Several people whose blogs I read regularly have posted lists of the books they have read during 2007, including links to their reviews or thoughts about these books. So if you are short of ideas for what to read, there is nowhere better to start than these thoughtful, individual guides — untainted by marketing hype or publishing fashion, but what these readers sought out according to their tastes and (in the main) enjoyed:
Reading Matters: 65 books read during 2007 on a wide range of subjects, with links to reviews.
Stephen Lang: books read in 2007, including 49 novels, 9 short stories and one work of non-fiction (yes, it’s Richard Dawkins!).
Magnificent Octopus on some bests and worsts of 2007.
John Self’s Asylum: not one composite post, but just go there and keep scrolling down — every post is a jewel of a review.
And at the Book Depository blog, Mark Thwaite rounds up various "book of the year" posts and articles from the blogosphere and the media, including dovegreyreader (fiction and non-fiction) and the Guardian readers’ choices.
Via the deblog, it seems that January is the "semi parodic" (in the words of its creator, Foma) NaJuReMoNoNo month. The "semi parody" is of national novel writing month (November), or NaNoWriMo as it is acronymically known. Foma designates January as "national just read more novels month". Luckily the challenge is not too arduous, as one has to read only one novel during the month of January to qualify. Even so, I think January is the wrong month to choose for various reasons:
- December is the month when people have time off work in order to read novels (I’ve read 5 in the past 5 days, for example, compared with only 1 in the whole week before the Christmas break).
- Everyone has made resolutions in January so they are busy fulfilling all those "work harder, study harder, get more exercise" promises that by February will have fallen away.
- Nobody has any money in January to buy books because they’ve spent it all on Christmas presents or in the sales.
Whether or not you want to join in the January reading challenge, Debra (deblog suprema) reminds us that the quarterly "buy a friend a book week" (BAFABW) is next up FIRST OF JANUARY. The synergies are obvious…. but please stick to buying, giving and reading a book rather than getting into any NaJuReBAFABMoNoWMo-style monikers.
In an essay in the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, Frank Wilson reviews the the first six Phoenix Compact Editions of the classics- Melville’s Moby-Dick, Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Tolstoy’s Anna, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, and Mrs. Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Does the reduction of Anna Karenina‘s 800 pages to 384 sound appealing? Frank writes:
"There is nothing inherently wrong with what Somerset Maugham called "the useful art of skipping." Maugham himself in fact helped produce a series of abridged classics in 1948 called "Great Novelists and Their Novels."
But it’s one thing for me to skip. I know what I’ve passed over and can go back and read it if and when I choose. It’s another thing altogether for someone else – even a Somerset Maugham – to do my skipping for me. The only abridged book I can remember reading was the edition of War and Peace that I read as a teenager. It left out the historico-philosophical essays that Tolstoy interrupts the action with. (To tell the truth, when I finally got around to reading the whole thing last year, I found myself feeling retroactively grateful.)
No, the real problem with the Phoenix series is its premise – that you can take away just about everything from a great novel as long as you leave the "narrative line" intact."
Or, to reduce it to a compact form, as does Frank: "you’ll never know what you missed".
Breakheart Hill is the third novel I’ve read by Thomas H. Cook. The books all follow the same pattern: small-town America, narrator a father with wife and single child, some horrible event in the past, air of menace, twist in the tail.
In Breakheart Hill, a tragedy occurred in the summer of 1962 in the small southern town of Choctaw, Alabama, while the narrator, Ben Wade, and his friends were teenagers nearing the end of their high-school days. Kelli Troy is a new girl: a “Yankee” from Baltimore, who has no father and with whom Ben immediately falls in love – a silent love which he daren’t confess in case he’s rejected.
It gradually emerges that Kelli is a talented writer; she and Ben get to know each other well as a result of their work on the student newspaper. As she gains social confidence, Kelli is not afraid to question facts that her schoolfriends and the townspeople take for granted, such as why Black people are not allowed to enrol in school, and why there is a separate part of the cemetery for them. She hears of an annual race that was run every year on the nearby Breakheart Hill but which was stopped some years back. She begins to dig into the history of the event, finding out a horrible story of racism and evil. Despite their growing closeness as embryonic activists, Ben still can’t bring himself to declare his feelings for Kelli. As the school play is cast, and a nearby mall is picketed by Black workers, events come to a dramatic climax.
This story in itself is very well told, dodging back and forth in time, with some nicely observed vignettes of the teenage and adult versions of several characters. I particularly liked the somewhat creepy aspect that the adult Ben, who has become the town doctor, knows what befalls all the characters and confides their fates to the reader when describing their pasts – one has a sense of the sword of Damocles hanging over the characters. A theme familiar to Cook’s other novels is also in evidence here: the nasty parent, in the shape of Ben’s apparently solid father, who owns the local store – on this occasion the nastiness is sufficiently in the normal range to be hidden from all but Ben himself. But how has it affected the motherless boy?
