Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Books Read in November:
The Heist by Daniel Silva
Deadline by John Sandford
Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indridason
Sitcom by Saul Austerlitz
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
I Must Say by Martin Short
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Lily and the Lion by Maurice Druon
Mad River by John Sandford

Books Read in December:
Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler
Lullaby by Ace Atkins
1984 by George Orwell
Light of the World by James Lee Burke
Summer Lightning by P.G. Wodehouse

Books Read in January:
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty
A Shed of One's Own: Midlife Without the Crisis by Marcus Berkmann
Armchair Nation by Joe Moran
Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

So my experiment in keeping note of the books that I've read during the year comes to a kind of close — except, of course, that it doesn't, as I'm going to continue recording the titles, and may even continue to bother other people by talking about them, in this blog or elsewhere.

A friend of mine named Bob Gulyas sent an email this morning to tell me that he'd begun recording his reading for the first time. Bob has quite a few years on me, and admitted that if, when younger, he'd started entering in a notebook the titles of all the books he'd read, he'd have a shelf filled with notebooks by now. Still, it's never too late to start, and he's off and running now.

As I think I've mentioned before, I probably read more books than ever this year simply because I had committed to keeping a record of them. Writing their names down was a little like wearing a literary Fitbit: whereas in the past I might sometimes have been inclined to put my feet up in front of the television instead of reading, my desire to get in as many books as possible in any given month meant that television — and other distractions, such as watching movies on planes — fell by the wayside. There were books to be read, dammit! I had to keep up my average.

The issue of difficult books did occasionally arise, though, as longer — or more literary — titles simply took up more reading time than others. Someone suggested that a way around this might be to categorize a book as having an average length — say 300 pages — so a 600-page book would count as two books, a 900-page book three, and so on until I could consider picking up Roberto Bolano's undeniably hefty 2666 (898 pages, 2.6 lbs in hardback) without fear of mucking up my book score. But that felt like cheating, and I never did get around to 2666. (I've since been warned off it by a couple of people, so it's unlikely that I ever will read it unless I'm jailed for a considerable length of time — although one of the people who told me not to read it is, in fact, in jail, and even he couldn't get through it.

The elephant in the room where the matter of big books is concerned is Dickens, and my list of books read in 2014 — more than 80 — would be one title longer if it weren't for The Old Curiosity Shop, which I started at Christmas and finished on January 1st. I try to read one Dickens a year. I've now read pretty much all of the entertaining ones, with the exception of A Tale of Two Cities, and now must resign myself to tackling Barnaby Rudge, and Martin Chuzzlewit; splendid stuff, I'm sure (well, maybe not Barnaby Rudge, which tends to be ominously disguised as one of his "less popular" works), but probably lacking the ease of The Pickwick Papers, or the greatness of Bleak House.

Anyway, The Old Curiosity Shop scuppered me at the last. I blame Little Nell, who as everyone knows (and spoiler alert if you're the only one who doesn't), is doomed from the off, and looks increasingly peakéd as the book progresses. It's one of those novels that really only gets interesting when the supposed heroine and her aged relative are offstage, yielding to the villainous Quilp in particular. Still, there's a certain satisfaction in having read it, and instead of being the last book read in 2014 it became the first book finished in 2015.

Onwards we go . . .

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Books Read in September:  
The Poisoned Crown by Maurice Druon  
The Royal Succession by Maurice Druon  
The She-Wolf by Maurice Druon  
Film Freak by Christopher Fowler  
Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker  
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich  
Hunting Evil by Guy Walters  

Books Read in October:
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon  
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor
Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lower  
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Going Off Alarming by Danny Baker
Revival by Stephen King  
Only When I Laugh by Paul Merton  
Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffman to Hodgson edited by Darryl Jones

One of the things I’ve discovered by writing down the names of the books I’ve read this year is that I’m reading more books than I might otherwise have done. I think it may be the opposite of keeping track of one’s calorie intake, which usually results in the ingestion of less food. (A doughnut can contain more than 350 calories, incidentally, and you know that they never taste as good as they look . . .) With books, though, I keep pushing myself to read more and more. Ideally I’d like to have read 100 books by the end of this year, but I don’t think I’m going to reach that. Still, I won’t be too far off, although I have noticed that the shadow of my desire to read more books is a reluctance to tackle books that are very long, as they might bring down my average.

Thus, although I have a very nice copy of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas on my shelf, and it’s a novel that I’ve meant to read for many years, I keep putting it off as it’s about 900 pages long, and might well represent a couple of weeks of reading. I wonder, too, if I’m secretly concerned about my own mortality, and figure that, even if my plane starts to go down during this current publicity tour, I might still have just enough time to sprint through another Maurice Druon book or, you know, reread The Great Gatsby. Then again, I might be too busy screaming, although it’s hard to conceive of any situation in which I wouldn’t try to get a few more pages of a book read. That, my friends, is the mark of an obsessive.

Speaking of Maurice Druon, I’m now on the sixth of his seven-novel sequence, The Accursed Kings, so I’m quite the expert on the French monarchy in the 13th and 14th centuries, and have just learned that Clémence of Hungary was the first person in history to own a fork, which is always useful to know. Druon requires a little commitment, as it can be difficult initially to keep track of various factions, princes, knights, and, indeed, dead kings, of which there are quite a number. Not surprisingly, he was a huge influence on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but it also strikes me that historical fiction, like fantasy literature, is much more conducive to, and welcoming of, sequences of novels than my own mystery genre, which generally distrusts books — even as part of character-driven series — that require readers to have some knowledge of preceding novels. My Parker books form a sequence, but I’d suggest that they’re the exception in the mystery field, not the rule. They’re not the sole exception, though: Preston and Child do something similar with their Pendergast books, and the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, progenitors of the Scandinavian crime genre, is best read in sequence. Still, mystery fiction prefers its series protagonists not to have too much of a memory, I think.

October, meanwhile, contained a significant gothic element, thanks to Mary Shelley, Stephen King, and Darryl Jones, and a timely visit to the gothic exhibition at the British Library in London, which I can heartily recommend should you find yourself at a loose end in that city and fancy seeing Shelley’s manuscript of Frankenstein, or a letter from Jack the Ripper promising to mutilate the ears of his next victim, which he duly did. If nothing else, I suppose he was a man of his word . . .