Friday, December 15, 2006

Spinsterella's Next Book... You Decide!*

I decided a year ago that in 2006 I was going to:

(a) read all of the books on my bookshelves
(b) not buy any more until I had done so.

I have failed miserably on both counts. Still, we’ve got a week or two left and you lot can help. Your choices are:

The 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writing - Marquis de Sade

I was in Brooklyn a couple of years ago in a proper little second-hand bookstore with high, very narrow shelves to keep the fat people out and I spotted this and thought, ‘Oh, that’ll keep me occupied as I visit dozens of coffee-shops.’ But I just ended up reading my guidebook. It’s pretty big. The Sade, that is, not the guidebook. I believe it's quite naughty.

Mao - A Life - Philip Short

I was at home visiting my parents. My Dad had given me a £15 book token he had won at golf. I had just finished Wild Swans. I had just read a rapturous review in the Sunday Times. I’m that easily persuaded. This one's fucking huge too.

Kal - Judy Nunn

Yes, that Judy Nunn. You would think that she’d be busy enough what with being half of Alf’n’Ailsa** five days a week, but no, Judy still finds time to knock out 600+ page bestselling epics with big gold letters on the front cover.

It was a Christmas present from my aunt in Australia. Until the year before she died she always bought three books for the nieces and nephews she’d never met and posted them to us in Ireland. They were always by Australian writers, set in Australia with Australian themes. So when I was a child my favourite books included ones my teachers had never heard of like Playing Beattie Bow and I Can Jump Puddles.
As we got older she sent us teenage, then adult books, balancing choices like Oscar and Lucinda with stuff like Kal. I don’t know why I’ve never read it.
It’s only now as I type this that I realise how much thought she put into every single choice.

Call Me The Breeze - Patrick McCabe

The Butcher Boy is one of my top five favourite books ever. It’s awesome – bleak, shocking and incredibly funny. It’s also written in a Nrn Irn idiom, so if you want to hear how people talk round my way you should give it a go. In fact if you haven’t read it, put down what you’re doing and go out and get a copy. Now.
But anyhow, I started CMTB ages ago and just didn't get on with it at all. Does it pick up? Was I just not in the right frame of mind when I started? Worth another go?

The Trumpet Major - Thomas Hardy

I really don’t like trumpets. Or people in the army. Plus this edition has a really crap cover – one of those ones with a still from a 70s BBC production on it of a moustachioed minger, which has always put me off. I read the Mayor of Casterbridge when I was a teenager and I liked it but that's as far as I've ever gotten with Hardy.

Behold A Pale Horse - Emeric Pressburger

Emeric Pressburger? What in the fuck sort of a name is that? Anyhow I have had this book for my whole adult life so I can only assume that I took it from home. The price on the front says 3/6. Apparently it’s a ‘vivid, racy novel of smuggling in the Pyrenees’. Hmm.

Oh, I have just opened the book for the first time though, and it’s got pictures in it! It can’t be a kids book though, because there’s a picture of Gregory Peck smoking a fag on the front.
This one does have the unique selling point of being really quite short.

*With apologies, obviously, to Wyndham
**Stop Press - Ailsa died six years ago! Why does no-one tell me these things?

Well, de Sade got the most mentions, but that was mainly telling me not to bother because it’s so boring. It looked like there was going to be no clear winner, with one vote for everything except the McCabe. But then the Mao inched ahead with a couple of extra votes.
You bastards! Haven’t you seen the size of it? And you know I’m already doing this Pynchon bollocks (and I’ve fallen behind already).
But it must be so. I'll start the Mao over Christmas and probably give up after a few days. But then it will be 2007 and the game will be over so I can go back to buying ancient Greenes and Waughs in charity shops for 59p that are full of strangely poignant bookmarks from other peoples’ lives and sprinkle you with crusty bits of kit-kat when you first open them.


  • *Ahem*

    By Blogger Bowleserised, at 2:51 PM  

  • From the descriptions I'd read the Pressburger. That De Sade one goes on for blimming ages and even he gets bored and doesn't finish it properly.

    By Blogger Billy, at 3:22 PM  

  • At least I get to vote this time round. But next time please don't make your choices more highbrow than mine - although that's not difficult.

    I'm a big fan of Pressburger's movies but I don't think I'd want to read any of his novels, especially any of the ones about smuggling in the Pyrenees.

