Vincennes Review of Books 2006
My overall aim for 2006 was to read less, but better
. Going by a very imprecise scale (looking at everything I read in 2005 and everything I read in 2006 and rating each one as good, bad or indifferent) I appear to have achieved the first aim quite well and the second, less so. I read 2/3 as many books in 2006 as 2005. However, I rated 75% of these as 'Good' compared to 80% in 2005. Broadly speaking, the proportion of books rated 'Indifferent' increased at the expense of those rated 'Good', with books rated 'Bad' showing an only marginal increase of 2%.
More specifically, my three aims were to read more American novels, more Victorian novels and The Remembrance of Things Past
. Most of the Victorians I read (Edith Wharton, Henry James) were also American, so I probably did better at that aim than the Victorian one. I also did finish the Proust, which was (in the end) worthwhile. The Captive
and The Fugitive
were entirely superb. I'm not sure I entirely understood the whole project, really; so much of it felt like a writing exercise rather than a novel, and whilst it was a very lovely writing exercise I kept feeling like it could or should be more than that. That's what The Captive
and The Fugitive
turned out to be, for me -lovely, resonant pieces of writing about a relationship going horribly, horribly wrong.
I was surprised - in the good way - by my two 'catch-up' novels that I should have read at eighteen and didn't until 2006 - Middlemarch
and Lord Of The Flies
. The former, I had been put off for some years having tried and failed to read The Mill On The Floss
at fifteen. I was expecting it to move a lot more slowly than it did (and mainly consist of dull angst about whether to marry the young, rich and attractive peer or the old, boring and poor clergyman), and was also surprised by how entertaining it was; a book I'd expected to be something of a chore turned out to be one I'd actively look forward to reading every morning.
My liking of Lord Of The Flies
was partly conditioned by all the Jennings books I'd been re-reading, and partly the fact that the vast majority of the books I had to read in high school were appallingly poor meaning I'd been put off by its reputation as a Book That Is Read For GCSEs. I also thought that I knew the ending, and in fact didn't, so that was quite a bonus in the last few pages.
As mentioned above, I re-read some of the Jennings books, which were just as joyous as I remembered. Also re-read A Room With A View
, which was more tightly written and much, much funnier than I remembered.
The best book I read this year was, I think The Grapes Of Wrath
- I enjoyed Steinbeck's 'fun' novels (Cannery Row
and Tortilla Flat
specifically) a great deal as a teenager but had always been somewhat loath to read his more serious work. Re-reading The Black Prince
(Iris Murdoch) also made me especially happy -when I last read it I had a gauche teenage crush and... over-related to aspects of it.
The actual worst book I read - from every point of view - was Headcrusher
(Alexander Garros and Aleksei Evdokimov). I had expected it to be a funny office comedy with some murders (that is exactly the kind of book I enjoy) but it turned out to be entirely witless, poorly written and larded with casual racism. I was also made very angry indeed
, which was startlingly lazy. Really, Douglas Coupland makes it very difficult for me not to break into all caps, I'm trying not to do that in this post but essentially, well done, you have filled ten pages with numbers, that is a good day's work done how about going back to bed now.
In 2007 I want to read:
- Don Quixote
- Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace
- Barry Unsworth's Losing Nelson
- Nicolas Royle's Antwerp, and
- Ovid's Metamorphoses
Also, more non-fiction (especially history, double-especially history not about Nazis) in the latter half of the year, because it seems that my tolerance for literary fiction is in direct proportion to the length of the days and by November I have entirely lost patience with my novel full of flowery metaphors and want to read something that is chock full o' facts.