What I’m reading

After watching the movie a couple of months ago, I picked up the book Cloud Atlas a couple of weeks ago. I’m near finishing it now. It’s an interesting read and a bold story. It contains some virtuoso writing, and though some might consider it high-brow, it’s pretty easy reading. I have nothing to say against it except that I put it down. I’m not sure that it’ll leave many traces in me. I could be wrong – the last 80 odd pages might clinch it for me.

As always, I read several books in parallel. I read Everyman last week. I picked it up thinking it was another book, but once in my hand thought, bugger it, I’ll read this instead. Some years ago, I listened to the audio version of it, which profoundly affected me. In the years since I’ve, much of the book haunts me at different times.

Reading it the old-fashioned way was not quite the same. This ground had already been broken, so there was not the surprise of that first reading. And though I prefer to read than be read to, the experience this time reading in the comfort of my own home was distinctly different to that listening to it whilst out and about, riding on the tram and walking the dark and wintry streets of before.

Back then, I was a body and a pair of eyes observing the world about me even as I listened to the book. As I listened, I would find myself reflecting on the story whilst checking the things around me. In a way, those observations contributed to the experience of the story, and the words themselves, profound, carefully weighted, true, became a pseudo commentary of my life and observations of it.

Back then, it resonated very powerfully with me. Many of the themes have stayed with me since and, as I get older, recur in my mind at regular intervals. While the book as a whole did not have the same impact on me now as it did then, those same passages jumped out at me.

I tried talking to someone about it the other day, but I’m not sure that she properly understood. A book like this will resonate differently with different types. I think it speaks more to the male experience than the female, and then more so to the man vital and active and with a strong ego. In full flood – in the prime of life – those attributes feel rich and abundant. They enhance the experience of life, I’m sure. But as the body declines, as this novel charts, so too does the experience of these things. The spirit is willing yet perhaps, but the body has changed, and, most pertinently, the world no longer sees you as it once did. That’s a scary, desperate realisation, and much of what makes up the male persona – particularly the alpha male – is about preserving and hanging onto that as long as possible. To become frail is a bitter existential pill.

I read a book called Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. This was an excellent book of its kind, an enjoyable, quickly consumed bit of entertainment. The writing is skilful, but reading it is pretty much like the reading of something on holiday. Reading it, you’re immersed, but when it’s finished, it’s gone.

A book I had a less favourable impression of is Haters. This may well become a movie, apparently, and I guess I can see the potential in the premise. All the same, I didn’t enjoy this though I read it to the end. The writing is no better than average, and there’s something just a little poisonous about the story.

No-one Loves a Policeman sounded like it might be interesting. It was, culturally, but it had none of the atmosphere I was promised on the blurb.

Last month, I finally completed a book I started reading years ago: The Sailor From Gibraltar, by Marguerite Duras. She’s an author I greatly admire, and there is a lot of great writing in this book, but it struggled to hold me. Towards the end, I thought it got a bit weird, though this is not intended as a conventional novel. It’s about obsession and aimlessness, detachment and alienation.

Mario Puzo wrote the Godfather books, and so it was on that basis I picked up one of his books going cheap: The Dark Arena. It’s set in Germany after WW2, centring on the occupying forces – and one in particular – and their relationship with the local Germans. It’s a shady story that feels true enough but which also feels a bit dated. You can imagine it selling ok back when it was written – 1953 – but reading it now, it seems archaic in some way. I read it in fits and starts, with neither pleasure nor displeasure.

Finally, I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It’s one of those books you find in the business section of the bookshop and is one of the cult books of its kind. This is on one of my reading lists, so I caught up with it. It was apropos given that I’d just taken over a small business when I set about reading. I’m not a big fan of the folksy style of writing these help books, though I guess it helps to digest. Much of what I read here was eminently sensible and more, but a lot I think I already knew. It was good to be reminded nonetheless, and it did prompt me to get more involved in the business – just as I needed to.

I have a big pile of books waiting by my bed to be read in the months ahead. Some I picked up from second-hand book shops. I bought a bunch online through the Book Depository and a couple in a real-life bookshop. Looking forward to getting stuck into them, as always.

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