroll to find out.
Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
Fact or fiction? I prefer biographies. Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig is a favourite. What are you reading right now? I always have a few books on the go. I’m currently reading Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller and Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. I picked it up in Cardiff in a secondhand bookshop and it’s funny because the foreword is by Patti Smith, who found it in an old bookshop too. I chose it for the front cover – I think everyone secretly does that, right? I’ve also just finished The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s not a genre I’d usually read but I thought it was incredibly well-written.
Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
What about newspapers and magazines? My friends have just published a great zine called Hate. I read The International Times and I still love The Morning Star because it’s the only newspaper that publishes poetry every day. I think it’s great that it’s still surviving and Rupert Murdoch has nothing to do with its success! Can you name three contemporary poets we should know? Alice Oswald – her writing is so transcendent, I’ve never read someone who can write words like water. Robert Montgomery – and not just because he’s my boyfriend – he writes a lot about topical things, which not all poets do and he’s very political with it too. And finally, I would say Tess Gallagher – her poetry is phenomenal and she deserves more acclaim. Do you have a favourite poem about love? “Lovesong” by Ted Hughes. Everyone should read it. Where do you buy your books? Do you have a favourite bookshop? I buy a lot of secondhand books. I love Shakespeare and Company in Paris, and I’m just back from a place in Scotland called Wigtown, near Dumfries. I was amazed by how many incredible bookshops they have. It’s a tiny, tiny town and they obviously brought the bookshops in to get more people to visit there, which I think is really interesting. In London, Claire de Rouen is good for one-off finds and takes risks other bookshops don’t. And the ICA bookshop is where I go for poetry anthologies and zines. How do you choose what to read next? I like visiting curated bookshops as I find them easier to browse; The Society Club is a good one. I also listen to a lot of radio and get ideas from conversations I hear on there. Then I have my favourite authors – Jeanette Winterson, A.A. Gill – I’ll read anything they write.
Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
What three books would you recommend to a stranger? Chavs by Owen Jones, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell and Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson. Is there a book you’ve read more than once? The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas. I love how it’s not typically structured – I think it was really ahead of its time. And the hotel always reminds me of The Eagles' song "Hotel California", for some reason. Each time I read it, I find something new to love. How do you organise your bookshelves? Do you have a system? In my studio, I colour-code my art books. At home I stack everything – one side of the wall is my poetry library and the other is everything else. The newer the book, the closer to the front it is. I always keep four books by my bed – I like knowing that they’re there. What do you use as a bookmark? Restaurant napkins. What book would you give as a gift? A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud. This is a book my friend gave me one Christmas that I’ve bought for loads of people. It’s a very short novella and Rimbaud discusses his life in such an epic way. It’s such a brave book. The other one would be By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart. They’re both written in quite a similar way – they’re almost like acid – they don’t really make any sense. The words are like fire.
Photographed by Holly Whittaker.
Greta’s Reading List Breakfast with Lucian by Geordie Greig
Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
The Girls by Emma Cline
Memorial by Alice Oswald
Coltash by Robert Montgomery
Moon Crossing Bridge by Tess Gallagher
Crow by Ted Hughes
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Previous Convictions by A.A. Gill
Chavs by Owen Jones
I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell
Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson
The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas
A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart
The Safe House: A Decline of Ideas has been screening in UK cinemas, libraries and at various festivals and will launch exclusively from November 28 on Curzon Home Cinema.

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