November and December Journeys in literature

Posted by admin on Jan 17, 2010 in books, lists |

novedecbooks_edited-1The last two months have seen a heightened level of reading time, due to holidaying, and thus a great many more books were consumed than normal. Due to a particularly helpful bittorrent, I managed to make my way through some of my favourite authors back catalogue, and can happily now add a wide selection of Philip. K.Dick novels to my mental library.

The Gathering storm, Wheel of Time , By Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

I was completely devastated when Robert Jordan died, in part because it’s always a shame when one loses a great man due to the ravages of illness, and partly because I’d immersed myself in the WOT series for ten years now, and NEEDED to know what would happen to Rand et al. Jordan created a world of such density and scale that Sanderson, the new ghostwriter couldn’t manage to end the age in one book, needing three in fact to do so. This is the first book in the final trilogy and Sanderson has an acute wry style which picks up perfectly where Jordan left off. His turn of phrase is remarkably accurate, and the characters conundrums continue to be compelling and perplexing.

Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanaovich

You’re probably meant to read the Stephanie Plum stories in order, but since charity shops don’t adhere to that premise I started at 13. The story is easy to pick up and the character fairly engaging- bounty hunter with heart, though one can’t help finding most of the scenarios rather ludicrous and implausible. The love triangle is particularly perplexing as you wonder what sane men would hang around for Ms Plum to make up her mind, but still remains an entertaining yarn.

Starting Over by Tony Parsons

A new heart creates a new outlook in a middle aged man. When 47 year old Robert has heart surgery he seems to take on the characteristics of his new heart, rescued from a 19 year old devil may care rocker. He start to view the world through new eyes and his whleo life changes, from trying to reestablish a place in his family, to redefining his role as a father. Uncomfortable to read in parts it’s odd to see how those that we love can be resistant to us changing- whether it’s for better or worse.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Detailed and delicious this book is a slice of Indian life told across continents. Once more America is seen as the dream, and there are colonial tones here about how the reality is cold, wet and miserable (seen in a lot of work by Naipaul) and the dream slowly dies. There are many contrasting voices in this novel, but the burgeoning sexuality of the daughter contrasted with the harried worries of her cook are the most compelling.

Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

A quarter of the way into this book I realised I’d already read it and that the softly spoken whisperings about the blind assassin and mute courtesan were strangely familiar. An epic book full of wondrous moments and the tiniest details that create a picture of a life. Scarily accurate, this volume makes you aware of the detailed research involved in its undertaking as well as making you marvel and her breadth and scope.

Diary of a Manhattan Callgirl

I’m sure it’s possible to make serious money hooking, but this book implies working out twice a day and concentrating on pleasuring a client plays a major part. In light of the recent Belle de Jour unmasking (though this book pre-dates that) you can’t help but wonder how much the author knows about her subject matter. It’s frothy and fairly light, but the book never glamorizes the call girl- it may be a luxurious lifestyle but you’re very aware how it’s paid for.

How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward

Narrated in the dry tones of a thirty something cocktail waitress, this book delves into the ties that makeup a family unit and portrays the aftermath of a terrible loss. Caroline sets of to find her long-lost sister, and her constant re-evaluation of everyday activities are strangely enthralling, enveloping you into a world full of double entendres, vacuousness and the search to create meaning out of nothing.

Android dream of electric sheep, Philip.K.Dick

I read this book some years ago in my university Science Fiction class (UCLA has the best course options) and recently rediscovered it on my bookshelf. It definitely makes for a good second reading as the Rachel angle is even more dramatic with foreknowledge of the plot. And I love rediscovering the word kipple, as a phrase for discarded tat and junk that collects around somebody!

Harry on the Boat, Colin Butts

Considering this book was adapted for that rather appalling TV series (and Danny Dyer film) I should have known better than to expect any quality, but it was 99p at the local Oxfam. Things didn’t get better from there, with a proliferation of unnecessary racist jokes, point scoring system from sex- the lives of Ibiza reps looked even more sordid than you could have imagined. If you like graphic (but short) sex descriptions and a hedonistic lifestyle that doesn’t ring true, this is the book for you. Otherwise- back to Oxfam it is. (Oh, and for those unaware of what the delightful title stands for it was explained early in the book- Harry Monk-Spunk. Boat- boat race, face. Spunk on the face. Nice. How did that get past the censors of SKY?)

The Brightest Star in the Sky, Marian Keyes

Narrated by a ghost/ spirit child, this book describes the activities of people living in a shared house of flats. From the married couple who aren’t as happy as they appear, to the 40 something woman who’s not willing to settle, the characters are all brought to life with Marian’s indomitable spirit. Fans of her earlier work will comfortably slip into her familiar repartee, but those wishing for another ‘Rachel’s Holiday’ will be disappointed. A nice read, but doesn’t really break out of the chick lit category.

Matters of Life and Death by Bernard MacLaverty

Likened to Joyce in its simple idiosyncratic manner and intimate depictions of human behaviour, the most mundane activity seems somehow poignant and meaningful. Beautifully written book of short stories.

Meltdown by Ben Elton

For every star that shines to bright a burnout is inevitable, and this ultra topical novel deals with the UK bankers crash, the current recession, and the way that this effects a group of friends. The story follows the lives of mates who met at university and are all 30+ and prosperous- till the recession hits and their extravagant, previously justifiable lifestyle become less charmed. It assesses who stays when the chips are down, and though its not the lighthearted fare we expect from Ben, its strangely compelling. Don’t expect to many laughs, but the social analysis is priceless.

The Boy Next Door by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees

Rather trite tale of two childhood lovers reunited after 20 years. Innocence has been lost, men have been wed, and love still remains. Told is a series of rather twee flashbacks, this isn’t up to the usual standard we expect from the pair who brought us the belly-laughing books that are ‘Come Together’ and ‘Come Again’.

London Fields by Martin Amis

This novel has a really high reputation, which confused me as I found it slow going, dull and not funny in the slightest. The premise is a prescient murderee (Nicola Six) playing games with her attackers, but the story is dull, limpid and dry, and just goes on and ON. Very unimpressed, especially when it meanders to its uninspiring close.

The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker

Two streams of consciousness pervades this tale of post war mayhem, as William Rivers, army doctor is concerned about his patients mental health. A clever narrative follows the tale of men who have seen and done things that trouble them. This book ifs the final book in a trilogy- which I didn’t realize before reading- so I may not have got as much out of this as other people.

Lonely Moon by Alice Sebold

Any book which starts with a woman killing her mother is bound to be of interest, and this was a crime of passion. Helen’s mum is elderly and frail and when she suffers a stroke her daughter snaps and suffocates her. This precipitates a downwards spiral of hiding the body and flashbacks to her troubled life with a woman who was unstable and unloving. It would be nice to see Lucky Bones author Sebold write something of a slightly more cheery vernacular, than rape, murder and pedophilia, but this novel is gripping and perplexing till the end. It’s written over a span of 24 hours which makes it feel even meatier and the contrasts between what was, and the life Helen has established are very sharp

WOT 2 prequel by Robert Jordan

We delve into the history of the characters of the Wheel of Time Series and see how Lan and Moiriaine first became Warder and Aes Sedai. It’s nice to see a glimpse of the younger, angrier Lan, and that the relationship between the two was based on trust and companionship.

Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K Dick

Dick normally writes sci-fi, but his choice of an exploration into an unhappy family unit is compelling and well written. Isidore (remember that name from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) is a collector of crap- or kipple, if you will, and is rescued buy his sister to come and live with her family. He becomes a free housekeeper and babysitter, and through his childlike eyes we view the breakdown of communication in his sisters relationship, starting with her refusal to do chores, and her emasculation of her husband, all the way to her burgeoning affair and murderous tendencies. It’s interesting to see how this families obsessions are considered normal whilst Isidore’s are unacceptable, yet this family unit creates a great deal more unhappiness than his collecting ever did.

Galactic Pot Healer by Philip K Dick

Joe Fenwright can heal pots, and by heal I mean actually restore, to an almost better condition than it once was.Despite this skill he feels lost and suicidal on an Earth bereft of many broken pots and longs for escape. He’s contemplating suicide when an extra terrestrial called Glimmung makes him a job offer he can’t refuse- saving pots from a sunken city. He meets up with fellow artisans on his trip with similarly depressed natures and discovers his own true nature. The book is full of witty asides and entertaining truths, and I love the humdrum way Joe makes his existence mean something by using archaic word games for entertainment.

