Books to pack
I'm looking forward to racing through the new Dick Francis, 10lb Penalty (Michael Joseph Pounds 16.99; other titles in Pan). I know nothing about horse-racing but am happy to be immersed in Francis's fictional world of skulduggery and steeplechasing. His yarns merge into one long round of savagery and sentiment - the heroes tend to be getting into fights one moment and philosophising over family relations the next. Good for a week's worth of lazy breakfasts.
It's a big jump up to Peter Ackroyd's biography of William Blake (Penguin Pounds 9.99), which immerses the reader in both the music of Blake's verse and the gold of his image-making. Illumined with wonderful quotation, exquisite details from Blake's visionary life (he died singing) and careful technical exposition of Blake's engraving techniques.
Morag Styles's From the Garden to the Street (Cassell Pounds 15.99) dives into 300 years of poetry for children (including Blake). Styles is an enthusiast with high standards: she ticks off Allan Ahlberg for metaphorically winking at adults, notes John Bunyan's moral severity and is able to weigh A A Milne's superb technical skill against his sentimentality. Best of all is her chapter on Afro-Caribbean verse.
Anthony Giddens's The Transformation of Intimacy (Polity Press Pounds 13. 95) is a sociological tome on modern romantic love. Like many academic books, it seems to have been written by a Martian just arrived on Earth.
Giddens could certainly have stood a few stylistic lessons from Blake: "the pure relationship can provide a facilitating social environment for the reflexive project of self," he writes. "Love seeketh not itself to please ... and builds a heaven in hell's despite," writes Blake ("The Clod and the Pebble"). But it's always great to have a book to hurl across the room before going out for a summer drink.
Victoria Neumark edits the Governors page of 'The TES'