Sunday, October 24, 2004

Looking for V.S. Pritchett

I started reading Iain Bank's Dead Air this week after the Accidental Woman debacle and have put it down for a while. It didn't take. Its not awful or undreadable or anything like that. When I start a new book I need to get 50 pages into it before I can tell if it will take or not. And I just wasn't feeling it with Dead Air (though I very much like how the book looks, so its a shame).

I flittered over a few books to see what would take. A friend mentioned Carl Hiaasen and I thought it might be fun to start reading him again. I read all of his early books (and have signed first editions of most of them) but for some reason stopped reading him. I started Lucky You and read enough to know that I will soon read it, Sick Puppy, and Basket Case. (I didn't stop buying Hiaasen when I stopped reading him.) And I am on the lookout for a copy of his latest, Skinny Dip. My timing in returning to Hiaasen coincided with this nice piece about him in the Guardian.,12084,1332707,00.html

I also picked off the shelf a biography of Henry Green, Romancing, written by Jeremy Treglown. I've skimmed through it before and felt like skimming through it again because it is very well written (the biography - I've never actually read anything by Henry Green) and because Treglown has just published a biography of V.S. Pritchett. The reviews of the Pritchett book have been very good, especially the one in the Guardian.,12084,1327417,00.html
I read some of the Green book and then looked up Graham Greene in the index and read all the related entries.

In the early to mid 1990s I bought a copy of the complete collected stories of V.S. Pritchett. Its a massive book - maybe the thickest thing I've ever owned. I read and enjoyed several stories in it and hatched this plan to read one a night until I finished it. Of course, this never happened. And now I can't find the book. I looked all over for it tonight. Its a big thing so it should be hard to miss. I think it may be in Chicago. I can't think where else it could be. And its driving me mad because now more than anything I want to read some V.S. Pritchett. (BREAKING NEWS: I JUST FOUND IT. OBSCURED BY A DUSTY, UNUSED TREADMILL.)

On Friday I lost out, at the last minute, on an eBay auction for a copy of William Trevor's latest book, A Bit on the Side. I'll keep looking but I'm kind of pissed about it. I was the sole bidder until shortly before the auction ended. And I wasn't home to up my bid. My longing for the book intensified tonight when I was checking next week's programming schedule for the BBC World Service. I noticed that the program Off The Shelf is to feature four stories from the book next week (at inconvenient times). Which means I'll have difficulty hearing some of the stories from the book I'm having difficulty obtaining. Not fair. I think I can listen online at my convenience but I'd much rather listen to them on the radio. (Side Note: The programming notes indicate four stories are to be read over several days. The stories are Solitude, Traditions, Sacred Statues, and something called Greyness's Legacy. I did some research and the BBC goofed on the last one. The story's title is Grallis's Legacy.)

I have almost all of Trevor's books but have yet to read all of the stories. I've got most of the later ones covered but his edition of collected stories is massive (the size of the Prichett) and is full of stuff he wrote before I started reading him. How will I ever catch up?

I finally settled on Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit. And I am pleased to report that it is very good. It concerns the traumas a coloured family endures in pre- and post-Apartheid South Africa. It starts with a lawyer working in Mandela's government runs into the security officer who raped his wife 20 years ago. I'm far enough into that I am certain to finish it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Booker Prize

I spent all day waiting to find out who won this year's Booker Prize. I bought Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit when it was named to the longlist (and because I had just seen Justin Cartwright plug it in the Sunday Times as his bedside reading) and I've read a few pages of it and it looks good. I think I'll enjoy it. And because I have it, I was kind of rooting for it.

I'm still waiting for my copy of Gerard Woodward's I'll go to Bed at Noon to arrive. I ordered it and his first novel, August, in paperback from AmazonCanada. I had to order both because Noon picks up where August leaves off. Even though the publication date is September 7, AmazonCanada is still telling me they need 6-8 more weeks to ship it. It would've killed me if it had won and I had to wait that long. (I ordered August in August.) Woodward, formerly a poet, was working filling vending machines at a university in Manchester when he made the longlist. That scares me. Here's a guy with a ton of talent (I think he won the Whitebred for best first novel) who still had to work a shit job. Now he's on easy street with a teaching gig in some small, beautiful university town. I think I would have liked for him to have won it.

I've been following David Mitchell's career since the start (admittedly, without reading or buying his first two books) in the Sunday supplements and book review sections. In a way, he's the one I identify most with because we're about the same age and because when he couldn't make a go of things in the UK he moved to Japan and taught English for eight years. But I've been a bit scared off by his style. My plan was to buy Cloud Atlas on my way home tonight if it had won. But it didn't. So I didn't.

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty won the prize this year. I've been looking at his books for a long time but never read any. His name sticks out on the spines of books. I bought a copy of The Spell this summer (but spilled coffee on it) on the strength of the reviews I read of The Line when it was published this spring. Uniformly great reviews. I saw a nice copy of The Swiming Pool Library tonight but I passed on it.

