Just got back from a few days away visiting family in the Middle East. It was lovely and relaxing and provided a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Three whole books in a week and a half! (It’s not that I’m a slow reader, it’s just that I always seem to have something else to do.)
The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore. Fascinating and incredibly readable. A meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene and culture follows the basic principles of evolutionary theory, explaining a lot of things that people do that don’t seem to be all that beneficial to us. Best popular science book I’ve read in a long time.
The Lonely Dead, Michael Marshall. I bought this book because I heard the author speak at alt.fiction last year and I liked what he had to say. It’s a thriller and I don’t read many of those. They’re like candyfloss for the brain; sugar fluffed up with air. So long as the plot is moved along at a cracking pace they can be enjoyable without the author bothering much about the other elements. This book was one of the few written by a craftsperson and I will be reading more.
On Liberty, John Stuart Mill. Even though it’s a very short book, I thought this would be hard work as it’s some time since I’ve read any philosophy or anything written in the 19th century. It took a little while to get into the rhythm of it, but I’m pleased to say that where I had to read something twice it’s because I was struggling to follow the language not the arguments. It was quite compelling and it was interesting to revisit my thoughts on the extent of personal liberty and social obligation. And still very relevant to today.
The Romance issue. Five sci-fi/fantasy stories with a romance theme.
First up, Laugh if you Love me by TK Read. It’s a little heavy on the adjectives and adverbs for my taste which makes the writing dense and treacly. That aside, I liked the Galliwoogers and it’s a neat little story that’s short enough for elevenses.
Next is A Crazy Kind of Love by Jeremy Zimmerman. Oooh, I liked this. It defies expectations and the ending is not predictable until the last few paragraphs. I enjoyed the ‘will he, won’t he’ suspense and genuinely didn’t know what the protagonist would do.
I also liked Galatea’s Reaction by Claire Dietrich. The opening is very emotional and engaging. Again, I didn’t expect the twist and the ending is bittersweet. It’s romance for people who like it to hurt.
The fourth story, A Night in the Library by Anne Toole, is disappointing. The opening sentence is great and throughout the writing is good. It’s the cliched relationships and stereotypical characters that let this piece down. The female protagonist falls for the noble man that’s just been torturing her after having been pining after an unavailable womaniser. To be fair, it’s the piece that probably best captures the icky formula of the romance genre, but it wasn’t pleasant to read.
Heartline by CL Rossman is also a litte weak. The fantasy setting felt like mere dressing up for relationships and experiences that are all too familiar. The protagonist’s attitude to his wife was patronising and that niggled me a little. I do think that men’s experience of becoming fathers and the cultural conditioning surrounding masculinity and emotional expression could do with some exploration, but in this case there was too much tell and not enough show. Perhaps it could have been handled better if the piece had been longer.
All in all, I think the fiction in Crossed Genres is getting better with each issue and I very much enjoyed two of the stories.
I saw this on Pai‘s blog and felt the need to share my thoughts on the list. The list appears to be a variation on the BBC’s Big Read Top 100 and was voted on by the public. Perhaps the surprising thing is that so many of them are classics or literary, rather than that the odd ‘commercial’ book which may or may not stand the test of time is included.
The list is accompanied by the statement that ‘apparently the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here’. I can’t find any evidence that the BBC said that. Blogs that are reproducing it seem to fall into two types (merely my impression, I didn’t count them or anything): people who’ve read twenty-five or more and people who’ve read three but it’s ok because the list is crap.
The list does represent a narrow slice of literature and there are massive glaring omissions – but it’s a list of books the British public claimed to like, nothing else. It’s not as if it’s an objective list of the 100 most important books ever written. Now that would be an interesting and far more diverse list.
Anyway, here’s the list.
x – read it
1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen x 2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien x loved it 3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte x hated it 4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling 5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee x 6. The Bible not all of it 7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte x loved it 8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell x 9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman 10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens x hated it 11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott 12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy 13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller x 14. Complete Works of Shakespeare about half, I think 15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier x hated it 16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien x 17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks 18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger x 19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger 20. Middlemarch – George Eliot started it, got bored 21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell 22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald x 23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens 24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy started it, got confused 25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams x 26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh 27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky x 28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck started it, got stuck halfway through 29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll x 30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame x 31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy x loved it 32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens 33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis x 34. Emma – Jane Austen x 35. Persuasion – Jane Austen x 36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis x 37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini 38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere x hated it 39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden 40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne x 41. Animal Farm – George Orwell x 42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown 43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez x loved it 44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving 45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins 46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery 47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy x 48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood 49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding 50. Atonement – Ian McEwan 51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel x 52. Dune – Frank Herbert 53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons 54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen x 55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth 56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon 57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens x loved it 58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley x loved it 59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon x 60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez x loved it 61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck x loved it 62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov 63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt 64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold 65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas x 66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac started it, got bored 67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy x loved it 68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding x 69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie started it, got bored 70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville started it, got so very bored 71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens 72. Dracula – Bram Stoker x 73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett 74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson started it, got bored 75. Ulysses – James Joyce started it, got very confused 76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath x loved it 77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome 78. Germinal – Emile Zola 79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray 80. Possession – AS Byatt x loved it 81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell 83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker x loved it 84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro 85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert x 86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry started it, got bored 87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White x loved it 88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom 89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x 90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton x loved it 91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad started it, got stuck in the middle 92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery 93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks x 94. Watership Down – Richard Adams x 95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole 96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute 97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas x 98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare x 99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl 100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
So, read 48 and attempted a handful of others. I always thought I’d read Birdsong but it turns out I’ve been confusing it with Pat Barker’s Regeneration (which is very good).