This week I have mostly been reading

Anna Karenin - Leo Tolstoy. And last month, and the month before...


--- 2003---

The Good Soldier - Ford Madox Ford.

Inside Mr Enderby / Enderby Outside - Anthony Burgess.

Cocktail Time - P G Wodehouse.

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole.

The Pound.

Eat the Rich - P J O'Rourke.

--- 2002---

The Godfather - Mario Puzo. I never read blockbusters, and this reminded me why. No, it's okay - but it's very bloated and full of extraneous crap. And the prose style is terrible. The character descriptions read more like synopses from a script. Which is basically the problem; the thing Puzo is best at, by a long way, is dialogue, and you've probably already heard the best of that thanks to Mr Coppola. I guess what I'm saying is that you might as well stick with the movie. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

The Fall - Albert Camus. Actually, I never finished this. How ironic. Because it's only really short, I mean. Perhaps the problem was that I was only reading it as a result of having become obsessed with the pop group The Fall. Perhaps time for another try...?

Old London Bridge.

Ukridge / Love Among the Chickens- P G Wodehouse. One of his less well remembered characters, overdue a revival in my opinion. What I'd really like to see is the Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge show on Sunday nights starring Richard E Grant (or possibly Martin Clunes, who is, as you know, closer to the character as described physically).


--- 2001 ---

Signals of Distress - Jim Crace. Another great read, just a shame about the ending, which beats even Jim's usual standards in its offhand cruelty to his own characters.

Being Dead - Jim Crace

The Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger. I plumb enjoyed this tale. I really did.

Quarantine - Jim Crace

Vile Bodies - Evelyn Waugh. I loved 'The Loved One', but this got on my nerves - very similar feel to Antic Hay and just as dated.

A Short History of the World - H G Wells. This is what we want! Only trouble is, I'm going to have to read it ten times for enough to sink in.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K.Rowling

The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky. Didn't enjoy it at all. I'll explain why if I get time...

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie. Hard work, but oddly compelling at the same time. Easy to see how it's influenced any number of less challenging but more readable imitators.

Bridget Jones - The Edge of Reason - Helen Fielding. Been putting this off for a couple of years now, but I was finally inspired to go for it after enjoying the film. Luckily it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, though it was terribly limp.

Antic Hay - Aldous Huxley. Very modern feeling; almost Woolfesque use of fre-floating narrator; but very of its time.

Something Fresh / Eggs Beans and Crumpets / Blandings Castle and Elsewhere - P G Wodehouse. Seems I can't get enough.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying - Geroge Orwell.
An interesting melange of various Orwell traits - structurally like a less nihilistic 1984, with plenty of grim vignettes of "poverty" ala Down and Out in Paris and London. though stylistically it's often quite playful. Also reminded me of many, many other things - from Lucky Jim to Withnail and I to Black Books (2000 sitcom, for the benefit of future readers) - though I'd have to think a bit harder to be sure these resemblances were more than superficial.

The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King -

Read these in preparation for Peter Jackson's movies, coming to a theater near me this Fall. Thoroughly enjoyed them all, massive style shifts and all.

--- 2000 ---

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen.
Here's a controversial opinion: Fanny Price is the most annoying heroine in fiction! A fine novel in itself, but with a gaping void at its centre in the shape of the title character.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors - Roddy Doyle.
I hate to say this... actually, no I don't. Mr Doyle really should play to his strengths. This is just like his earlier work, but with all of the humour taken out. That doesn't make it more true to life, though; in fact it leaves us with a much more partial picture.

Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha - Roddy Doyle.
Now this is much more like it. Wish I'd read it years ago.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

Milligan's War - Spike Milligan.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone / Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K.Rowling.
The writing is nothing special, but it's the plotting and, especially, the sheer inventiveness which carries it through.

American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis.
Is it, as the woman behind me in the queue at the bookshop said, "the scariest book I've ever read"; or is it, as I tend to feel, hilarious? Or somewhere in the middle?!

Carry On Jeeves / The Inimitable Jeeves / Thank You, Jeeves / Very Good, Jeeves / Joy In the Morning - P G Wodehouse.
This has redefined my idea of the comic novel.