Instead I would up buying an English trade paperback copy of Dead Air by Iain Banks. I have one Scottish customer who comes in every Monday night to buy a copy of the Sunday Times and somehow we got to talking about contemporary Scottish fiction. And he told me that he went to school with Iain Banks and that I should read him. I already own three of his novels - The Wasp Factory, Crow Road, and Complicity. I've skimmed parts of the first two and Banks is a weird guy. And I'd long ago started (but never finished) Complicity. Banks also writes science fiction novels (published under the name 'Iain M. Banks') and for that reason (and I know its a bad one) I kind of stopped paying attention to him. And when Dead Air came out a few years ago, I ignored most of the reviews. I knew it had something to do with 9/11 but not much more. I'm still not sure what its about but its a title my Scottish customer suggested. So I will add it to the list.

This year's shortlist for the Booker Prize:

Achmat Dangor Bitter Fruit
Sarah Hall The Electric Michelangelo
Alan Hollinghurst The Line of Beauty
Colm Tóibín The Master
David Mitchell Cloud Atlas
Gerard Woodward I’ll go to Bed at Noon

The Accidental Jonathan Coe

I started reading Jonathan Coe's The Accidental Woman over the weekend. From out of nowhere, he's become one of my favorite writers. For nine or ten years I avoided reading his first big book, The Winshaw Legacay (published in the UK as What a Carve Up?) because I didn't like the book's cover and because the book was sometimes described as zany or madcap. Those are two very ugly words and I want nothing to do with anything they describe. But I kept hearing and reading things about this Coe guy. About a year ago, I picked up a copy of The Rotter's Club and was swept away by it. I've told people it was kind of a cross between a Nick Hornby novel and a Robert Altman film, all set in 1970s Birmingham. It s a fantastic book. Funny, smart, moving, touching - a complete triumph in every way imaginable. Becuase I had this reaction, I had to get all of his other books and read them.

So I finally read The Winshaw Legacy - and it was fantastic. Its about a writer working on a family history of a nasty English family, and about how the book changes him and the family changes England. Stuffed full of suprises and coincedences, it may be the most enjoyable and fulfulling novel I've ever read. (No, I don't think I'm exaggerating.) Its also a very political book (Thatcherism and Britain in the 80s and all that) and I keep thinking about the book because of the many things in it that echo the Bush administration.

And then I read The House of Sleep - also very good. Sort of like an English Big Chill set in a sleep disorder clinic. Very, very good.

And since I read The Rotter's Club, I've been waiting for the follow up to it, The Closed Circle. Coe had also been working on a biography of some obscure English novelist called B.S. Johnson and it felt like it took him forever to finish The Closed Circle. In the interim, the Johnson bio was published to some of the best reviews I've ever seen for a biography. Of course, I have a copy. Which I've skimmed. And will read. And I've been hunting down copies of B.S. Johnson's books. Very hard to find. So far I have House Mother Normal and Christy Malry's Own Double Entry (which I sort of knew about because I saw a review of the film version of it in the English film magazine Sight and Sound - the star is one the guys from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrells - and I wanted to see it before I even knew it was based on a book, much less a book by the subject of a biography written by my new favorite writer - but unfortunately, it hasn't been properly released - some crap about 9/11 and bad timing - and my only way to see it might be on a German DVD - but enough of that for now).

With my order of The Closed Circle, I got Coe's first three novels. Because I need to see how my favorite writer develops. And for some reason, instead of starting The Closed Circle this weekend, I picked up The Accidental Woman. And its not a bad book. Reading it is akin to watching Lance Armstrong learning to ride a tricycle. But disaster struck after page 42 when my copy of the book skips to page 95. I got a bad book. Amazon is sending me a replacement copy.

Meanwhile I am reading Justin Cartwright's new book, The Promise of Happiness. He's also one of my favorite writers and I also ignored one of his books for years beacuse of a bad dust jacket. But then a woman gave me a copy of one of his books (about a man with a scar on his neck - to me, a man with a scar on my neck) and I've been a big fan ever since.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

My Black Sea

I'm having severe reading list anxiety. I have too, too much to read right now. And more stuff on the way. Here are the candidates:

The Promise of Happiness - Justin Cartwright
The Closed Circle - Jonathan Coe
Bitter Fruit - Achmat Dangor
Fleshmarket Close - Ian Rankin
The Honeymoon - Justin Haythe
Trawler - Redmond O'Hanlon
Like A Firey Elephant - J. Coe
The Accidental Woman - J. Coe
A Touch of Love - J. Coe
The Dwarves of Death - J. Coe
Swann - Carol Shields
1974 - David Peace
1977 - D. Peace
1980 - D. Peace
1983 - D. Peace
Sanctum - Denise Mina
The American Boy - Andrew Taylor
Big If - