Books books books

Here’s a sort of review of my year in books, in reverse order.

First, books that are still waiting to be read…

Next, the books that I’m still in the process of reading. It was only once I’d gathered them from around the house for the purpose of this photograph, that they really began to reproach me. Now I’m suffering book-guilt…

And lastly – and quite satisfying it is too – the books I have read, or reread this year. Not included in this picture are Jane Shilling’s The Stranger In The Mirror, because I’ve loaned it to someone, the first four Harry Potter books (I’m working through them with my daughter), or The Hobbit, which I’ve read to my daughter at least twice this year.

I enjoyed ALL of them. I can recommend all of them too. Thoughts have been provoked, wonder evoked, and one of them (Nik Perring‘s Not So Perfect) even staved off the onset of madness while I was stuck at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting to find out if Heathrow would become sufficiently unfogged so I could return home. (It didn’t, but we eventually flew anyway.)

What have you been reading this year?


Creatively rearranging my environment

Having decided to branch out further into the blogging world, I hereby own up to cheating a little. My first post here, is the most recent blog entry on my website – tweaked a bit here and there. (if you would like to look at my site, click here, it’s quite pretty really, and it has some examples of my writing, as well as the blog.) I’ve gone with WordPress for various reasons, including the fact that the RSS feed won’t work for my site – some glitch I can’t figure out – but also because it feels more visible, somehow. But enough self-indulgent self-justification, and on with the bloggery.

I have a new short story – a complete first draft – and another well on the way. As soon as the second is finished I’ll be going back to polish and reshape the first. Happiness is story shaped, oh yes. And the novel, still biding patiently in the wings…

The greasy beast insomnia has recently been rearing its head, so earlier nights have been called for – ah! the seduction of crisp white bedding, a mug of tea, and a bloody good book… or three. I’ve caught up on a lot of sleep, and a lot of reading. Over the last weekend – whilst wondering what to blog – I devoured Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning blockbuster, Wolf Hall, and Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective fiction, Alexandria. Both are what I call pungent writers. Lindsey Davis immerses her readers in the Roman world; you can smell the heat, the sweat, the olive oil and the herbs, the fish sauce and the wood smoke. She writes with vivacious wit, and humour. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years – well, how could I not be a fan of a woman who once rehearsed a knife fight with a friend, in the middle of a restaurant? – she has created a wealth of characters of whom I have become rather fond. And she presents an older world with a modern sensibility – but I wonder, sometimes, if what we call a modern sensibility is so modern after all? However you want to put it, the Roman world is rendered a recognisable place, even down to the nasal quality of the accent of a particular British tribe, located in what we know now as Birmingham.

Hilary Mantel too, immerses the reader, in the danger and intrigue of sixteenth century England. The canvas she paints is not so broad, but it is intimate. The historian Rosalind Miles once described Tudor political life as a series of conversations and crises taking place in small panelled rooms, the sound of running feet in the panelled corridors heralding the next news. So it is in Wolf Hall. Following the ebb and flow in Thomas Cromwell’s fortunes, from Cardinal Wolsey’s service to becoming Henry VIII’s fixer, the narrative is always immediate; intimate conversations between two or a few people, and every utterance, while laden with foreknowledge, foreshadowing what we know to be historically inevitable, reads as fresh, spontaneous, and could only have been spoken by that particular personage. Holbein’s portraits – and he also has a few lines, in a few scenes – are brought to life; blood, sweat and tears. And there is real humour to be found, as well as suffering. I laughed out loud, and yes, I cried, just a little bit. I ditched almost everything else that I was supposed to be doing in order to read this, and it’s only half the story. God knows when the second half will be finished, polished, published. Plus the additional year’s wait for the paperback. Anticipating a future delight.

Okay. So with the fruitcake I made today, that about counts for the miscellany. And now – drumroll please – the schoolboy error, and the third book. That feels as if it should be in capitals: the Third Book. The third book – and I am still reading it, not sure yet if I’m liking it – is Martin Amis’ The Pregnant Widow, published by Jonathan Cape. I’ve not read Amis before, so had no preconceptions. But I would have thought, that a writer of his  – if I believe the media – eminence, and with such a big hitting publisher, would notice a glaring misuse of apostrophe. Judge for yourself:

…an animal birthday is when you’re body happens to you…

(Amis, 2010, p.79)

Failure in copy-editing, failure in proof-reading… come on! It leaps out of the page to assault the reader in the eye.

And now this blog has gone on for far too long.