Monday, December 27, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
That was my briefly typed thought a few days ago. I have since acted on a recommendation and picked up Arundhati Roy's The God Of Small Things. It was wonderful but very intense and deeply sad and I need a break from it, so I am back to my book drought. I finished a bio about Princess Masako by Ben Hill the other day which left me quite sad and listless, so I really need an uplifting or at least a bit cheerful book to read.
And Dorian Gray is going nowhere fast.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Just like Miss Polly’s Dolly, I have been sick, sick, sick. A good excuse for not updating the blog for a while but being stuck in bed with a hideous cold gave me more reading time, so now I have a lot of catching up to do.
There are certain things I am quite happy to read when stuck in bed not feeling well, that I am not so keen on at other times. I started reading The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory and got almost halfway before I realised that I completely hated it. I think I was starting to get better so I became more discerning. Now that I come to write about why I hated the book so much, I realise that it is for the same reason I hated a Peter Carey I was required to read about 10 years ago. Namely, a highly unlikeable character who is at the centre of a tale told in first person narrative. There is almost nothing more excruciating than having to wade through the thoughts and experiences of someone you know you would detest in real life.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (due for release in November) was a great book to read while not feeling 100% “the thing”. It was very easy on the brain but actually had a lot of stuff going on. Such a book is, I feel, deceptively hard to write as well as being the most fun to read. Without going into too much detail I’ll just say that it was well layered, full of fleshed out characters and very, very Gothic. I enjoyed it so much that I am now reading her previous novel The Forgotten Garden.
Always on the lookout for an easy read when I am overtired or not well, I recently reread a book that I first came across about 5 or so years ago. Although I used to reread constantly when I was a child and teenager, it isn’t something I tend to do these days. Mostly this is down to the fact that I am gripped with a panic that I will never, ever, ever be able to read even half the books in the world that I would like to; there isn’t nearly enough time!!! At times it feels as if every single reading choice is precious and must not be wasted. I feel guilty reading something for a second time.
This time I felt compelled. It was the first time in several years that I had reread something other than Georgette Heyer, which I consider “throwaway” reading anyway. This time the book once more by the bed was The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets (Eva Rice). All the way through The Distant Hours I’d been reminiscing about this book. The atmosphere of “1950s: cakes and crumpets for tea” was conjured equally evocatively in both novels. Maybe it’s partially down to all the books about English boarding schools that I read as a child but there’s something about this vibe that I find completely comforting and utterly entrancing in equal measure.
I am still not totally up to date with all that I've read in the last 6 weeks or so but i am going to publish and be damned. Hopefully, I will manage to get around to a full round up in the coming weeks. Currently in the reading works is a newly rekindled fetish for early to mid 20th Century British toff fiction and what - for want of a better phrase - I am going to call pulp non-fiction. Details to follow!
Sunday, August 8, 2010
There is nothing better than reading a book you enjoy so much that you can’t stop talking or thinking about it. It doesn’t happen nearly enough but I just love it when I am in the middle of a book that I think about idly through the day; longing for the moment when I can snatch a few minutes to read a little more. Once I have finished a book like this I am often disappointed in whatever I happen to read next. Recently, I have been fortunate enough to read two excellent books back to back.
First I read Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor, a Sydney author, followed by Tinkers by Paul Harding, which has just won the Pulitzer Prize. Being such different books, and especially enjoyable for markedly different reasons probably helped me to appreciate each fully because I wasn’t comparing them closely and finding more favour with one than the other. In a very broad way I would have to say that I liked Tinkers for style and Indelible Ink for content.
I felt completely immersed in the world of Indelible Ink; a Sydney that makes sense to me. McGregor captures the sense of being in Sydney like no other book I can think of. Her characters are so realistic that they both reminded me of specific people I know, and felt like rounded and complete individuals know to me as real people, not just two-dimensional sketches delivering dialogue and performing actions. While I was reading it I went to a couple of places mentioned in the book and very mildly freaked out; I almost expected the streets to have changed since I saw them last, as though the book had happened to them.
Another manifestation of McGregor’s brilliant ability to create such an “on point” sense of place is the contrast in feeling between the North Shore and Inner City suburbs that she brings to life. “Crossing the bridge” is a real and metaphorical boundary to breach for Sydneysiders and it is depicted here in a way that makes real the metaphorical; it is common for residents to complain about having to “cross the bridge” (no matter which side they are starting from) and McGregor manages to colour in the spaces between such a thin sounding complaint. North and South/East/West really are two different worlds. People think differently, the streets and houses look different, the atmosphere is – somehow – completely distinct.
The result of a story based around such lifelike characters playing out their dramas in a cityscape that so closely reflects my own home brought an immediacy to my reading of the novel. I’m not able to separate my knowledge and experience of Sydney from my appreciation of the book. I think that it would still be a great read, although perhaps not quite as gripping or all-consuming. So far I have only heard Sydney-centric feedback and I look forward to finding out how readers unfamiliar with life in Sydney respond to Indelible Ink.
