As promised, here are the second lot of Good Books I read this year.
It’s strange to think that so many of those books I read, I owned (having bought online first or second hand, or at a charity shop). As of 2012, which promises to be a Year of Really Boring Ultra Austerity (oh! Did I say Really Boring? – of course, what I meant was – An Incredible Opportunity To Embrace The Providentially Given Challenge of Impecuniousness and Make It Luscious!!) for our family, I shan’t be buying hardly a book at all. Nary a one…well, maybe a couple. Who am I trying to convince that I am even capable of NOT buying books, there being a constant and comforting flow of them, in and out of the house? Well. I can but try, as we are set to be Yet Poorer.
Anyway. To this end of Actual Yet Virtuous Skintness, With A Mind to Eco Friendliness (observe my spin there, see, that’s not too annoying for positive thought; realistic too) I have become reacquainted with our local library. This library is so cute. It’s not like when I was living in Westminster, when the local library down the road from Royal Oak Station was a two floored haven of all manner of interesting books. Or the fact that I could use my card in any Westminster library, and there are some pretty massive and well-stocked libraries in Westminster. Nope. This library is the size of my living room, times about 4. It’s a very small library.
I am bothered by some of its sections. For instance – no feminism, literary theory section, or LGBT. Yes, I know, these are not the first sections most go to – but a bit of an explanation about gender/role/expectation things is always helpful, and most of us could do with knowing a bit more about these things. And the selection in these sections is always a bit indicative as to what sort of community you’re (outwardly at any rate) living in. (It’s my potted glance to see if I am in a room of Liberalism or not!) Annoyingly, I can’t order any feminism or literary theory in from another library either – every title I’ve queried so far (I’m reading Judith Butler and some Elaine Showalter at the moment, a bit of Camille Paglia) has been not even on the system at any of the borough’s libraries. Hmmm…
More worrying though, is the Social Studies Section. It’s full of those books that have white covers, pictures of children with sad beaten eyes, and are about horrible childhoods filled with incest and abuse. You know these books, like Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It (2001). I’ve read a couple of these type of heartbreaking and oddly voyeuristic books, and I feel like I never need to read another. I feel very strongly that these books should not be labelled Social Studies: it’s incredibly misleading. They aren’t textbooks, they aren’t written academically, and they aren’t – of course, they can’t be – objective. They are deeply subjective memory stories, deeply emotional. They should have a section of their own: ‘Nightmare Childhoods’ or something.
Aside from those 2 main worries, and the general smallness of anything factual in this library (the history section is mainly military and that’s it), the Fiction sections aren’t too bad. There’s a massive over-prevalence of Catherine Cookson, and those books about the East End or the Mersey in other Pre/Post WWI or II, or further back in Ye Olden Hard Up Times, that seem to really addict some people…But behind these, there’s a solid Fictional Crime section, an ok Horror section (for once, NOT mixed up with Sci Fi or Fantasy, themselves too often conflated). If you roam about two or three times, even for just a small ten minute period (with an anxious Fluffhead making lion noises and trying to fight his way out of the new In-Law Present for Xmas pushchair that’s built like a Hummer, which causes me to rush for fear of disturbing other readers at the tables), you can discover treasures. The Literary Fiction is all mixed up with the regular fiction, but there is some. The Classics are likewise mixed up but there. There’s a surprisingly rich section on child development, both practical (what to feed fussy toddler cookbooks, not all Annabel Karmel type ‘I Shall Feed My Child Costly Asparagus and Salmon for Every Lunch’, either) and theoretical (I found a Piaget!).
I hope to be draining this library dry come 2012. I already filled in a big suggestion form about what books to possibly buy in. And made a pile of books to donate to them (things I can’t sell as the postage would kill me or they are too common at the moment, but are in great condition – these are just the sort of books libraries need, as they tend to be common fiction). So far I have borrowed 15 books (yes, like I get the time to read all these, as well as what I own already – its not like I have a shortage of books – it’s the one thing I am Totally Awash with, and ever happy that this be so. Like my dad used to think, my books are My Friends, whole other worlds in each one, where I am in communication with the author deeply and personally – intimately – while reading each and every one. Bliss!).
