Wednesday, December 28, 2011

december books

These are my latest books to round off 2011:
The Floating Island (Anna Ralph): I bought this book on the strength of author Helen Dunmore’s enthusiastic endorsement on the sleeve (including: “it has a touch of DH Lawrence about it”). Well, I have to say, I was VERY disappointed. Yes, it was a very readable but absolutely nothing out of the ordinary and, to my mind, of no particular literary merit. I was left wondering why the author had bothered (sorry!).
To the Castle and Back (Vaclav Havel): Vaclav Havel – playright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician - became a leading figure in the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 (and, ultimately, president), the bloodless end to communism in Czechoslovakia. Strangely, I’d just finished reading this book before his death (on 18 December). It’s an illuminating memoir – part reflection, part interview by journalist Karel Hviz’ala, part diary extracts – of a fascinating period in European politics. Various extracts reminded me of the time I was on holiday in Yugoslavia in August 1968 when Russia (and other eastern bloc countries) invaded Czechoslovakia in order to halt Alexander Dubcek’s political liberalization reforms (although Tito’s Yugoslavia didn’t participate in the invasion, I was aware of what appeared to be an awful lot of “troop movement” within the country at the time). Perhaps not all that surprising given his background, the book is full of references to his speech-writing (he clearly wrote all his own stuff – and just relied on observations from his colleagues – a far cry from West Wing!). He had a powerful motto: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate". Amen to that. A charismatic and enjoyable book (albeit a little rambling at times) – he’s funny, frank, wise, lacking in confidence and yet inwardly tough.
The Naming of Eliza Quinn (Carol Birch): This is our book group’s next book. Set in south-west Ireland (it was useful to have been there in Autumn 2010 to help invoke a sense of the area… and the rain!), it recounts a family saga spanning from 1840s (the days of potato famine and fever) to the late 1960s. Beautifully written and a really impressive, powerful book which, for me, certainly captured a desperate sense of rural Ireland in the nineteenth century and the inter-dependence of people, families, land, weather, crops, primitive housing and the hardness of life.
Blood on the Snow (Jan Bondeson): It’s about the assassination of Olof Palme in 1986, when he was the Swedish Prime Minister. He was fatally shot walking home from the cinema with his wife, close to midnight. The murderer still hasn’t been traced. The author castigates what he sees as the police’s pathetic, chaotic bundling and unprofessional approach in trying to solve the crime; he lambasts a number of key politicians and members of the police force. Bondeson is just one of several people who has studied the various conspiracy theories and reassessed the police investigation. It makes for fascinating reading and his arguments are convincingly made (albeit rather tediously so at times!) – but I ended up feeling that it had become an obsession for him and that he needed to take up watching cricket (or something) instead!

I’ve just checked through my 2011 “book blogs” (sad man that I am) and have been somewhat taken aback to discover that I’ve actually read a total of 56 books this year in total (ie. more than a book a week!). As someone whose reading habits used to be limited largely to holidays - perhaps 4 or 5 books a year - I find this new reading diversion a bit scary! Actually, it’s not altogether a new thing – according to the blog(!), I read 34 books in 2010. Think I’d better spend more time in the cinema, or whatever, over the coming months…
Because I very rarely read books when they are first published, my best five “books of the year” won’t be like anyone else’s list – most people (if they’ve read them at all) will probably have read them some time ago! Anyway, for what they’re worth, this is my shortlist:
1. Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
2. The Harold Nicholson Diaries 1907-1963 (edited by Nigel Nicholson)
3. Italian Shoes (Henning Mankell)*
4. The Wild Places (Robert Macfarlane)
5. AA Gill Is Away (AA Gill)

PS: you’ll note that only ONE of the above is fiction*!
PPS: I’ve been given some lovely new books for Christmas and am really looking forward to reading them over the coming months.

1 comment:

just Gai said...

Phew. I'm glad my reading book choice got the thumbs up. I, of course, have yet to read it!