Monday, June 24, 2013

Holiday Reading List 2013

OK gang. It was a good year for reading by the pool, on the beach, in the cafe and here is my list. The score after each book is nothing to do with its quality as great literature but simply how enjoyable I found it as a get-away-from-it holiday read. I don't insist upon page-turners, although I like them as much as the next person, but I do need to be excited, educated or entertained. As a departure to my usual habit of only reading one book at a time on holiday I took a few books of essays/ideas and read a chapter from one of these at the start of a reading session, or between books.

Oh and by the way I am not showing off how many books I can read. I love reading and have a holiday partner similarly designed as long as we can talk over dinner later. Which we do.

So, here goes, in the order I finished them and with marks out of 10:

Chris Brookmyre: When the Devil Drives (6)
Christopher Brookmyre writes black-comedy; far-fetched and other-worldly, full of cultural observations. When he uses the name 'Chris' it is to announce a genre-change into more down-to-earth detective fiction. Jasmine Sharp is his heroine - someone who has stumbled into the world of private detection and finds herself in over her head from the off. This is her second adventure as she searches for a missing person who may have a few secrets to tell. So some bad people would like her to stop looking.

This on Church of Scotland ministers, '...if there is a heaven he'll be outside the gates protesting. He always takes a dim view of joy you see.'

Danny Baker: Going to Sea in a Sieve (9)
Baker is a top broadcaster. This is part one of his autobiography. On radio he is charming, witty, generous to inarticulate callers, utterly humble and delightful company. His book starts with a game of double-dare in the back of a burning car wreck and doesn't get any less fun. I laughed aloud a lot. Favourite moment - when an up-and-coming rock band who called themselves Queen turned up to the record shop Baker worked in and demanded to have their music played non-stop for a week.

Lee Child: A Wanted Man (6)
Another unlikely few days in the life of Jack Reacher. Great escapism. The good guys win. You know the stuff.

Naomi Starkey: The Recovery of Love (5)
Unlike me to take a 'Christian' book on holiday but this one looks a bit different and is written by my commissioning editor at BRF. It is a brave effort but I didn't like it. That said, I can think of people who will immediately and it will be on my Quiet Day table as one well worth borrowing or buying. Full review to follow.

Mark Billingham: Rush of Blood (8)
Three couples meet on holiday at a resort where a child goes missing. As they meet again over the months that follow it seems possible that one of the six is keeping too many secrets. And a second child disappears. The opening reminded me of 'The Slap' - I hated all the characters, but in this case it was a clever device to make me see guilt in all of them. It settled down. I never guessed who did it.

James Lee Burke: Feast Day of Fools (7)
The deep south US of A. Hot and itchy. A ranch is used to offer respite help to hungry and thirsty illegal border-crossers. In this context someone with no history of saying anything believable sees something unbelievably bad happen. And then lots of people start to be interested in whether the victim was one of two and the other escaped. He knows stuff. They want him dead. In fact quite a lot of 'theys' want him to disappear. And an unfit wise old cop may be the witness' only friend. As he says, ' Mobs (do) not rush across town to do good deeds,...'

Markus Zusak: I am the Messenger (8)
Underage cab driver Ed starts to get messages in the post. Just addresses at first. He has to work out what is needed at each place. It is a book for older teenagers but lovely as an adult read too. How would you react if you had to specifically go out and do good for a particular stranger each day? This is an early work by the author of one of my favourites, 'The BookThief'.

John Updike: Rabbit, Run (6)
Without meaning to I then found I had four novels and one other book left which had a contemporary North American narrative. Each holiday I try to take something from the back catalogue of great writers who I have never read. This was the package 2013.

My ignorance was such that I knew not that the four Rabbit novels were written a decade apart and thus provide a social commentary on growing up in America. Rabbit is Harry Angstrom and he feels as if his days as a high-school basketball player may have been his best years. Now what does he have to look forward to? His marriage feels suffocating so he runs. But he runs back. It is 1960. This volume felt slow. In fact it is contemporary with the beat novels of Salinger and Kerouac. I always felt their beat was down not up. But I'm sufficiently intrigued to want to read the set.

Douglas Coupland: Shampoo Planet (7)
Between 1990 and today there has been no better observer of young adult culture than Coupland. This, his second novel, has one-liners a plenty, loser characters, loving relationships and friendships, shampoo collecting as a hobby/addiction and a proper storyline. It's a fast, fast world. Coupland stops it for a bit and takes a picture.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Prep (9)
I love books about school. Always have. This is the story of Lee Fiora at Ault School, a long way from home, from age 14 to (I should say 'through' shouldn't I?) 18. I loved her. I loved her because, in a strange way, she is me. At school we both under-achieved. But hear this:

'Ault had taught me everything I needed to know about attracting and alienating people, what the exact measurements ought to be of confidence and self-deprecation, humour, disclosure, inquisitiveness; even, finally, of enthusiasm. Also, Ault had been the toughest audience I'd ever encounter, to the extent that sometimes afterward, I find winning people over disappointingly easy.'

This is a book about growing up poorer and less privileged than most in a wealthy establishment. It's brilliant.

Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (8)
This was the one chapter-at-a session book I finished. It didn't quite leave me thinking that everything I thought I knew was wrong but certainly that I didn't know the whole truth. It helped me understand the financial crash of 2008 a bit better, certainly with a bit more honesty than any politician could risk. I love that each chapter is called Thing 1, Thing 2 etc. And whilst politicians don't come out of this with much merit, there is the lovely endnote that economics is far too important to be left to economists. Full review to follow.

On the American theme I also began dipping into Jonathan Raban's 'Driving Home'. Of all the travel writers I love - Chatwyn, Theroux, Bryson - he has by far the best prose. Every sentence is a magnificent piece of art. Do read something by him. 'Passage to Juneau' is especially good.

Finally I read some of Zadie Smith's essays in 'Changing My Mind'. Good stuff but demanding, especially if you are not very widely read.

1 comment:

Jez said...

Great list Steve. Danny Bakers book is laugh out loud hilarious and Rabbit Run is one of my all time favourites. I also loved the Book Thief, so will be checking out the Marcus Zusak book. You might be interested in my recommended 2013 holiday reading