Archive | March 2009

Holiday Reading

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.

Crossed Genres, Issue 3

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.

Book List Meme

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).