It somehow seems appropriate to write a post about reading books on a blog that nobody much reads anymore. Difficult to say whether I am playing to captive audience or not, do blog readers also read books? If you are a reader, are you a reader? So to speak. Anyway, I don't have a huge amount to say about birds or anything really, so books it is. Perhaps you will be interested that one of the books below in read in one single commute to Canary Wharf and back. Then I read it again, to really chew over the words, the language, the rhythm. What is it about this book that won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Do others write like this? Indeed could I write like this?
It is an interesting question - does reading make you a better writer? Do you somehow pick things up, be it vocabulary or construct, and weave it, perhaps subconsciously, into your own writing? Is your writing better for it? For instance can you too put four commas into a single sentence? What I found interesting about Hemingway, for that is the author I'm talking about, is that some of his sentences seemed very long indeed and entirely devoid of punctuation. And yet it flowed and flowed, borne on by the fish. Anyhow if you have a spare hour or so it can't hurt. Everyone can find an hour can't they? Just skip the latest episode of whatever junk it is that you're watching on Netflix and pick up a book instead. And if by some miracle there is still a functioning library where you live, you could even do so for free. What I am saying is read more books.
So here is the latest installment. I know it is not a long time since the last one, but I've had a pool-side holiday and a trip to the Far East with interminable hours in a plane. A very nice and comfortable plane with a huge TV screen, and yet....
Augustown - Kei Miller
This was rather a departure for me, passed on by Mrs L after one of her regular visits to Daunt Books in Marylebone. Although it is fiction, August Town and some of the events and people described are very real indeed. Centered around a depressed and downtrodden suburb of Kingston, it explores Jamaican society, divisions and belief, with character dialogue written in a form of patois that if you are in the right frame. A mixture of myth and grit, you can see where the story is headed from some way out, if not exactly how, and as a result it is a quick and enjoyable read. Not the type of book I would normally pick up, but in straying outside of my comfort zones I've yet to find something I have truly not been able to read which can only be a good thing. And I now want to go to Jamaica...
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway has better known works, novels whose names you will all know, such as A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and so on. But this short story is one that won the Nobel Prize however, and taken as whole is a delight. But when you first pick it up you could be forgiven for thinking that it's not all that. I found it laborious intially but gradually I became hooked. See what I did there? I fairly raced through it, pulled by the strength of the fish and the direction of the narrative. When I had finished it - one commute is all it took - I read it again, for it is truly a short story. And it is a glorious tale, built on dreams and fable, and anchored in blood, tears and hope.
Ghost Month - Ed Lin
As well as a Mediterranean holiday I also went to Taiwan. As is becoming customary, before I travel I like to read something either about or set in the place where I going. This is the latter, one of seemingly very few choices. I think I would have preferred some historical non-fiction, the story of the Chinese civil war, the two Chinas, and Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. However this is what they had, and like the Miller above something different can often be good for me. Well in this case I am sad to report I found it complete and unadultered garbage with a pathetic plot line and a fascination with Joy Division that was totally out of place. Despite actively thinking "God this is shit" about every five pages I persevered, and then right at the end I found a glossary of useful information about Taiwanese history and culture. Would that I had started there. The best I can say about it is that it made me want to visit a Taiwanese Night Market and eat some food, but as far as "good reads" go I found it made Dan Brown look like Pulitzer Prize material. Avoid unless desperate.
Sicilian Carousel - Lawrence Durrell
Lawrence Durrell spent almost his whole life in love with the Mediterranean, and this is another of the many books set either on its shores or islands. It is the late 1970's and Durrell is being driven around Sicily with a tour group. It seems so out of character but of course his fellow participants become integral extras as he weaves the letters of a dead friend who he never managed to visit on the island with a potted history of the main towns and their history. Durrell takes a clockwise loop from Catania on the east side, through Syracuse and Agrigento, and then up to Palermo and across to Taormina. A dissection of the foibles of people and Sicilian life and history follow, and having now been to the island on holiday it does not seem that an awful lot has changed. If you are as acerbic as I am this is really a fun read.
Puligny Montrachet: Journey of a Village in Burgundy - Simon Loftus
If you like wine, as I do, you will like this book. In fact I would say that even if you don't like wine you are still in for a treat, for at its heart it's about people. Although he did not ever reside in the village, the author spent many weeks over numerous seasons visiting the vignerons and sampling the wine. The wine is front and centre of course, and reading this will teach you a great deal about 'terroir', the individual plots of land that make Puligny so special (and so expensive, sadly. It also provides and overview of the science (or perhaps art) of wine-making, but to classify this book as being solely about wine would be a huge mistake. Over the course of the book he explores the characters in the village and its history, and of course the ancient rivalry with the neighbouring village of Chassagne, with which Puligny shares some of the great Montrachet slope. I devoured this book in short order and above all it made me want to go back to Burgundy, to walk around the sleepy village, and to taste the wine in situ. Plans are afoot!