Sunday, 3 November 2013

calamity of such long layoff

Its been far too long since I blogged about books, and as a result, I stand no chance of doing any justice to those I've read this year. In brief, then:

  • A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway): It occurs to me that this might be my favourite of the Hemingway books I've thus far read, but that's a woefully inadequate description. This is still a really good book, but whether its because of the autobiographical elements (I think they're autobiographical) or just the less striking setting, this one lacks the sharpness or depth of For Whom The Bell Tolls, which I think is my favourite Hemingway.
  • All That I Am (Anna Funder): This won the Miles Franklin last year, and is a pretty solid entry in a genre I wouldn't ordinarily pick up (nazis, for one thing). Book club selection with Nic and company.
  • They Call Me Coach (John Wooden): There's just something about this book. The writing is often bland and repetitive, but the love that Wooden had (and still had at writing) for his players just shows through continuously, and I don't mind admitting I felt a bit choked up at times because of it. 
  • Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey): This book carries such a big reputation with so many people I know, that perhaps I expected more. Its a diverting enough story, I guess, but it never really got to me.
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway): For so long I've named Steinbeck as my all-time favourite author, but Hemingway is giving him a good run these days. This is one of those perfectly formed novellas that you read in one sitting then put down and immediately think about nostalgically. I think I still prefer the depth of Tolls, but this one thoroughly deserves its great reputation.
  • Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein): Having been such a fan of the movie, and having enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land, I was looking forward to this one (another book club book). I have to say that, although I quite enjoyed it, it really wasn't what I expected. Very little "sci" for a scifi book!
  • Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse): Very good tale, and quite unlike what I normally read, with the distinctive and eloquent writing style (albeit translated) of an older author, but the transgressive material of the latter 20th century (though it was first published in 1927). Very good.
  • Bleak House (Charles Dickens): I'm still yet to be let down by Dickens, and this book offers many memorable characterisations, none less so than that of the legal profession through the wonderful scenario of Jarndyce and Jarndyce! The characters, especially the women, are a little thin at times, but the story and vividly painted setting make it all OK.
  • Carrion Comfort (Dan Simmons): Really good stuff! JMJ and Jacques recommended this to me for years before I actually bought it, and although I don't think its on the level of Hyperion, its a good tale about a really good premise.
  • Washington Square (Henry James): I don't think I'd read any Henry James before this novella, but his reputation as a wordsmith is well earned. This story and its characters are a little odd, but his writing is just so lovely that I didn't mind.
  • The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (Free Darko): I bought and started this years ago, but saved it mercilessly for years, like a child hoarding halloween candy in denial that the holiday is actually over. FD may have been the peak of sportswriting for me - whether the writing has gone downhill, or whether a wider remit makes their American homerism more conspicuous, The Classical just isn't the same.
  • The Man Who Loved Children (Christina Stead): This was mentioned on an ABC show about the great Australian novels, so I picked up a copy at the tip shop for a couple of dollars. I have to say, though, I don't think it belongs in that list. Its diverting enough, with some good characters and a strong sense of their relationships, but for me it lacked a sense of place, and never really grabbed me from a story point of view.
  • Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card): This one grabbed me. Rollicking good page-turner scifi classic, with easy action and just enough psychology and sociology to keep the mind involved. The movie will probably be mindless action, but the book deserves its status in the SF canon.
So there you have it. At times I haven't been reading much this year, and like any year there are some books which read very quickly and easily (Hemingway, James, Ender's Game) and others which take months (Carrion Comfort, though it was no indicator of quality, The Man Who Loved Children). I always hope that the end of the year will see me reading more, but only time will tell. Summers get busier every year, it seems.