Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reading Part 3


After that short interlude for Christmas festivities and the eating of wild boar in the Dordogne, here is the final part of my reading list. I hope that you are all having seasonal fun and that you were given lots of excellent reading matter.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedJonasson, Jonas
Deadpan Scandinavian comedy about a very old man and a band of criminal misfits.

Landfall, Helen Gordon
I bought this book as a present for my mum, read the first chapter and was hooked. It's about a young woman's return to her parents suburban home and the accompanying accidie.
Around her the quiet mysteries of suburbia were in the perfumed thickness of the silently lighted houses, the thickness of so many private lives together and separated. The mysteries were in the almost-countryside. They were in the dark alleyways, quiet railway bridges, empty cul-de-sacs, chained, railed parks at night-time. 
Scott-land: The Man Who Invented a Nation, Stuart Kelly
Everything you ever wanted to know about Walter Scott in short, snappy chapters.

Drown, Junot Diaz
Short stories about young Dominican men. 

Garnethill and Sanctum by Denise Mina. I met Denise Mina at a conference in Spain last October and discovered that she had lots of interesting things to say about women writers (and readers), the Scottish school of detective writing dubbed tartan noir, academia and popular literature. She's an excellent writer too.
The light in Scotland is low in the autumn, gracing even the most mundane objects with dramatic chiaroscuro.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott

Great book. Lamott has a very distinctive voice. Here's a funny quote:
then went to the library and said, “Do you have any other really funny books about cancer?” And they looked at me like, Yeah, they’re right over there by the comedies about spina bifida.
And here's a random quote I agree with completely, totally and utterly:
I have girlfriends who had their babies through natural childbirth—no drugs, no spinal, no nothing—and they secretly think they had a more honest birth experience, but I think the epidural is right up there with the most important breakthroughs in the West, like the Salk polio vaccine and salad bars in supermarkets.
Mortality, Christopher Hitchens
Great writing; melancholy subject. 

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan
This was an enjoyable novel but I think I may have read it too quickly because I can't remember much about it beyond: attractive woman, MI5, writer husband, duplicity, lots of wine drinking.

All Made Up, Janice Galloway
This is a fabulous, fabulous memoir. I grew up in a similar place at a similar time as Janice Galloway but in very different circumstances. Despite the ambiguous title, it all rang true.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, D. T. Max
The first biography of David Foster Wallace. It's very factual and somehow I liked the writer less after I'd finished it.

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
Two books in one - both about crumbling, watery cities. Excellent.

Mother Country, Jeremy Harding
I came to this memoir via Harding's writing for the LRB (he occasionally writes about Bordeaux where he has lived). It's the sensitive story of his search for his birth mother and the revelation of his adoptive mother's past.

The Moment, Douglas Kennedy
Absorbing novel set in Berlin when the wall was still standing. 

Death in Bordeaux, Allan Massie
I'd never read anything by Massie before (I don't particularly like his conservative brand of Scotsman journalism), but the title of this novel was too close to home to resist. It's a competent detective novel set in wartime Bordeaux; apparently the first of a planned trilogy. You'd think the publisher would have people able to use Google maps to check the street names though.

Emma Hearts LA, Keris Stainton
I followed Keris and Stella on their adventures in LA as Keris did the research for this YA novel. It's a fun book and I'll be recommending it to E just as soon as she's old enough to read about boys and romance (ie. when she's 20)(kidding).

Visiting Mrs. Nabokov: And Other Excursions, Martin Amis
This is a 1994 book and I'm not sure how I came to be reading it in 2012. Amis is easy and amusing. I guffawed at his descriptions of Elton John "looking more like Big Ears than usual", wearing a "Billy Bunter suit", then a "Humpty Dumpty outfit". He's good on Updike's upfrontness too:
Yet the case of Updike is unquestionably extreme. The textural contrast between your first and second wife’s pubic hair, for instance, is something that most writers feel their readers can get along without.
The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst
An erudite novel. This passage could serve as an epigraph to this series of posts on books:
Sometimes a book persisted as a coloured shadow at the edge of sight, as vague and unrecapturable as something seen in the rain from a passing vehicle: looked at directly it vanished altogether. Sometimes there were atmospheres, even the rudiments of a scene: a man in an office looking over Regent’s Park, rain in the streets outside – a little blurred etching of a situation she would never, could never, trace back to its source in a novel she had read some time, she thought, in the past thirty years.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading Part 2



Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
I read this while I was learning to run last year, before I wimped out because that pesky plantar fasciitis turned my heels into spurs of fire. Unfortunately the man it is about has died (while out on a run) since I read it.

You and I know how good running feels because we’ve made a habit of it. But lose the habit, and the loudest voice in your ear is your ancient survival instinct urging you to relax.
Silver: Return to Treasure Island, Andrew Motion
A follow-up to Treasure Island starring Jim Hawkins' daughter. Not bad. My favourite line:
I found a low-ceilinged, smoke-filled den where everything was brown as a kipper: chairs, tables, floorboards, hands and faces.
The Stranger in the Mirror, Jane Shilling
This is a book about realising that you are middle-aged. Did I tell you that I turned 50 this year? Traumatic doesn't cover it.
Unlike successful pregnancies which, in their neatly contained drama of three trimesters, essentially resemble one another, the narratives of menopause are diffuse and hard to categorise. Each middle-aged woman is menopausal in her own way.
The Professor and Other Writings, Terry Castle
I loved this book. The essays are full of quotable lines but I'll limit myself to these two on this somewhat familiar realisation:
I am chastened, subdued. Despite fifty years of walking and talking on my own, I realize I’m already starting to devolve, to morph back, as if inexorably, into that hungry, unkempt, much-loathed thing: My Mother’s Daughter.
And during a shopping trip to museum shops in Santa Fe with the aforementioned mother, the realisation that they share: 
the lower-middle-class family mania—seemingly inbred in both of us—for talking endlessly and anxiously about what things are “nice” or “not nice.
The Missing Shade Of Blue, Jennie Erdal
A friend recommended this book, and it turns out that he has a cameo part in it. It's another one set in Edinburgh and the story intertwines the themes of translation, Scottish academia, David Hume, buddhism and failing relationships. What's not to like?