Overall, the sense of dread is far too overdone for my taste. Rarely does a page go by in which the reader is not reminded of the awful event that is to happen to Kelli, and there are just too many heavy hints that Ben is involved. If these aspects had been reduced to about half their number, the book would have been a perfect little thriller. There are a few nasty surprises at the end that shock effectively and leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth, but a less portentousness would have greatly improved the impact of this otherwise well-plotted page-turner.
From an interview with John Malkovich, 54, in today’s (29 December) Times magazine (not online):
"The community in which I grew up was not the most obviously cultivated or stimulating, but what my father and mother instilled in me was the belief that people are interesting no matter where you find yourself, and in Benton, Illinois, no less so than anywhere else. My parents shared a great curiosity about the world around them and were avid readers. That love of books is something else that was passed on to me and, in childhood, I spent much of my time in the local library, learning about places and things that lay beyond our city limits. A degree of intellectual restlessness established in me by them all those years ago continues to motivate me to this day."
The Times points to a website with "details of John Malkovich’s online script project as well as other content reflecting Malkovich’s life and interests."
Here are some questions of interest (to me, at least) that have been asked and answered in the blogosphere this holiday season. The answers may not be right, but they will save you the bother of dreaming up your own, and may generate a smile, or disagreement, or both.
Who will win next year’s Oscar for best actress and actor? (See Guardian blog for an answer (actress) and the Guardian again for actor.)
What do I do when friends ask me to read their manuscripts, and I hate what they’ve written? (See Dr Sue at Buzz, Balls and Hype for an answer.)
What does Nature consider to be the greatest hits of science it has published? (See Nobel Intent for answer, or go direct to Nature’s "history of the journal" website.)
Why does nobody comment at Google news? (John Battelle’s Searchblog has the answer.)
What is the most inane book jacket design? (Light Reading has an answer that will be hard to beat.)
What are the ten worst jobs ever? (Female Science Professor lists hers here — and what’s more, she’s done them all.)
Who was crime fiction’s greatest polymath? (Answer to include: author, critic, anthologist, social historian, journalist, poet and biographer.) Check out Martin Edwards, who has the answer at his blog "Do you write under your own name?".
Have a lovely time reading the answers! I did. The blogosphere is such a sociable place.
Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – film: The best worst lines in film.
As it says on the label (above), what are your favourite worst lines in films? Ronald Bergan in the Guardian post at the link highlights a couple of beauties (but as usual with Guardian blog pieces, there isn’t much more to it as the author of the piece can’t remember the lines, as opposed to scenes, that he found funny in recent films):
- El Greco (bravely played by a British actor called Nick Ashdon) says to a priest that he expected the Inquisition to come for him, the priest replies, "They will, but there’s backlog at the moment".
- Merle Oberon as George Sand in the Chopin biopic A Song To Remember tells the composer, "Discontinue that so-called Polonaise jumble you’ve been playing for days."
- In I Wake Up Screaming, Victor Mature, dining Betty Grable in a smart restaurant, impresses her with his sophistication by saying to the waiter, "We’ll have the wine with the meal and coffee afterwards."
Do you have any favourites? "And did you enjoy the play, Mrs Lincoln?" is an apocryphal example that comes to mind, but whether it actually was in a movie I don’t know.
Martyn Daniels, author of the UK Bookseller Association’s report Brave New World, posts here: Brave New World: Reviewing Our Predictions For 2007. What did the report get right and what wrong? Check out the link. Among the "right":
- The start of real POD services based not on short print runs but distributed printing at affordable prices. POD still moving at pace and people now looking to distribute to print rather than print and distribute. Foyles looked at the Espresso machine. Right
- Increased importance of Internet sales, emarketing and community engagement and participation. The Internet is clearly here and becoming pervasive in all markets. For the bookstores it is now a must do. Right
Yes, two definite "rights", I’d agree. Next for Martyn and co is to make their predictions for 2008. I’m watching.
Via Books, Inq, here is an article, Timeline: The Life of the Blog, over at National Public Radio. It’s an interesting archive of key points in the evolution of blogging — skewed, not surprisingly in view of the fact that the timeline is on a news site, to the impact of blogging on politics and current affairs. I thought it petered out at the end, though. The list captures Twitter as a recent innovation, as well as podcasting, photostreams and video (vlogs), but fails to mention the late-2007 trend of the integration of blogs with social networking sites, whether big players such as Facebook or MySpace, or niche networks such as Nature Network or Crimespace, which support blogs. If I were starting out blogging now, rather than two and a half years ago, I would do so within a social network rather than as a standalone blog (I think! I’m never entirely sure I have captured all the pros and cons of these things.) One thing I can be sure about, though — in another couple of months’ time, there will be another blog trend spreading like wildfire across the Internet.