Reading round up

With a bit more time on my hands and a newly minted library card, I’ve been getting through a handful of novels a week lately. The downside of being dependent on the library is that I’m on the long, slow-moving list for the latest Galbraith, Rankin, Pat Barker, Sarah Perry and some others. I tried to add Tana French’s The Wych Elm but it’s not even published here yet, I think the US got it first. I’m simply steering clear of bookshops because my resolve will almost certainly crack.

But the positive is that I can take a punt on novels I’m not sure about or that are quite short. Full price, but c.300 page books are those that I’m least likely to buy, regardless of reviews, because they’ll be gone in an afternoon. If I can drop them back to the library a day or so later, then it doesn’t matter. Mostly, these experiments have worked out well.

In no particular order, here’s a bit of a round up,

Books I’ve loved

So Much Life Left Over – Louis de Bernieres. It’s the sequel to The Dust that Falls from Dreams, which I have on audio and could not get through. But, L de B was on Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year podcast and this sounded great so I grabbed it and tore through it. Now I’ve gone back to TDTFFD.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood. I remember seeing loads of reviews of this when it came out, but it never got as far as my TBR list. It’s a really entertaining narration of the year or so Patricia and her husband moved back in with her parents while they were saving money. Her father is a Catholic priest (who converted after he was already  married with kids) and an extreme character who prefers to spend his time at home in as little clothing as possible, often playing loud electric guitar.

How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran. Because the older I get, and the more pissed off I get, the more interested I get in feminism. Particularly as we seem to be moving backwards as all the poor, under-appreciated white men start to feel threatened by absolutely anything that suggests that society might move shift in the direction of equality, thereby curtailing their god-given right to behave however the fuck they want towards women at all times. Did I mention getting more pissed off?

How to be a  Woman is a collection of essays that interposes Moran’s tales of her own growing up with the current state of play, and what she learned along the way. And it is very fair, and very reasonable and entirely full of common sense. E.g. being pressured into make up or heels or fashionable clothing is all nonsense; of course women do not have to children to validate their existence. When I have got some money again, I will buy my own copy and carry it around with me at all times. And whenever things are bad I will open it at random and reflect on the wisdom within. It can be my personal tool for bibliomancy.

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks. Which is his collection of short stories that you will already know about unless you’ve been under a rock, because they were rave reviewed everywhere. And justifiably so. Elegiac, touching, funny, sad, deftly written gems of stories. Plus lovely pictures of old typewriters.

Books that were meh

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel. Very much in the ‘give it a go’ category to start with, because I am so over these pseudo-thrillers with the twist or surprise ending. There wasn’t any surprise with this one and I feel as though I had read all its different elements about a dozen times before. Family mystery, missing girl, black sheep returns to home town to figure it all out and reconnects with old boyfriend who never got over her. See what I mean?

Fatal Inheritance – Rachel Rhys. So, to start with the title, the inheritance is not fatal. But I suppose Slightly Threatening Inheritance wasn’t as dramatic. Secondly, I can’t stand unbearably naive heroines who create problems for themselves by failing to say or do something any normal person would say or do. Thirdly, the fact that characters keep arguing as evidence of thinly disguised sexual tension only works if there is the slightest reason for one of them to fancy the other in the first place. Which is something else I also struggle with in respect to unbearably naive heroines.

Anyway, woman mysteriously inherits part share in house in south of France and escapes overbearing, dull husband to visit and try to find out why. Meets fellow inheritors and faithful family retainer, continues to dress badly and be unable to hold her drink but blossoms in sunshine etc. Dull, overbearing husband arrives to take her home (because she hasn’t bothered to communicate with him, so obvs.) and also to underline difference between grim home life in suburbs and glory of independent life in southern France. Mystery resolved.

Books that I abandoned/would have thrown across the room if it was my own copy

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar. What an awesome name the author has. So this I just abandoned, can’t tell you how far in because I couldn’t be bothered to check. After Mr Hancock has got his mermaid back from the brothel, having been shocked by explicit goings on. I think he’d just sold it and decided to build houses in London with the money. Abandoned because I realised that at best I didn’t care about any of the characters, at worst I disliked them. And I’m not hugely interested in the details of the C19th whoring scene.

