Here are the ten books I gave for Christmas: by Eric Idle - Dec-2013
Whatever It Is I Don’t Like It by Howard Jacobson
Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope & Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn
Berlin Noir March Violets. The Pale Criminal. A German Requiem. by Philip Kerr
What W. H. Auden Can Do For You by Alexander McCall Smith
And here are the runners up….
A Delicate Truth by John Le Carré
When The Light Goes by Larry McMurtry
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Casanova’s Return To Venice by Arthur Schnitzler
Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr
City Primeval by Elmore Leonard
Madame De by Louise de Vilmorin
Levels Of Life by Julian Barnes
The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton
Note: by Eric Idle - Dec-2013
I really only read only two novels this month but both were enormous. I also started a biography of Swift, and continued reading about Clive of India. And I peeked into my pal Bruce Wagner’s The Empty Chair, but I need to warn him about ranting! Failed to finish
Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker - Dec-2013
Seven Deadlies by Gigi Levangie - Dec-2013
But these two I did enjoy unreservedly…
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Dec-2013
Found a very nice 1st edition from 1939 to read this book for the very first time. Shame on me I know. But what a beautiful book. A magnificent novel. Written with a fine anger in lovely poetic prose. He is a true successor to Dickens. Social commentary on the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl and modern farming methods on poor sharecroppers, who are forced to become migrants and face the unwelcoming Californians. Amazing writing, amazing feeling.
IQ84 by Haruki Murakami - Dec-2013
Recommended by my daughters room-mate, this is another huge novel. Mercifully for we travelers I found an edition in Seattle which divides it into three paperbacks, and I commenced the first part on the road in Chicago. I thought it was arresting, and very minimal and very well done. It’s about a female assassin and a would-be novelist who is asked by an editor to conspire to re-write a young girl prodigy’s new and slightly strange story. With this slender basis Murakami is good enough to keep you engrossed for the length of three whole paperbacks, twisting the tale into a fine thriller. Seems odd I haven’t read any of him before. Must look around.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes - Nov-2013
Musings on life, musings on love and loss. Touching and wise. Also fun stuff about Sarah Bernhardt and ballooning…
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Nov-2013
The joy of re-reading. It gets better and better. Oh how we love Mr. Collins. I like to travel with the little Collectors Library Edition, very thin paper and very light. Perfect for a plane.
Hitler’s Peace by Philip Kerr - Nov-2013
Almost a what-if novel. The Yalta Conference revisited with a most surprising attendee. Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, all the big boys, with an attempted plot to assassinate Stalin. How he does all this beats me, but I find him effortless and a joy to read, even though Bernie Gunther is not in this one.
The Luminaries by Elizabeth Catton - Nov-2013
Booker Prize winner, rather fabulous and certainly deserved. It’s really a Victorian novel set in the New Zealand gold rush of 1866. We gradually learn just what went on from twelve witnesses to several incidents. Fascinating, and tender and informative and beautifully written, it seems impossible to believe that this is only her second novel. I read it throughout my stay in the UK.
The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel - Oct-2013
Sometimes when you read a book, you think I got the gist, and put it aside. This is one of those, from the slightly ungainly title, to the sex lives of the less than famous, (with the exception of Graham Greene) this illustrates the truism that in war it’s more than the gloves that come off. What it does paint is the extraordinary image of London in the blitz, where every night more and more of the city went up in flames. The fact that the inhabitants reached for each other in those long terrifying nights could be attributed to DNA or just the fact that terror, loss and death makes you want to fuck.
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson - Oct-2013
Last year a nice Norwegian journalist who was interviewing me gave me some Norwegian books so that I might know a little more about Norwegian writers. I could hardly know less, so it was a most kind gift. I enjoyed this beautiful story about a son and his mother and his life and her death. The quotation is from a poem by Mao. This is a line from the book. “It was like it always is with time, that it can slip through your fingers when you are not looking.”
What W.H. Auden can do for you by Alexander McCall Smith - Oct-2013
A sweet little book which will whet your appetite for the real thing. A major fan of Auden’s shares his feelings and his favourite poems and his best thoughts.
Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh - Oct-2013
I finished this which I had started in June and was struck by how well he finishes his books, not something all novelists can do, but something vitally important in the detective thriller. His terrain of the Hollywood cops and the Hollywood moon that sets the denizens of Hollywood buzzing is exactly his own. He has carved out this territory and nobody does it better.
Clive by Robert Harvey - Oct-2013
The Life and Death of a British Emperor.
