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Monthly Archives: July 2012

The next adventure: you decide

Remember those ‘pick your own adventure’ stories? “If you want Daisy to go into the forest, turn to page 21” and the like?

Well this is kind of like that.  A little. Like those lazy (okay, creative) authors, I want you to decide what happens next.  I’m tired. So should I read:

  • Something long (the Yips) or short (the Lighthouse)?
  • Something I expect to like (The Garden of Evening Mists) or not like so much (The Teleportation Accident)?
  • Something from an author I know and like (Skios) or don’t know at all (Narcopolis)?

It is all up to you.

To help you decide, here’s the link to the Long List:

The smallprint: some books haven’t been published yet, which makes them a little hard to read.  Some books have not been delivered (who would have thought they wouldn’t be on the Kindle?) so ditto.  They have been excluded from this poll for, well, those reasons.











The places you’ll go…

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn,the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss

I have always read a lot: more than the average person.  Apparently, as a child I didn’t play, but crawled (and later walked, I guess) taking books to grown ups to be read to.

But ever since I started this project, I find I am reading much, much more than before.  I have become one of those people who reads walking down the road, or grabs a sneaky ten minutes in a coffee shop before a meeting to read.  Yesterday I walked into a lamp post and missed my bus stop. I am like a bad slapstick comedy.

An extra seven minutes (once I’d got the coffee) of reading.

Five minutes on the bus – missed my stop.

This is partly because I am into the book, but also partly because of an obsession with being ahead of targets which permeates my whole life.  First child syndrome, I guess.

Currently I am 1.5 days ahead. Expect occasional updates on my ‘aheadness’.

Some brief thoughts on judging

As anyone who knows me at all, knows very well (and often to their chagrin) I love to judge. Among other things, I judge shoes and grammar, dietary choices and punctuality (I see many of you nodding in agreement).  Mother Teresa I am not.

However, I am not too good at judging culture.  I tend to just know that I liked something, or I didn’t, and the reason for that is well, inexplicable.  I am not one to fear derision, so I have to assume either I am too lazy or insufficiently thoughtful to have fully understood the reasons behind my value judgement.

And I do sit in fora where such judgement would normally be expected.  I am a member of two book clubs.  But luckily, they both let me get away with this approach for two very different reasons.  The first book club isn’t really a book club at all – it is a group of friends, who read the same book (usually) and get together regularly to talk about everything but the book.  The other one focuses on scoring a series of attributes, such as plot and characterization (a far easier task) and less on demanding descriptions of why you happen to feel that way.

So this project is a bit of an anomaly for me.  Because it demands that I judge culture, and do so publicly. It also demands that I think about the book while I am reading it.  This has changed my reading behaviors a little.  I normally fly through books, squeezing them in between other activities.  But I now have to take a leaf out of William Henry Davies’ book and take some time to ‘stand and stare’.  This does not come naturally to me.  And it means I read much more slowly, which is unfortunate, given quite how much reading I have to do in a very short space of time.

This is in no way an apology for not meeting my reading deadlines.  I am, in fact, ahead.  It is simply what I am thinking about the project today. As many of you will also know, I don’t have much of a verbal filter, so thought I should share this.

Swimming Home: a very yellow book

As you will have figured out by now I have mentally ‘traffic lighted’ all the Booker books, according to my expectations of how much I will enjoy them.

Red = unlikely, green = very likely, yellow = so / so.

This was always a yellow book in my head.  So I suppose I should feel vindicated.  This book was utterly middling – very yellow (even the cover is yellow!).  Not bad, not good.

But instead I feel strangely depressed.  I expected more of the Man Booker selectors. They are, after all, the experts.  And even accounting for the fact that everyone has a different, personal, response to books, I am not convinced this is going to be on many peoples’ shortlists.  And here’s why:


1.  The ending

I am always a little dubious when the first thing that somebody tells me about a book is how good, or clever or *insert other appropriate positive adjective* the end of a book is, and that therefore I must read it.

There is a lot of book before you get to the end.  I think, really, the whole of a book (give or take) should be good and worthy of praise.  If it has to be redeemed by a brilliant ending, in my head that is a sign of recognition on the author’s part that they have failed and that they are seeking to capture you back, before it is too late.

And this book is all about the end, which is a little bit clever (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it).

2.  I was mis-sold

Okay, so we know I don’t particularly like books about depression, or endless misery, or any of that sort.  But still, I took the blurb-writers on their word and feel a little misled and a little betrayed. It isn’t really about depression at all.  It is less grand and more small minded than that. Its a little about history and its impact on the present, but mostly it is about fear and self indulgence.  The Bell Jar it is not.

3.  Simply too short

A part of me wonders whether the main flaw with this novel is that it is simply too short (178 pages).  There was no time for the plot to develop – it just was, just happened, before you could get caught up in caring much either way.   Its not quite a novella (and I am not entering the ‘can a novella win big literary prizes’ debate) but it feels like one.  And I am not sure I like it.

3b. So not long enough for character development

In a lot of books (and maybe this is an insight into my limited levels of empathy) I find it hard to care about most of, if not all, the characters.  But I usually know who I am supposed to care about, or be rooting for.  In this novel, I couldn’t even figure that out.  Each character appeared to be there to serve a purpose, or play their part, rather than act as a whole person would, in a real scenario.  They didn’t really develop, which may just be because there were so many of them: given the length of the novel I think nine is a little excessive.

4. No emotional response

I  know the characters didn’t excite me, because I only felt an emotional response to one character, once, in the whole book.  Now even by my low-empathy standards, that is pretty pathetic.