Sightlines, Kathleen Jamie
This is a book about nature and landscapes. It is wonderful.
For days after I felt different, looser of limb, thrilled because the world had thrown me a gift and said, ‘Catch!
The Lost Child, an Mother's Story
Julie Myerson. A real Guardian reader's book. You may remember hearing about the middle-class parents who threw their 17-year-old son out of the house because of his unacceptable behaviour (and all the while his mum was writing a book about it).  I don't think I've ever read anything else that made me think "this is only one half of the story" more often. There's a historical side story too but it's skippable.

Almost French: Love and a New Life in ParisSarah Turnbull. 
I'm a sucker for all of these "new life in France" books and this one is better than most.

Working the Room, Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer can do no wrong, this is a fabulous book of essays (although he is a bit boasty about his beautiful wife.)

The Out of Office Girl, Nicola Doherty. 
Not being young, to put it bluntly, I'm pretty sure that I am not part of the target demographic for this novel, but I enjoyed it all the same. Who wouldn't  enjoy a good love story set in Italy? (Thank you Nicola for sending it to me and by the way, I think it would make a great film.)

On Writing, Stephen King. 
Really more about Stephen King and his modest beginnings than writing, and all the more enjoyable for it.

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, Paul J. Silvia. 
I can sum this book up in one sentence for you and save you the money: write for two solid hours every single day.

Treasure Island!!!, Sara Levine. 
This is a first novel about a young woman who becomes obsessed with the Treasure Island, notably adopting a parrot. She is very difficult to like but there are some very funny passages. 

La cité des jarres, Arnaldur Indridason. 
P. is a big fan of Icelandic crime fiction. Me not so much.

Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis. 
Unpleasant people in unpleasant surroundings.

To be continued.

What I've been reading

Picking up my reading list where I left off a year and a half ago.




Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd
You always get good value for money from William Boyd: a good story and a new theme every time. I think I'd have got more out of this one if I'd known a bit more about the history of psychoanalysis.

The Lantern Bearers, Ronald Frame. 
This is a novel based around the essay of the same title by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I found it difficult to get into the skin of the teenage boy protagonist, but enjoyed the evocation of 1960s South-West Scotland. 

The Distant Echo, Val McDermid. 
I had never read anything by Val McDermid and this was a good introduction. Small town Scotland at its best and worst.

Lonely Planet By the Seat of My Pants (Anthology), Don George (ed)
Stories of travel mishaps; sometimes a bit like being submitted to someone's holiday slideshow with "witty" titles.

The Testament of Gideon Mack, James Robertson.

An ambitious and enjoyable book.
'But I do like Scotland. I like the miserable weather. I like the miserable people, the fatalism, the negativity, the violence that’s always just below the surface. And I like the way you deal with religion. One century you’re up to your lugs in it, the next you’re trading the whole apparatus in for Sunday superstores. Praise the Lord and thrash the bairns. Ask and ye shall have the door shut in your face. Blessed are they that shop on the Sabbath, for they shall get the best bargains. Oh, yes, this is a very fine country.’
La carte de Guido : Un pélerinage européen, Kenneth White. Essays of travel with companions living and literary. White gets less and less challenging as he gets older and that may be a good thing.

Starter for Ten, Dave Nicholls. Laugh out loud funny. I liked this passage:
Why is it that the posher people are, the colder their house? And it's not just the cold, it's the dirt too: the dog hair, the dusty books, the muddy boots, the fridges that reek of sour milk and putrescent cheese and decaying kitchen-garden vegetables.
The Confession, John Grisham. I'm not a big Grisham fan and this book-length plea against the death penalty didn't convert me (to Grisham, obviously, anti-death-penaltyism already had me).

Killing Floor and Worth Dying For,  Lee Child. Both Jack Reacher novels. By the time I got to the end of the second one I thought that Jack was just far too pleased with himself and his mad military skills.

Dragon Bones: Two Years Beneath the Skin of a Himalayan Kingdom, Murray Gunn. A badly written book about Bhutan and how being a house-husband in a foreign land can make you a little whiny.

One Day, David Nicholls. You've all read this one right? Mushy.

And the Land Lay Still, James Robertson. A fabulous book -  large cast of characters reflecting many facets of Scottish life (and nationalism) over the past fifty years or so.

At Home: A short history of private life, Bill Bryson. 
How does Bryson produce these encyclopaedic books? Does he have a bright idea for a framing concept then appoint an army of researchers who present him with amusing nuggets that he then weaves together? And why do I forget all of those fascinating facts as soon as I put the book down?

Mary Ann in Autumn, Armistead Maupin. 
I loved the Tales of the City novels when I first read them  - now the characters are much older, and so am I. Perhaps we're a little bored with each other.

To be continued ...