Thursday, 29 November 2012

Reading update

Earlier in the year I set myself a goal of reading 25 books this year. At times that has seemed like an easy goal, and at others an impossible one.  One of the forces working against me has been my guilty conscience - when I have marking, or proof-reading, or reviewing on my slate at work, then I take work home. This isn't to say I stop reading because I'm working (although that does sometimes happen), but the presence of the work in my unopened bag makes me guilty enough to stop myself reading for pleasure.

Nonetheless, it hasn't been a bad year thus far for reading. The chief reason for this has been Game of Thrones, which has accounted for 5 of the 18 books I've read thus far, and a much greater proportion of the pages I've read. Last night I finished the 5th of the series, A Dance With Dragons, bringing me up to date and into the large group of people waiting patiently for Martin's final 2 instalments, whenever they should arrive. Its a pretty serviceable series, better written than a lot of fantasy, and less closely drawn to the standard fantasy story archetypes (the hero's quest for symbol of power, blah blah blah). Martin's willingness to kill off significant characters gruesomely, and often suddenly, also helps to make the stories less predictable for the rusted-on reader of the genre, which is nice. Having watched the first season of the excellent TV adaptation before reading book 1, and the second at the same time as I read book 2, I now find myself a long way ahead. To date the adaptation has produced one series per book, but I suspect it will struggle to do so as the stories broaden across Martin's world, and as the source books thicken.

I've also read a couple of other books to break up the flow. I started Murakami's 1Q84 while in London, and finished after I got back, but I can't say I enjoyed it much. It moves at a very slow pace, and a number of things about his writing frustrate me - he's obsessed with women's bodies, more than I found reasonable, and his ambition in his prose style outstrips his ability, I thought, with a lot of strained metaphors and distracting detours from the central plot, mixed with excessive exposition and leaps of logic from his characters. It also desperately wanted a severe editor - a 300 page story in a 1000 page book.

At the Lifeline book fair earlier this year, 3 of the books I bought were Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Having read Red Mars, the first instalment, its certainly an impressive piece of work. There is a really strong sense of scientific credibility in his writing, and no lack of depth in the way he has thought out the colonisation and terraforming of Mars. However, the narrative does suffer, and its not always a compelling read in terms of its characters or story, so I found it a bit hard going. I will probably dip into the second and third books at some point, but I'm in no hurry.

At my mother's urging, I have managed to squeeze in a local book as well. Very local, in fact - Over the Top With Jim by Hugh Lunn is set only 4 about blocks from where I live, and a number of the settings for the 1950s coming-of-age story are places I frequent every week - the "state school" (as opposed to the catholic school) next door to me, Ekibin Creek at the bottom of my street (even if its really a park-and-drain now), and various others (alas, not the cinemas, which have all closed in the intervening years). The book itself is a decent enough yarn, with enough geographical and historical familiarity to keep me interested even if the cultural and temporal settings didn't resonate particularly with me, not having grown up either catholic, in the fifties, or more importantly in a time when religion was a conspicuous cultural discriminant.

The other book I've read recently was another I picked up at the Lifeline book fair - Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Its a fairly simple story about a black South-African reverend who comes to Johannesburg to seek people from his village who have run afoul of various of the social issues which burnt South Africa through much of the 20th century. Its a fairly grim tale at times, but Paton writes very well, with what felt to me like strong influences from Steinbeck, in the way he uses individual characters to represent larger social movements, and Hemingway, in the way he uses cross-language dialogue.