Friday, December 31, 2010

Books read 2010

Well chuffed with the books that have been read this year. Will provide some more in-depth thoughts about them in a couple of days but here is the list of all those consumed this year. A great year's reading.

1. The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
2. The Book of Fame by Lloyd Jones
3. All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills
4. The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
5. Nobody Move by Denis Johnson
6. White Ravens by Owen Sheers
7. Rushing to Paradise by JG Ballard
8. Pierre et Jean by Guy de Maupassant
9. The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Suskind

10. A Dreambook for Our Time by Tadeusz Konwicki
11. The Man Who Knew Everything by Tom Stacey
12. The Locked Room by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
13. The Belly of the Atlantic by Fatou Diome
14. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
15. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
16. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

17. Bel Ami Guy du Maupassant
18. All the Conspirators by Christopher Isherwood
19. The Professor + The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa
20. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
21. Cop Killer by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
22. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
23. Solar by Ian McEwan

24. A Month in the Country by J.L Carr
25. The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
26. How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel
27. Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard
28. Tofu Landing by Evan Maloney
29. The White Castle by Orhan Panuk
30. Untimely Death by Cyril Hare
31. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

32. Young Hitler by Claus Hant
33. Natasha by David Bezmozgis
34. The Elephant by Slawomir Mrozek
35. The Carpenter's Pencil by Manuel Rivas
36. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
37. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
38. The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie
39. They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell

40. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
41. Repeat it Today With Tears by Anne Peile
42. Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller
43. All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
44. Amulet by Roberto Bolano
45. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
46. Stones in a Landslide by Maria Barbal
47. A Preparation for Death by Greg Baxter

48. Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi
49. The Last Will & Testament of Senhor Da Silva Araujo by Germano Almeida
50. Tintin and the Secret of Literature by Tom McCarthy
51. Who is Mr Satoshi? by Jonathan Lee
52. The Opposite of Falling by Jennie Rooney
53. Light Boxes by Shane Jones
54. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

55. Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood
56. Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic
57. The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig
58. Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy
59. The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal by Jan Marsh
60. The Wine-Dark Sea by Leonardo Sciascia
61. The Courilof Affair by Irene Nemirovsky

62. From a View to a Death by Anthony Powell
63. Kings of the Water by Mark Behr
64. The Castle of Otranto by Horage Walpole
65. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason
66. Vivian and I by Colin Bacon
67. First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan
68. C by Tom McCarthy

69. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
70. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller
71. The Canal by Lee Rourke
72. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
73. Leaf Storm by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
74. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
75. Maigret and the millionaires by Georges Simenon

76. My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon
77. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Horace McCoy
78. Men in Space by Tom McCarthy
79. The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
80. Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa
81. Circus Bulgaria by Deyan Enev
82. Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

83. The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell
84. The Dead Beat by Cody James
85. The Small Hand by Susan Hill
86. Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer
87. The Passport by Herta Muller
88. The Box of Delights by John Masefield

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thinking of doing a refresh for 2011

Last year I looked at the blog and changed the look and to a limited extent the content and thoughts are now turning to doing something smiliar.

The look is perhaps a little bit dull and the commitment to try and update every day has just not been sustainable this year and so going forward I will be being more realistic about the volume of posts.

What is important are the reviews and so more effort will be put into those. There are still so many that are not yet done from this year and to speed up the process I will be putting together some concise reviews in the next few days to clear the backlog.

Thanks as ever for reading and if you have any suggestions please don't hesitate to make them.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of Box of Delights

The idea of choosing this as the last read of the year had been to read it to the children. But at 309 pages with chapters too long for me to read out loud in the allotted bedtime read time it became something for me to try and get through.

every year, well for the last three at least, there has been a tradition in the Quicke household to watch the BBC adaptation of Box of Delights by the BBC first aired in 1984. Running over six episodes the special effects now look slightly dated but add to its charm.

But the TV couldn't cope with all of the magic scenes in the book so there is a clear reward for watching and then reading, because in many respects there are real differences.

