A brutally honest book log – January 2015
I’m not sure if I will keep this up all year, but I’ve wanted to keep a record of what I’ve been reading for some time. Why brutally honest? Because I pledge to include everything: high brow, low brow, the books I didn’t understand and gave up on, the books I did understand and gave up on…the ones I wasted my time on and still read to The End…
PAWNEE: by Leslie Knope BBC BOOKS
A Christmas present – thank you Ben! A record of the greatest town in America: slogan First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity. This is the book of the Parks and Recreation series. It is now in it seventh and last season. If you get the chance (search the internet) watch it from the beginning. The first couple of episodes were quite weak and the main character, Leslie Knope, the most zealous public manager ever employed in City Hall, was the butt of the humour. That wasn’t very comfortable. An obsessive pedant, she was an unreliable narrator unaware of her almost David Bent-esque effect on her colleagues, except for one important element she did have a genuine ethically based idea of service. But gradually the actor Amy Poehler was allowed to develop the character, making her funnier and not more realistic, none of the characters are meant to be real in that sense, but more rounded . Oh, just watch it. It’s a feel good comedy with a brilliant team – Ron Swanson almost made my cry in season seven.
RED SQUARE by Martin Cruz Smith
I’d heard of the bestseller Gorky Park in the 80s and there may even be a copy somewhere in the house, but somehow Cruz Smith’s books set in Russia passed me by. Wasted years. A literary thriller: action, fights, chases, bad guys doing very bad things, the police doing very bad things, believable characters brought to life by prose that’s so well crafted that now and then you have to stop and re-read a sentence because it’s so good you want to savour it for longer. I am going to read every word he has written and I will become a better writer in the process. It’s got to rub off.
HOW NOVELISTS WORK by Maura Dooley. Bought this at least 10 years ago and I often pick it up off the shelf and dip in again, especially when I feel in the need of a little motivation. Maura Dooley interviewed me when I applied to Goldsmiths for a place on the creative writing Masters programme so I like her very much as she let me in. Thank you Maura – the course was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The book does what it says on the title: 10 authors describing how they work or don’t work or worry about their work…it’s good to share.
AFTER THE STORM by Jane Lythell
I know it is a terrible cliché to say a book was a real page turner, it’s an easy compliment, but I was forced to stay up late to read just another chapter and then another until it was stupid O’clock. There is an extraordinary sense of place – an old boat island-hopping in the Caribbean – which captured me by page two. There’s also a lot of author rule breaking such as multiple points of view in the same scene. Lythell makes it seem natural and appropriate rather than experimental and look-what-I’m-doing edgy. There are four characters, all of equal importance, all with stories and secrets. All of them alive on the page. A good choice for a book group I think – lots to talk about.
LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER by John Irving
This has been lying around on the to-be-read pile for ages. I tried it once and only got to about page three. This time I made it to page five. Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Own Meany are two of my favourite books and I also enjoyed Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp so I don’t know why I am stuck here. Irving is an interesting and distinctive writer. I like his voice and his take on the world. And yet…I must do better as a reader.
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND by Flannery O’Connor
A tight short story of about 6000 words that probably teaches you all you need to know about how to write. Wonderful juxtaposition between the irritatingly ordinary and heart-chilling terror. Worth reading again and again. And then some more.
CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson
Recovering from an operation, I was in pain and couldn’t sleep. It was instinct that made me reach for an Atkinson novel – it could have any of them, but this one was nearest. Re-reading it (for the third time) I could escape to the world she created and the night wasn’t so long. Note to self: always keep one handy for emergencies.
photo credit: Arjen Toet via photopin cc