ms_bracken (ms_bracken) wrote,
ms_bracken
ms_bracken

Vincennes Review of Books 2007

Throughout 2007, I felt like I wasn't reading enough. In the end, I read only slightly less than I did last year - 53 new books as opposed to 56 - although significantly fewer re-reads - 3 as opposed to 8. Reasons for this include getting heavily into spacing out on the Tube on the way home and no longer having access to a fiction library, which means I had fewer ideas about what I wanted to read.

On the plus side, I seem to be reading a lot more that I like; 87% of books I read I rated as good, and only one book was rated as bad. This was, incidentally, Scarlett Thomas' Going Out, which was stinkingly awful.

My aims for the year were to read Don Quixote, Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, Barry Unsworth's Losing Nelson, Nicolas Royle's Antwerp, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. I read all of these except for the Ovid, which I didn't really think about until it was too late in the year to read all 700-ish pages. I also intended to read more history, but given the angst I was having about not reading enough at all, I'm not going to worry unduly about that one.

Don Quixote was a struggle until the second half, by which point people in the book had read the first half of Don Quixote and responded to the protagonists accordingly. I struggle with episodic fiction that is set in a world entirely like ours but without that fiction (I'm looking at you, Doctor Who) and the way Cervantes dealt with this problem felt gleeful.

What I remember the most vividly is the American literature - although I enjoyed them individually in varying degrees, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park all felt like they were linked by a shared idea of what the American grotesque is. The dissolution of families as a result of pointless cruelty formed a great deal of all of the narratives; certainly, the Ellison and the Sinclair were the most challenging books I read this year.

Re-reads were Lolita, David Lodge's The Art Of Fiction and Iris Murdoch's The Bell. Lodge was fun, but I'd forgotten how much he wrote about his own novels, which I haven't read. Still, I've read more of what he talks about since I last read it, so it was rewarding from that point of view.

The best book I read this year, as last year, was an American novel - Hemingway's Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. I read it around March, my marginal note was "Best I read this year" (they're small margins) and it's not been bettered. I've read quite a lot of Hemingway and never quite got on with him; but the damaged narrator and the little bits of tragedy that are never spoken about quite directly were exactly what I was expecting and never found in his other books.

Aims for next year are Ovid's Metamorphoses (again) and reading more from the library at work. Also, re-read at least one F Scott Fitzgerald, probably Tender Is The Night. Anything else I should read this year?
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