Sunday, December 9, 2012

November Reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Starter for Ten, The Mammoth Book of Nebula Awards SF, The Things We Did for Love, Mittee, Fingersmith




I’m going to cheat slightly this month and just do a very quick round-up of what I read in November, mostly because it’s Sunday evening and I still have half the week’s lessons to plan. Ah, the joys of being in gainful employment.

I started off with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000), which has frequently been recommended to me. A gorgeous fusion of comic book style adventure, Jewish mythology and American history, this novel didn’t disappoint. I am now officially a Chabon fan – what should I read next of his?

Down to earth with a bit of a bump, I read Starter for Ten by David Nicholls (2003), as I got it free from someone at the book group I (sporadically) go to. A nostalgic, era-embracing book, I assume this easy-to-read novel would be more fun if I’d actually gone to university in the eighties. I’d put it on a par with One Day – a quick read, but not very memorable.

And now for something completely different; as part of my attempt to broaden my literary horizons, I tackled The (aptly named) Mammoth Book of Nebula Awards SF edited by Kevin J. Anderson (2011). I’m gradually learning that the sin of judging a book by its cover is equalled by that of discounting stories on the basis of their genre. ‘I’m not really into Sci-Fi’ is the line I have always taken, but after reading this collection, that seems a bit like saying ‘I’m not really into clever, well-written stories which challenge preconceptions and paint beautiful word-images’. So that’s me told.

On the other hand, had I realised that The Things We Did for Love by Natasha Farrant (2012) was trashy teen fiction (the title should have given me a clue, but I bought it in a job lot when Amazon was doing its ‘Kindle Marathon’ during the Olympics – it seemed the most Ellie-ish way of getting involved in the whole Team GB furore), I might have spared myself some pretty terrible prose and huge great whopping clich├ęs. That said, as a writer, sometimes reading bad fiction is more helpful than reading great literature.

I read Mittee by Daphne Rooke (1951) for research purposes; having finally got my dissertation back, I am ready to delve back into my historical novel, and this book proved a fantastic way of immersing myself in the world of Southern Africa in the early twentieth century. It isn’t perfect (J.M. Coetzee provides a very informative critique at the back of the Kindle edition I read), but it contains some wonderful descriptions, and it has a cracking plot. I do like a good story.

Speaking of good stories, I finished the month with Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2003), whose ability to produce intricately plotted novels full of impeccable detail always impresses me. I am still struggling with The Little Stranger, but this book restored my faith in Waters’ abilities.

I’m hoping for a few book tokens for Christmas, and if anyone has any suggestions as to which novels I should treat myself to in the New Year, please let me know! Which books have you enjoyed most in 2012?