Holiday Reading

Recent reading

One of the many nice things about being on holiday is the chance to spend prolonged periods of time sitting in the sun and reading. Here’s what I read in the past 8 days.

  • Irvine Welsh, Crime – A (sensitive and careful, for Welsh) delve into the frightening and disturbing world of paedophilia. It’s quite a bit weaker than Filth, and utterly fails to live up to the savage brilliance of his early work.
  • Zadie Smith, On Beauty – Brilliantly written with some lovely (and some decidedly unlovely) characters. For some reason I slightly resented Smith’s tendency to remind us, repeatedly, of their races. For example, when her son tells Kiki “you are a strong black woman” it sounded almost preposterous to my ear/eye. Perhaps this is my problem rather than hers, but the couple of times I’ve mentioned it I’ve been reassured that this is not an uncommon reaction to Smith’s writing. A great book though, and I would recommend it.
  • Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – wonderful wonderful wonderful story, recounted to us by an autistic narrator. If you have not read it, read it now. Go on. That means you, too.
  • Philip K Dick, The Man in the High Castle – I do like a good dystopian novel, and this is almost one of those. It’s a contemporary (circa 1962) look at what the world might have been like if the allies had lost the second world war. I disliked the slightly smug way he introduced the book within a book: an alternative alternative history in which they won the war, which seemed to serve not only as a plot device but also to highlight Dick’s fascinating insights into why alternative histories are important in science fiction. Urgh. Other than that, a good enough read, but if you can bear to miss out on a couple of references to an imagined nazi space program (the other moments which justify would would otherwise be an arbitrary addition of ‘science’ to the ‘fiction’ catagorisation of the novel) then do yourself a favour and read George Orwell’s 1984 instead.
  • Lawrence Block, Small Town – apparently Lawrence Block is a well respected thriller writer. I’d somehow never heard of him before, but I’m not the biggest fan of the genre so it’s not a big surprise. This is his post-9/11 book, and while I enjoyed it I won’t be rushing out to buy any more of his stuff. All the ingredients of a good thriller, and perhaps because of that it felt more than a little bit formulaic. What annoyed me most was his gratuitous use of fucking as an adjective. (One example of many: “It has been almost a year since Mr Anthrax started spreading his powdered cheer, long enough for him to have slipped everybody’s mind, including, apparently, the fucking Bureau.” Get a thesaurus, Mr Block.
  • Philip Pullman, Nothern Lights – a leaving gift from my friend Anna at IBM. I’d read Amber Spyglass many years ago, but as I’d never read the trilogy she kindly encouraged me to start at the beginning. I love it. Pullman beats Rowling into the flimsy, badly edited corner in which she belongs. Kids (and adults), if you’re still reading Potter you could do much more for your vocab and imagination here.

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