I got flu for three weeks over Christmas and the New Year and only now feel like I have the energy to catch up with this lame excuse for a blog. So besides watching hours and hours of YouTube videos of people making a living in the US from reselling other people’s junk, I’ve also been reading a lot of books, in fact there’s a backlog from last year. So let me take you through each one quickly, so then I feel like I’m up to speed in at least one category here i.e. ‘Reading’. Well at least as far as 2022 is concerned. I’ll tackle 2023 in another post.
Last year, between Snow Crash and The Originals, I read four other books. The first one was another sci-fi effort in the form of the short story collection The Day It Rained Forever by Ray Bradbury. I love the impossibility of the title and have the cover of this among a set I’ve stuck on the front of my wardrobe to make my webcam videos look more appealing.
So, I felt I needed to get this on my Kindle and give it a read. It helped pass the time when I last flew to Oslo for work, but I wasn’t hugely blown away by any of the stories contained therein apart from one about some Mars colonists who slowly evolve into another species, becoming essentially Martians. I have a soft spot for stories about the red planet and it reminded me of the kind of thing Philip K Dick might pen. A lot of the other stories lacked narrative structure and left me wanting more, but not in a particularly good way if that makes sense.
The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbo is another collection of short stories (thankfully with a little more meat on their bones than the Ray Bradbury book). I really should’ve written a separate blog post for this once I’d finished it, but to be honest I wasn’t really that blown away by it compared to his Harry Hole series – my reviews of which still perform consistently better than any other posts on this blog, for reasons unknown to me. In fact it took me far longer than anticipated to finish reading this because of my trip to Oslo (ironic given that it’s Hole’s main haunt) and the temptation to dip into other books. It’s a long collection and not suitable for hand luggage compared to having the Kindle app on my phone.
The stories are mostly crime fiction with a bit of sci-fi at one point as I recall, and revolve around the theme of jealousy and power. Most contain some trademark dark humour and some typically ‘clunky’ plotting from Mr Nesbo.
Hilary Mantel’s The Giant, O’Brien is a short and fun novel in comparison. This is another enjoyable period piece from Mantel about an Irish giant Charles Byrne (O’Brien) trying to make a living out of displaying his awesome size to Londoners in the 1780s and Scottish surgeon John Hunter who wants to study his anatomy. The book is only about 200 pages long and I had it done in one weekend. The dark humour is abundant and it would likely make a very good graphic novel if someone took it upon themselves to draw it. If you’re a fan of her Henry VIII series then I recommend this.
Next was Hilary Mantel’s Eight Months on Ghazzah Street which is a more or less contemporary account of a woman who moves with her husband to Saudi Arabia for his work. She finds herself bottled up inside an unfamiliar house, surrounded by scorched streets and secretive suspicious neighbours.
The regime is portrayed unflinchingly by the author as corrupt and intolerant, and the expatriates the main character finds herself associated with as money-grabbing alcoholics. Something is going on in the flat upstairs and there’s a feeling of unknown malice throughout the book. Reading it gave me a strange mixture of tenseness and jollity at the plight of the main character. It’s quite an unbalancing book and I won’t say any more in case I spoil it. Worth a read I think.
After The Originals, which took only a couple of hours to read (if that) I dived into what I’d call a ‘bucket list’ book in the form of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Now here is a book that deserves its plaudits and has a sad tale associated with it as Toole committed suicide in 1969 after years of knock-backs from publishers when he was convinced he’d written a brilliant comic novel.
He had. It’s really funny and the main character, Ignatius Reilly, an obese and often unemployed thirty-year-old writer with a degree in Medieval History, is an absolute classic. Ignatius lives with his mother, Irene Reilly, who drives him up the wall but he does not have the means or the energy to move out, in fact he is hugely selfish in nature and will sponge money or food of anyone he can. he gets a job as a hot dog salesman at one point much to the chagrin of his long-suffering mother, and eats most of his stock instead of selling it. He loathes everyone around him, and pontificates freely that the modern world has “lost the values of geometry and theology”. It is truly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.
“With the breakdown of the medieval system, the gods of chaos, lunacy, and bad taste gained ascendancy.”– John Kennedy Toole
Next was The Fall of Gondolin by J. R. R. Tolkein, posthumously compiled from his numerous notes and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien. The titular Gondolin is a hidden city of elves, a last bastion of a decaying age sought by the evil Morgoth (Tolkein’s original bad guy before Sauron got a look in) in his quest for dominion over all the land. Tuor, cousin of Turin, is guided by the water god of Valinor, Ulmo, to journey to the city and warn them of the dire fate that awaits them. An act of betrayal sees the location of the city given to Morgoth and he unleashes an army of orcs, dragons and fearsome balrogs upon the elves.
This is Tolkein in his element telling part of the story that he wanted to tell instead of the later events laid out in The Lord of the Rings. Christopher Tolkien does a great job of piecing it all together but it does have to be read with a measure of patience to put up with the repetition of details contained in various versions. It’s often a story about the creation of the story than it is the story itself – much the same deal as with The Children of Hurin. Essential reading for Tolkien fans though imo.
Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping is the seventh full-length novel in the Rivers of London series and follows on from The Hanging Tree, Foxglove Summer, Broken Homes, Whispers Under Ground, Moon Over Soho and the original Rivers of London.
By now I am used to the surprisingly knowledge Peter Grant, magical copper, has about all things London, and his penchant for out-of-date sci-fi references, and I just plain enjoyed this book. It skips along at a great pace and includes the dramatic conclusion to the ‘faceless man’ storyline which has fuelled the series up to this point.
It’s full of humour and action, but not one to read as a standalone novel – it would be a bit like watching the season finale to Killing Eve – you wouldn’t have a clue what was going on, but it’s definitely one of the best books of the seven. I feel like I should give it more air-time here, but this post is already longer than I expected.
The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the band who burned a million pounds by John Higgs is a book exploring the reasons why the band members of KLF a.k.a. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu a.k.a. K Foundation did indeed film themselves burning a million quid and then tour a series of lectures to discuss it.
But the book is also far more than that. It taps into theories about lines of magical energy joining locations across time and space, Operation Mindfuck, and the magical thinking of Alan Moore and his theories on how ideas are generated. It also tells you about the formation of the short-lived band and their influence on the cultural growth (or lack thereof) of the music scene in the UK. It’s a must-read title for 90s music fans and I gifted it to the Left Legged man last time I bought some vinyl off him.
“The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened state of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.”– John Higgs
Origin by Dan Brown wasn’t quite as bullshit as I thought it might be. I read it for a laugh and found it to be quite enjoyable. Having recently watched the trilogy of films featuring the adventures of plucky Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconography, I enjoyed catching up with the character in his fifth story in written form.
This time Langdon is in Spain getting mixed up in the fall out from an assassination plot and running around with the beautiful curator of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It’s all rather silly, but if you put your brain into a lower gear for the duration it’s good fun. Sometimes it reads like Brown had a nice holiday in Spain and read some guidebooks, but that’s part of the charm.
First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami rounded of the year in style. It’s a small collection of eight short stories, some of which are so flimsy that you wonder if you’re missing the point somehow. Without a doubt my favourite of the collection was ‘Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey’ about a man’s visit to a hot spa hotel where he is waited on by a monkey, with the power to steal women’s names, that he befriends but then never sees again. It’s classic Murakami at his surrealist best. ‘Cream’ the opening story is also quite mesmerising – it’s a very simple tale of a young man being invited to a non-existent music concert and meeting a philosophical old man.
Anyway, that’s it for this post. We’re all caught up to 2023. <whispers> but I’ve already read four books this month…