Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Looking for a book?

Last Xmas I wrote a ridiculously long post about the films I'd watched in the last year (back here). This year I present to you a much shorter trip through all the books I've read this year (not counting poetry... that's such awkward stuff... it needs a post of its own...). As I did last year I've included my own private reading matter and the books I've read to our daughter at night (she still likes to be read to so I'm going to keep going as long as she'll take it without barricading me out of the room - she's ten now... it won't be long). Last year I gave movies a score out of ten so I've decided to do the same with the books. It seems a bit cruel maybe, scoring a book out of ten, but it's a cruel world, n'est-ce pas? These are such varied books that the scores will show you nothing more than how much I liked each individual book and how much I would like to recommend it to you (or not).

I've gone through the books in the order I read them so, what did I read in January..?


Jack Kerouac “On the Road” (publ. 1957)

Bought cheap in the supermarket with a voucher I got as a present
Also mentioned here, I'd never read this and felt I should but I found it really quite dull and only got about two thirds of the way through before putting it down and not picking it up again. It's still on the bedside table but low down the pile.
6/10


Stephen Fry “Making History” (1997)

Borrowed from a friend
I'm not a mega Fry fan like some but I can sometimes admire what he does and says and he makes me laugh now and again. His books though I find a bit Lib-Dem, if you know what I mean (sorry for those outside the UK... that reference won't mean much). And what do I mean by that? They have good moments and some promise but are ultimately disappointing.
6/10


Neil Gaiman “Coraline” (2002)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
We both enjoyed this slight novel well enough but they did take it up a notch (or twenty) with the film (which is fantastic – one of our real faves).
8/10 (she says 8½)




Dave Eggers “What is the What” (2006)

Bought this a few years back after reading an article about it... left it sitting in the 'to read' pile for ages (mainly because someone else said it was very harrowing and I was scared to read it... sorry)
This book is really, really, REALLY good – both its fiction and its truth. I wrote about it back here (though I didn't really say very much). Read it, read it, read it!
10/10


Mark Steel “Reasons to be Cheerful” (2001)

Bought this because I read and really enjoyed his “What's Going On”(2008) last year

A lot of 'funny' written matter just doesn't make me laugh but Mark Steel books are almost guaranteed to make me splurt out noisily on the bus. The jokes don't always work (and can be a little laboured from time to time) but overall I really love his outlook, dedication and way with words and images.
9/10


Frances Hodgson Burnett “A Little Princess” (1904)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
I loved this as a kid and enjoyed it even more this time round (and Miss I'm Ten loved it too). It is SO sad (I cried real tears, whilst reading...) and it prompted us to talk a lot about inequality too – always good.
9/10 (she says 9½)


Nora Chassler “Miss Thing” (2010)
Bought from the publisher, recommended by a friend
This is a lively, spiky, pretty intellectual piece of New York-based fiction via Scottish Two Ravens Press. I very much enjoyed it – though I had to look a few things up (I knew all the drug references but not so much the philosophers....). I'll be interested to see what this writer does next... especially now she lives in Tayside...
8/10


Wendy Cook “So farewell then Peter Cook” (2006)

Borrowed from a friend
This memoir takes namedropping to a new level. There were some interesting details about comedian Peter Cook's life but a lot of flannel too. Disappointing.
4/10


Dave Eggers “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (2000)

Bought it after reading 'What is the What' (see above)
The first section of this I really enjoyed (the heartbreaking bit) but once he moved out to California I'm afraid the genius side of things started to wear a bit thin and whiney for me. Still, it wasn't uninteresting and it got Eggers started on the path that led a lot of the very interesting work he's doing now.
8/10


Lauren St.John“The White Giraffe” (2007)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
Adventure with animals in South Africa. A bit cheesey but Miss I'm Ten loved it.
6/10 (she says 8½)





A.S.Byatt “The Children's Book” (2009)

Bought it in Smiths
This is one of my very favourite reads of the year (I wrote a little about it here). A huge book in every sense.
10/10


Robert Graves “Goodbye to all that” (1929)

From local library
This has such a good reputation but I'm afraid I skimmed a lot of it. There was one line in it about singing with the soldiers that I liked but I forgot to write it down.
6/10


Rose Tremain “Trespass” (2010)

Mum's copy – she was quite a Tremain fan
Moody, sad... I read this at the right time (just after Mum died). Not amazing but perfectly readable.
7/10


Mark Steel “Vive la revolution” (2003)

As “Reasons...” above
A history of the French Revolution, this isn't my favourite of Steel's books... in fact I didn't finish it. But then I did read Hilary Mantel's “A Place of Greater Safety” last year so maybe I just didn't need more Danton and friends quite yet.
6/10


Robert Graves “On English Poetry” (1922)

