Last year has been, as every year is, very volatile w.r.t. reading. There were brief occasions of maniacal reading followed by extended non-reading periods, driven by work, laziness and hormones. This is not a comprehensive read list because I read a few not worth remembering. The links on the books take you to reviews I wrote here and elsewhere about them.
My best book read of last year was “The Old Man and Mr. Smith” by Peter Ustinov, a fantasy of God and Devil coming down to Earth to assess progress of creation. A funny and thought-provoking must-read.
The worst read of the year was “The Amateurs” by John Niven about a loser guy who becomes a raging success thanks to his Kluver Boosey syndrome that gives him a perfect swing in golf. I hated this book so much that it is, unfortunately, indelibly branded in my memory.
Sacre Bleu (dude’s review here) by Christopher Moore was an engaging read. Part fantasy, part history, part mystery. A certain blue color used by master painters in their master works has a sinister story. This blue keeps alive the mysterious “colorman” but kills the painter through the Goddess of blue – Bleu. How Bleu breaks free of the colorman with the help of baker-painter Lucien Lessard forms the climax of the story.
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson was a science fiction I read after ages. It talks of the year 2312 when most of the solar system has been colonized and the earth itself faces the aftermirth of global warming and much of it is under water. The protagonist Swan is caught in a political plot that she must uncover and diffuse to save the worlds. An interesting read, if a bit sagging in the middle.
“Instructions for living someone else’s life” by Mil Milington was an unexpectedly interesting book I picked up at the library. A bloke goes to bed drunk and wakes up next morning 18 years into the future, beside a wife he does not know. How the 25-year old, now caught in a middle aged body come to terms with his lost years forms a fascinating story.
Remember the extended non-reading periods I mentioned earlier? They are strictly not “non-reading” but more of “brain-dead” reading – mostly re-re-re-re-re reads of various Agatha Christies, JeffertyArchers, Erma Bombecks Dave Barrys etc. (Harry Potter is soon joining the list of to-be-re-re-re-re-read during times of brain death) . While in the middle of an Agatha Christie Poirot mystery (who remembers the titles anymore?), I stumbled upon “The Floating Admiral“, co-written by, in addition to Agatha Christie, a football field full of mystery writers such as Arthur Conaon Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Canon Victor L. Whiechurch, Henry Wade, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Ronald Knox, Freeman Crofts, Edger Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley. The book started promising, but soon was lost in the complications of plot. I prodded along until the end, to a very unsatisfactory solution. The individual authors are excellent, but together, their work turns up like, as Crazy Mohan once said, excuse the grossness, “a beggar’s vomit”.
Sometime in 2011, dude and I decided to read “award winners”. That resolution was rudely terminated after Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. Of course Case Histories was the culmination of a series of really really depressing award winning reads. A Humphrey Bogart-ish detective attempts to solve the problem of a child that went missing 30 years earlier, another of a young woman, murdered by person or persons unknown, a decade before, and the third of a woman who apparently slaughtered her husband in a fit of post-natal rage two decades back. Actually, I am not sure the detective does much other than mope around with his failed marriage; that’s where the Bogart panache fades. Things just fall into place on their own, and the guy miraculously inherits millions from a client.
Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates started off very drab, but picked up somewhere in the middle, and ended being a good read after all. A rather intense story of a woman who comes to terms with her own adulthood after her mom’s unexpected and rather gory death.
Julian Barnes was another interesting author I was introduced to by the dude last year. Love etc. is a story of three people, about incidents that happened to them, from each of their viewpoints. I usually don’t like open endings, but the one in Love etc. was tolerable to me, even intriguing.
Having read Love, etc. by Julian barnes and having loved it, I read “The sense of an Ending” in one sitting. I don’t think I really got it (borrowing the narrator’s ex-girlfriend’s last words to him!). Of course, I did get the story of the novella – the past of a man, as remembered by him, sometimes erroneously, sometimes correctly in his own sunset years, and the facing of his own past actions and its consequences.This book was, however, less impressive than Love etc. to me because perhaps of heightened expectations.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrota was a 50/50 book. It is a grim tale of the world facing a sudden inexplicable disappearance of millions of people. The consequences to the “left overs” are scary but the world moves on, coping as best as it can.
Wodehouse is irreplaceable and incomparable (“how is the existing state of what I might call “plus pig” to be converted into a state of “minus pig“?), but Allen comes close with his wacky humor that is full of nonsense and intelligence at the same time. “Without Feathers” is Woody Allen’s collection of 18 ROFL-type short stories that are an instant pick-me-up on a dark, despondent day.
“And Another Thing” by Jeremy Clarkson is a collection of brilliantly humorous essays. What hits you like a double shot espresso on a sweltering afternoon is the total irreverence, brutal honesty and political incorrectness of opinions. Clarkson is not even remotely in the league of the supremely obnoxious Larry, the Cable Guy but merely communicates his strong ideas (often justifiable, even if unpalatable) on politically sensitive issues (e.g. homosexuality, Green peace movement etc.), and is not afraid to own his views. There is a lot of self-deprecating humor a-la Dave Barry, but with more class. Makes for good reading if you are not sensitive about issues such as the above.
While on the topic of humour, “May Contain Nuts“is a collection of American Humour writings, edited by Michael J. Rosen . Typical of American humor (against the stiff-upper-lip of the island) – the stories are mostly slap-stick and self-deprecating. I have not read the book fully because there is only so much slapstick you can take in a year.
Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries “Swan Song” and “Buried for Pleasure” are wonderful to read for the holidays where you don’t have a care in the world, and can just lie around in the couch with a bowl of coated peanuts, a mug of honey lemon tea and Ilayaraja playing in the background. It is heartening to note that I did get a few of those days last year, that allowed me to savor Crispin in peace.
The tales in “Stone Garden and Other Stories” by Alan Spence are not spectacular in any way, but quietly interesting – meaning, you don’t really feel like reading it all in one shot, but you don’t feel like not reading them at all either.
“The Franchise Affair” by Josephine Tey is a story set in post-war England of two women denying charges of kidnapping, and torturing a teenage girl, despite all evidence against them – a very simple plot sans corpses, and an engaging read.
“The little Black Book of Stories” by A.S. Byatt is a collection of vaguely disturbing short stories. It is disturbing by its macabre than depravity. The stories are scholarly, as is the flow of language. Each story has many layers to it, the superficial, apparently fantastic, fairy-tale (albeit grim) to the more profound truths the tales symbolise. My resolution at the end of this book to read more Byatt did not materialize.
On the non-fiction side, I read “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking ” by Susan Cain, about introverts and how stuff works with them, which I found fascinating because it said nice things about me.
2013, despite having started with excruciating work deadlines, has been promising so far, with “Practical Demonkeeping” by Christopher Moore, “Lamb”, also by CM (an amazing book) and “Holy Disorders” by Edmund Crispin already under the “read” (past tense) folder in the kindle. Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred in the Springtime” is currently holding me in splits for the gazillionth time. Ofcourse the wave would go up and down. But if I can read at least as many books this year as last year, I would consider the year well-spent.