Sure enough the book is deeper and the magic denser. The main character Kay comes across fairies and manages to find out a lot more about his enemies from dreams and flying sequences.

But the story of good versus evil played out against the snow and Christmas lights is as solid in the book as it is in the BBC adaptation. Great stuff. Just need to finish it before midnight strikes on New Years Eve...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

bookmark of the week

This bookmark was a christmas present and is not only fairly large and weaved but also very festive. It is going to come out and be used from now on to mark my progress through the last few books of the year at Christmas time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. Hope Father Christmas brings you lots of books!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Yuletide reading is slow going

With the kids off school and myself on holiday there is no commute and a busy house at this time of year. That makes reading difficult.

there is always that moment, in a good book, where after reading about 10 or so pages you get into a rhythm and get taken up by the pace of the writing and you can get lost in a book.

At this time of year there are so many distractions that getting lost in the pace of the book becomes a real challenge and one that over the years i have accepted i will not overcome.

So as I slowly plod my way through my last read of the year, Box of Delights, it is without a sense of pressure knowing that 20 or so pages in an evening is all that can be achieved at this time of year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

bookmark of the week

This is one of those bookmarks where the image moves slightly as you move it. It comes from the shop at the Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park. Its about the idea that despite knowing a fair bit about the universe there is still so much to discover.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Praise for the points card

I've never been on for things like club cards and nectar points so when Waterstones launched a points card i signed up with a great deal of scepticism. But as I look back over the year I have to concede it has worked.

Fundamentally from a Waterstones point of view I have bought more books. The card has not necessarily been the incentive, with the occasional promotions with double points etc, but it has encouraged me to buy a book when I can put some points towards it and reduce the cost/guilt of the purchase.

But there has been another consequence of having the card and that is with most chain bookshops disappearing off the high street it has in noticeable and probably unconscious ways, made me closer to the Waterstones brand. The ability to get a magazine for free is also a bonus that works.

Throughout the year I have used my points, regularly tendered the card unprompted at a purchase and it's always in the wallet. That means it has been for me at least a success.

Friday, December 17, 2010

book review: The Passport by Herta Muller

Sometimes the joiner's wife is summoned to the priest because of the baptismal certificate, sometimes to the militiaman because of the passport.
The night watchman has told Windisch that the priest has an iron bed in the sacristy. In this bed he looks for baptismal certificates, with the women. "If things go well," said the night watchman, "he looks for the baptismal certificates five times. If he is doing the job thoroughly, he looks ten times. With some families the militiaman loses and mislays the applications and the revenue stamps seven times. He looks for them on the mattress in the post office store room with the women who want to emigrate."

Imagine a small, claustrophobic and corrupt community that offers only one release through a passport and movement abroad. Add to the misery the environment of a dictatorship and the prospect that life in the West might not be much better and it is a world of pain and disappointment that tests the human resolve to the limit.

Muller uses the story of a miller, Windisch, and his attempt to get his wife and daughter passports to get out of the Romanian village into Germany as a tale that could be applied to thousands elsewhere.

The miller bribes the mayor with corn and hopes that he is inching closer to getting his passport but the only real bargaining chip he has is his daughter who he will have to send to sleep with the customs and parish officials who can speed through the paperwork.

The bitterness that leaves and the damage it does to the family is taken with them as they finally manage to leave.

But there are other things that you are left with as an experience reading this book. One is the idea that people can react differently to dictatorship and some will unfortunately close their minds to the ambition to gain freedom and will choose to remain victims.

The other is the style. Having read the Land of Green Plums the same lyrical, poetical style is on display here and although it is perhaps initially difficult to get into the Muller groove, once there the book flows along.

This might be a fairly slim volume but it is describing a world that most of its readers in the West would never have experienced and one that shows that even in the darkest despair there is always hope and the pull of freedom is an incredibly strong one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of The Passport

Having read Land of Green Plums you are reintroduced to Muller's style within a matter of words. Her prose has a poetic lyrical quality that paints pictures that are dream like as they weave in the past and present.