    I have no idea who Judy Nunn is ands Patrick McCabe is one of literature's one trick ponies - I'm a big fan of 'dark' - I'm dark, dark, dark, me - but every novel of his reads exactly the same. de Sade is one of history's greatest bores. And I'm more a Trollope man, myself, although I don't mind a bit of Hardy if there's a Laurel on the side.

    However, I am a keen student of hypocrisy, and Mao was one of the 20th centruy greatest hypocrites, so I'll go for the Mao. Deffo.

    By Blogger Wyndham, at 3:36 PM  

  • I made the same vow to myself recently, and then I came up with a marvellous solution: I got rid of all my books.

    I know, I know, some people equate this with dangling babies over railings, but we have such a well-stocked library, I figure if I really want to read them I'll go there.

    By Blogger Warrior Two, at 3:53 PM  

  • get new bookshelves?
    i say trumper major, its surprisingly delightful for hardy :D

    By Blogger MinCat, at 4:08 PM  

  • What in the fuck sort of name is Emeric Pressburger?? Only half of the best film making team in British history. I Know Where I'm Going, The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus and so on. Honestly, the youngsters nowadays!

    *adjusts monocle and dentures*

    Er ... I'd probably opt for the Marquis de Sade, for the filth. Mind you, I'm still wading through Proust at the moment, so I might not be the best person to advise you.

    By Blogger Betty, at 4:13 PM  

  • The one from your aunt. After all she thought about it and bought it for you.

    [This isn't meant to be a guilt trip in any way, btw]

    By Blogger Tabby Rabbit, at 7:43 PM  

  • de Sade is incredibly boring but your day can be livened up by the looks on the faces of unsuspecting tube passengers reading over your shoulder.

    By Blogger violetforthemoment, at 7:50 PM  

  • Yes I read the Marquis de Sade for the filth and was most disappointed. Machievelli's better but no rude bits either.

    By Blogger realdoc, at 9:23 PM  

  • Go and find a copy of 'I Know Where I'm Going' or 'A Matter of Life and Death' AT ONCE. Put all thoughts of book-reading aside until you have seen these two.

    Or Mao. Because Wyndham says so.

    By Blogger Mangonel, at 9:34 PM  

  • I've read the de Sade one. I agree with Betty - I found it quite boring. It's too long for the number of ideas in it. You'd be better off with Fussy Bitch or Girl With...

    I'd go for the Mao as well.

    And I've never heard of Judy Nunn.

    By Blogger looby, at 9:41 PM  

  • I'd chuck all those out and get in some Wodehouse or Waugh. Or Tove Jansson (Moomin books, which are gorgeous and sad and you can read in one day).

    De Sade is very dull indeed, I read a big chunk of that and can't remember a single thing, which is some achievement going by the subject matter. I'm afraid if something hasn't got me by the end of the first chapter, and I've had two goes to allow for wild mood swings, then out it goes.

    By Blogger james henry, at 11:49 PM  

  • Was I Can Jump Puddles the one about the kid with polio? Hilarious stuff. I remember acting it out in the playground after we tired of Joey Deacon. Jesus, kids are vile.

    And just to second everyone, yes, watch A Matter Of Life & Death (one of the three best British films ever, alongside Kind Hearts & Coronets and Brief Encounter), read some Waugh (Decline & Fall, Vile Bodies, the underrated Put Out More Flags). But from your list, read the Hardy. I disliked him intensely when I was at school, but he really is pretty damn good.

    Can I also be first to say that I liked De Sade because she didn't wear a bra at Live Aid?

    By Blogger Tim Footman, at 4:47 AM  

  • I don't like any of the books mentioned, except possibly the Mao bio. Jung Chang, author of wild swans, recently brought out her own bio of Mao, but it is horrendous. Like many political bios, by focusing on the person, she blames everything that happened during that time on him. Now, certainly, Mao was a tyrant, but it seems odd to ignore his flunkies or the system which they had inherited and worked through. I suspect the Short bio suffers from the same problem.

    I have heard of this place called 'the library' where it is possible to 'borrow' books free of charge. Perhaps then you wouldn't have to limit yourself to the books listed. How about muriel spark? She's hilarious.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:10 AM  

  • Just a warning about de Sade. I bought it when I was about 15 (for the filth, obviously. And maybe to wind up my mum). The idea is that they get more and more debauched as the days progress. I was feeling rather queasy by day 5. It's all the poo related activities that I couldn't get on with.

