Saturday, 30 November 2013

What I've Been Reading: October and November

Well, this is rather long overdue. I got so behind doing a post on November's reads, that I decided to just collate October and November together in one larger post.

It's been a funny couple of months, reading-wise. After the marvellous experience of reading The Man Booker, I found it really hard to get into anything else and felt a real dearth of reading. I had some, rather unhappy, "time off" from having a book on the go.

So, right back to October, I started with the last two Booker books: the questionable The Luminaries and the much enjoyed Tale For a Time Being. I felt a bit lost after this.

Lighter Than My Shadow, which J reviewed here, was a real delight - not in subject matter, but because it was so well crafted. The important thing about graphic novels is that they tell the story through pictures in a way that you couldn't simply do through a novel. And this certainly did - I particularly liked her depiction of the "eating disorder" as a black cloud that morphed, grew and shrink in different situations and as she grew and changed. It was a very clever device and portrayed something so effectively without words.

I read quite a lot of trash, which I won't bother writing about: Secrets by Freya North, Ruby and the Stone Age Diet by Martin Millar (one of the most unintelligeble books I think I have ever read, and absolutely DREADFUL), Theodore Boone: The Accused by John Grisham (mistakenly thinking this was an adult book, it turned out to be for young teens and was pretty poor), The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates (just very banal) and... PS I Love You (why, oh why did I stoop so low to read this? I was completely desperate in my defense.)

Ahem. Let's get onto some "real" books. I had two rereads: Coram Boy and More William. Actually, I'm not sure I had read this particular William book as none of the stories were particularly memorable to me. It was quite disappointing actually - it hardly featured the outlaws and I really missed them! I was also disappointed by Coram Boy; my last encounter with it had been when it was on at The National Theatre, which was absolutely amazing and maybe I had forgotten that the novel actually isn't as good as its stage adaptation. I don't think that Jamila Gavin is a particularly spectacular author, although her stories are good. But, rereading this, even the story seemed lacking: there were too many coincidences, even for a children's book and I ended up feeling pretty irritated. I wish I hadn't reread it, and left it as a nice memory. Sometimes childhood things are best left without revisiting.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham was a book I really... maybe enjoyed isn't the right word, because it isn't exactly pleasant. I really appreciated it, maybe? I've only read one other John Wyndham - and not the known by all Day of the Triffids - and I think this was more compelling. The children were chilling, with their collective/single persona/identity and their powers over the inhabitants of Midwich. Wyndham's style is quite factual in tone for the most part, but he does also have some very engrossing description, and his dialogue is very well crafted. It does feel a little outdated, but I suppose that makes sense considering how long ago it was written. (I just looked it up and it was in 1957 - that is a long time ago!). A good read, one I would recommend, and it has encouraged me to finally fet round to reading Day of the Triffids.

We Are All Made Out of Glue was the first book that I had really enjoyed in a while. I like Marina Lewycka, or, at least, some of her books. The most famous, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, actually has to be my least favourite of her books (or possibly Two Caravans). But this was a gem. It was, in turn, funny, absurd, moving and sad. Very real. I believed in the main character and although many of the other characters were real eccentrics and the situation someone just worked. I would really recommend this - pacy, exciting and ultimately uplifting.

I picked this up at one of those bargain book stands for £2.99 - not a very good start for a book, but the blurb sounded promising. Turns out this is an international bestseller, very very well known and I had just never heard of it! Felt a bit stupid when I realised this. Ultimately, I enjoyed this and would recommend it, but with some reservations. Being published in 1980 (I just checked), it will have been written in the late 70s, and this showed in terms of the scientific knowledge - some things just don't add up. She doesn't seem to quite be able to choose between whether the "magic" is purely explained by science, or if there is actually some validity to it. I would have preferred it if she had made it all scientifically logical. The other issue I have is, unfortunately, with her writing style. She has clearly done so much research of the period for this book and she really wants to show you everything that she has learnt. This sadly translates into huge prosaic paragraphs simply describing setting etc with little action or dialogue to break it up, which makes the book a bit sluggish at times. Still, I would like to read the sequels - the period does interest me a lot.

Wow, this post is getting a bit long. I'll try not to write too much more.

The Fear Index was the book club choice for J and A's book group - a thriller! I read it after their meeting about it actually so I was only a part of it in a very vague sense indeed. I haven't really read thrillers before and I was interested to see what I made of it. I was pleasantly surprised - it didn't go over my head, I didn't become bored with action scenes, and I did actually care about the characters. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending, but I did actually enjoy this book.

The Casual Vacancy is one of those books I have wanted to read since it was released, simply because it was by J K Rowling. I do quite feel for her - it's impossible for her to get a non-biased public reaction to her writing. But, this I really enjoyed. In content it sort of reminded me of Marina Lewycka's books - a mixture of real Issues but written with some real humour and fun as well. There were a lot of characters which was hard to get to grips with at first, but they were all quite characterchure-like which helped. I suppose that was a little of her children's writing coming through. In some ways it felt a little like a debut: she was trying to pack so much into this single book, she had so much she wanted to comment on, so much she wanted to say. This struck me as odd to start with but, on reflection, it makes a sort of sense. It may not be her debut but it is her first book as an adult writer. I'd like to reread it some time, and I would certainly recommend it.

Mindsight was a "homework" book to read - very well written, although not the sort of thing I usually read at all. (In fact, I barely read non-fiction at all). Worth a look at - lots of food for thought.

State of Wonder was also very enjoyable - it hadn't been what I expected by looking at the cover and I was pleasantly surprised. It's a sort of anthropological observation made through scientists' eyes as they live, work and experiment on members of an Amazonian tribe. Very interesting, and very well written too.

Finally, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini. H picked this up for me as a freebie and I was fully prepared to slate it - it sounded too cheesy for words. The basic premise? Another teen fantasy book with super powers and falling in love, this time with the main characters being descended from demigods. That's right. At first, I seemed to be right. It was clumsily written and just too cliched for words. The characters behaved in ways that were just too accepting of the extraordinary situation. ("Somehow, she was a demigod and she was just going to have to accept it.") It was predictable. The characters were irritating. But, as I continued reading I got lost in the story and stopped caring. As I often find with this type of teen read, I (rather embarassingly) don't seem fast enough to keep up with all of the plot twists and turns that accellerando at the end of the book, but I (as always, lazily) plough on regardless and arrive at the end with a slightly hazy idea of how everyone got there. Basically, I enjoyed it - despite the poor writing etc. I'll read the sequels if they come my way, but I don't think I'll be paying to read them!

So, there we have it - October and November, if anyone actually bothered to read all that. Is it better to do it monthly or bi-monthly, or even every few books? Any thoughts? Anyone reading this at all?

E xx