Tinkers was a delight to read. I read the tiny little US edition (just before a local Australian release in standard small-format paperback). It really is impressive packaging design. Being slightly shorter, it is closer to a square shape and makes the book fell hugely covetable. Reading from it and holding it is like handling a secret little treasure.
“A literary meditation.” This was how I described the book to Tallboy and it seems to perfectly sum it up for me. It is quite easy and gentle to read but I found myself pausing to think about the images, ideas and themes explored. Harding very subtly slides them into the narrative almost unnoticeably, so that all of a sudden several ideas have slipped through that need to be mulled over. For such a short book, it took a long time to read – almost a week. But this wasn’t a struggled read; it was a very calm and pleasant perambulating read.
Once I had finished Tinkers, I wanted to read something equally literary and well written. I thought about Richard Yates as I have a volume of collected stories of which I have only read a fraction. I realised that I didn’t want the magic of Tinkers to fade so quickly, and decided to read something light and rather silly before tackling the Yates. It turned out to be a good tactic, and good old Georgette Heyer came to the rescue once again. Now I feel refreshed and ready for another meaty read.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Thursday, July 1, 2010
I don’t tend to read crime novels, yet I have found myself reading a few in recent months and quite enjoying myself. Patricia Duncker’s The Strange Case Of The Composer And His Judge is not something I would immediately or confidently classify as belonging to the crime genre, but it is about a bunch of people who mysteriously kill themselves, and about the law enforcement officers who try to solve the case. So although it is classified as “literary fiction” – probably because of the author’s previous work – it could just as easily be called crime/mystery. I loved it. I partly loved it for the slightly other-wordly atmosphere Dunker creates with her writing (reminding me of Margaret Atwood or A. S. Byatt) but I also loved it for the unknowing, and the wanting-to-figure-it-out-ness. This latter angle seems to me to be the entire point of crime fiction.
While I was supposed to be reading serious and worthy stuff like that discussed in my previous post, I became distracted by and compelled to finish A Dark Dividing, by Sarah Rayne. At first it felt like an annoying little itch that I had to finish but which kept me from reading other material; I didn’t think it was worth blogging about. … which in itself opens an interesting line of thought: how can I be enjoying something but feel it isn’t worth analysing or discussing?
Having spent 3 years being a cultural studies/popular culture tutor I am more than over the “high versus low art” debate so never fear that I am going to travel that moth-eaten, dog-eared, dull-as-dishwater path here. Whether or not the book is technically brilliant is beside the point. The reason people read crime novels is not to marvel at a beautifully structured phrase, but to get caught up in a salacious story. I suppose I was lucky enough to get both those things simultaneously in the Duncker novel but while that makes it a better book from my perspective, it probably wouldn’t make any difference to a reader who was only interested in the content of the plot.
I have just finished reading Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phryne Fisher novel, Dead Man's Chest, which is due out in October this year. I came across this series of books (about a rich and glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne) as a teenager and read as many as I could get my hands on. After a while, I found the formula became too clunky and repetitive and I stopped reading them.
I decided to give this one a go out of respect for my earlier enjoyment. I found the first few pages a bit trite and trying but at some point I looked down and realised I was almost halfway through the book and had barely noticed the time passing. The problem I have with these books is also what makes them work so well; they are pure and utter wish-fulfilment. This can be fabulous if you let it, but boring, annoying and too implausible for words if you find yourself unable to switch you brain to a “fantasy only” setting. The ratio of food scenes to crime scenes in these books is about 10:1. If you feel like being pedantic there is a lot to find fault with. Although Greenwood tackles the element of escapism with the subtlety of a 7ft drag queen gangster wielding a sledgehammer, it is still possible to find an escape in her novels, and I really did enjoy myself while reading this one.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
This week I am reading two quite old books interchangeably; The Group by Mary McCarthy and Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. The Group was originally publishing in 1962 and I am reading a yellowing, spine-cracked 1966 edition. My edition of Sprig Muslin (1958) is from 1968. Both books have that lovely soft, floppy feel, and a page colour that is the book equivalent of lamplight to a new book’s florescent bulb.
I began the week stridently obsessed with reading The Group, billed in it’s 2010 reissue as a mid century precursor to Sex and the City. McCarthy’s language is bitingly sharp; she is ruthlessly perceptive and the novel is hilarious both for the snappy character sketches and for the now ludicrously archaic sticky social situations with which the characters must grapple. I became totally absorbed in each character’s problems which are so realistically heart-wrenching that I had to set the book aside for a rest.
My chosen antidote was, of course, one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. All her books in this genre are full of floaty dresses, calling cards, bafflingly complicated social conventions and young scallywags who by the book’s end have been tamed into marriageable material. It’s completely absurd which is why I love it. Even though a sporadic dose of Heyer can soothe and relax me as nothing else, I can’t take too much all at once. I am thoroughly enjoying Sprig Muslin, but I am already looking forward to something with a little more intellectual meat.