    By Blogger Bex, at 8:22 AM  

  • I'm afraid I'm already more than familiar with the works of Spark, Wodehouse, Waugh and the Moomins (I always think of them as moonmins for some reason). In fact the reason I have so many big, weighty tomes on my shelves is because it always seems like a better idea to re-read Vile Bodies for the forty-fifth time.

    As for you people who don't know who Judy Nunn is? Have you never watched Home and Away? Too busy watching classic movies I suppose.

    By Blogger Spinsterella, at 1:52 PM  

  • I've not read any of these, but I loathe Hardy because The Mayor of Casterbridge made me cry, and I hate any cultural product that makes me cry. I fear emotion.

    Note I have got through five lines of comment without trying to make you read Cryptonomicon. I think I should have some kind of prize.

    I've just realised I haven't read a novel since 2004. Bloody hell.

    By Blogger patroclus, at 4:44 PM  

  • I'm hovering between Mao and Kal - perhaps start with MAo and if it's really boring then move onto Kal.

    By Blogger rockmother, at 8:33 PM  

  • Patroclus! The Mayor of Casterbridge made you cry? It made me screech with laughter. The stuff that man came up with to keep the story going! Genius, bloody genius.

    Spin, How 'bout An Instance of the Fingerpost?

    By Blogger Mangonel, at 11:42 PM  

  • Mango: there was something about a dead canary or something...I get very upset about animal neglect/cruelty. It doesn't help that my mum insists on watching Animal Cops Houston for hours on end.

    By Blogger patroclus, at 10:28 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger mad muthas, at 11:22 AM  

  • sorry, got my fingers in a muddle - i seem to have so many. what i meant to say was not '3oeirt nvkabn viehf zifcbn', but go for vivid, racy and gregory peck, every time. plus short is good. (in books, at least)

    By Blogger mad muthas, at 11:27 AM  

  • Yes! "An Instance of the Fingerpost" is fabulous stuff. I'd recommend that to anyone

    By Blogger the whales, at 6:02 PM  

  • i recommend "mummy laid an egg". having just bought it for small person's edification, i can state firmly and for the record that it is ruder than the de sade (which was a bit wordy and not very rude at all, somehow).

    as an aside - Oh My God!!!! i LOVED playing beatie bow....i was thinking about it the other day. granny talisker and all that. genuis. my mum bought it for me as a reward for putting my brace in that day (it was two days after adjustment and was very hurty indeed. hang on - surly's mother in doing-nice-thing-for-surly shocker)

    right. shutting up now.

    By Blogger surly girl, at 8:27 PM  

  • Whales - for two years after reading that book I would start every single conversation I had, with friends, relatives, total strangers, Danish aliens, with 'So what are you reading now?' Not giving a stuffed fig for their answers, just really badly neediing to tell them about this book and how wonderful it was.

    The fascinating milieu, the way each succeeding chapter magnified and refocussed the one before, the effortless scholarship, the crescendo to a breathtaking ending.

    The expression 'blown away' which I loathe actually applied in this case - the ending really did leave me gasping for breath.

    But hey Spin, no pressure. You might like it, you might not - 's cool.

    By Blogger Mangonel, at 11:09 PM  

  • Have you read The Virgin Suicides yet? It's oddly riveting.

    By Anonymous Two Sirius, at 12:08 AM  

  • Hmm, I tried to read that Instance of the Fingerpost once. Is that the one with the first blood transfusion in it, or am I thinking of Quicksilver? (Again.)

    I'm now seriously worried I no longer have the attention span for

    By Blogger patroclus, at 10:21 AM  

  • Yes, it's got some blood transfusion. But it's really noticeable for having four partially-related viewpoints telling a story that changes and zooms outwards getting bigger and bigger all the time. Great stuff.

    Just read that over again.
    Great reviewing, eh?
    Feel free to avoid the book based on what I've written alone!...

    By Blogger the whales, at 7:16 PM  

  • NO! Read the book! Don't take any notice of The ******** Whales! My review was crap too, I'm so much better talking about this book in RL, when you get the full benefit of the eyeballs going slightly bulgy, neck veins popping, clammy hands forcing you inexorably into a full nelson until you promise to read this book.

    * that's 'darling' btw. The last asterisk is denotes a footnote.

    By Blogger Mangonel, at 11:46 PM  

  • You do realise the above may not be even close to the truth right? Its the internet right? So we can all pretend to be mad, up-for-it, down-with-it, happenin' folks when actually we are boringly normal? Really, really normal? Right?

    By Blogger Mangonel, at 11:49 PM  

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