Friday, June 28, 2013

Sometimes I Read

It’s a long time since I talked about what I have been reading.

That’s because I haven’t been having a very happy literary experience over the past few months.

So I don’t have any real recommendations to make, not even “Avoid this book at all costs!” It’s all just been a bit low-key.

However… I think there’s value in the dissection.

So what have I been reading?

After The Night Circus, I decided to read the entire Dance to the Music of Time series. That link is just to Volume One, Spring.  Invitation to roll on the floor laughing at me: I managed about 100 pages of Volume One before I decided I had to just stop. Tracey Thorn may well be planning to write her PhD about this literary edifice, but I am not she and I failed to make headway. I can’t quite explain my problem with it. I floundered after the initial scenes of a chubby boy running through the fog. Will he become a spy in later life? Maybe. But that suggests an emerging plot and I am not convinced it is the sort of series to have an actual plot. Do I care about the characters? Probably not. Sorry.

Then I tried Great House. I had some moments of connection with the characters, but mostly I was trying to fathom the identity of each narrative voice and piece it all together in my head, and I failed. I read the whole thing but it took me far too long.  Two failures one after the other!

So I went for an easy read and demolished Starting Now, which was, you know, friendly enough, if irritating. I wanted it to be more about knitting. I found the main character profoundly annoying – if she was such a hot shot lawyer, surely she had the intelligence to think of doing freelance work without waiting for a man to tell her? No wonder she lost her job if she was that dim-witted! Ahem. A pleasant enough interlude, but don’t buy a copy.

I had great hopes for Just Kids by Patti Smith. I thought it was going to be all about Robert Mapplethorpe, but really it was about Patti Smith. I lasted about 30 pages before I lost patience. I wanted to like her, but her drug-addled self-absorption was too much for me. Just no.

I have just finished The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This is another Skein Queen Yarn Club reading recommendation. The inspired yarn is gorgeous: Turkish Delight in a high-twist Squash sock base: completely delicious. To be treasured in a pair of Rachel Coopey socks, I am certain. But the book? I was rather taken with it in the beginning. I was struck by some of the swift-penned characterisation. Maureen is “Regal, yet squashed, Just like her mother.” Oh my word. That’s good writing! But the subject matter (elderly man walks from Devon to Berwick to save the life of an old friend who is in a hospice, dying of cancer) was entirely too painful. It is a book that is brimful of loss and pain and unhappy humanity and I was crying out for relief by the end. It made me angry and sad and frustrated. You should probably read it. Sigh.

So what’s next? I actually have no idea. I have queued a whole list of books at the local library but the last two I collected were both vegan cookbooks. The Vegan Baker looks promising, but I have been trying to eat more healthily so cake is not top of my agenda. Vegan Sandwiches Save The Day is immensely inspiring but depends on access to squeakily-fresh fruit and veg and artisan bread. Yes, I know I used to make my own bread and grow my own vegetables. But these days I mostly buy “reduced” items at M&S and stock up on tinned staples at Lidl. Shiny farm-fresh produce? Hard to find in these parts, even though I live on a farm. Oh dear. Wake up, Roo!

Have you any reading recommendations?  Extra points for likeable characters!


Anna said...

When I read Just Kids I have to admit I had no idea who RM was, I was hoping for a nice book about the 60s in NYC and to learn a bit about Patti Smith as I knew nothing of her either. I struggled through it and then donated my copy to the Library, it was just so self-absorbed and dull... I did admire their bravery though, to move to a huge city with absolutely no money and often nothing to eat, beyond that nothing though.

I have been very blah with books recently too. Just forcing myself through things and not having any great reading experiences. Then I was recommended Code Name Verity and I couldn't put it down, read it in 2 days. It's not a happy skippy fun story, it's about female pilots and spies in WW2 and it's actually a YA book but it doesn't feel like it and I just breathed it in with such relief that there were still good books out there! Hopefully the one I've just started will also be good!

Hope you find something soon!

Emma said...

I'm just coming to the end of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which is funny yet thought provoking. Non fiction: I've recently enjoyed reading Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett, which has led me to buy Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy.

shivani said...

I've been reading A Dance to the Music of Time for a few years now... I manage a volume a year (I'm on the last vol). I do quite like it, but it's very much a slow shuffle around the dancefloor, rather than a riotous bop for me. I've just picked up "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter - based entirely on the cover art.

The Foggy Knitter said...

Try something from Persephone books? (our library has a fair few) Miss Buncle's Book by D E Stevenson is great if you like social comedy, it's brilliantly observed. I'm reading The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West and finding it amazing, brilliant writing. I'm also into Elizabeth Jane Howard, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym, Rosamund Lehmann, Stella Gibbons and Monica Dickens among others currently.

christinelaennec said...