She introduces you to a Romanian German town where most of the inhabitants seem to have ambitions to get their passports and move to West Germany. Of those left behind a decent proportion are involved in the corruption that surrounds the passport application process or are too old to care about moving.

The story centres on Windisch the miller who has been planning to get his passport for a couple of years, bribing the mayor with flour, but so far has not been successful.

He roams the village watching those who manage to get a few steps further down the line towards escape. Can he get there as well before his marriage totally falls apart and he has to play his daughter as a trump card.

A review will follow soon...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The end nears for a great series

It is with a heavy heart that I embark on the tenth and final book, The Terrorists, in the Martin Beck series of crime novels penned by the husband and wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo.

Their books have provided great reading moments over the last couple of years and the world of the police set against a changing political and cultural landscape in Sweden in the 1960s and early 1970s has been fascinating.

Whenever you read a series of books there are always high and low points and the hope is that obviously they end on a high note. Along with Dance to the Music of Time these books have been one of the longest exercises in reading I've made over the last couple of years and I have enjoyed them immensely.

So it is with some regret that the final book is started but what a great discovery they were back that Sunday afternoon in an Oxfam shop when i stumbled over the first in the series. Back then no one I asked had heard of them but thanks to some great editions from Harper Perennial and the current vogue for Swedish crime writers they are at last getting the wider recognition they deserve.

As I head into the pages of The Terrorists hoping for one last magical moment from Sjowall and Wahloo.

Monday, December 13, 2010

book review: Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer

'All that does is make you fat, Rumpole.'
'You're telling me I'm fat?' The thought hadn't really occurred to me, but on the whole it was a fair enough description.
'You're on the way to becoming obese,' she added.
'is that a more serious way of saying I'm fat?'
'It's a very serious way of saying it. Why, the buttons will fly off your waistcoat like bullets. And I don't believe you could run to catch a bus.'
"Not necessary. I go by Tube to the Temple Station.'

If you are looking for a bit of humour, tales that have an outcome that involves great insight into human character and heavy doses of coincidence and a bit of humbug then this is a great book to consume against the backdrop of tinsel and fairy lights.

This collection brings together a series of seven yuletide themed stories that have not been collected together like this before. Rumpole is the old but wise barrister who manages to win cases despite most of the legal establishment being against him. She who must be obeyed, his wife Hilda, provides light relief and bosses the old boy around when he is not in the Old Bailey.

Over the course of the stories Rumpole manages to get his clients off on lighter charges, solve a murder and spend one Christmas break with a judge he can't stand.

There is some repetition that perhaps could have been edited out given that by the seventh story you know all about how the Rumpole's spend Christmas and how Hilda gets lavender water each and every year. But once you get past that repetitive scene setting theses stories, which have a recent feel about them thanks to topical references to the internet etc, do take hold of you.

If you fancy buying a Christmas book at this time of year and are open to spending time with an aging and outwardly rude barrister who has a heart of gold and a flair for solving crimes and getting justice then this is a perfect choice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

bookmark of the week

This is one of those clever bookmarks that appears to move as you tilt it. It shows artists dummies in a series of fun activities.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Books are for life not just for Christmas

Went into Waterstones in Greenwich this lunchtime just to get some ideas for presents and it was packed to the rafters. The crowds slowly shuffled past tables with the 3 for 2 offers and dodging elbows was a real challenge but plenty of book buying was being done.

Great to see so many people out book shopping and hopefully those that receive the books as gifts will be back themselves in the new year to add to their book collection.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of Rumpole at Christmas

Apart from the almost inevitable bit of Dickens at Christmas my reading at this time of year tends to be theme free. But having been sent the Rumpole at Christmas title it seemed like there is little time better than now, just days away from the 25th to have read.

I've not read a huge amount of Rumpole before but have got through enough to know his character and that of his legal colleagues. This collection has so far combined the best of Rumpole, the dry wit and ability for him to see things no one else around him has yet figured out, along with a good sprinkling of Christmas cheer.

Looking forward to spending the weekend getting through the rest of it. A review will follow soon....

