Kristin Hersh is probably the best singer-songwriter you have never heard of. Just like her music, Seeing Sideways: A Memoir of Music & Motherhood (Jawbone press, 7 May) is poetic, lyrical and complex. I’ve been a fan (she prefers the word ‘listener’) since the early 1990s. Her band Throwing Muses has been around since the 80s. She has also released solo albums, formed another band (50FOOTWAVE) and written two previous non-fiction books, about her teenage years and being involved in a hit-and-run that left her with PTSD, and about her friendship with the late musician Vic Chesnutt.

Hersh does not fill any mould or genre and she likes it that way. As much as music is her life, she despises the music industry and everything it stands for. Music is seen a product to make money and she recounts her struggles with the bosses. “Music is everywhere but here,” she says whilst in the offices of a record label. Her stories about photo shoots and meetings with the labels are hilarious and she brilliantly emphasises the silliness of an industry that takes itself very seriously.

She became one of the very first musicians who broke with convention and asked her ‘strange angels’ (her loyal listeners) to help her pay for her music. To this day she is still making the music that way and she is free to make her own music.

Weaving throughout the chapters is her life as a mother of four boys. She was very young when she had her first son, Doony. He was taken away from her, and she writes beautifully about her fight to get him returned to her. Her search for the perfect nutcracker that Doony requests one Christmas is both comical and heartbreaking. She describes their nomadic lifestyle of living on tour bus after losing their house. Her boys are her life, and when the bus crashes her world starts to fall apart.

She makes an everyday conversation into something extraordinary, and some sentences just take your breath away. This book is chaotic and strange but at its centre is a life of passion, love and an unapologetically honest way of living.

She writes with such warmth and positivity you can’t help but be carried away on her wave of enthusiasm. It also shows her resilience and inner strength.”

Reading Devorgilla Days by Kathleen Hart (Two Roads, 27 May) is like receiving a lovely, warm hug. It teaches you that having an open heart and embracing life will reap rewards.

The author has been through some serious illnesses, and to help her recovery her daughter suggested that she share it through an Instagram account (@poshpedlar). While bed-ridden for months she decided that she had to change the way she lived. She describes being part of the Cheshire set whose lives revolved around designer handbags and clothes. With her relationship on the rocks and realising what a shallow life she was leading, she decides to pack up her bags and start afresh in Wigtown, Scotland’s official Book Town. She falls in love with a derelict cottage, which she restores, and then embraces everything the town has to offer. From Knit and Natter (plenty of gossip and cake!) to Scottish Country Dancing, she does it all. She makes friends with everyone and although she has her low moments, especially during a few health scares, she always finds solace in something. Her sea swimming helps both her scarred body and mind. “It’s fine once you’re in,” is her answer whenever she is asked if it’s cold – which is a lot!

She describes the town as a vibrant and community-focused place where you can leave your car parked outside a shop with the engine running so that if it’s in the way someone can move it to make space. She also receives the occasional gift of a lobster or fresh fish from the local fishermen. It sounds glorious!

She really begins to appreciate the small things in life and to realise what truly matters. Nature, trying new things like beekeeping or searching for treasures in the charity shop can all enrich your life. She writes with such warmth and positivity you can’t help but be carried away on her wave of enthusiasm. It also shows her resilience and inner strength. I’m sure it’s not easy to pack up after a life-threatening illness and start again, but she shows that there is always hope.

As we look to emerge from lockdown, this is the perfect book to immerse yourself in and to maybe reassess what is really important in life. I know that Scottish Country Dancing is not for me, but I do like the sound of Knit and Natter…

Through the darkness there is light, and through the immense pain there is always a flicker of hope and healing.”

Dantiel W. Moniz’ first story collection Milk Blood Heat (Atlantic Books, 6 May) is stunning. Each story is beautiful and complex and not always an easy read. She writes about the fragility of mother-and-daughter relationships, the power of friendships and the strength of families.

Each story is set in modern-day Florida and features ordinary people dealing with pivotal moments in their lives: fear, desire, death, love and loss, and most powerfully redemption. One story that really struck me was ‘Loss of Heaven’, a deeply moving story about a man’s denial of his wife’s cancer diagnosis. He is looking for comfort in all the wrong places and it’s painful to read. His final recognition of his reality is heartbreaking.

Each story shows you that through the darkness there is light, and through the immense pain there is always a flicker of hope and healing. This is an outstanding collection of stories that I am sure to return to over and over. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does next.

 

Sonia Weir is a contributing editor to Bookanista. She started the Ultimate Reads and Recommendations Facebook group in December 2018, which now has over 500 members from all over the world. The group is inclusive and aimed at every reader, no matter the books, authors or genre.
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