Dr BloodMoney by Philip K Dick

This novel is set in a post apocalyptic future where the world is recovering from a nuclear attack.Small communities guard their privacy fiercely and lone travellers grift their way across the world. The narrative starts in 1974 pre-strike then jumps to 1988 where life has started to rebuild. Hoppy Harrington, a phocomeli was hated in 1974 but is now revered in his community for his ingenious work with machines and his supposed mental powers. Community life is small and revolves around inter marital affairs and listening to the radio, where spaceman Dangerfield broadcasts a nightly show. Sent into orbit pre-strike, Dangerfield has enough rations to last a lifetime, bit his sanity and health are deteriorating with the time spent alone. Hoppy has decided to take over Dangerfield’s signal (and the world) and a battle for power sparks up in his community with everyone slightly confused about the surrealness they’re experiencing. A great read and it provokes interesting discussion on society and how it learns to continue, and what mechanisms are acceptable in times of strife.

Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Welcome to a world where the Germans won the war, and the Americans have become enslaved to the Japanese. Robert Chiddan own an antiques store that supplies authentic trophies of a bygone America, from bottle cap collections to dinnerware sets, and his world is thrown into confusion by forgeries in his market. He struggles to overcome his subservience to his master whilst establishing himself, and this creates a world devoid of direction or honour. The I Ching is consulted for every small decision and fortunes are made and lost on the toss of a dice. The story also looks at the publication of an illegal book called ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ which deals with a world where the Germans DIDN’T win. This causes uproar in the country and many are sent to kill the books author whilst other idolize him. This odd combination of elements creates a culture that’s similar yet distinctly different from what we know now, and these niggling discrepancies serve to create an absurdly governed world.

The Man Who Japed by Philip K Dick

Dick seems to love dreaming up horrific versions of the future so predicting this novel will have an unhappy end is pretty much a given. Despite that, the society that we’re introduced to is so deeply fractured that it enforces order with rigorous zeal, making sure that every iota of a persons life is fully documented with help from miniature robot like worms that record every day actions. Allan Purcell is a man whose job is creating ‘packets’, dreams of a morality that are state-commissioned. His work leads him to getting an offer as head of morality in the world, yet he starts to rebel against the conformity by japing- casual vandalism and destruction that are an anathema to his world. This confusion perpetuates to his home life and his fragmented nervous wife and leads to him getting unheard of therapy, and interesting consequences ensue.

Snobs, by Jullian Fellowes

An average Joe thinks that today’s society has lost its segregations of class, but a quick flick through Hello and a look at the honourable so-and-so will prove them wrong. The old world still exists with all its pomp and glory, slightly faded but with ancient protocol still going strong. Fellowes charts the aspirational marriage of one such social climber, and looks at how money do not maketh one happy, and how Barbara Cartland novels can lead to despair. A funny, fast romp through high society, but you’ll leave marvelling that such a world isn’t a fantasy.

Burning Chrome, by William Gibson

Gibson’s collection of short stories are great gritty reading.. He skillfully delves into a variety of topics, from colonizing planets to politics an board a spaceship and his hardboiled tone is extremely entertaining. The action is fast paced and the descriptions are vivid, though occasionally it feels like the story is over to quickly and you’d like to see it turned into a full length novel.

A Phule and his money Robert Aspirin

Aspirin’s Phule series is entertaining as the adventures of the wayward billionaire with a heart are always filled to the gills with bawdy humour. This time Phule’s challenge is running a casino, whilst coping with alien ambassadors and feline recruits. Usual mayhem ensues, and a good time is had by all. No challenges, but a easy to read laugh out loud tale.

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John Anealio
Jan 18, 2010 at 3:47 am

I haven’t read Confessions of a Crap Artist but it sounds quite interesting. I like that it is somehow connected to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I’ll have to check it out.

Have you read any of Brandon Sanderson’s other work? Elantris was very good. Strong female lead character and a well developed magic system.

Jan 19, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Hi John
I must admit I’m completely new to Sanderson, so will have to check out more from him- he’s impressed me with his accurate creation of the Wheel of Time world.



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