Saturday, January 07, 2012

More book-related wanderings AND a list of last year's book-club books

Happy new year from Accentmonkey
 and Dave the Shoulder Monkey
The Christmas holidays saw me stricken with a chest infection, an illness precisely timed to begin on December 25th, at a time when we were sleeping on a blow-up mattress in a room-between-rooms in ComedyB's house in Essex without access to the armoury of medicines and comfort we've built up at home. Two weeks, no sleep, a lot of driving in heavy rain on unfamiliar roads, and a course of antibiotics later and I'm just coming back to life enough to be able to think about looking at my book again, and of course it just looks awful and I wonder what I was ever thinking.
Luckily for me there are plenty of distractions about. I joined BookCountry a while ago (under my married name. I'm not really clear why I chose to use my married name, except that I suppose it just makes it very slightly harder to join up all the different versions of me that exist online) and, separately, acquired a writing buddy, so while I'm flailing around whingeing about the life choices that have left me fit for almost nothing except making subpar banana bread (I don't even put fudge chunks in it, what kind of animal am I, exactly?) and walking dogs, I can at least read other people's books and offer them the benefit of my critical faculties. For example, I recently helped someone on BookCountry by telling them that they had spelled "debacle" incorrectly. You're welcome, everyone.
Continuing the desperate procrastination theme, here's a list of the books I read last year for the two book clubs I'm in. I can't be arsed reviewing them all properly now, I have too much reading to do.

Classic Book Club, year two:

  • Hunger by Knut Hamsun - this is reading a bit like a proto-Ripley Bogle to me at the moment, but I'm only a third of the way through it, so it's too early to tell.
  • The Golden Bowl by Henry James - tough going. Twitter pal @FictionWitch likens reading Henry James to observing fascinating people through a really grubby window, and that seems right somehow. I'd like to read one of James's earlier books to see if that's any easier.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot - wonderful, amazing, engrossing, romantic, funny, sentimental, philosophical, modern, etc. etc. I'm very glad to have read this at last, and could happily have carried on reading it or listening to it forever.
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - fabulous, modern, detailed, funny, scathing, etc. etc. Very glad to have read this too. An unqualified success.
  • The Caliph Vathek by William Beckford - utter rubbish. However, it's short and of its time, fitting in with the whole vogue for Orientalism/drug-taking/writing things all in one night/seeing oneself as a renaissance man while actually being nothing more than a trustafarian mentalist (in addition to being an atrocious writer, Beckford also fancied himself as an architect, designing and causing to be built Fonthill Abbey, which had to be pulled down 30 years later because it was badly designed and poorly constructed). Beckford himself is much more entertaining than this book.
  • The Red and the Black by Maurice Stendhal - ugh, just ugh. Managed to struggle through half of it before giving up. Other members of book club may have liked this more.
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins - flawed but highly entertaining. Kind of like a JJ Abrams show, in that you're fine as long as you career through it at breakneck pace and don't stop to think about the logic, but as soon as the words "wait a minute..." cross your mind, the book becomes full of holes and is doomed. Also notable for introducing me to the Victorian meme of Italians with white mice, which I had no idea was a thing until it was mentioned here and again in Middlemarch.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - amusing in spots, kind of boring in others. Definitely nowhere near as good as the Big Three, but still funny and still head and shoulders above most other things.
Twentieth-Century Book Club, year one:
Most of my thoughts on these fall squarely into the "so that's what happens in that book I've always seen in second-hand shops but never read. Okay then," area rather than the "oh wow, so glad I read that, my life is changed," area, but they are much quicker reads than the ones in Classic Book Club, so it's okay. I realise that at this point some readers might be wondering what the hell I read for my English degree if I didn't read any of the books listed here, to which I say "up yours".
  • Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis - funny and scabrous, but there is absolutely nobody in this book to like, which can make even the shortest book a bit wearing.
  • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh - interesting in its contemporary detail rather than for the story itself, but still amusing enough and fairly bang on about press/media warmongering.
  • The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler - chosen purely on the basis of this piece in the New Statesman. This was crisp, no-nonsense interwar intrigue, but is very badly let down by a massive mistake on the protagonist's part at the end. You just wouldn't do something so stupid. 
  • Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey - horribly dated prose style and story construction, but if he was the first to come up with a lot of these ideas, then no wonder people loved him at the time. Also, he knows how to write an exciting horseback chase. Still, there's only so many times you can see the word "sage" written down before you go a bit mad. This does seem like the kind of writing that was superseded by movies and television.
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn - surprisingly cheery despite the subject matter. Of course, this is just one day, and you are constantly being reminded that it is a good day. All around the protagonist, bad days are happening to other people, and a bad day in the gulag is a very bad day indeed. This book makes an interesting companion to The Emperor of Lies, given that they both feature slave labour, rags wrapped round feet instead of shoes, thin soup, hoarded bread, and closed environments where the inhabitants are reduced to railing against the smallest of things rather than the outside enemy that has landed them here. 
  • The New Machiavelli by HG Wells - haven't actually started this yet, it's for our next meeting. 
Other confections coming up in Twentieth-Century Book Club this year include Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham, The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell, and maybe Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, maybe. I said maybe, Ray.

1 comment:

Ray said...

Maybe yes!