Archive for November 9th, 2012

November 9, 2012

October Reading

Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal: Almost a short story and close to a children’s book. I’d never read Stifter before but if this translation (by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore) is anything to go by he’s quiet and polished and a bit amazing. I wish I’d left this for Christmas.

Jeff Noon, Channel Sk1n: I’m just surprised I managed to resist buying and reading a new Jeff Noon book for weeks after it was published. The last time that happened (in 2002, I think) I was in school, in the middle of exams and bought the book anyway and promised I wouldn’t read it yet and found myself tearing the house apart to find where the parents had helpfully hidden it. Um. The book itself I wrote about here.

M. G. Vassanji, The Magic of Saida: Reviewed for the Hindustan Times, with a longer version posted here. The very short version: I was unimpressed.

Sarah Caudwell, Thus Was Adonis Murdered and The Shortest Way to Hades: I gushed about the Hilary Tamar series in one of my Left of Cool columns and also mentioned the first book in one of my National Geographic Traveller pieces (out in December, I think). Can it be that I am carrying my Caudwell evangelism too far?

Alexander McCall Smith, Portugese Irregular Verbs: McCall Smith is best known for his Precious Ramotswe books, detective novels set in Botswana. I’m not a huge fan of the series, and I’m made a little uncomfortable (possibly unfairly? I don’t know) by the white guy writing African setting/black woman as main character aspect of it all. I’ve quite enjoyed his Isabel Dalhousie books (set in Edinburgh) despite the fact that, as a friend complains, he tends to treat his forty-year-old protagonist as if she were middle-aged. (My friend is forty). I do like the gently mocking Von Igenfeld books though. I read Portugese Irregular Verbs because of its last chapter, an extended parody of Mann’s Death in Venice (Clever readers will notice a theme in this month’s reading and may deduce from it the topic of a future NatGeoTraveller column). But then at the end McCall Smith ruins it by explicitly invoking Mann’s story – in an unsubtle hey, you know what this situation is kind of like? manner. I was a bit surprised by how much this annoyed me, but it felt like a contract had been broken.

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Is it okay if I think this is overrated?

P. G. Wodehouse, Leave it to Psmith: This, on the other hand, is perfect.

Anna Carey, Rebecca’s Rules: The sequel to last year’s The Real Rebecca. Anna is a friend and I’d probably be well-disposed towards her books in any case, but I enjoyed the first and I liked this one even better. This despite her having created the most irritating teenage boy I have encountered in fiction or in life in a long time. And her choosing not to tell us Paperboy’s name (Anna, how could you?)

Nicholas Blake, The Morning After Death: no.

Ian McEwan, The Comfort of Strangers: This is an incredibly effective book, in that it made me feel physically ill the first time I read it (and I assume that that was its intention). I managed to avoid nausea this time round, but it’s still horrible and powerful.

Various, The Nightmare Factory: Wrote about this here, was not that impressed.

Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?: I have very strong feelings about this book and I’m still struggling to articulate some of my dislike. Subashini’s excellent review at Popmatters hits most of the same points though.

Amanda Quick, Mischief: Reread so I could write a thing about alternate histories. Have so far not written a thing about alternate histories. It is very funny though.

Lavie Tidhar, Osama: This is uncomfortable (that random awkward moment with the trans character near the beginning, really?), but also smart and otherwise pleasing. And it just won a world fantasy award – i.e. a model of famous racist H.P. Lovecraft’s head. I wrote about it here.

Thomas Mann, Death in Venice: I’m not sure it makes sense to class Death in Venice as a novel here; my copy of it is in an edition with multiple short stories by Mann. Then again, it’s probably as long as Rock Crystal – incidentally, Mann is supposed to have been a big Stifter fan. I’d last read Death in Venice in school; while I still thought it was wonderful this time around, I found it much harder to immerse myself in the mood of it. I’m not sure if that means I’ve weakened as a reader.

J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy: Review (and separate rant about the politics of fat in the novel) to follow. It’s not very good.

Maud Hart Lovelace, Carney’s House Party: This is the second of the Betsy-Tacy (or related) books that I’ve read, and while I quite enjoyed both I’m not sure I’ll be seeking out more. Still, it’s nice when characters in books act like grown-ups about relationships, so there’s that.


Also in October, I became 27. This was less life-changing than you might expect.