Thursday, December 09, 2010

book review: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

"Do I believe in ghosts? The question is common enough and, if asked, I usually hedge my bets by saying, 'Possibly.' If asked whether I have seen one, of course until now I have always said that I have not."

Rather than scared the feeling on competition of this story was one of sadness. Mysteries of the past have the ability to emerge into the present and do great harm to those that thought they had left the past far behind them.

Having introduced the idea of a decrepit house and a ghostly presence of a child in just the few pages the story of the house and the small hand then unfold over the rest of the story.

The main character, rare book dealer Adam Snow, stumbles on the White House and its over grown and falling down house and garden on his way back to London from an appointment in Sussex. To get to the house he has to push past the brambles and the old gateway where visitors would have paid to visit the garden and in that quiet and chilly setting a small hand seems to enter his own. The presence of a child, a ghostly hand, that Adam feels as if it were real.

He then has to discover if he is going mad or whether or not the small hand is destined to haunt him for a long time. A well crafted story of hidden events of the past starts to unravel slowly and Adam suffers a few more spine chilling encounters before the truth is discovered.

Unlike the Woman in Black you don't read this frightened to turn the page but rather hurry along wanting to find out how the story unfolds. It is disturbing and the question of ghosts is one that both the character and the reader would have to think about. Do you believe in them? That question dominates Adam and starts to nag at the back of your own mind.

As a yuletide ghost story to be read against a backdrop of cold dark nights it's the choice of the moment and while it won't have you frightened to close your eyes it delivers a slower scare leaving darker thoughts lurking in your mind.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of The Small Hand

Ghost stories are not something I read with great regularity so I'm not sure of the form. But on limited experience this seems to go slightly against the norm. Instead of a growing sense of dread creeping up on you before the first 'sighting' of something supernatural the small hand is introduced very early on.

Having said that the sense of a small child holding a man's hand is introduced but the reason for the hand, the story behind it and the consequences for the man in the story, Adam Snow, are going to take a while to become clear.

By the half way point he has suffered a few more moments of feeling the hand with an increasing sense that the power behind it means him harm. Advised by monks to face his fear he sets out once again to the dilapidated house he first felt the hand to find the source of the mystery and to conquer his fears.

A review follows shortly...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

book review: The Dead Beat by Cody James

"It clouds your vision of the present, of what you have, of what you've made of yourself. It colours everything with dissatisfaction. It points out every instance in your life where you have been disappointed, hurt and heartbroken. it jumps on every word out of place that you hear people say and shows you the bruises and bumps it has suffered along the way, demanding that you do something about it. It looks around and tells you that it can't handle things this way, that things weren't supposed to be this way, that this isn't good enough. We're always being told to hold on to our innocence. Well, let me tell you what I've learned: innocence is a dirty, conniving whore."

How do you make a reader willingly and avidly read on about the lives of four house mates who are dragging themselves deeper into the dark depths of drug addiction? How do you make the reader care about these people and their black world even when described in all its horrific detail? Good writing with a solid voice and a cracking pace is the simple answer.

Cody James clearly knows what she is writing about and can portray the world of the falling apart without coming down on either side of the fence. She can tell you about Adam and his friends in graphic detail with humour and pain, but it is up to you to decide how you feel about them.

And feel about them you do. Adam, the main character, is heading for death and doing a very good line in self destruction. His friends Sean, Lincoln and Xavi are all gripped by the same addictions and sense of desperation. They each show it differently with Lincoln putting his hopes into a relationship that seems to have only remote prospects of lasting. Sean swings through bisexuality looking for satisfaction and Xavi trys to control his environment to bring some sort of sense of calm.

As Adam falls apart and takes his failings out on his friends and women he is involved with it would be easy to be turned off and hate the guy. But there is a part of you, perhaps all of us, that refuses to turn away until the light has completely gone out. You want to believe that Adam will sort himself out and recover some stability.

A few years ago now I stayed up late one night and watched a film with a young Michael Hutchence taking one of the main roles. Dogs in Space was the title, if I remember rightly, and it centered on a collection of misfits sharing a house and trying to find happiness. But excess and tragedy mar the group and it is a movie with a lot of self reflection and growing up in its tale. Had expected this to perhaps go in the same direction but liked the way James left the characters open to your interpretation.