I’m slowly working my way through this. I was always fascinated by the Fall of Clive. This history is a little slow but I haven’t abandoned it, since I want to see how it turns out.
The Circle by Dave Eggers - Oct-2013
Well this is 1984. Actually more like 2084. For those of us who feel I-People are akin to a cult here is the novel of our anxieties. What does it mean when we share everything on line, on camera, on email and twitter? Is this a sinister or a useful human social development? Do we get closer to others, or further away from our real selves? Mae is the Winston Smith of the book, who gets a job at the Silicone Valley online giant The Centre. Her moments of rebellion, solo kayaking, and furtive sex with a mysterious watcher, are used as examples against her. Carefully advised by her counsellors, she learns her lesson, outing herself in a series of Orwellian contradictions. History too is rewritten, as camera and digital data is re-interpreted. So yes it’s a great idea, but I got the feeling that for once the film might be even better. Perhaps it’s the character of Mae who rarely becomes more than a cypher or perhaps we get it too soon, we quickly understand the irony of freedom becoming repressive, and hate the intrusive nature of this Maoist world, where self-criticism is used to keep the individual in line, so that the book seems overlong as it slowly works out its paradoxes: how working at The Centre transforms a bright intelligent young woman into a workaholic vessel, how it affects her relationship with her parents and former lover, how her world view is polluted by the shining guidelines of the Company, where everything is free, and nothing has any value. Where cameras follow you for every waking hour and you must be careful what you think, and you must communicate all day or feel the sting of social criticism. Big Brother is watching you. Dystopia Ltd.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell - Oct-2013
Another from the interesting New Yorker writer. Interesting insights and observations. I’ve used the word interesting twice which alerts me I am trying to cover up the fact I found some parts a little dull….
Unknown Man #89 by Elmore Leonard - Sep-2013
Found a first UK edition in London. An early Leonard. And highly readable as usual.
A Clue To The Exit by Edward St. Aubyn - Sep-2013
The first half I thought was one of the best books I have ever read. Need to re-read it actually. It didn’t quite maintain the vigour and strength of its opening, but still brilliant. A prolonged consideration of the nature of consciousness from a physical, philosophical and scientific perspective. The Oxford dilemma: Stuck on a train in Didcot. Witty, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent. Superb stuff.
Caesar’s Vast Ghost by Lawrence Durrell - Sep-2013
Aspects of Provence.
I re-read it, mainly because I enjoy the story of Marius saving Rome, by refusing to battle the vast Teutonic barbarian horde as it heads south to threaten Rome, before he accustoms his army to seeing them as just an enemy and destroys them completely in Pourrieres… A military genius even Caesar thought was the cat’s pyjamas.
A Man Without Breath by Philip Kerr - Sep-2013
My addiction grows. I’m trying to ration myself to one Philip Kerr book a month but I don’t know whether I can. Found a nice autographed copy at Vromans, the excellent bookstore in Pasadena. Between Berlin and Smolensk, Bernie is the same back chatting non Nazi cop. Here he is invited by Joey the Crip to exhume and examine the bodies of the thousands of Polish officers killed by the Red Army, on Stalin’s orders at Katyn. The irony of the Nazis investigating a Communist War Crime is not lost on him or his protagonist. Great stuff.
On The Edge by Edward St. Aubyn - Sep-2013
The trouble with discovering a new author whom you adore, is if you binge on their writing you eventually come across something that you don’t like. This for me was it. The send up of the Esalen, New Age, touchy feely folk is funny for a while, but then reading about them is just as irritating as meeting them. So I chucked it I’m afraid.
If The Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr - Sep-2013
He is an ace thriller writer. This one moves between Berlin in 1934 and ends up in Havana in 1954 before the crime is revealed. And you never see it coming. Bernie Gunther is the perfect hero, flawed, smoking, drinking, womanising, hilarious. I defy you not to have a good time with him.
Shangri-La by James Hilton - Sep-2013
Nice change at the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris to find this thirties yarn by James Hilton instead of some religious bullshit book. It’s very much a Ripping Yan, with the stiff upper lip narrative by Conrad the laconic hero of this improbable adventure, but he keeps the excitement coming in the Buchan style.
Characters are sketches, caricatures, but hey, it’s an innocent enough read.
Solo by William Boyd - Sep-2013
A James Bond novel.
I never thought Fleming was any good. I only read him recently and was surprised to find him almost as bad as I suspected, but I do rate William Boyd, so it’s a pity to find him slogging through a Bond novel. It seems his heart isn’t in it. Anyway I left it behind in Paris, for somebody else….