Saturday, 21 May 2011
30 day Book Challenge Part 2
With continued props to Becky (@stupidgirl45 on Twitter) who supplied me this idea - you can read her version here
Day 15: First "chapter"book you can remember reading as a child. Not sure of this was the first, since they probably gave us something to read at school which I now can't remember for the life of me, but I was the lucky recipient of a bit of a family heirloom. My father's original hardback editions of Richmal Crompton's "Just William" books, the editions dating back to the 1930s. They were a delight and I handed them on to my cousin, now a famous kids' author in his own right. He gave them back to me a few years ago for my own son to glory in and he reads them over and over, which suggests they haven't dated. "Horrid Henry" eat your heart out.
Day 16: Longest book ever read. Bolano's "2666" and having read it I ask myself why. Definitely a case of Emperor's New Clothes to my mind. The first chapter is okay in a David Lodge sort of way and the last chapter ties some of the things together in a historical fiction sort of way. But the bits in the middle, including the relentless chapter about women murders just go on for ever and to no good purpose that I can see. Looking forward to finding a block of time to read "House Of Leaves" and "The Infinite Jest". Hope they come partially clothed at least...
Day 17: Shortest book read. "The Outsider" weighs in at 102 pages. Jenny Erpenbeck's "The Book Of Words" is a small pocketbook edition of 112 pages, so not sure how that compares, but is a very good little book about the family of a regime's chief torturer. I also enjoyed a pamphlet-like book at 80 pages called "Mr Overby Is Falling" by Nathan Tyree, but it's quite troubling as it's from the point of view of a serial killer, so it's not everyone's cup of tea.
Day 18: Book you're most embarrassed to say you like. I'm not really embarrassed as I'll defend anything I give my personal thumbs up to, but Jonathan Safran Foer seems to get plenty of clog for his novel "Everything Is Illuminated" which I enjoyed. Its tricksiness seems to have bothered people, but I revelled in that. It's not a great book and in truth I preferred his follow up about 9/11 narrated by a 10 year old boy "Up Close And Incredibly Loud", which no one else seemed to like either.
Day 19: Book that turned you on. Nicholson Baker's "The Fermata" has the premise a man can stop time for everyone else but him and as predictable as the information superhighway has coalesced around the twin pillars of sex and commerce, so the hero of the novel uses his gift to ogle women who are unaware of what he is up to. Baker also wrote a novel entirely about phone sex called "Vox", but that didn't quite do it for me. Guess that makes me more of the voyeur type... The best book about desire is Neil Bartlett's "Skin Lane". God I love this book and its sensuousness in inanimate objects.
Day 20: Book you've read the most number of times. See "The Outsider" in previous post. Once a year for ten years.
Day 21: Favourite picture book from childhood. I can't recall any of my primer books, so am going to skip straight to "Asterix and The Roman Agent". The Romans infiltrate an agent provocateur who causes strife and arguments among the redoubtable Gauls. It's really quite sophisticated.
Day 22: Book you plan on reading next. Well "House Of Leaves" may just have to wait until I've got a head space clear of my own writing. So I fancy I may just read "The Master and The Margarita" by Bulgakov. Supposed to be very funny and in the favourite comedic books in part 1 I forgot to mention Gogol's "Dead Souls". Victor Pelevin can be funny too, who said the Russians were miserablists? Not me!
Day 23: Book you tell people you've read but haven't or at least haven't finished. Probably "Ulysses". I do own up to never having read Hardy or Dickens!
Day 24: Book that contains your favourite scene. The opening to Don Delillo's "Underworld" is quite exemplary atmospheric writing, even though it's about the subject few would be that moved by. It tells the tale of a boy who bunks off school and sneaks into an important knock-out baseball game, which actually happened in history and has some endlessly played back radio commentary (much like the 1966 World Cup Final). A key hit by a batter was described as 'a shot heard around the world' in the newspapers of the time. In "Mao II" Delillo describes a mass Moonie wedding with similar breathtaking scope, balancing the mass with the individual emotion. Wonderful stuff. I'll also credit Ian McEwan for his nailing of the competitive thoughts and feelings pulsing through two squash players in "Saturday", even though the book as a whole is not so great, while the retreat from Dunkirk he describes in "Atonement" is astounding war writing.
Day 25: Favourite book read in school. Milton's "Paradise Lost", but up against Sylvia Plath poems, Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers" and Jane Austen's "Emma" I feel it didn't have a great deal of competition given my proclivities. There are some wonderful images in Milton and the character of Mammon building a counterfeit Heaven in Hell that just can't cut it has echoes even today.
Day 26: Favourite non-fiction book. "The Alphabet" by David Sacks, a history of the source of each of the 26 letters and a consideration of some of their associations and imagery. A theme elaborated on in "26 Letters" a collaboration between 26 writers and 26 designers, taking one letter per pair and designing a poster for an exhibition to bring out the life in each of their letters. Superb stuff that probably launched my interest in typography being a significant part of fiction writing.
Day 27: Favourite Fiction Book. Well, apart from the Murakami listed in part 1, it's probably Roth's "American Pastoral". Although I don't really buy into the Americans' fixation with "The Great American Novel", this truly is an epic that encapsulates all of post-war America, with its psychic splits in the 60s. I'm not a huge fan of Roth, seeing him as self-absorbed and self-obsessed, but this is a strikingly brilliant and complete novel.
Day 28: Last book you read. "Bad Intentions" by Norwegian writer Karin Fossum. I watched a BBC4 programme on Norse Noir and off the back of it the next day marched into a bookstore and bought this and the book in Day 29. The Fossum was so so. I was attracted to the claim that it concentrates on motive for the crime through the criminal's eyes, but I wasn't entirely convinced by the portrait on offer. Some of the language was a bit ropy too, but that may just be the translation, since Fossum has also written poetry.
Day 29: Book you're currently reading. The second Norse Noir I was tipped to and this one is far more satisfying. "The Snowman" by Jo Nesbo. Someone tweeted me yesterday that they'd seen Nesbo read livee and thatthe scene had stayed with her in her nightmares and I can see why. I think I'll read all his ouevre. So from the programme I discovered one out of the two authors to my tastes, a pretty fair strike rate I'd say.
Day 30: Favourite coffee table book. Huh? I have neither a coffee table, nor do I drink tea or coffee while idly browsing a book. However a very kind friend sent me "Joy Division" by Kevin Cummins which I have promised myself to read as a treat when I've finished my current work in progress. Joy Division were my favourite band and Cummins was the photographer there from the beginning so I'm anticipating a great artbook. The band certainly lent themselves to great imagery, being very associated with the de-industrialisation of Northern England in the early 1980's.
So thank you for indulging me in my personal favourites. There were plenty I would have liked to include on here but couldn't. Honourable mentions must go to Dubravka Ugresic, Jeanette Winterson, William Burroughs, David Peace, David Mitchell, Imre Kertesz, Craig Cleveneger, Kate Atkinson, Jonathan Lethem, Scarlet Thomas.
Peace and Lethem are my two favourite contemporary authors, I can't believe I couldn't get them into the 30 books!