Ultimately Adam and company could go either way. That is perhaps the greatest irony of drug addiction as so well portrayed by James that even until the end there is a chance of pulling out of the nosedive. Would Adam have done it? You would like to think so but this story pulls no punches and so you are well prepared to accept that he wouldn't.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of The Dead Beat

This book is almost cinematic in the way the scenes are so well described. You can so clearly picture the world of drug use and squalor that Adam and his three friends inhabit. even though you would walk, no run, to the other side of the street rather than get involved with these people James manages to pull you into their lives and struggle.

As the story develops you want Adam to kick the drug habit, which is so destructive, but as the other characters point out so frankly, what is the point life for these guys hardly looks attractive when played in real-time and horrible realism.

But accompanied with a controlled use of time and space there is some wicked writing here with some lines that stick in the head:

"Trying to decide what to do becomes a nightlong activity in itself, like some lousy postmodern joke."

A review to come on completion...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

bookmark of the week

This is made from recycled leather. It comes from the Royal Artillery museum, Firepower, in Woolwich. The museum houses a fair few guns and the story of the development of artillery. Like it although it's often cold inside.

Friday, December 03, 2010

book review: The Interrogative Mood A Novel? by Padgett Powell

"Can you cook? Can you fight? Can you lie? Can you do anything well? Have you acquired a sufficient stock of clothes from a mail-order seller that you can, if you want to flip through the catalogue to decide what to wear that day ? Do you know a peony from a petunia? What exactly does "Standard & Poor" mean to you? Can you hang ten? Do you dance?"

Life is full of questions and answers and each child goes through their why? period before learning that asking about things all the times causes both annoyance and frustration because the answers are usually far from satisfactory.

Imagine reading a book that from start to finish a series of questions. It might sound difficult reading, and in parts it is, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. One of the problems is the urge to mentally answer as many questions as you can and the other is to try, even though it's clear one isn't coming, to look out for a traditional narrative structure.

At the end you realise that of course life is a series of questions and a search for answers, for some sort of truth, and that those that ask with the sort of random determination of the voice in this book do so at risk of alienating themselves from friends caught in the questioning crossfire.

The questions ebb and flow and there is something almost symphonic about the way that certain themes recur through the reading. Questions about blue jays, poodles and haircuts crop up in different ways throughout the book.

There is also a sense of asking the reader to think about their perceptions of a novel. The question really is what is a novel? and although this comes hardbound at 164 pages looking like a novel is it one? Is this literature as art? Is this literature as a construction? The questions don't stop at page 164.

As an exercise reading something different this reminds you that the narrative forms you take for granted are there to be challenged and in a way this succeeds where Tom McCarthy's C failed to be an anti-novel. It might not be comfortable but it will make you laugh in places but more than anything it will make you think and that has to be a good thing.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thoughts at the half way point of The Interrogative Mood

It's hard to know where this book is going, no doubt more of the same questions, as you wade through question after question.

Some of them make you laugh, some disturb and others have cultural references that are missed but overall if the intention is to get you to think about things then it is working.

Keep finding it's taking a long time to read because the natural urge is to try and answer the questions.

Review on completion soon...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The month in review - November

Just managed to squeeze the Orwell in before the shutters came down on the month. Enjoyed the reading this month, but way behind on reviewing things. if there is a theme it probably should be the word 'clever'. Men In Space was clever in terms of displaying its knowledge of art, Eastern European politics and plot construction. Ministry of Fear was clever in the way it all came together with Greene pulling the strings masterfully. Coming up for Air was a clever book saying something bit but preparing the reader with humour and Circus Bulgaria cleverly painted a bleak picture of life in Bulgaria drawing on realism and dreams.

The books read in November were:

My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Horace McCoy
Men in Space by Tom McCarthy
The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa
Circus Bulgaria by Deyan Enev
Coming Up for Air by George Orwell

Roll on December...