28 December 2017

Whatchoo Readin' For?

The last time I was too lazy to post (most of 2007) I did manage a list of what I read that year. Well guess what…

“Econobabble” by Richard Denniss. Popular economics. Some good points and from an Australian perspective - which these things often aren’t.

“The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin. China’s most popular sci-fi book. Won all sorts of awards. Mostly dreadful rubbish, although the bit set in the Cultural Revolution was interesting.

“The Long Utopia” by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett. Fourth in a series set on a string of parallel Earths. Pretty enjoyable.

“Stoner” by John Williams. Easily the best thing I read this year. Seemingly simple story of a university professor’s life, but the writing is so accomplished it ends up building into a beautifully moving epic, yet built from nothing really.

“Under the Skin” by Jonathan Glazer. The film adaptation of this is one of my favourite movies. The book isn’t as good, but is still an unusual story of dog-like aliens harvesting hitch hikers in remote Scotland for consumption as a delicacy on their home-world.

“The Rachael Papers” by Martin Amis. First Martin Amis I’ve read. First one he wrote. A surprisingly amusing tale of a tortured teenager in early ‘70s England.

“The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson” by Jeffrey Toobin. This was the written accompaniment to the screen-binge I was on at the time here. Plenty o’ Juice. Crazy stuff. Good book.

“The First Forty-Nine Stories” by Ernest Hemingway. Great writer. Usual hijinks in bull rings and pursuing manly pursuits.

“Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson. I re-read this one afternoon in Hong Kong while I was feeling a bit ill. A lot of obscure facts in Bill’s usual readable style, though I think I prefer “Shakespeare: The World as Stage” for its insights into the English language.

“Elric” by Michael Moorcock. One novel in a very famous fantasy series. I suppose a successor to Gormenghast, or even the original Conan novels, and a precursor to ‘The Black Company’ series by Glen Cook. “Eldritch fantasy in a dying land” perhaps? Anyway, a bit dire.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. Popular and ‘experimental’ hit of 2017. The experimental side of things didn’t do anything worthwhile besides inflating this from a short story into a novel.

“Bright Air Black” by David Vann. A retelling of Medea. It opens with Medea in the stern of the Argo, standing in the decomposing body of the brother she has just murdered, throwing pieces into the sea to slow the pursuit of her father, who must fish each limb from the water. Amazing prose and an amazingly fierce protagonist, unbound by the rules of her society.

“Victory” by Joseph Conrad. Enjoyable psychological thriller set in Indonesia. The protagonist was a bit too icily tortured, but there were some excellent villains.

“The Promise of the Child” by Tom Toner. Elaborate space opera which didn’t really grab me.

“Forensics and Fiction” by D.P. Lyle. Reasonably interesting read where various aspiring crime writers ask the author technical questions around forensic devices in their plots, e.g. “if my hero found the butler’s body buried in the cellar two months after he was killed, what would the body look like?”

“House of Names” by Colm Tóibín. Another retelling of Greek mytrhology, this time the story of the House of Atreus: King Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra, their son Orestes and daughters Iphigenia and Electra. This is a very realistic take – no gods or magic – which made it harsh, but I think I preferred “Bright Air Black” for its touches of the divine, even if they were explicable.

“The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad. Lighter than “Victory” and not as good.

“New York 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson. New novel from one of my favourite authors. Fascinating examination of what city life might be like after massive global sea level rises and what it means to inhabit an ‘intertidal’ space.

“I, Claudius” by Robert Graves. Got a fair way through this before I realised I’d read it before. Still, an excellent book and I love a bit of Roman intrigue.

“All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy. The first in McCarthy’s ‘Border Trilogy’. A young Texan cowboy travels to Mexico and falls in love. Beautiful, spare prose. Lot of Spanish. Lot of horses.

“The Crossing” by Cormac McCarthy. Second in the ‘Border Trilogy’. A young boy traps a wolf that is killing livestock on his family’s farm, then tries to return it to Mexico. Things end badly.

“Cities of the Plain” by Cormac McCarthy. The last novel in the ‘Border Trilogy’. The protagonists from the first two novels, older now, meet while working on a ranch, and travel to Mexico when one falls in love with a prostitute. Things end badly.

“The Many-Coloured Land” by Christopher Koch. A writer travels around Ireland to explore his family history in company with a musician. Pretty engaging. Made me want to see the Burren in County Clare.

“American Pastoral” by Philip Roth. Once it gets past the framing narrative, this was a great examination of a man’s inability to understand the decline of his business and the motivations of his daughter in bombing the local post office. It also had lots of technical minutiae about how to make really good hand-made leather gloves, such that I now want a pair.

“The Natural Way of Things” by Charlotte Wood. Ultimately stupid story about a bunch of ‘overly sexual’ women being kidnapped and held on a remote property for an unspecified purpose. Then they leave.

“The Misenchanted Sword” by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Amazing fantasy book that I’ve read nearly every year since I was about 10 years old. No thought required but a good story nevertheless.

“Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood. Some novellas concerning Berlin in the ‘30s collected into one volume. Bit of old time scandal – abortions, women smoking – made more topical by passing references to Nazis. Some good prose too. Oh, and one of the stories was the basis for ‘Cabaret’.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carré. The first of Le Carré’s novels I’ve read. Unexpectedly meaty with some good characters, all set in a vanished milieu.