Book update

Back in March I wrote about re-reading the Terry Pratchett series, Truckers, Diggers, and Wings in the hopes of kickstarting a bit more reading than I had been doing. It was a plan that worked rather well, the silliness was just what I needed at the time, and they were just as good as I remembered them!

Cover of "Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile...
Since then, my reading dropped off a little, so I decided that Sandman and Fables anthologies were the perfect antidote. The highly visual media and that all you have to read is dialogue for the most part makes them less of a challenge when concentration is lacking. It only gets better when the kick-ass character in Fables is Snow White (with Bigby a close second).

English: Belly Band of Norwegian Wood 1st edit...

I wish I’d had the chance to read this Norwegian Wood 1st edition written by Haruki Murakami! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After that, I decided it was time to bring out the big guns. Yup. A Murakami novel, the magical cure for all reading maladies. This time it was Norwegian Wood, his least surreal novel. I’m rather glad it’s not the novel I started with, though one could argue that Kafka on the Shore is hardly a normal story. However, whilst Kafka is unarguably more weird, Norwegian Wood is instead far more intense. It was a rather unusual reading experience in that watching the movie adaptation beforehand didn’t spoil the book, but rather enhanced it (though, of course your mileage may vary on that). In Norwegian Wood, Murakami tells the relatively straight forward story of a Japanese man in his 30’s recalling his life from late teens through to his mid twenties. It’s a fairly intense period for most people, one might feel, but for Watanabe it’s perhaps worse than most. Without wishing to reveal too much, the novel’s themes centre on love, mental illness, loss and the process of becoming an adult amidst all of this turmoil. For perhaps obvious, and some that are less so, reasons this story resonated with me to a great deal. Even if I never find time to revisit it, I can’t see the stories of Watanabe, Naoko, Midori, and Reikos’ leaving me anytime soon.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill B...
Currently though, I am once again re-reading. This time it’s Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I first read this aged 14, just after my room had had to be evacuated due to massive amounts of rain and a leak in our roof. This would, of course, have been around the time I first became ill. I really enjoyed this book the first time I read it, sat in a room that for once looked spacious (it’s very small, and contains around 200 books when not evacuated), and that’s since become quite a fond memory. I don’t suppose I am the only one who knows how nice enjoying something again after a while of not being able to is.

After I’ve finished this, I have a fair few books I ought (never a good word in this context), to read. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath), On the Road, (Jack Kerouac), The Long Earth (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter). I think I might remind myself to mix those up with some good old trusty re-reads. Sabriel has spent a long time now sat on my shelf.


Truckers, Diggers and Wings

I seem to have slipped back into one of my ‘can’t read for shit’ lulls, which I suppose shouldn’t be too surprising. I’ve been trying for ages now to read The Silent Cry, and never managing to get very far. It’s quite annoying, because it’s actually quite interesting – just quite dense, especially the layout of the text and font size in my particular copy.

So often these days I simply can’t concentrate when reading. I used to read incredibly voraciously, but when stopped when I got very ill in 2008. After about a year and a half, I managed to finish A Farewell to Arms. Then I read Kafka on the Shore, and that got me back into reading properly.

Annoyingly, I don’t have an available Murakami novel this time. I might have to do something about that soon.

For now though, I have a series I first read at 13, and haven’t re-read since. I remember loving them at the time, racing through all three in one holiday. We were caravanning in Bude, Cornwall, and I killed all the boring time we spent inside the caravan lost in these books. They were also my very first introduction to one of my long term favourite authors; Terry Pratchett. It was the Nome Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, and Wings.

So I’m thinking I shall try and re-read this rather silly series, rather than aim to be all intellectual.

Blogs I follow, part I

I got into blogging from reading other blogs. I stumbled across a couple, found them interesting, kept checking back, and ended up reading them as much as I might read books. Eventually, I decided that blogging seemed like the perfect way to do something creative, and write something I wanted to write without taking too much time away from my studies (even if right now, I’m writing this instead of going over lecture notes).

So, I thought I’d highlight a few of the blogs that really got me hooked. This first blog I’m going to link to isn’t the first blog I started reading, but as that blog hardly needs the publicity, I think I shall include that one later.

For now then, I’m going to focus on supermattachine.

If you’ve read any of the rest of this blog, it’s probably rather obvious why the subject matter of this blog is important to me. It’s distinguished from the many other blogs on the matter for me by the depth of the  analysis provided by its author, Stephen Ira. Gender is a topic that is most complicated, and yet somehow he manages to get to the heart of an issue and make it perfectly understandable.

In particular, I think this piece illustrates that:

For me, the idea of policing young children’s bodies in this way is truly awful. I simply can not imagine how a grown adult can be so afraid of a child self-defining their existence- I very much hope it’s not because it makes them too painfully aware of their own constraints. That would be sad (or rather, sadder than the situation is already).