From local library
I loved this – loads of bonkers quotes about poetry (I posted some here and here).
8/10


Barack Obama “Dreams from my Father” (1995)

Mum's copy
I loved this too – wrote about it here. Although my favourite Obama line has to be from comedian Reginald D Hunter on TV's 'Have I got news for you' – I can't find it online but it went something like 'yeh, a black man gets to be in the white house – now that the whole country ain't worth a damn'.
9/10


Lewis Carroll “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” (1871)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
I am not a Carroll fan (I know, stone me!). I read the first Alice to Miss I'm Ten last year and I couldn't bear it (she enjoyed it – she likes most books... especially if there's a female central character and/or animals in it). I did find this one more enjoyable but still... I find the books flat somehow, lifeless. I am aware that lots of people (and poets in particular) do not feel this way (hysteria if you ask me).
7/10 (she says 8)


Kurt Vonnegut “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969)

Borrowed from a friend
This is another classic I'd not read. It is powerful and very well-written and quite ahead of its time in its crazy style. I can't say I could rave about it just yet (like some of you do...) but heck I'd take it over Kerouac any day! I might read it again.
9/10


Rose Tremain “Sacred Country” (1992)

Mum's copy
I much preferred this to her 'Trespass' (above) largely, I suppose, because it didn't have the middle-class stamp so clearly right the way through it. This is a really fascinating, well-told tale about ordinary English people doing what might be thought of as very extraordinary things. I found it very moving and it's that simple thing - a good novel.
9/10





Zadie Smith “Changing my Mind” (2009)

Mum's copy
There was the odd essay in here that lost me completely but overall I thought it was a terrific collection of work and writing. I wrote about it here. And you can read one of my favourite sections of the book (about comedy) here.
9/10


Rhona Cameron “Nineteen Seventy Nine” (2004)

Borrowed from a friend
Funny and hugely emotional, this gritty '70s childhood memoir really gets to the heart of life in a small Scottish town. I wrote about it here.
9/10


Jacqueline Wilson “Secrets” (2002)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
Miss I'm Ten is a serious JW fan so there are a lot of her books in this house. This one is a modern day Little Princess/Prince and Pauper affair but, like all her books, it works like a charm on the fans.
8/10 (she says 9½)


“Q.I. Book of the Dead” (2009)

Bought this for Mark last Xmas - don't know why... much more my kind of thing than his!

I've dipped into this on and off all year. It's basically lots of potted life stories and I have learned lots of interesting facts from it. Sadly, because I'm not really good with facts, I'm afraid I've forgotten most of them again already. Quite frustrating, I can tell you.
8/10


Kathleen Jamie “Findings” (2005)

Bought second hand in Edinburgh
A smashing book of non-fiction pieces – I wrote about it here.
9/10


Steven Poole “Unspeak” (2006)

Bought second hand locally
This attempt to dissect a lot of the nonsense language in news reporting started well but then lost me about a third of the way in. Maybe another time I will come back and explain why... At the moment it sits on the forgotten pile keeping Kerouac company.
6/10


Alexander McCall Smith “Dream Angus” (2006)

Mum's copy
This is simply fabulous - myth with modern twist. Highly recommended.
9/10


Astrid Lindgren “Pippi Longstocking” (various dates - this edition 2007)

Read as bedtime story to daughter – the new edition with the Lauren Child illustrations
This is another one I'd somehow missed as a child. Miss I'm Ten loved it because the heroine is an eccentric redhead (close to home..?). We both enjoyed the 'child given total freedom' storylines though I can't say it's stayed with me much since finishing it a couple of months ago.
7/10 (she says 9½)


Bill Bryson “Shakespeare” (2007)

Mum's copy
I nearly put this in the Brilliant Poetry raffle but then I decided to give it a go. I suppose this is the height of middlebrow non-fiction but, you know, his books sell well for a reason or two (and none of them to do with a Katie Price lifestyle...). It was informative, entertaining, clever. I particularly liked all the details about the London of Shakespeare's time – Bryson really brought it to life for those of us with zero historical background (facts you see...).
8/10


Peter Ackroyd “Milton in America” (1997)

Mum's copy
A fictional account of a poet's fictional trip in the seventeenth century. I started it, got bored, stopped. Then I started it again, got bored again, put it in the pile with 'On the Road'. It felt really forced to me.
5/10


Cathy Cassidy “Indigo Blue” (2005)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
These books are very like Jacqueline Wilson's from what I can see (though the writer is younger than JW and you can kind of feel that somehow). I started thinking it was going to be a bit of a copy cat (didn't like the cover either) but in fact we both really enjoyed it and couldn't turn the pages fast enough.
8/10 (she says 9)


Jacqueline Wilson “Secret Teenage Diary” (2009)

