Now, aside from adventuring, eating, and sleeping, reading is one the key things I look for in a holiday. On this account, as on many others, Sri Lanka was a great success. It was dark every night by 6.30 and there is negative night life out there so we had lots of long, quiet evenings curled up with novels as well as maaaany hours on trains and buses.
I downloaded a bunch of internet stuffz to take with me but above are the paper books I read over the fortnight. I am a believer in paper books and they proved themselves repeatedly in SL - more water and bump proof than the electronic alternatives, unfazed by electricity outages, not a particular temptation for pickpockets. Yes, they dominated my backpack but, in my opinion, worth it.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz: Admittedly about 15-20% of this book went over my head. The text is saturated with Spanish slang, Dominican history and old school nerd culture, none of which I have much knowledge of. Somehow, despite this, the story of overweight, geektastic Oscar, his family and the curse that may or may not haunt them remained engaging which is pretty impressive. Diaz's writing is so vibrant and alive that you can't help but be drawn in to the world he creates. I feel like this was the most successfully modern novel I have read in a long time. Very interesting stuff.
- Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood: I love Atwood but I recently twigged that there is a sizable chunk of her back catalogue that I haven't read. Project time! Alias Grace is a chunky historical literary novel about Grace Marks, a real woman who was jailed in Toronto in 1843 aged 16 for double murder. Murderess? Mad woman? Slut? Innocent? Everyone around her has an opinion and strains to impose their interpretations of her character of her behaviour onto Grace. The reader finds them in a position to do the same thing but Grace herself gives no straight forward answers. Lots of juicy thoughts about perception and women and madness and agency. Solid Atwood fare.
- The Night Circus - Erin Morganstern: I had a strong suspicion that this book was going to be frothy and dumb and I was proved correct. Don't get me wrong, I think frothy and dumb can be great when done right (there is a reason I bought this book after all) but this wasn't, for me. The plot is a fairly basic Romeo/Juliet sitch with bonus death match and magical circus which could be awesome but falls pretty flat due to poor execution. The whole thing is so contrived it is painful. Morganstern tries soooo hard to be kooky and arty and magical and maybe 12 yr old me would have thought the black/white/red colour scheme, unsubstantiated Shakespeare references and straining language were cool but 24 yr old me wants so much more... (Also, possibly that's being a bit harsh on 12 yr old me, she was a pretty cool kid, she might have called bullshit). That said, I did read the book in a single sitting on a longass train journey and I have read worse things but, meh, this so didn't deserve the hype it got when it came out. Young adults deserve better.
- The Magic Toyshop - Angela Carter: Now here is a woman who understands how magic should be written. Carter gets magic - Carter creates magic from the mundane - Carter's magic sparkles and amazes. Morganstern wishes she could write magic with a fraction of the flare and wonder of Angela Carter. Although there is no explicit magic in The Magic Toyshop the slim volume is still more magical than ten Night Circuses. Hours after a surreal night time incident with a wedding dress, 15 yr old Melanie and her two younger siblings are left orphaned, they are sent to live with an unknown uncle and his family. Strange things happen. The end. Brief and slightly baffling but captivating in the way that Carter's work always is. If you are looking for a real trip The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman is one of the strangest pieces of fiction I've read in a long time.
- They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - Horace McCoy: Speaking of surreal... This sparse novella recounts the events of a marathon dance competition in 1930s Hollywood. These were a real thing and the WEIRDEST (real life) thing I've come across in ages. Impoverished young people danced until they literally dropped for weeks and weeks in exchange for food, a roof over their head and the possibility of cash prize. This counted as entertainment then! Golden Age, my arse. Thank god for TV and internet and not being on the poverty line. TSHDT isn't necessarily the most satisfying yarn but at 128 pages it is totally worth it for a glimpse into a very bizarre corner of history. McCoy captures the poverty, desperation and malaise very powerfully.
- Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt: Basically, this was the holiday of long book titles. I don't have a great deal to say about TTWIH - it was alright? Good: the story is set in the 80s and examines the impact of the AIDS epidemic on a 'normal American family'. We should tell stories about gay life and love (although those things aren't central here) and our initial reaction to the disease. The prejudice and hatred is painful to read but important to remember. Bad: the plot that weaves around these ideas isn't that interesting and the protagonist is intentionally uncharismatic which is all well and good but doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable read. The thing I feel most strongly about this book is actually the cover which I will talk about later - many feelings.
Anyway, this was going to be a quick post but it all got a bit out of hand. I still have a couple of books by my bedside but I would quite like some recommendations. Any favourites recently?