Tuesday, 26 April 2011

April's reading round-up

I've not reviewed any of my reading this month - and I'm not motivated to write properly considered posts for any of the books. But here's a quick round-up:

8) Round about a Pound a Week - I first added it to my TBR list during Persephone Reading Weekend, then moved it up the list to make sure I've read it before Hay so that I can discuss with the lovely Sally. I'm about 150 pages in, finding the writing a bit dry but the content and argument shocking and provocative. Makes me think of Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, and also of Polly Toynbee's Hard Work which I read when I first moved to London. 

7) Annabel - I thought this was superb. Again, it wasn't the first Orange longlister to leap out of the list and entice me, but after picking up and putting down a copy on several different bookshop trips (in part captivated by the astounding cover photo and a serendipitous link to something I'd read on Jezebel about androgynous models), I decided to give it a go. The story is of a child born in 1970s Labrador, his childhood and adolescence as a boy and young man (Wayne) living on the edge of the wilderness, and his move to the big city and attempt to live as his true self - both Wayne and Annabel.

This is really a book about human relationships - Treadway and Jacinta (Wayne's parents) have an unusually good relationship that turns over time; Thomasina (Jacinta's friend/neighbour) projects her longing for her dead husband and daughter; Wayne's relationship with Wally - and the awful echo that both of their dreams are damaged/delayed by shards of glass wielded by judgemental bullies. I was struck at the end of the book by the depth of characters and the focus on understanding who, how and why they are as they are - and the range of characterisation which accepts multiple identities and/or ambiguity.
For example, Treadway is a taciturn hunter with deep knowledge of the land, but also astoundingly well read, a sensitive husband and proves himself able to move well beyond his normal range (both geographically and emotionally) when he travels to St John to see Wayne and send him on the next stage of his life. And this complexity applies equally to minor characters - such as Wayne's headmistress who is a stickler for the rule-book during his school years but reveals herself to be sensitive and caring when they later meet in St Johns. It's not the kind of book that takes you on a journey through a 'big' plot and wraps everything up - but it is a book that makes you think about people and about decency, identity and love. It'll stay with me.

6) The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - I know it was the subject of a lot of fuss last year. Set in a Dutch trading post with Japan in the late eighteenth century it's full of exoticism and a wide range of characters, from scruffy sailors and wheeler-dealers to irascible doctors and introverted Dutch clerks. I've no idea how historically accurate it is, though reviewers say it's accurate and well-founded. I did enjoy reading it - I felt carried along by the plot and characters, enjoyed the periodic changes of viewpoint/timeframe and style and would recommend it to most of my friends. I also enjoyed a review by ReadingFuelledByTea.

5) Jamrach's Menagerie - early reviews of the Orange longlist (via CardiganGirl Verity and others) hadn't made this jump out of me, but I saw it in a bookshop display and picked it up to look at the tiger face on the cover. Then I read the first few sentences and got hooked. I don't agree with the reviews that say it makes you really smell nineteenth century London - to me it wasn't about a realistic picture of a time or place - but it was utterly utterly absorbing. The opening section was exciting - I felt carried into Jaffy Brown's world with his imagination, adoration and jealousies. During the long period of starvation (no spoilers - I won't explain what or why) the writing was so compelling it made my stomach ache, my body cringe and my mouth water for sympathy. Jaffy felt like a recognisable person living through shocking events in a very different time. I really thought this was a great book.

4) Through the Language Glass - so it turns out I don't only read popular science, popular economics and popular history. I also read popular linguistics. Through the language glass is about the way that speaking different languages affects the way we see colours. It opens with a historical survey of how Gladstone first noticed that Homer and the Greeks used odd/wrong words to describe colour - and the different theories that developed through C19 and C20, including that maybe colour vision had only evolved in recent centuries. There's some fascinating detail about the way that speakers of different colours really do label colours differently - if you're Russian and have different words for dark and light blue, then of course it would seem odd that English speakers use the same word.  And then you get onto orientation/directions - although English (like most languages) is ego-centric with directions rotating as we turn round, there are other languages where descriptions of direction and location is always tied to geography, whether up the hill vs away from the sea, or north/east/south/west. 

Probably a bit longer than it needed to be, but it was readable rather than dry and it stretched my brain a bit. I'll be passing it on to the charity shop unless someone shouts (via comments) to say you want it.

1, 2 and 3: The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister - I got hooked into the Big Sleep right at the end of March, then lashed out in Waterstones to buy a three-in-one compendium and whomped my way through it in a weekend. They aren't works of literary genius, but they are well-plotted and stylish who/why dunnits. And though I can't do accents in real life, inside my head I was reading in an American drawl, with pictures in stylish black-and-white and a sleazy sax in the background. I thought I'd grown out of detectives/crime but these are thoroughly good reads and I'd recommend them to anyone - and particularly anyone wanting to get back into reading for fun. 


  1. 'Annabel' is sitting on my shelf waiting for me and I think after Monday's book group for which I have to read 'The Bell' (as yet unopened!!!!) that is what i shall read next.

  2. Through the Language Glass sounds fascinating! I remember when I tried to learn Gaelic the Irish-speaking teacher couldn't understand why we were having troubles understanding that gorm was sea-blue.. or maybe green, but definitely not the colour of sky..except on certain days!

    If you are wanting an intermediate stop-off before the charity shop, I'd love to have it...I'll swap you for something entertaining (if I can find something good).

  3. Annie - hope you enjoy Annabel.

    Misericordia - I tried to send you an email, v happy to pop it in the post to you, just let me know your address.

  4. A great reading achievement for the month... and quite a few interesting titles :-)

  5. I don't seem to have got the email...does it work if you use this form?

  6. Thanks Cristina - the series of long and sunny weekends have really helped me find time for reading this month!

  7. Ooh you have made me very interested in Annabel now, where I wasn't before. And I perfectly understand your Chandler binge. I started reading Ross Macdonald earlier in the year and am deeply into old-fashioned hardboiled now. I only just got myself out of the bookstore before succumbing to a Chandler three-in-one, and will have to purchase it one of these fine days.