What I’m reading

It’s been a while since I reported my reading. In large part that my reading has been disrupted by the tumultuous events of the last couple of months, which has also impacted on my reporting of it. Most posts on this site are written off the cuff, without any preparation, or need of research. Half the time I don’t know what I’m writing until I’ve started in on it, and it flows (hopefully) from there.

These posts require preparation. In the past that meant reviewing the pile of books stacked on top of each other by the study door. There is no study door now, and no stack of books. The list I’ve compiled below is in part done by memory, partly some notes I made weeks ago, and the rest is recent reading, dispersed erratically among my few possessions here.

What that means is that this list is incomplete. I’ll have missed some books. Some books, read nearer the beginning of this period, have left me with a sketchy recollection of them. If I can’t remember, or if I have nothing worth saying, I’ll list the book without comment.

In basic chronological order:

Higher Gossip – John Updike. I love most of what John Updike writes, but this is patchy. It’s the nature of this sort of writing – essays and reviews – that some will resonate while other pieces will not. For me the best pieces here are about art.

Kaputt – Curzio Malaparte. There’s a surreal quality to this book, and elements which might today be called magical realism. It’s the supposed memoirs of an Italian journalist in WW2, and his encounters and travels throughout the Axis world, largely on the eastern front. He’s a cynical idealist, and some it seems greatly exaggerated, if not fabricated. It’s an episodic tale, with some episodes – like that of horses frozen in a lake with just their heads visible – memorable, and others less so. It’s a wordy book, some of it extravagant and clever, but sometimes overdone.

The Graduate – Charles Webb. Yep, that graduate. Love the movie, so when I saw the book on sale for about $2.99 I picked it up. I read it in the bath mainly, enjoying it greatly. There’s little difference between this and the movie, and it’s impossible not to picture scenes in the movie as you read it. The voice is identical too, and you hear it as you read it.

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf – Gaito Gazdanov. A small book I saw when I was in Bath, and picked up when I got back. The author is Russian, and this is a story of unlikely circumstance set during the Russian revolution, and after, in Paris.

Soul – Andrey Platonov. Been reading this for years, finally finished. Very Russian.

The Captains – Malcolm Knox. For the likes of me, fascinating – the story of ever Australian cricket captain. For the most part good, but very light-on about recent captains, particularly Ponting.

The Goodbye Kiss – Massimo Carlotto. A hard-boiled Italian thriller. Good, won’t bother any further in the series.

A Loyal Spy – Simon Conway

No-one Loves a Policeman – Guillermo Orsi. Sounded good, but very disappointing. Set in Argentina.

The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch. I enjoyed the first 150 pages of this, then it lost me. Probably not my sort of book ultimately.

A Map of Tulsa – Benjamin Lytal. Some excellent writing, mixed in with a fair amount of over-writing (to my taste). One of those books where I found the protagonist an annoying tosser. Suspect he’s reflection of the author.

Breakout – Richard Stark. This is the usual efficient fare from Stark. No fuss, no bother, writing without adornment, and a story without ostentation. That’s a description that suits Parker as well. the protagonist.

At the Close of Play – Ricky Ponting.

A Death in the Family – Karl Ove Knausgaard. Already commented on this. Has some slow movements, but ultimately compelling.

The Sirius Crossing – John Creed

Sunshine State – James Miller. Ultimately a huge disappointment. For much of it a very entertaining, interesting book set in some dystopian future where the climate has gone haywire and America has become fragmented, with right-wing religious nutters running the show. Clearly inspired by Heart of Darkness, it’s a tale of a journey into an increasingly strange and violent world by a troubled protagonist, which is when it becomes  more Apocalypse Now. Then it gets stupid. Not sure if the author ran out of patience or ideas, but the last 3o pages are barely sketches that stall the stories momentum and disengage the reader. Just dumb. If only he had stuck to the script it would have been a satisfying read. Wasted opportunity.

Currently reading The Fear Index by Robert Harris. Predictable storyline in some ways, and with a protagonist you’d like to punch on the nose. Very readable and entertaining, but IMO not his best work.

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