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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I struggle with episodic fiction that is set in a world entirely like ours but without that fiction

Isn't that all episodic fiction except She-Hulk, though?
Kind of. It only really becomes a problem when a series is long-running and features things that everyone in the book would have heard of, and should have incorporated into their world view. So, the fact that people in Doctor Who still haven't heard of Doctor Who, and are still really surprised by London being full of giant death robots, even though you'd think they'd be used to it by now. There's continuity, but people don't actually learn from what's come before, even to the extent of thinking "hey, isn't there a guy who sorts this out usually? hangs around in a police box? anyone?".

So, when Don Quixote is famous for being dim and for being in love with the idea of chivalry, people who meet him know this and actually try to set up situations where he'll do silly, chivalrous things, and the fiction (part I) informs the "real" action of the novel (part II - although while it was "happening" part I was real).

Hope that makes more sense than what I said before...
But the new Doctor Who does quite a bit with that, from the promotional website run by Mickey to organisations like LINDA and Torchwood devoted to finding out more about the Doctor.

Not to mention the gag in this year's Christmas special, with the entirety of London deserted apart from The Queen and Bernard Cribbins' paper seller, as everyone knows that it's just not safe at Christmas. Also I think it establishes towards the end that he's still got some UNIT clearance if he needs to talk to Buckingham Palace or Downing Street.

Not that I'm claiming there's a definite policy in place, and Christ knows the new series has had plenty of boneheaded visible moments, culminating in Doctor Indie lighting the torch for the 2012 Olympics.

But yeah it's a good question, I actually thought you were on more of a "What do the people in Eastenders watch on Christmas Day?" tip.
"I actually thought you were on more of a "What do the people in Eastenders watch on Christmas Day?" tip."

That's a much better example of what I'm talking about!
53 books is actually really impressive. I was going to write something about how we all tend to read less these days due to distractions like DVDs and broadband. It's one of my goals to finish a few more books this year, and not indulge in "start-itis" so much. I may stall on the current read, Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" as though it's very informative, it's terribly depressing.

Total - about 35. I haven't kept accurate records of dates and things.
11 Fiction (mostly thrillers or Catherine's children's fantasy books), 21 non-fiction.

Biggest reading cockblocker this year - Seth: though I love him dearly, he has given me 80+ episodes of Bleach.

Biggest achievement: Finishing Fisk's The Battle for Civilisation, but I'm not sure if that was done by last Xmas.

Most impressed by: Reich's God Ether & The Devil, which is outrageously mindblowing. What a mind. Also, The Iliad.

Aims this year - finish Pynchon's "Against the Day". Plough through several of the books brought. Continue to expand my tantra library but to have read all the books concerned.
I've actually made it part of my new regime to try and read at least half an hour a day. I institued this, as I realised with horror, that weeks were passing where I wasn't reading at all - due to not communting, having work to do in the evenings, then watching telly rather than doing anything else. Admittedly this was in the MENTAL period at work, just before Xmas. Things should be calmer now.

Half an hour a day is a good length of time, I think - it's not that much but if you're enjoying something it can easily turn into more time. I want to read more at home too, I found it useful to have two (sometimes related) books on the go at once.

The Iliad is a good thing to have read! I'd like to read anything you have to write about that. Maybe that and the Ovid can be my at home books...
I don't really have a lot to say about it, beyond it's great!

I was surprised at how gripped I was. I was surprised at how the Gods were shown as so capricious also, rather than Judeo-Christian perfection and sweetness and light. The blood, gore and appreciation of the tragedy of war were also very striking. Questions about the original form also came to mind as there are a lot of clear indications of it's epic/poetic structure - the fact that, much like Ovid, it isn't designed to be read like a modern paperback.

I thinks the next classic I read will be my copy of Herodotus....
That's totally impressive. I don't think I read even 10 books last year!
It's the commuting that does it! about an hour and 20 every day, and I got into the habit of reading when my commute was about twice that.