It’s probably fairly obvious that I’m a keen reader.

What might be less obvious is that I’m a bit of an insane reader. After all, what sane person decides to read a list of 1001 books to read before you die?

Admittedly, it is a little prescriptive.  It’s certainly not all I read- that would mean I never again experience the awesomeness of happening across an amazing read. That would be quite the loss, especially considering some of the awfulness it’s recommended I read.

I mean, I don’t think I’m ever going to understand why it was I ‘needed’ to read either John Banville, J.M. Coetzee, or Iain Sinclair. All three of those authors left me thoroughly cold and disinterested. It might be that I didn’t give any of them enough of a chance- but with so many good books out there, I can never see why I should be working away at books. Instead, books need to grab me, or sink their hooks in, or have me slowly fall in love with them.

The best thing about reading through the list is that without even having yet read 100 books on it, I’ve already discovered a fair few authors that I now love. Many of those I’m not sure I ever would have read otherwise. I’m absolutely loving the way it’s broadening the range of what I read.

For example, I very much doubt that whilst skimming titles, and synopses at the library or bookshop, that Rose Tremain’s novels would have appealed at all. That’s a shame, because whilst I don’t love her writing, I do very much enjoy it. Zadie Smith’s novels are similar. White Teeth is a book I’m fairly glad I was prompted to read. The character development and interaction was of a quality such that I can most definitely understand the reason for the recommendation.

It’s also incredibly useful for making myself read those books that ‘you always meant to read, one day’.

The Shipping News is a book that falls under this category, to a large extent. After enjoying Brokeback Mountain, I’d intended to pick up a Proulx at some point for a good couple of years. If it hadn’t been for its inclusion on the list, I may very well have given up at it’s rather clunky and confusing beginning. Once that was overcome however, it became quite emotionally powerful.

Mostly, I quite like the challenge. I aim to read 24 books from the list each year, and very nearly managed that last year. So far this year, I’m only on my second, so obviously I have some catching up to do already!

Books of 2011

Last year, I set myself a challenge to read 50 books. I never used to need such a challenge, I used to simply read as many books as were available. Nowadays though, it’s not so simple, one mood episode and I can’t concentrate and I stop reading for weeks, even months on end.

I reached 47.

Considering that includes Gone With the Wind, and that there’s several other books only 300 pages shorter, and I started university this year, I’m hardly displeased with that.

I’m going to recap the highlights from last year, and maybe a few of the truly low points.

Firstly, I have to mention Moby Dick. Took me 6 months to read, but I was really glad I finished it, including the supposedly eminently skippable whale encyclopedia sections. Something about Melville’s writing was just so delectable, despite being so rambly.

I was most glad to read 1Q84, given that for a long time, there was no certainty of it being published in English at all. Wind-up Bird Chronicle was definitely the better Murakami though- possibly better even than Kafka on the Shore.

Any year that contains two Ishiguro novels to go along side the Murakami’s is always a good one as well. He’d stand a chance at being my favourite author if not for Murakami. I always love the slight sadness, and subtlety. Ishiguro never labours a point, indeed, quite the opposite, he allows it to dawn upon you ever so gently. It makes for quite a powerful experience, in it’s own way.

Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series deserves a mention simply for being such a fun read. Not at all challenging, but not overly simple. Just an awesome set of lighthearted reads that don’t patronise the reader- perfect!

Probably the biggest surprise of the year was Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks. After finishing Gone with the Wind, the idea of starting a 600 page book was at least a little intimidating. I certainly did not expect to find myself racing through it, and finished all of a week later. Faulks wartime novel managed to avoid cliche and repetition of a theme, largely through the use of rather wonderful prose.

On the other side of the coin, the biggest disappointment has to be the version of Kafka’s The Castle that I read. Not sure if that’s just due to the translation, which it might well be. I know that I rather loved The Trial, so I think I shall have to give this one a second try.

Hurry Down Sunshine is probably the book that spoke to me the most, portraying as it did a young person with bipolar. Books like this leave me feeling so much less alone.

Cloud Atlas ranks as the most interesting book, in terms of concept and execution. Most writers would balls this entirely up, but David Mitchell (and not the one you’ll have heard of), managed to pull off writing the lovechild of If On A Winters Night A Traveller and a short story collection with a surprising level of success.

Terry Pratchett’s Snuff was amusing, as is to be expected. Unfortunately, the writing style is plainly less tight than it used to be, leaving me wondering if there’ll be any more.

Finally, the books that left me feeling like I was wading through a slew of mud: The Sea, Dining on Stones, and Beloved.