Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Feeling a bit dim tonight with nothing much to say except - gosh, how can it be February already and hadn't I better do something useful with my life before it's too late...?
So I thought I'd write about books, which are at least produced by someone's industry, if not mine.
A few years ago, one of my daughters gave me this notebook. When I became 60 (3 and a half years ago, oh dear, where does the time go? - see above) I decided to keep a record, for my own interest, of the books I read, with some brief comments and a score out of 10.
Since then, the worst two (in my opinion) have been "Racing Through the Dark" by David Millar (2/10) and "The Finkler Question" by Howard Jacobson (3/10) WHICH WON THE BOOKER PRIZE (why???) so clearly lots of other people liked it. The former was about drug-taking in competitive cycling and to be fair to the chap, I have precisely no interest in competitive anything, so I wasn't really his target reader. I read it only because it was chosen for my book group, most of whom seemed to enjoy it, so what do I know?
As for the Jacobson - it was tedious and unconvincing, I thought. In fact, I read an article afterwards about how funny it was (I think this was actually written by Jacobson himself, mind you) and I was mildly surprised to find that it was even supposed to be funny. I did briefly consider rereading it to look out for the humour but - no.
Having said all that, I do admire the achievement of people who write books at all. It's hard. And maybe one shouldn't criticise until one's produced something better oneself.
I've not given anything else less than 6 and mostly I've given 7s and 8s.
And the 9s and 10s?
9s and 9 and a halfs have included "A Lucky Child" by Thomas Buergenthal about his childhood in Auschwitz (very touching indeed); "The Collected Letters of Max Beerbohm"; "Case Histories" and its sequels by Kate Atkinson; "Letters to Monica" by Philip Larkin; "Instead of a Book", letters by Diana Athill; "The Priory" by Dorothy Whipple; "Dear Lupin - Letters to a Wayward Son" by Roger Mortimer; "Keeper - Living with Nancy - A Journey into Alzheimer's" by Andrea Gillies; "Three Houses" by Angela Thirkell; "The Diary of a Country Parson" by James Woodforde; "My Father's Fortune" by Michael Frayn; "Love from Nancy - the Letters of Nancy Mitford"; "The Ladder of Years" by Anne Tyler; "Good Wives - Mary, Jennie, Fanny and Me" by Margaret Forster; "Jonathan - Jonathan Philbin Bowman, A Memoir" by John Bowman and Eimer Philbin Bowman; "The Missing Ink - The Lost Art of Handwriting And Why It Still Matters" by Philip Hensher; "What To Look For In Winter - A Memoir In Blindness" by Candia McWilliam. Some of these were rereads.
They were all terrific, in my opinion, and could just as easily have been 10s. Some of those to which I did award 10s (I'm so kind) have been: "True to Both My Selves" by Katrin Fitzherbert; "The Beginner's Goodbye" by Anne Tyler (probably my favourite novelist); "A Face to the World - On Self-Portraits" by Laura Cummings; "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson; "So I Have Thought Of You - The Letters Of Penelope Fitzgerald" edited by Terence Dooley; "To The Letter - A Journey Through A Vanishing World" by Simon Garfield; "Letters Of Note" compiled by Shaun Usher.
Most of these, reflecting what I tend to read, have been biographies or autobiographies, diaries or collections of letters. It's not that I don't like novels - but I know I'll like the non-fiction genres if I'm interested in their subjects even if the quality of the writing isn't very good. (Amazingly, the two books by Stephen Fry that I've recently read have had grammatical howlers in them.) I do love a really good (in my opinion) novel but quite a lot are a bit ho-hum, and heavens, I'm 63 and a half. Do I have time to read lots of ho-hum books before I die? I think not.
So go on - recommend me some fantastic novels, bearing in mind that my time on earth is running out. Not Jodi Picoult et al - I've only read one and it seemed pretty uninspiring, though clearly lots of people like her. And nothing too stressful - I'm not keen to read about violence, bodily fluids or dying children (especially not them) unless there's some other pressingly redeeming feature, such as its being written by Kate Atkinson.
How on earth did "Life After Life" not even get shortlisted for the Booker? Pshaw.
So, yes. That's what I write when I have nothing much to say. Lists... .