Read as bedtime story to daughter
This is the second volume of Jacqueline's own life story (written with her young audience very much in mind). Just as with the first volume with Miss I'm Ten and I really enjoyed this – some great details about an ordinary 1950s teenage year-in-the-life.
8/10 (she says 9)


Gregory Maguire “Wicked” (1995)

Borrowed from a friend
As we were seeing the musical show in London this year I fancied reading this original reworking of the Oz story (though I probably never would have got to it otherwise). People seem quite split on this book but overall I did enjoy it (though of course it is very different to the show – much more adult content!). There are some strong ideas and the characters and places came over well, I'd say. It's one of those... I wouldn't say 'rush to read it' but I wouldn't say 'don't ever read it' either.
7/10


And that's me - sacrilegious, full of shite or on the money? You decide.

p.s. Forgot one we finished just recently

Ray Bradbury "The Halloween Tree" (1972)

Borrowed from a friend and read to daughter
I'm afraid neither of us could get as excited about this book as the friend who lent it to us! Miss I'm Ten really struggled with it (lots of description and historical facts content, very little characterisation or story) and I found it poetic (in the sense that I almost wish he'd gone the whole hog and made it into a poem). Great illustrations though (by Joseph Mugnaini).
7/10 (we agreed on this one)

x

36 comments:

sunnydunny said...

Wow, you've been busy! A lot I haven't read (which is a good thing), and among the ones I have, I totally agree with you about Kurt Vonnegut and Kathleen Jamie. What does that say?

Rachel Fox said...

I don't think i've read much poetry this year though Colin and you've probably read heaps!
What does it say..? I've no idea!
x

Titus said...

Ooh, I love a ridiculously long post. Have to come back later, though. But Slaughterhouse-Five! Rave!

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe recently bereaved wasn't the best state of mind to read that one... I was already a bit numb... and then I read it.
x

The Solitary Walker said...

That was fun! Some I've read, many I haven't. Agree absolutely with you about the Jamie, Vonnegut and Obama. But I have to differ about the Kerouac. Mind you, I grew up with him, so to speak. He's accompanied me on many a hitch-hiking trip and personal road movie.

hope said...

Thank you for absolving me of never reading the first book on your list. I kept saying I would...and now I won't. :)

Interesting list...I shall check it again later.

Rachel Fox said...

So it will be interesting to see how the Kerouac book holds its place in literature once the generation that loved it first time round have shuffled off the road... Will it find a new readership? Time will tell...
x

Titus said...

I'm a bit 'yeah' on the Kerouac too, and I've read it twice now, at very different ages. Vonnegut I love, love, love! Likewise Graves (both of the ones you listed).
'Sacred Country' the only Tremain I've read, and I remember really enjoying it at the time, though obviously not so much that I've bought any more of hers.
Don't know what happened to Peter Ackroyd after the brilliant 'Hawksmoor' - I bought(!) and read his next three, with diminishing returns, so not surprised he's down to a 5 now. Probably be lower for me - I'd give 'First Light' a 1.
I really enjoy Bill Bryson's fact-y books, and think he does them supremely well.
I'm also troubled by Neil Gaiman - I almost worship his magificent work as a graphic novelist on the Sandman series, but I'm yet to read a prose novel of his that I really like. 'American Gods' made me want to bang my head on the floor. So did 'Stardust', actually. Not read Coraline.
I'm also really enjoying the Canongate Myths series, so yes to the Dream Angus.
And I must chase the Eggers.

Really interesting list, and virtually every book you've chosen to read this year has got well over the 50% score. Which is interesting of itself.

Too tired for typos, and computers on a go-slow, so apologies in advance if any.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, not sure I would have gone for Rose Tremain on my own but I bought a couple for Mum from a library sale a while back and she loved them so we have a whole stack here now. And in the summer, with the shellshock, I didn't know what to do with myself so started reading them. I can see why Mum liked them - they're all about the complications of people and why they do what they do (certainly the ones I've read so far).

As for Gaiman... I am a total know-nothing about graphic novels - never been near one so I only know his straight books. I didn't mind 'Stardust' (and, trained by my mother to hate it, I'm not a fantasy fiction person at all... she positively retched at the thought of a unicorn in prose!). I read 'Neverwhere' too and got through it (though all the time there was a voice in my head saying 'this is really not very good'... I kind of ignored it). I suppose it's like Fry - you get a league of fans from huge success in one area and then you have the old licence to do what the hell you like. Must be nice. I would say go straight to 'Coraline' the film - it is magnificent. The extras on the dvd just brilliant too.

x

Titus said...

We Coraline-d about a year ago (film). Not good for L. Not too good for Mummy either; 9pm 'I keep thinking about Coraline', 10pm 'I keep thinking about Coraline' etc
And I found the buttons on cushion image truly disturbing too!

