Thursday, 2 January 2014

more of what i read 2014 - prose

i started the year with wodehouse, which is a good thing to do and i would recommend it. unfortunately, in terms of uk fiction that was about the end of it for me. not what i planned but what happened. too many similar voices, too much too obvious and really far, far too much written about and talked about re crime fiction. i still can't get into it...

so off to sweden for the hundred year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by jonas jonasson. the main character is an instant antidote to all those reflective old people who, when they do appear, seem to be always reflecting on a past, better time. not so for our man who embarks on all manner of nonsense. it is a bit swedish but i don't think that's a particular problem although there is at least one laugh out loud moment that maybe won;t be so obvious for the reader who isn't familiar with the country. however, if you're up for a big tall shaggy dog story with an elephant this is the one for you.

and then it was the year of richard yates. you could do worse than read revolutionary road, the easter parade and disturbing the peace. each is brilliant on its own merits but the easter parade, for me, is something everyone should read at least once. unforunately i kind of undermined my liking of the fiction by reading blake bailey's biography of yates, which is great but yates emerges as something of a repugnant character whose writing never strayed much from home. that said you can't go wrong with the above but i felt the need to temper yates with the more gentle and ultimately more satisfying william maxwell.

interspersed with all this was the non-fiction. i haven't finished any of the shortlistees for the samuel johnson prize so they'll need to wait into next year. special mentions then to kathleen spivak's robert lowell and his circle - a bit niche but if that squad bites your biscuit you won't want to miss this out. getting out and about formed a deal of my non-fiction reading. the cycling anthology vol's 1-3 are ideal for the cycling anorak in your life and contain much great cycling based writing. i very much enjoyed ken ilgunas' walden on wheels which chronicles ilgunas' adventures in alaska as well as his avoiding of chronic debt by getting educated while living in his van. much self deprecation and hilarity ensues but it's equally good as a critique of an economic system predicated on debt and the effect that has on people.

way of the world by nicolas bouvier is worth an old school read as bouvier and friend drive across the middle east in their dodgy 2cv open a journey that just wouldn't be possible today. it goes on a bit towards the end but it's all rather lovely and  a glimpse of a world you can only really feel now thru the eyes of people in their nineties. robert homes, as ever, provided the goods in the form of falling upwards. you kind of need to like the ideas of ballooning but if you can do that then it's great. age of wonder however, it is not.

non-fiction book of the year tho will need to be geert mak's island in time. i like all mak's books, not least because he has a way of making points that i disagree with in such a manner i just want to read more. here's he's detailing the doings of a village he once lived in and the effects of the changing economy and agricultural practice upon it. that naybe makes it sound a bit dry but it's anything but. read this as a pendant to ronald blythe's akenfeld and you'll have a slice of social history you might not otherwise see. sublime the pair of these.

at the end of the year i wandered into madame verona comes down the hill by dimitri verhulst purely by accident. as if often the way these happy accidents are often the best. madame verona lives in a small village in the wake fo the death of her partner. and that's about it. the characterisation tho, is brilliant. his description of hunters is both funny and utterly accurate. this has poise and real empathy. i'd love to read it in the original but i'm never going to be good enough at flemish no matter how much i watch the classics!

best book of the year tho? given how it's been hyped to death you'd be forgiven for thinking it was maybe all part of a publishers trick but you'd be mistaken. john williams' stoner is a monster of a book that i'm going to be enjoying reading for years to come. almost as if i'd found that synthesis of maxwell and yates and in the combination something better. i was glued to this from the first page and it didn't give up until the last. i can;t say more than that or i feel i'd be shortchanging the reader. it's great. go and read it. now.

so maybe not the best year for fiction or non-fiction in terms of everything that i read but those thing i really got into really grabbed my attention, sat me down in a chair and wouldn't let me go until i was done. i'll take that!

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