So – the library has faults, but I am making friends with it anyway, and hope to try and help it a little bit, if I can. (Hopefully life will be as kind to me?!) On to the list. That was the Digression bit.
- Strangers, by Taichi Yamada (2006, for this author, putting the year of the English edition I read, not necessarily the year it was first published in Japan)
(Excellent ghost story. Simple. Tons of exposition; I don’t mind being TOLD rather than shown, any day, if the narrative voice is persuasive. I think a lot of modern views on reading and teaching of writing are plain wrong with this over-insistence on showing all the time. Both have their place. This story had imagery; but a lot of it was the reasoned thoughts of the hero, delivered in plain, sparse, simple prose. I loved it. Calm and thought provoking.)
- In Search of a Distant Voice, by Taichi Yamada (2007)
(A very odd mysterious story. If possible, even more excellent than the last one?! In a different way. Slightly more complicated. Didn’t like the setting and character at the beginning and thought I wasn’t going to like it at all, then it ran away with me, and I was left stunned at the sudden end – which explained nothing. Very good indeed.)
- I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For A While, by Taichi Yamada (2008)
(So…what would I do if I was 67 and suddenly started to get much younger? And what would a man who felt in lust with me do? And would armed robbery be involved?! Amazingly brave and spooky book. And sad, sad ending. Why are not MORE of this amazing writer’s stories translated to English??? WHY??!! I will have to learn to read Japanese!!)
- Smashed, by Koren Zailckas (2006)
(How could I not love a book with the lines: ‘Cheap champagne, which is both romantic and lethal, will hit me like a crime of passion. I think it can help me behead myself.’ [p.164] Never read so much vomiting in one book – why drink when the hangovers are that bad?? And her going down the street with her mother and throwing up every few paces – whoa…and the sorority and fraternity houses, what a terrible thing, all that mess and decadent excess and for no good reason…! Very well written. Though I never entirely understood why she drank – where did the self hiding come from?)
- Innocence, by Kathleen Tessaro (2005)
(Perfect, 10/10, absolutely nothing wrong with this book, loved the style, loved the subject matter, loved the characters. The best kind of upmarket chick lit.)
- Notes From An Exhibition, by Patrick Gale (2008)
(Excellent, really felt all the characters. Caused a single-handed reawakening of my Quakerism, which alone is astonishing. [Didn’t last long, but felt it most strongly at the time; remembered everything I used to love about the Quakers and Quakerism…then finished the book, and remembered why I don’t go anymore, and what annoys me about them…] So sad Petroc died, but good he died after such a lovely experience. The book felt like it finished really suddenly, I was surprised. I wanted more – felt like the story wasn’t done. Did Garfield tell his wife about his infidelity? I hated that bit, it scared me, it was the personification of all my worries about lonely people in circumstances.)
- Living Druidry, by Emma Restall Orr (2004)
(Intense. Exceptionally trippily intense. Parts of it – well, all of it I think; I agreed with completely. Some of it I didn’t entirely understand. She appeared so utterly spiritual as I would never get anywhere near where she was; nor in some cases would I want to. But this is probably the most informative – if difficult – pagan book I have read in ages. And poetic. Will definitely be rereading; there’s stuff here I won’t properly absorb for some time. I’ll need to come back to this several times. [NB/ its 8 months later and I’m still puzzling it; deeply affected.])
- A Sort of A Life, by Graham Greene (1974)
(As the title says, almost a memoir, but not quite. Stodgy and annoying and very very superior in places; in others, wonderful and honest and kin to me. He’s a puzzle, and I like him.)
- Ferney, by James Long (1998)
(A novel sort of about time travel, but not really; more about reincarnation, but not exactly. Some very good debate about time; the nature of history; perception over generations (the idea of time being measured in ‘old men’s lifetimes’, making each period seem not that far away) and reincarnation. But the end, while an amazing twist, somehow ruined it – it wasn’t a fitting ending for such an epic and deliberate love story. Though it was certainly memorable, it was chilling pathos.)
- Child of the Prophecy, by Juliet Marillier (2002)
(One of the best fantasy writers I have read in a few years. Amazing writing. Almost cried several times near the end. Such clearness. What a good writer she is. Wish I could write like that. The scene with the birds and her freeing them. But the middle book – weirdly, unusually, was the best one in this trilogy.)