Honeymoon – Tina Seskis. Full on shoddy thriller territory, this one. Cuts back and forth in time, between a woman on her honeymoon on which her husband has gone missing, and her earlier dating life. What drives me nuts in this type of literature is the artificiality of the attempted suspense, created by really obviously hiding some information. In this instance, it’s the name of the husband that is dodged, which means that all the dialogue, including the internal dialogue, avoids mentioning his name. Clunk. This is in order to protect the part-way through reveal that the husband is, in fact, the brother of the guy she was dating! Gasp! Or rather, snore, because you can’t deliberately avoid a character’s name for that long without it being a massive red flag that you’re trying to fuck with the reader’s expectations.

Dunno what happened. Don’t care.


Literary collective nouns

Again with the Twitter inspiration, this time a chat with @Sophie_Gee. She is thinking about her first foray into Trollope and the discussion eventually led to ‘What is the collective noun for a shelf of Trollopes?’ (because, when I reorganised my books alphabetically, by good fortune Trollope ended up all together on the shelf at the top of the stairs.)

This seems like a good game to play on a rainy day, so here are a few literary collective nouns off the top of my head. Anyone got any others?

  1. A bordello of Trollopes
  2. A moue of Maughams
  3. A reticule of Austens
  4. A conclave of Greenes
  5. A scandal of Ravens
  6. A fleet of O’Brians. Obviously.
  7. A Widmerpool of Powells
  8. A chamber of Galsworthys
  9. An incompletion of Martins
  10. A murder of Rankins

And a few more, from various other people:

  • A quest of Tolkiens (colleague at work)
  • A dystopia of Orwells (colleague at work)
  • A confectionery of Prousts (Ms Gee)
  • A disgust of Selfs (Ms Gee)
  • A machismo of Hemingways (Ms Gee)
  • A casket of Jewells (me)
  • A cad of Frasers (colleague)

One of those who/what have you read lists

that we readerly types find almost irresistible, especially when lacking inspiration for an actual post (in my own case, not in that of Thomas At My Porch, whence I stole this.)

The Sunday Times 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945

(There are some women on the list, I presume someone at The Times was fired over that but it’s too late now.)
1. Philip Larkin – read
2. George Orwell – read
3. William Golding – read
4. Ted Hughes – read
5. Doris Lessing -read
6. J. R. R. Tolkien  – read
7. V. S. Naipaul – I will one day, though
8. Muriel Spark – read
9. Kingsley Amis – might have done, but have him permanently confused with the other Amis and don’t care enough to disambiguate them.
10. Angela Carter – read
11. C. S. Lewis – read
12. Iris Murdoch – read
13. Salman Rushdie – haven’t read and no intention either
14. Ian Fleming – read
15. Jan Morris – read
16. Roald Dahl – read
17. Anthony Burgess – read
18. Mervyn Peake – read
19. Martin Amis – see Kingsley Amis, above
20. Anthony Powell – read
21. Alan Sillitoe – nope
22. John Le Carré – read
23. Penelope Fitzgerald – read
24. Philippa Pearce – read
25. Barbara Pym – read
26. Beryl Bainbridge – don’t think I’ve even tried
27. J. G. Ballard – read
28. Alan Garner – read
29. Alasdair Gray – started
30. John Fowles – read
31. Derek Walcott – no
32. Kazuo Ishiguro – read
33. Anita Brookner – I’m pretty sure I’ve read something by her
34. A. S. Byatt – read
35. Ian McEwan – read
36. Geoffrey Hill – no
37. Hanif Kureishi – read but will never do so again
38. Iain Banks – read
39. George Mackay Brown – read
40. A. J. P. Taylor – read; but then, he was one of my History textbooks, and that was pre-GCSE.
41. Isaiah Berlin – ought to
42. J. K. Rowling – read
43. Philip Pullman – read one. As far as I know, I remain the only person in the entire world who doesn’t like His Dark Materials.
44. Julian Barnes – read
45. Colin Thubron – don’t think so
46. Bruce Chatwin – read
47. Alice Oswald – never heard of her
48. Benjamin Zephaniah – god, no
49. Rosemary Sutcliff – read
50. Michael Moorcock – read

Anyone care to join in?