August 02, 2009

Recent Reading

Apologies for the alliterative title and uninspired subject matter - I can't think of anything worth writing about, so I'm going to list the books I've read or failed to read in the last couple of motnhs or so (a lot of failures on my part in here - no idea why). (Also in no particular order):

"The Widow" by Georges Simenon. Another nasty and marvellous roman dur from Mr Simenon. This one has the introduction from Paul Theroux that I thought I blogged about previously but can't find. If you wanna read it (the intro), the link is here.

"Woman's World" by Graham Rawle. This should have been sensational but somehow it wasn't. Graham Rawle used to do the "Lost Consonants" cartoon in the Guardian but when he wasn't he was writing this book, pieced together entirely from the words found in women's magazines of the sixties. This constraint made graphic by actually chopping up said magazines and then pasting the pages together. So it looks great and seems like a great idea. But somehow it didn't take flight for me.I don't know why. I wanted to love it and instead I admired the idea more than the execution.

"Berlin Alexanderplatz" by Alfred Döblin. I read that the translation was terrible but bought it anyway (it's Archimboldi's favourite book in "2666"). The translation is terrible. Or if it isn't terrible then the original is. You can sense that it should be great, but I gues it's a little like trying to read "Ulysses" in a bad translation. Anyway, I had to give up. Failure.

"The Hour of the Star" by Clarice Lispector. Very short and strange novella narrated by a man writing a book about a young peasant woman from the north of Brazil. After the first thirty or forty pages - which are a little hard going in that modernist way - it builds to a rather beautiful little climax.

"The Black Insider" by Dambudzo Marechera. I read a short piece about Marechera by China Mielville so I bought this, as the title he'd recommended was unavailable. It comes with an introduction about how the bookn was originally rejected for not being "African" enough. I think it might have been rejected for being too bloody difficult. It has a cracking opening - the central character is living in a war-torn future London inside a bombed out university building - but then the story gets more and more lost in diversion and digression and mind-bending difficulty. I got lost. Must try again.

"Give + Take" by Stona Fitch. Amiable read about a travelling jazz musician and jewel thief. It was the first release from Fitch's free-publishing venture, Concord Free Press and is enjoyable and fun without being life changing. Good on jazz.

"Hard Rain" by Ariel Dorfman. Then again, maybe I don't have the powers of concentration to get through something life changing. "Hard Rain," from what I read of it, seems to be a series of reviews or essays of non-existent books, written by Dorfman as he waited for the inevitable coup which deposed Allende. It starts brilliantly but then becomes very... difficult. I must try again. Maybe on holiday..?

"The World Doesn't End" by Charles Simic. Short prose poems by the Serbian-American. He makes a really good introduction to them in this film at around 9 minutes 30, although it's worth starting from 7 minutes 30 to watch his anecdote about Venus, the Goddess of Love. Anyway, the poems are fantastic - wide open, allusive, funny and strange.

"Menage" by Ewan Morrsion. I already wrote about this here. It's still really good.

"Printer's Devil" by Stona Fitch. More Fitchiana, this time published by Scottish-based indie Two Ravens Press. Set in a post-apocalyptic future and concerning a member of a printer's guild (something like a gang), it's dark and well-written. But I wonder whether post-apocalypse actually limits a writer's imagination - they all seem to be much the same. Perhaps we all have the same nightmares...

"Reversed Forecast" by Nicola Barker. Nicola Barker's first novel, which I found on the bookstall of my daughter's school's Christmas fair (classy bookstall innit?). Have been meaning to devote some reading effort to Barker for a long time and didn't regret it. I loved this book - the quality of the writing, the affection for her characters, the ordinary oddness, everything. Am going to read "Darkmans" now, having been previously put off only by my dislike of sans serif fonts (Something, I'm glad to say, she has made no attempt to justify, despite so many people commenting on it).

Emil Hakl - "Of Kids & Parents". Published by Czech publishers Twisted Spoon, and bought by a friend of mine in Prague, it's the funny and well-paced story of a middle aged man and his father going out on the piss one evening, which manages to deal with the topography of Prague, communism, war, drink, sex, ornithology and a whole heap of other stuff, without feeling like it is. Oh, and despite its origin it's in English, too.

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