I've been meaning to read more Louisa May Alcott. I re-read Little Women a few years ago (out loud to my daughter) and was really struck by the writing. Not long ago I read Elizabeth Zimmerman's autobiographical Knitting Around, and she mentioned one period of her life where she was living out in the countryside raising small children, and she read Little Women over and over. Just a thought!

didyoumakethat said...

I haven't read it myself, but the editors at work have been raving about Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. On holiday I read Tigers In Red Weather and really enjoyed it. Gone Girl is a big hit right now - it has a fantastic twist. Several fantastic twists. It's a corker!

Colleen said...

The NY Times Book Review had a column about the 100th year birthday of Barbara Pym and it reminded me how much I loved escaping into her books in the late 70's and early 80's. They've long disappeared off my bookshelf and I think I'll go hunt some up and see if the love is still there -- Oh, I hope so. I read and really liked "Just Kids" but I lived in and around NYC at that time and it was a lovely call to the past. Yeah, Patti Smith is always going to be Patti Smith, i.e., quite full of herself, but she was at the beginning of an exciting time in New York and I thought it was fun. Maybe it's more of a local read???

Nicki said...

I just finished "Greyhound" by Steffan Piper and really enjoyed it. It's about a 12yo boy travelling alone across America on a Greyhound bus. It was a really easy read and had a very likeable character in Marcus.

Prawn said...

Not recent at all but I loved The Vintners Luck, and I also (completely different genre) have another great favourite in A cure for serpents, if you can get hold of it. I don't know how much you like travel books, but it's by the Duke of Pirajno who was a doctor in the Italian military in the second world war and it's anecdotes of his time in north africa. It's a very special travel book. It might be in print by Eland books. Another v. special travel book is Naples '44 by Norman Lewis. Actually, everything I've ever read published by Eland books has been fantastic.
And another completely different book that I loved very much was Double Play by Frank Martinus Arion, about 4 characters whose lives are played out through a game of dominos one sunday in the Caribbean.

Linda C said...

Can you get BLEAK HOUSE on audio or cd? Sometimes I can pick up details hearing a book read rather than just reading it, although I am usually reading something. I tend to overdose on an author sometimes - do you? Keep reading one book after another until I just don't care to make the effort. I actually can always reread the Anne Perry Victorian mysteries or factual books about Lewis or Tolkien. Thanks for telling me about NAMES FOR THE SEA. I liked it so much I bought my daughter a copy for her birthday.


Helen said...

I too am struggling to find any good books at the moment. I read Heartburn by Nora Ephron on holiday the other week. It was humorous, but nothing actually happened and then it just ended, rather abruptly.

Totally get your abandoning Dance To the Music of Time. I haven't read it but I am all for giving up on books if you don't enjoy them. Too often I've felt like not finishing a book was some sort of crime, but now a book has to really deserve my time and it has to work to get me to like it. It could be a great story but if I don't like the writing style, I'll give up. Hope you find something good soon! :)

Helen said...

Oh, I've actually just read the comments above and totally agree with Prawn on The Vintner's Luck. It's an amazing book. A bit weird, but really well written and a bit different.

Sherral said...

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain - you could read it or just watch the movie. I loved both. :)

Margarita said...

Jane Eyre. An oldie but a goodie. It's worth rereading if you've read it long ago.

sulkycat said...

When god was a Rabbit. Light Between Oceans. The Winter Palace. Those are my favourites of books read this year. None are what I would call absolute stonkingly good reads, but I enjoyed each more than I expected. I also quite enjoyed A Perfectly Good Man, and After the Fall.

ravelledsleeve said...

I often struggle to keep focus on books (and didn't get on with Harold Fry either) but I have just read The Birds of the Air by Alice Thomas Ellis and liked it a lot - not a happy book, but one where you get a sense of potential for happiness if the characters can only reach out and take it. Though it made me a little sad as I know my granny liked Alice Thomas Ellis's books and now I'll never get the chance to talk to her about it :-(

The Foggy Knitter said...

Have you seen that today's Guardian has a summer books feature?

MaryinTN said...

I am reading the Wisdom of Birds in between the required reading for some university courses I am taking. Just finished The Children's Blizzard which I found to be very interesting yet sad as true stories often are. Then there are the knitting related reads which never seem to end as new books are always coming out. I heard Code Name Verity is good and mean to look it up at the library.

Claire Park said...

My latest holiday read was The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter.
I loved it.
Absorbing, uplifting in an unusual way with a great ending.
It took me away from my worries...I know I was on holiday but I had to have surgery as soon as I got back.

Read it you'll love it.