Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Books Read in April: 
Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum
The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy
Rock Stars Stole My Life by Mark Ellen

Books Read in May:
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie by Jon Ronson
Field of Prey by John Sandford
Watching War Films With My Dad by Al Murray
Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto
Creation Stories by Alan McGee
A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore by William Cook
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Okay, so the first thing you’ll notice is the disparity between the amount of reading done in April and May. In part, this is because The Ginger Man took up more time than I thought it would: I’ve tried to read it twice before but never managed to get to grips with it. This time I persevered, and now I never have to read it again. We all have books that, for some reason or another, fail to connect with us.  For me, The Ginger Man seems destined to remain one of those, but at least I’m no longer nagged by my failure to finish it.

The main reason for getting so much reading done in May, though, is that I spent a lot of the month on aeroplanes, and planes are one of the few safe havens remaining to those of us who want to read undisturbed by people on cellphones, although even that little nirvana is gradually being encroached upon.

I’m also really protective of my time alone when I’m doing publicity. I spend whole days talking to people – readers, booksellers, journalists, publishers – and I enjoy doing it. (After all, there’s nothing terribly difficult about having people spend hours telling you how wonderful you are, and those who love books are generally good company.) To continue enjoying it, though, I need to balance it with a little time to myself. It’s why I never take up friends’ offers of a bed at their home instead of staying in a hotel, and it’s also why I like to slip away for a meal or a glass of wine in the evening with only a book for company. Sometimes, I may even do some writing. I’ve also come to realize that I only have one liver, and it’s hard to be the good time had by all every evening.

And in the end, writers are, by nature, solitary. Books are created in solitude, and not always when one is at one’s desk. Even on tour, I tend to be thinking about the book on which I’m working. Free time becomes precious, and reading fuels writing. Promotion is a kind of balancing act between the public and the private, between what one needs to do to create awareness of the book (and taking pleasure from the task, as it’s an important aspect of being a writer in the modern world, and should be done with good grace) and what one needs in order to keep creating new work, which is one’s own space. When I began writing, that space was always the little office I kept at home. Now, because of the demands of travel, I’ve learned to bring that space with me. 

Anyway, I seem to have ploughed through quite a number of books in May, although I confess to only reading the Discworld stories in the Pratchett book, and I skipped the extended interviews in the biography of Cook and Moore. (And I felt guilty for doing so, as if I was somehow cheating. It was like not eating my greens.)

One thing did strike me recently about my reading, although I must credit friend and minion Clair for bringing it to my attention: so far this year, the books that I’ve read have been overwhelmingly male. This caused, to borrow a phrase from the late Douglas Adams, a long dark tea-time of the soul, especially since I was reading Al Murray’s Watching War Films With My Dad at the time, a book that couldn’t be more male if it had a penis dangling from the front of it. I mean, I’m not the kind of person who goes into a bookstore and announces that “I need a book, any book – just as long as it’s not written by a woman, because I don’t like those kinds of books, whatever kind they may be.” I didn’t consciously set out not to read books by women, but was I unconsciously doing so? Had I simply slipped into a kind of bad habit or was the relative absence of female authors on my list underpinned by a set of assumptions that I couldn’t even admit to myself?

The solution, I determined, was just to adapt my reading behavior, because I didn’t want to be “that reader.” Hence the Audrey Magee book, and the Wharton, and I’ve just finished Sarah Lotz’s The Three, although that’s something for the June list. Neither The Undertaking nor Ethan Frome was exactly cheery, although, to be fair, the former concerns a marriage of convenience during World War II, and takes in the Holocaust and the horrors of the Russian front, so an absence of hilarity is largely to be expected. The latter, meanwhile, draws conspicuous attention at an early stage to the potential danger posed by an elm tree near a sledding run, leading one to suspect that an elm tree/sled incident is on at cards at some stage. Wharton does not disappoint on this front, although she manages to add a twist to the whole business that will cause the casual reader to look askance at elm trees forever after – and, indeed, to cast a cold eye on life in general. 

So a good month of reading, then: allowing for stories and interviews skipped, I’m up to 30 books read so far this year, and I’ve also taken a step on the way to being a better person.  I’m positively glowing with self-satisfaction…


Yvonne Stoffels said...