- Gifted, by Nikita Lalwani (2007)
(A very unusual book. Not only was this a massive page-turner about a clever teenager who was under terrible pressure; but it had some of the most lovely writing and imagery I’ve some across in ages. Maybe the best book I’ve read this whole year, for deliberate writing quality? And it really reminded me of someone I used to know – the way her family was, what family pressure can do to someone. The addiction to cumin seed chewing will stay with me. Why has she not published anything else yet??)
- Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, by Karen Casey (2005)
(This was a very interesting little book. I was quite down when I started reading it. I felt wary of some of the concepts; they seemed too simplistic or difficult to apply – but others shone out as the sanest common sense. And as the week I read it drew on, my depression started to lift [and came back as I was finishing it, lol!]. I think if you think of the ‘Higher Power’ stuff as the part of yourself that is not insecure, stupid etc, the best part of you, the calmest part – or spirits/forces of truth, beauty, goodness, etc – then you will be ok with these parts. It was a wonderful read, and I will keep it to read again – these things made sense, and I should do them. I am nothing if not ridiculously co-dependent here and there. And putting some of these quiet, but important principles of ‘tending my own garden’ into practice would do me a lot of good, I think.)
- After Dark, by Haruki Murakami (2007)
(I LOVED this. It was short, simple and spare in style. Direct and easy to read. Its simplicity and the way it kept me reading amazed me – nothing much at all was happening, but I was fascinated. So many of the characters seemed to drink milk. See the odd things I carry away as impressions from books?!)
And there you have it! And I just realised Haruki Murakami has had a new book out since October (I saw an ad for it yesterday...there's a thing to order from the library! Am Virtue Incarnate as of course, my first thought was to buy it when I can't afford it really).
Right - we are unlinked again. This is 'cos I was worried this post might not appear next week at all unless I got it up now, whilst Fluffhead sleeps. Next week gets crazier (in terms of fitting in things that seem to be piling up to be gone out and done) by the second. But as before - all said books on online bookshops, either first or second hand; or search them out at the wonderful charity shops near you!
PS - for the one person (thankyou!) who cared to ask what my op was about, its as a result of the Euphemism Problem I mentioned a post or two earlier (in 'A Cheese Sandwich', I do believe...)
PPS - Thankyou to the 128 Russian people who inexplicably came and read my post about 'Imaginary Gardening' last week in one day... I am puzzled at your choice of post, and happy to meet you all. (Stanley thinks you are only reading me because you think I am speaking in some sort of secret agent code with important political messages; as he thinks the blog is mostly gibberish! Heh! I on the other hand, am merely grateful to be read - and no, sorry, no code - it just is what it is: me rambling!!) Thankyou Russian Readers for coming by!
 Ack. People who insist on speaking ONLY positively Really Annoy Me. As in, I shall make it a Really Annoying Me No.4 or 5 or whatever post. I mean – there’s ways of being positive, and trying to re-educate your mind, or look on something in a way that helps you cope etc. And then there’s mindless optimism, highly irritating words like ‘challenge’, ‘opportunity’, ‘community’ etc, and people who won’t hear one word that sounds like it might possibly be not positive at all – regardless of whether it’s a true thing, and therefore needs some possible looking at, to address the situation to correct it. You know – Action. Instead of Head Up Arseness. Arghhhh. I have some Ultra Positively Minded Friends, and man, I don’t know how I tolerate them! (Actually, I haven’t heard from them recently, so it could be that they took some pop psychology advice and decided I wasn’t a good vibe of positive waves (or some poodly somesuch) and have eschewed me from their bubbles of nothing but love and light.)
 Interestingly (or not), I can’t stand those Hard Times in the East End, or the Mersey novels – which is funny considering I am always quite openly going on about how skint *I* am! I find those novels dreary and depressing. Maybe I do have some optimism on the subject – things are hard, but WILL improve, so I’m not going to read tome after tome of waffling about how sad and not good everything is. I prefer the Monty Python sketch way of approaching it (‘I used to get up before I went to bed’ – remember that one? Everyone competes to see how hard their lives were, till it was very silly?). Some things I prefer to laugh about money problems, or moan about in an overly way that you can't really take seriously – there’s my coping mechanism…