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

Lucky Jim - Kinglsey Amis

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit / Jeeves in the Offing / Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves / Very Good, Jeeves / Ring For Jeeves / The Code of the Woosters / The Mating Season / Much Obliged, Jeeves - P G Wodehouse.
I think I may be overdoing this.

1984 / Animal Farm - George Orwell.
Getting into an Orwell mood so I thought I'd start by re-reading these. Haven't read 1984 since about 1986 and I wasn't as impressed this time. Still think that Animal Farm is a far more successful conceit.

--- 1999 ---

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres.
Well I really enjoyed it, despite the ending being a bit wierd.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thomson.

The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis.
Billy Liar
out of Adrian Mole - with more sex.

Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawrence.
Pompous, pretentious and rather embarrassing, even at this remove.

Dubliners - Jame Joyce.

The Loved One - Evelyn Waugh.
Ostensibly a satire on the American way of death, this also has plenty to say about the arrogance of English ex-pats.Waugh draws an extraordinary and often vicious cynicism out of the subject without ever ruffling his narrative's lightness of touch.

Breakfast at Tiffanny's - Truman Capote.
"And I said, you know I've never seen the film." But I think I might have to, as it's a great story, told with verve, pizazz and such. I was also surprised to find that Mr Capote has an almost Joyceian gift with the short story.

Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys.
In telling the life-story of Mr Rochester's disturbed first wife, Rhys show's how her gradual decline is bound up in the cultural melange of a dwindling empire. It's a dark and often obtusely told story that would have horrfied prim little Jane Eyre, which has got to be a plus.

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy.
Stylistically combining the lyrical turn of Jeanette Winterson with the insightful character sketches of Virginia Woolf, this wonderful book skilfully threads its comic vignettes of childhood - the 'small things' of the title - with an ever-present foreboding of tragedy to come. The tale is told through a complex but compelling juxtaposition of time periods, allowing characters and incidents introduced at the start to be illuminated one by one as the story demands they take centre stage. As it progressses the spiralling narrative gradually wraps itself up in recurring imagery and phrase, until the ultimate revelation of the tragic effect that society, history and poltics have on love - and, ultimately, on two young, innocent lives.

The Calender.
The 3000 year history of man's relationship with Time, from its awed servant to its selfish and demanding master. A fascinating story, richly told with plenty of social, cultural and biographical detail to illuminate the science.

Fermat's Last Theorem.
Another scientific riddle expanded into a rip-roaring narrative. Simon Singh mostly juggles the advanced maths involved with subtlety and skill, only occasionally fudging important links.

A nicely told yarn, expanding upon a topic touched upon in The Calendar.

Bonjour Tristesse - Francoise Sagan.
This overgrown short story, apparently revolutionary in its time, now seems very tame. But a worse fault is its lack of depth. It is a story told by, and about, the shallowest of hedonstic socialites; yet unlike similar studies by, say, Fitzgerald or Capote, this shallowness extends to the telling. Read between the lines, and there's very little there.

--- 1998 ---

Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes.
I thought he was rubbish when I was at school; all that obscure stuff about crows put me off. But, as usual, now he's dead, I can appreciate him. Almost as much as Ms Plath, in fact. (As much as I appreciate Ms. Plath, that is, not as much as she appreciates him. That wouldn't be saying a lot).

Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson.
Another of his densely anecdotal treats.

Star Wars - The Annotated Screenplays.
Just research for an article I'm writing, honest.

The Complete Plain Words.
You may think it eccentric that I should consider a fifty-year-old book on English grammar a suitable bedtime read. But you would be wrong.

Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse.
There's a bit of Billy Liar in each of us. If we're unlucky.

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald.
What a tosser he is! But a curiously loveable one.

The Portrait of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde.
Emile Zola meets Stephen Fry. In an all-night Chinese Bakery.

Sophie's World.
Top. Wish I'd taken notes on the way, though.

Pincher Martin - William Golding.
A very subtle work. Possibly inspiration for Jacob's Ladder film? Yes, my friend Mr Scott now tells me that this is well known.

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