Hi John
...'bout the writing space - oh, so with you*.
best for your liver and keep up with the great work and over all, enjoy space of your own - which so is important and can truly give you ALL connected.

May I recommend a female author book: She writes of course no novels. The book is anything else then sensation hungry written and truly worth including if you are IN THIS OUR WORLD. *x

Where Angels Fear: Ritual Abuse in Scotland: Laurie Matthew

Yvonne Stoffels said...

Female author: would recommend my own books as well, but as you are aware, they are not in E

love and than*x

Yvonne Stoffels said...

...and Returning to Myself (Fish Eagle Books) by Linda Smith


Yvonne Stoffels said...




Yvonne Stoffels said...


HEROES DEL SILENCIO 'entre dos tierras


enJoY *x

Yvonne Stoffels said...

pothead - all those memories

have to send that one as well*-)

leaving the blog for OTHERs*-)....*x

so many more great music around....

happy bye for now.

Yvonne Stoffels said...

Deer Lake, Maine



The Wolf in Winter currently put on Ice ... continue reading soon and looking forward to .... cheers

Bev Saidel said...

Hi John. I found this interesting news article (see below) and thought this strange series of events might require Bird's brand of investigation...
Police officers outside the apartment in Sasebo, where, according to reports, they discovered tools including hammers and a saw. Photograph: Asahi Shimbun via Getty
A 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl has confessed to decapitating a classmate, police have said, as she reportedly told investigators she "wanted to dissect" someone.

The teenager, whose name was not released as she is a minor, was arrested on Sunday on suspicion of murdering her 15-year-old female classmate, after police discovered the dismembered body on a bed in the suspect's home.

The accused has admitted she strangled the victim before severing her head and left hand, "using tools … and something like a cord", a police investigator told AFP.

"The victim was found decapitated, with her left wrist chopped off," the investigator said, adding that the murder likely took place on Saturday evening.

The two girls attended the same high school in Sasebo, a city in south-west Japan, police said.

Police discovered tools, including hammers and a saw, at the suspect's apartment, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

The girl lived on her own after her mother died of cancer last year, but her father and stepmother live in the same city, reports said.

"I wanted to kill someone. I bought tools by myself," the Yomiuri quoted the girl as telling police.

Sports Nippon newspaper said the alleged killer told police she "wanted to dissect" a body, adding that the victim's belly was cut open.

The police official declined to confirm the reports, saying: "We are investigating her motive for the crime, and we're not going to disclose other information."

Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan, but several high-profile cases involving young people in recent years have heightened public concern.

Sasebo had already made headlines in 2004 when a primary schoolgirl stabbed her classmate to death.

In 2008, a man went on a stabbing rampage in a crowded Tokyo shopping street, killing seven people and wounding a dozen others. That incident occurred seven years to the day after a knife-wielding janitor killed eight primary schoolchildren, leaving the country in shock.

In 1997, a 14-year-old was arrested for the murder of two schoolchildren. The head of one of the victims was left in front of his school gates.
Cheers from your Ashfield fan.

Chuck Walch said...

John, I finally broke through the social media barrier in order to make sure that you got the right zinfandel and now find myself recommending female authors. This isn't going to stop is it? Kidding, I'm sure it will. Annie Proulx, Postcards or Close Range. She won the Pulitzer and the National book award for The Shipping News so that's to obvious to mention. Linda Hogan's Mean Spirit would probably finish near the top of a list of "The Greatest Books You haven't read". By you I don't mean you personally I mean the world in general, unless you haven't read Mean Spirit in which case I do mean you. I recently found Emily St. John Mandel and read her first three novels one right after the other and now wish I hadn't since once I finish her new one what will I do with myself waiting for the next one. Barbara Kingsolver, great writer and she pisses off the conservatives. Great combo like chocolate and peanut butter. If you never thought you could loathe a fictional character more than Scarlett O'Hara try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I went through the same midlife crisis at about your age. Midlife crises for the bookish? I realized that I was reading too many men, then I was reading too many white people, then too much literature of the Southwest, then North America, etc., etc., etc. I'm now realizing that I read too many living authors and I'm wondering what's next, too many published authors, maybe? You're doing the right thing by branching out but ultimately what I found is that we are all the same, in that there is no one like us, not even those that are most like us. If you know someone normal you probably don't know them very well.