Sunday, 9 November 2014

Read all about it

It's that 'funny' time of year. I have now entered that zone where no further purchases can be made, 'just in case someone buys it for you for Christmas'. The advent of Peter Andre buying a prawn crown in Iceland and another slightly mawkish John Lewis ad (someone should dip that penguin in chocolate . . .) and we are just about ready to ding dong merrily on high.

No more book purchases then. Which is perhaps a good thing, given that there is a bookcase in the spare room stuffed with tomes waiting to be read. The epic hardback about the history of Jerusalem, some Stephen King pot-boiler a paperback about countryside walks in Palestine - some are new editions, others have mouldered on the shelves for years. Absolutely no reason to go out an buy more then.

The approach to Christmas, where reading material is concerned, has to be a carefully considered one for me. I've always though that the weeks leading up to turkey and the Doctor Who special require the literary equivalent to mood music. To this end, I've got Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery standing by. Previous years reveal other such festive offerings on display. There have been a couple of Stella Gibbons novels, namely Cold Comfort Farm and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm. If you really want to nestle down in a tale of family festivities, then there is none better than India Knight's Comfort & Joy. You can almost smell the mince pies and mulled wine. One year I opted for John Braine's magnificent Room at the Top. It's not particularly festive but has a kind of northern bleakness that resonates. Although I didn't grow up in the book's time-frame, it somehow reminds me of home and that's always a good thought to have at Christmas.

If you don't want to wallow in sentiment, then a good alternative is David Park's The Light of Amsterdam. This is a tidy little tale of various people heading to the Dutch capital in December, all with their own hopes for Christmas but also with their own worries.

Looking back over the year's reads and I see a fairly mixed bunch. Three of my highlights feature authors whose use of language was at best, sparing. Denis Johnson's Train Dreams is the beautifully written story of a labourer living in the unforgiving American west, in the early twentieth century. Also proving that less-is-more was The Bookshop, a taut tale of small town rivalries in Suffolk, penned by Penelope Fitzgerald. Brevity of language was also what endeared Tobias Wolff's Old School to me. Again, we are presented with a story of competition but perhaps the outcome is a little more positive.

 The worst read for this year was Richard Milward's Kimberly's Capital Punishment. The premise is fairly bleak to begin with (suicide) but the story evolves in such a nonsensical way that it was a joy to finish reading it. Maybe one for the charity shop or the recycling bin.

Otherwise, there have been one or two gems. In no particular order, here are ten that I have enjoyed in 2014:

Malcolm Bradbury - The History Man
Alan Johnson - This Boy
Peter Robinson - Abbatoir Blues
Kevin Maher - The Fields
J.L. Carr - A Month in the Country
A.M. Homes - May We Be Forgiven
David Sedaris - Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls
Armistead Maupin - The Days of Anna Madrigal
Bret Easton Ellis - American Psycho
Karl Taro Greenfeld - Triburbia

Just a selection then, but a few varied titles that have accompanied me on commutes into the City, holidays, train journeys and weekends on the sofa. Whether I attack the Mighty Unread in that bookcase next year remains to be seen.

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