Friday, September 01, 2006
A friend tells me that he reads much less during the summer than at other times of the year because he does so many other interesting things when the weather is good. I don't, and the past few weeks has been a veritable readingfest for me.
I've been bored by Anita Shreve's lacklustre A Wedding in December , and unconvinced by Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players although the twist at the end is moderately clever.
I enjoyed Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian but in retrospect I think its humour would probably lend itself better to a film than a novel.
My interest in Robert Louis Stevenson has been rekindled by Claire Harman's biography, despite her lack of sympathy for the women in his life. I'm currently reading The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst and surprised by just how fascinating the history of the Scottish lighthouses is and just how enterprising RLS's forebearers were.
Like everyone else I know, I've been absolutely bowled over by The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Although I read this book way back at the beginning of July, and although I did think a couple of the plot devices were a little clunky, I'm still having flashbacks to scenes steeped in the atmosphere in Kabul in the '50s. I also read and enjoyed, but in a different way, The Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad who lived in the city while it was ruled by the Taliban with the eponymous bookshop owner's family. If you're a woman it certainly makes you glad that you were anywhere but there then.
I finally managed to finish The Child that Books Built having laid it down a few months back and decided it was well worth picking up again as the second half seemed to me to be more engaging than the first. I especially enjoyed the chapter on learning to read, perhaps because Z is just begining to decipher certain words and it's good to be reminded of those eureka! moments from one's own childhood.
A childhood much more alien to my own is described in great technichemical detail in Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood which I have to admit I found so inpenetrable at one point that I guiltlessly skipped over whole paragraphs. (Primo Levi's The Periodic Table was better at making this non-scientist feel she'd understood at least some of the excitement felt by chemists for elements.)
What else? I liked the light and airy style of The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisabeth Hyde but it was a pretty flismy whoddunit. Victoria Hislop's The Island is a wonderful account of the last years of life on the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony off the coast of Crete. It's just a pity that the writing is so desperately plodding and the interesting bit at the heart of the novel is framed in such a silly subchicklit plot. Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down was funny, really funny, but I'm sure I'll have forgotten all about it by this time next week.
All in all, a good summer for books. So, no I didn't get round to Bordeaux Housewives. Pfff a book about expat Brits in South-West France. Please someone confirm that it is as bad as I think it is because otherwise, I'm going to regret reading not writing over the summer and spend the next few weeks wailing "I should have written that!"