Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Books and reading

It has been ages since I last wrote about books, so as a break in posts about horse racing and live music, here’s one about what I’ve been reading.

Late last year when I looked through lists of books forthcoming for 2011, I was less than thrilled with what was scheduled. In fact, unlike every other year, this year appeared to have no new books I was particularly looking forward to reading.

It seemed to be a dire and somewhat worrying situation, so much so that I imagined myself having to spend the year rereading my own private library or downloading old classics onto my Kindle.

Now that I have retired from work, I devout several hours in the morning to reading. I like reading in bed in natural light without wearing my contact lenses. I am short sighted so reading without visual aids is no problem and seems to be kinder on my eyes.

So what have I been reading? Lots of different books in fact, many of them new to me as well as rereading many old favourites.

Since Christmas I haven’t actually bought a physical book, until today, when I went to Readings bookstore in Carlton to redeem a gift voucher, which I’d been meaning to do for ages and had forgotten about. I did rather well, coming home with a hard cover of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier and a hard cover signed copy of Rose Tremain’s The Road Home which I found on Readings famous bargain table. The Illumination is Kevin Brockmeier’s new novel. I was very impressed by his 2006 novel A Brief History of the Dead, so I’m looking forward to reading his latest, which sounds fascinating. Rose Tremain is one of my favourite novelists. I’ve been collecting her novels for years, so to get a signed copy of one of her books is a thrill.


Despite not buying hard copies of books, I have been buying plenty of ebooks, and have discovered some great novels which passed me by last year. I’ve been most taken with Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From The Goon Squad, a brilliant novel that I felt compelled to read twice, to see how it was structured and to pick up on all the clues scattered throughout that reveal the whole story. The novel is structured as a series of interrelated short stories, giving different viewpoints on the lives of the main protagonists, and there are many of them, who are somehow or other related to main character Bennie Salazar, a successful music producer in New York. One chapter is in fact a Power Point presentation. The novel ends with a satisfying mental click, accompanied by a silent “Yes!”


The Dervish House, a Science Fiction novel by
Ian McDonald is another book I found to be above average and brilliant in its own way. Also sporting a large cast of characters, and following six separate story threads, it is set in Istanbul in the year 2027 and opens dramatically with a suicide bombing on a tram, an incident that reverberates on the lives of several of the denizens of the Dervish House who are indeed the subjects of the six threads, which naturally intertwine as the novel progresses .


Currently I’m reading
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, a South African writer. The novel is set in a future Johannesburg, where malefactors are stigmatised through the mysterious acquisition of an animal familiar, a twisted version of the daemons in Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass series, and forced to inhabit ghettos. The heroine of Zoo City is Zinzi December whose animal familiar is a sloth. She makes ends meet by composing scam email messages, and on the side uses her special talent for finding lost things for private clients. It’s a punkish, hardboiled urban fantasy with a smart streetwise heroine, and I’m enjoying it immensely.

Other than the books mentioned above, I’ve also recently reread two Michael Chabon novels, the great The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that I admit I enjoyed more on this second reading than I did when I first read it back in 2004. I’ve also read Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguru, Sacred Country and Music & Silence by Rose Tremain, The Silent Land by Graham Joyce, as well as many others that fail to spring to mind at the moment.

Titus Awakes

Just yesterday I found out that the long lost fourth novel in
Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series is to be published this year to mark the centenary of Mervyn Peake’s birth on 7 July 1911. The new book, entitled Titus Awakes was written by his wife Maeve Gilmore, from notes left by Peake before his untimely death and was only recently unearthed in an attic by one of his granddaughters. Who knows what it will be like, but as a long-time fan of the Gormenghast Trilogy I feel I had to have it. Strangely, the British first edition will be a paperback, so I’ve pre-ordered the American hard cover edition, as I do love hard covered books. I have however pre-ordered the new UK illustrated hard cover edition of the Gormenghast Trilogy which will be published on 7th July. Having already the old Penguin paperback versions as well as a three volume hard cover set of the trilogy, I reckon the new edition will be an asset to my existing Peake collection, most of which are rare first or early editions.

On the subject of books and writers, I almost forgot to mention that one of my favourite writers,
David Mitchell, author of such marvellous books as Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, not to mention The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ,will be in Melbourne on 17th May and will be in conversation with Melbourne Writers Festival Program Manager, Jenny Niven at the Athenaeum Theatre. I’ve got a ticket and am looking forward to attending the event. I doubt if he’ll be doing a signing, but I’ll take my copy of Thousand Autumns just in case. He’s in Australia for the Sydney Writers Festival and will only be briefly in Melbourne.


Marshall Stacks said...

Visit from the goon squad sounds interesting, but really, I would want some droll witty writing to take my mind off the horror that is Warrnambool jumps.
I commend to you any of the Carl Hiaasen, or Christopher Brookmyre output. Both extremely intense but leavened with brilliant black humour.
The Ath has just been renovated which will add to your enjoyment on the 17th. A 'thousand autumns' - how lovely.

Anne S said...

Not a big Carl Hiaasen fan after reading one of his books and being unimpressed.

You should check out Goon Squad - it is very witty and is mostly centred around the music industry and has wonderful "difficult" characters.