Rachel Fox said...

Sorry - that was my recommendation! Funnily h wasn't scared by it (though she is older of course). There are lots of things that do scare her (bike rides for a start!) but she loves the whole Tim Burton/Henry Selick direction in movies.
x

Rachel Fenton said...

Watched Coraline at Hallowe'en - brilliant! My fave film of the year! I have a "thing" for buttons!I'm part way through Byatt but I'm too into poetry at the moment, though I loved Barbara Kingsolver's "The Lacuna".

Rachel Fox said...

Lacuna's in my next-to-read pile!

p.s. have added another book to the end of the list. We only finished it recently and I'd forgotten to write it down!
x

shug said...

God how could you no like On the Road? I think a lot of it is just beautiful free forming poetry. Have you seen him reading the last page while steve allen plays jazz piano? Effin brilliant.

Rachel Fox said...

Never got as far as the last page. And it seems you prove the point... that that book appeals most to gentlemen of a certain (ahem) vintage.
x

Rachel Fox said...

Do you mean this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzCF6hgEfto

?

Rachel Fox said...

And as for poetry... yes, it reminds me of lots of poetry I don't like!
x

swiss said...

yes, it's that time of year...

i'm with you on the jack kerouac front. tho i disagree that it only appeals to men of a certain age - in my experience it appeals to all of the shag women, take drugs, drink beer contingent who maybe haven't done enough of all three to make the book entirely redundant. i keep thinking maybe i've missed something but every time i come back to it i feind it more repellent. not unlike catcher in the rye.

that a.s. byatt has surely what must be my favourite cover of the year and was, as you'd expect, beautifully written as well as being spot on in research terms but i really, really couldn't get on with it and the ending just made me want ot stab myself. which was a shame as i really wanted to like it.

which is kind of like dave eggers, who i've loads of time for but who i equally can't be arsed reading. i have no idea what that's about.

i think i've gone on about the kathleen jamie before so i shan't again save to say i think it's due a reread.

was it you that recommended me to bernadine evaristo? am just done blobde roots and am making my mind up about it

and you've definitely got me up for watching that coraline

The Solitary Walker said...

I don't think Shug & I are ready to shuffle off this mortal coil quite yet, Rachel... ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Watch Coraline on as big a screen as you can manage, Swiss. And watch out for the garden scenes - gorgeous!

How far did Jack manage, SW - 47? You gotta die young to be a real beat - more drinking! More drinking!

x

The Solitary Walker said...

Swiss. Err, I must say I know a fair number of women who read and actually enjoy Kerouac too.

Must sign off now. Got to take some crack and shag a few dames before Horlicks time.

The Solitary Walker said...

Rachel - I quit drinking. At least three days ago.

Rachel Fox said...

Still on the (w)horlicks though. Dangerous stuff, that.
x

Rachel Fox said...

All this talk about Jack K... and I can't believe no-one is groaning at me about Lewis Carroll! Or Stephen Fry!

The Solitary Walker said...

I really want to be disputatious (honest!), but I just happen to agree with your Fry and Carroll assessment 100 per cent.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, that's alright then.
x

Phoenix C. said...

I'd like to read quite a few of these, but get so little time to read! (Especially since starting blogging!!)

I love the way you've written the reviews.

Phoenix C. said...

PS Just been conversing on Twitter about Alan Garner's books - I'm resolving to re-read Elidor and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen ASAP. Haven't read them since childhood!

shug said...

"in my experience it appeals to all of the shag women, take drugs, drink beer contingent who maybe haven't done enough of all three to make the book entirely redundant."

Seldom has an absurd conjecture been couched in such a breathtakingly eloquent way

Rachel Fox said...

I wish I'd never mentioned bloody Kerouac! I blame Tescos!

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Phoenix, by the way.
x

Dominic Rivron said...

Do some of us rave about Slaughterhouse Five? :)

I'm amazed you manage to read that much. I'm lazy by comparison. Currently rumbling on through Middlemarch and Lord of the Rings.

I still keep meaning to read What's Going On?

I couldn't get on with On the Road, either. I got as far as where someone peed off the back of a truck.

Dominic Rivron said...

And how could I forget? I read Roger Deakin's Waterlog. Fantastic book. As a result, I spent a lot of time I would've spent reading getting cold and wet.

Rachel Fox said...

Lazy Dominic? Hardly. I'm probably just in the house more. And quite a lot of the list is kids books!
x

Rachel Fox said...

And Phoenix... I've never read any Alan Warner but have one of his books in a pile to read to Girl next.
x

Niamh B said...

I was a bit meh after kerouac too, but will give Slaughterhouse 5 a try - enjoyed his "Armageddon in Retrospect"