Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Light reading round-up

It is very bad when I go for too long without logging - the books mount up at an alarming rate, especially when I have been spending so much time on airplanes and in airports. It's the need to paste in links that slows me down - I work faster than the computer does, and if I'm not careful the Amazon page hasn't yet loaded and I paste in the same link as previously! I think I will sort them rather than just listing in the order I read them - a few deserve special singling out.

(I am going to rot my brain if I keep on reading so much random fiction. I contemplated and then discarded the notion, at the beginning of this calendar year, that I might resolve to have a year of reading only nonfiction - that would just be needlessly punitive. But I do think I should read a lot more complex and interesting stuff this summer and less of the pap....)


An absolutely stunning novel, an excellent recommendation from Marina Harss: Delphine de Vigan's Nothing Holds Back the Night. It is more novelistic (though really the material is mostly true to life) than many of the nonfiction novels I have been reading and pondering recently (Sebald as progenitor perhaps, and V. S. Naipaul in The Enigma of Arrival, but Teju Cole and Sheila Heti and Jenny Offil - I want to teach a class on this!), but it is extraordinary - a must-read.

It got me through a very tough night on the flight to Tel Aviv - I had a gruesome day of travel, first Ottawa to LGA, then the bus from there to JFK and then the horrible realization that the check-in desk for El Al was not even going to open for almost 4 more hours (it was just before five, my flight was 11:30pm, the desk only opened three hours before - I should have checked, but I was making plans in haste, and it really didn't make sense to go home in between - if I set foot inside my apartment, I was not at all sure I would have the resolution to leave again, and traffic and taxis are both costly). JFK Terminal 4 is one of the terminals that is both under construction and also with nothing (well, one diner, mercifully) on the outside of security. No air-conditioning, very few bathrooms, no seats (people are sprawled all over the floor surrounded by luggage). I was singled out for special security screening, which wasn't especially stressful in itself except that it meant I was stuck at the gate for a very long time with no hand luggage other than wallet and Kindle, and a reluctance to go and get food in case my bags were about to be returned (they were not). Then when I finally boarded, almost an hour after the flight was supposed to have left, I discovered - it was the cost of the security screening, I'd been rather flustered and hadn't looked at boarding pass when check-in person issued it to me under stern eye of security guy - the flight was completely sold out and I was in a middle seat, not the aisle seat I believed I'd booked when I bought the ticket. It was a low moment - I had left the hotel in Ottawa about 16 hours previously, and still had an eleven-hour flight to come - I couldn't sleep at all, too wired and too tired and too claustrophobically surrounded by neighbors (they were very nice actually), but the de Vigan novel was so gripping that it calmed me down and got me through the night!

Then I read her earlier novel No and Me, which is less formally unusual but really wonderful as well - very highly recommended.

Last night I devoured a book I've been keenly awaiting (a lot of good Kindle pre-orders appeared magically overnight from Monday to Tuesday, including Jo Walton's new novel, which I am really looking forward to): Paul Cornell's The Severed Streets, sequel to the excellent London Falling.

Miscellaneous literary fiction: William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise (at first I couldn't get over my fundamental perplexity that people write books like this any more - not that we exactly choose the books we write, but still.... - I think of Boyd as having much in common with an older generation of novelists who were already themselves out of time, Anthony Burgess for instance, colonial novelists writing in a postcolonial era - Boyd is very good, but he is curiously not at all of his own generation - then once it turned into a spy thriller, it made more sense to me - but read this one instead I think if you want a more contemporary take on what can be done in the genre - certainly not all books can or should be funny, but all things being equal, I will prefer one that is very funny to one that is not!); and a Margaret Drabble novel I'd never read, a good recommendation from Karen Valihora for lady academics traveling to lecture in far-flung locations, The Realms of Gold.

Miscellaneous urban fantasy: Seanan McGuire, Sparrow Hill Road (very much the sort of book I like - really she can't write a bad book, though I am surprised she can write so many good ones, and wonder as with Charlie Stross whether she wouldn't be better off writing fewer really exceptional ones rather than spreading the imagination so thin - it does not have the density of imagination you see in Joe Hill's Nos4A2, but that is the cost of writing many books versus few - certainly shares DNA appealingly with that and with Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls).

Random science-fiction reread: Joan D. Vinge, Psion (what I really wanted was to reread The Snow Queen, I can't remember now what it was but something had caught my eye that reminded me of the very striking cover of the sequel - traveling in really unfamiliar parts of the world always makes me think of the more anthropological kind of science fiction - but it wasn't available on Kindle, and really I have a hard copy at home anyway, not that this would have stopped me from buying an electronic edition for immediate consumption!).

Miscellaneous crime: Laura McHugh, The Weight of Blood (pretty good I thought); Denise Mina, The Red Road (very good series); Doug Johnstone, The Dead Beat (not dissimilar from the previous - Scottish journalism noir - and quite good, barring some wildly implausible plotting - but I think there needs to be a moratorium on the title!) Oh, and a very poor one on the plane on the way home, one of a couple paperbacks I bought in the Ottawa airport as a precaution against possible Kindle fail (the idea of being trapped on a long flight with nothing to read is basically my worst nightmare - I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it is not really an exaggeration): one of these thrillers with a female protagonist who is so idiotic and oblivious that you can't even really care what happens to her.

Miscellaneous other: Warren Ellis, Crooked Little Vein (I liked it and found it very funny and appealing, though I think it is not as much to my taste as the true gonzo weird of Heath Lowrance, who is less well-known than he should be).

The two books I mentioned in my last post, Ari Shavit's My Promised Land and Pamela Olson's Fast Times in Palestine. I have already had a couple very good recommendations by email of books on Israel and Palestine - please let me know if you have more suggestions.

1 comment:

  1. What is it that you find so perplexing about Boyd writing of an earlier era? Or Burgess, for that matter? I'm not convinced that there's such a thing as 'being out of time' when it comes to memory, cultural changes someone has lived through, and fiction altogether. Put it another way: if I wrote about the 60s, would I be a novelist out of time? Why? How does this differ from historical fiction?