He is thinking how nobody visited him at boarding school, while his peers seemed indifferent to their regular visitors:

“if his own parents had visited him too, he would have stood forever in the tyre marks their cars had made in the dust”

But that was it.  That was the one time I felt particularly emotionally engaged with anyone.  Instead, the characters often annoyed me, either because they were so one-sided or self-pitying or both. To prove my point, some extracts from the text:

“Knowledge would not necessarily serve them, nor would it make them happy.  There was a chance it would instead throw light on visions they did not want to see”.

“Its always raining if you’re feeling sad”.

“They know they have to dream themselves out of life and back into it, because life must always win us back”.

Replaying them, like this, to myself, they sound more like lines from a hokey romantic comedy than a potentially award-winning novel.

But it isn’t all bad

Just for clarity I didn’t hate the book as much as all the above made it sound.  It was just  very middling (aside: can something be very middling?) But  I wolfed it down, read it in two days and mentally lived in the setting throughout (the best writing by far).

I don’t regret reading it.  But now its over, I won’t remember it.  I can feel myself forgetting it already…


And now for something completely different.  Coming next… Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel:

Now that’s a red book.

3738 pages, 83 days

The Plan

Now anybody who knows me, knows I love a plan.  Even better than a plan, a plan with a spreadsheet.  And now I have both.  From this, the main conclusion is that I now know:

I have to read 3738 pages in 83 days.

This is an average of 46 pages per day – probably not significantly more than I normally read, but it will require discipline, something I have in spades… about a third of the time. On my spreadsheet, I have done some clever (well, for me) maths to make sure I am using my time most efficiently.  I have also colour-coded things.  I am a girl, after all.

(Initially I wrote a lot here about the spreadsheet.  Then I remembered, to about 99.9% of society spreadsheets are unbearably boring, but I can provide more information – and even images – on request.)

The Location

I also love being outside.  There is a plan for that too. This is my balcony where I plan (read: hope in vain) to do most of my reading.

So I was thinking

Everyone loves books for different reasons.  I know this.  And to serve as a helpful reminder of this, the first comment on my blog (thanks Sophie Harwood for being number one) reminded me that just because I think something sounds depressing or silly doesn’t mean everyone else does.

So I sat down and thought about the books I love and why I think they are, well, loveable.

And it came down to these four things

  1. They can’t be all doom and gloom – a bit of gloom here and there is fine, and I don’t always require a happy ending but if the characters are miserable and unlike-able on every single page, I won’t like the book;
  2. Things need to happen – philosophising has its place, but I don’t really have the patience for a book where nothing changes;
  3. They need to be quotable – I love a good quote and this propensity has only been enhanced by my kindle, which allows me to underline things; and
  4. They have to be memorable – I quite often forget about books, even books I have quite liked, once I have read them.  I never forget the ones I love.

(I’d be really interested in hearing what you, dear reader, would have on your own list.)

The First Book

Now in a self-flagellating way, I nearly began the project with one of the ‘red’ books, the I am only reading this because of this project books. But although on paper, that sounds like a wonderful idea, in reality I didn’t want to be put off before I started.

So instead, I started with a yellow, maybe I would / maybe I wouldn’t, kind of book: Swimming Home (and other Stories) by Deborah Levy.

As part of the deal I have made with myself, I don’t read any reviews before I start a book, to make sure I don’t influence my own thinking.  The only thing I let myself read, at the outset, was the Man Booker summaries, as part of my initial assessment.

Here is the one for Swimming Home:

I think, in general, I would quite like Deborah Levy, as a person. I have heard her interviewed and read bits about her all over the place.  She seems articulate and interesting.  But I don’t like books about depression (see above).  I don’t really enjoy sad books, wallowing, triteness or stereotypes, at least some of which they often tend towards.  So this is why I am suspicious of this book.

Something to look forward to

I have started the book.  But this blog is long.  So more on this tomorrow, I think. Though just for clarity, there are no rules, I may blog about a book before, during, or after I have read it (or all three).  That’s just the way it is going to be.

The adventure begins…

So, as you will know I am an avid (okay obsessive) reader.  But I am not very brave.  I like reading books which I well, like, so I tend to purchase books which are like other books I have read.  This is boring of me.  And ‘boring’ is just about the most depressing epithet you can use to describe anyone in my book. I know it must end.

Equally, and generously, people often describe me as somewhat highbrow.  Sadly, this is mostly untrue.  Although I can (i.e. am capable of) reading highbrow books I tend not to (read ‘don’t’).  Again, boring and a little lazy.

Today, all this changes.  The Man Booker Longlist has been announced and I plan to read and review every last darn one of them (in my own, inimitable style), before the winner is announced in October.

If you want to see the longlist, its here:

Now, although I think I’d like to do this, the only way I am really, honestly likely to do this is by shaming myself into it.  So that is what this is for and that is where you, my audience come in (mwah, hah hah etc….).

Today, as a starting point I have done two things.

1. I have downloaded all the books onto my kindle (a bit of guilt at the expense, as well as the afore-mentioned shame, will go a long way)

2. I have pre-reviewed the list.  What I mean by this, is I have divided the books into three categories.

(a) Books I may well have read anyway:

  • Philada by André Brink
  • The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twang Eng
  • Skios by Michael Frayn
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage by Howard Fry
  • The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

(b) Books I might have read anyway (though some of them are comedies and I am never entirely sure about comedy books)

  • The Yips by Nicola Barker
  • The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
  • Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
  • Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

(c) Books I would never, ever read under any other circumstances

  • Umbrella by Will Self
  • Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Those among you who are mathematically-minded will note that

  1. about 50% of the books I may have read anyway and 50% I probably wouldn’t
  2. There are 12 weeks until the prize is awarded – I have just under 8 days to read each book

You will see by now also that I like lists.  Undoubtedly more of those to come.

Okay, time to begin reading.

“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others”. Abraham Lincoln.

Yes, I also like quotes. Also Lincoln.