Hope I’ll be able to make this a monthly thing. Here are some of the books I’ve read recently and enjoyed.
First off, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 2002 and nearly 11 years on, it’s still superb. It tells the story of Greek American Cal, who just happens to be a hermaphrodite. Raised as a girl, he feels as if something is wrong, and it’s not until his teens he finds out the truth. It’s a sprawling epic, covering his grandparents’ journey from rural Greece to the States. The writing is as light as air and Cal is a character who truly lodges in your mind. It’s an eye-opener for anyone whose gender operates within ‘normal’ parameters, and through the dilemma of Cal, we see just how gendered our society is. Leaving all that aside, it’s a rollicking good read, with involving characters and a witty and fresh narrative.
The movie of Breakfast At Tiffany’s is a lighthearted romp which cemented Audrey Hepburn’s icon status. However, the original novella by Truman Capote is quite a different animal. While Miss Holly Golightly is the original Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but along with her charm and quirkiness, she is infected with the “mean reds”, times when she feels afraid, she has links to the underworld and she’s running away from a pretty big secret. There is no romantic entanglement between her and the narrator, no ridiculous oriental appearance by Mickey Rooney. The novella feels real, and timeless, too. Along with Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the edition I read contained three short stories; House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and the wonderfully poignant and beautiful A Christmas Memory.
I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett but for me the last few Discworld novels felt a little flat. That’s why Snuff was such a pleasant surprise. The steampunk of Ankh Morpork is left behind as Commander Sam Vimes is forced to take a holiday in the country. Unsurprisingly his work follows him and he investigates the exploitation of the local goblin community. The goblins are an great new addition to the Discworld’s collection of creatures, and like the best fantasy novels, it says something important about our world too. Highly recommended.
Likewise with Walter Moers‘ amazing The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear. Bluebear is found on a walnut shell by the Minipirates and is raised by them until he grows too big for the boat. He’s then deposited on an island and becomes an entertainer of the horrible Hobgoblins. I could go on but I think you get the picture. This book is fantasically inventive and absurd, and very, very clever. Originally published in German in 1999, the book features Moers’ own marvellous illustrations and frequent interjection from Professor Abdullah Nightingale’s The Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs. May not be for everyone, but anyone who liked The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy will love it.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is another must-read for those who love magic and fantasy. It’s hard to believe it’s Morgenstern’s debut novel; it’s so easy to get swept away in the world she’s created. The Cirque des Rêves happens at night for one thing; for another the magic is real. A really beautiful love story, which feels just like wandering around in someone else’s most magical dream.
Two non-fictions now, of special interest to the writers among you. Stephen King’s On Writing is a must-read for anyone who wants to write for a living, whether they’re a fan of King’s work or not. It’s a mixture of both memoir and instruction. King is always entertaining, and his advice is stellar.
How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman has become one of my most well-thumbed books. It’s all about, as the title suggests, the wrong way to write a novel. The advice is often laugh-out-loud hilarious, but not only that, it’s good advice too.
And Mittelmark and Newman’s advice drifted through my mind several times as I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s enough bad reviews of EL James‘ tome floating around so I won’t fully discuss what I thought of it. Suffice to say, it’s badly written, with boring repetitive sex scenes that don’t stint on the yuck factor (the tampon incident!). I can forgive the unrealistic sexual appetite of the main characters, but I can’t forgive the painful characters. Ana Steele is a snide, snivelling, pathetic creature, and the divine Mr Grey is a creep and a stalker, who’s rude to waitresses. But no more of that. Some people have gone through the torture and produced works of art as a response. First off, Irish blogger Red Lemonade has read the whole trilogy, and has written about her excruciating experience in exquisite detail (We salute you, brave sister!). Katrina Lumsden’s gif-laden one-star review has become one of the most beloved on Goodreads, and finally, this amazing dude has read the most cringeworthy lines in a variety of voices, including Kermit The Frog, Yoda and Peter Griffin. Somehow he is much more attractive to me than the tortured Christian Grey…
Till next time, book lovers!