Saturday, May 21, 2011

Books I've read in 2011. This doesn't seem like nearly as many as I thought I'd read, but it works out to roughly a book a week. I also tried to read Zero History by William Gibson but I found it really tough going, which is odd since I enjoyed its prequel Spook Country so much last year.

You can also pick up the shameful trend of 'books that have been turned into movies'. This is a longstanding weakness of mine as you will see from my bookshelves. In some cases I read the book to prepare for the movie; in other cases I saw the movie first and then was inspired to read the book.

And I have just learned (via looking up Chris O'Dowd, aka, "the Irish guy from The IT Crowd", on IMDB) that they've made a BBC costume-drama miniseries of The Crimson Petal and the White, for which I am absolutely jonesing because I adored that book. It features Shirley Henderson (whom I adored when she played Marie Melmotte in The Way We Live Now – another incredibly satisfying BBC costume miniseries), and Gillian Anderson plays Sugar's mother, the madam Mrs Castaway!!!

I just would like to put it on record, however, that I never saw Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

Others on this list are books I pick up from secondhand bookshops and op-shops. One such was State of Decay, which is an SF conspiracy thriller set in a dystopian America in which foreign wars are fought by cybernetically reanimated corpses – 'revivors'. (They reminded me of a combination of the Cauldron-Born in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain and Asimov's robots.) I enjoyed the procedural plot and the richness of the detail with which Knapp sketches class strata and the logistics and metaphysics of revivors. It kind of lost steam at the end, but it was definitely an absorbing read and hence brilliantly fulfilled its purpose, which is to temporarily escape my terrible life by reading books over café meals.

Other books are ones I requested to review. That includes Things Bogans Like, which funnily enough, I did not like. (Can I also just say, while I'm on the topic, that I was absolutely mortified by the way errors were introduced into that review during copy-editing, for which I was then crucified in the comments.) However, most books were intended for The Enthusiast but so far I haven't got to them. I just feel full of despair and self-hatred, well, generally, but also whenever I think about my aspirations for that site and how short I fall of them.

I am especially ashamed that some of these authors are friends of mine and I felt an obligation to them to get word out about their books (which I really enjoyed!). While I was looking through my bookshelves I also saw other books written by friends, published last year, that I meant to review but never got around to, and a fresh wave of shame threatened to swamp me.

Some of the books are also for my book club. Tomorrow we will be discussing Wolf Hall. Judging from early reactions, I think I'll be the only person who enjoyed it (apart from the club member who suggested it). I found it vivid, evocative and startlingly contemporary, even as it narrates familiar, 500-year-old events, and it was a nice contrast with A Man For All Seasons. Thomas Cromwell emerges as an astute, cosmopolitan political operator with a bone-dry wit… but also with a heart.

Anyway, here are the books.

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris
Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris
An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
The Apple by Michel Faber
The Guardians Of Ga'Hoole: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky
Things Bogans Like by E Chas McSween et al
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Black Glass by Meg Mundell
August by Bernard Beckett
Little People by Jane Sullivan
True Grit by Charles Portis
The UFO Diaries by Martin Plowman
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
State of Decay by James Knapp
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth
Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris
The City and the City by China Miéville

The Crimson Petal and the White (BBC series) is AH-MAZ-ING. Agnes Agnes Agnes.
I read The Crimson Petal and the White years ago, but haven't seen the BBC version. Also loved the book and will be interested to see how it comes out.

Another book I really enjoyed this year was Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyn-something. Shteyngarten? Knew nothing about it but found it interesting and moving. Has it had much buzz? I feel out of the loop.

Last book I read was The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. It was on our bookshelf for some reason. It was just as rubbish as you'd imagine.
What is "The UFO Diaries" like?
Super Sad True Love Story got reviewed here but I avoided it because it seemed too mannered. I didn't think I would like it for the same reasons I've struggled with Zero History – I have stopped enjoying books set in slick, dystopian media-marketing-driven worlds.
As for The UFO Diaries, I see it as part of an intriguing trend where PhDs publish their work in mainstream non-fiction genres rather than as academic monographs. Clifton Evers' Notes For A Young Surfer, for example, is an ethnography and cultural history of masculinity in Australian surfing, presented as a personal development manual.

Similarly, Plowman presents a Lacanian and Zizekian analysis of 'the real' and 'high strangeness' in UFO-hunting subcultures, through a rollicking first-person travel narrative through North and South America. I found it lively and very funny, if occasionally overwritten.

I meant to do a double review of Evers and Plowman in The Enthusiast but obviously I haven't got round to that.
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