Women & Their Books: Rosalind Jana

Two of my favourite things are inspiring women and books. I literally came up with the idea for this new series one morning on my train to work and was so excited, I hurriedly emailed Rosalind to ask if she'd be the first woman to talk all things literary. Much to my excitement she said yes and I can tell you, it's been tough for me to keep quiet about this series until now. I am hoping to include women from on and off the interwebs, regular ladies and perhaps even the odd gent or two if they want to get involved. 

Rosalind Jana, formerly known around the blogosphere as Clothes, Cameras & Coffee first came to my attention last year c/o Emma Gannon and her Ctrl Alt; Delete podcast but I'd actually been exposed to her work years earlier in Violet magazine without even realising. She is incredibly talented, having shared her voice in both poetry and nonfiction books as well as being Junior Editor at Violet magazine. She won the British Vogue Talent Contest when she was sixteen and is a regular contributor to SUITCASE magazine. She's a busy, busy lady so I feel very honoured she took the time to answer my questions and share what books and female writers have inspired her thus far. 

-What are you currently reading?

I’ve been picking up and putting down Extraordinary Women for ages now. It’s a little known romp of a read set in Europe during the early twentieth century - a fictionalised reimagining of various queer women (including Radclyffe Hall) and their exploits. Very silly. Very fun. Lots of ravishing descriptions of the main character Rosalba. I’m very promiscuous with my reading though, so I’m also in the midst of Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man*, WG Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, and my friend Rosie Findlay’s wonderful book Personal Style Blogs: Appearances That Fascinate. Oh, and I’ve been diving back into Eva Ibbotson recently too. I just read A Countess Below Stairs, which is among the most joyous books I’ve ever encountered.

-What is your most read book?

Great question! It’s possibly a tie between Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out one Midsummer Morning and Angela Carter’s Wise Children. I’ve returned to both of them so many times. I guess they’re almost like comfort reads in some respects (though the real equivalent of a cup of tea under a blanket on a bad day is The Moomins: Tove Jansson has seen me through some dark times. And some sunny ones too, admittedly!) Lee’s prose is so evocative. It’s the book that made me fall in love with travel writing. And Carter has long been a favourite. I love how this book fizzes with revelry and mischief and artifice, all the while paying homage to Shakespeare in a very rambunctious fashion.

-As a gifted writer yourself, is there any book in particular that inspires your writing and/or makes you want to write?

Thank you! I hope I glean things from everything I read: whether it encourages me to work ever harder on my own projects, or I find it frustrating and want to unpick what didn’t work. A few books that have recently made me want to pick up my pen (well, more accurately hunch over my laptop) would include Ali Smith’s Artful, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, and, forever and always, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Essays-wise, I always dip back into Woolf and Hilary Mantel when I need a real jolt of prose. Oh, and Alan Garner’s The Stone Book! That’s so dense and compact and mesmerising. There’s lots of poetry too, but I should stop already.

I think what all those works – and so many others – share is a real sense of exhilaration at what you can do with language, whether in the rhythm of a sentence, the twists of a satisfying story, or a particular precision of thought. Reading other people’s work and being both in awe and VERY envious of them really is a helpful spur.

-You’ve recently been travelling to Canada and Japan. What did you read while you were there? Did you pick up any local literature?

Very good question. I didn’t have much time for reading while actually in Japan – but I did gobble up lots on the plane trip there. I sped through Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer (Rundell is a delicious children’s writer whose books invariably make me want to weep/ laugh/ go climb rooftops in Paris, run with wolves in Russia, and battle my way through the Amazon), and Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, which is full of deft observations on teenage girls, school, and sexuality.

On Fogo Island I read continuously, returning to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (even better with the backdrop of the roaring North Atlantic behind), and deliving into Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing (had to have at least one Canadian author in there!), Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (a superlatively good piece of nature writing), and various others. I also bought Diana Vreeland’s autobiography in a second hand bookshop in St John’s on my way back home. It’s ridiculous and over the top and I love it.

To my shame though, I didn’t manage to pick up any local literature in either!

-What is your favourite book by a British writer and why?

Is it a cliché to say Wuthering Heights? Probably. I don’t care. (Also, this is an IMPOSSIBLE question. I have so many favourites, especially when it comes to British writers, from Hilary Mantel to Alan Garner to Ali Smith to Saki to Jeanette Winterson to Jenny Diski to John Berger and beyond).

-Which women writer’s words have left a lasting impression on you?

Virginia Woolf, forever and always. From her astutely observed essays to the incandescent thrill of books like Orlando, I feel like I’m forever trying to get to grips with the depths of her works, despite having read many of them several times (I did my undergraduate dissertation on her). She continually reminds me of the flexibilities and possibilities of words, as well as the challenges they can present.

-Finally, if there was one book you’d recommend every woman have on their bookshelf, which would it be?

Similarly difficult to answer, given that I don’t think there’s any one thing we should all absolutely have to read. It’s going to depend on your tastes, your priorities etc. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is a pretty safe/ necessary bet though.

// Thank you so much to Rosalind for being the first radtastic lady to contribute to this series. I hope you all enjoyed it. Be sure to give Rosalind a follow, her Instagram is especially dreamy. Stay tuned next month for another installment of this new series. //

*Book Depository affiliate links may have been used but where possible I am linking to my two favourite local bookstores. Shout out to you Unity Books and Time Out. 

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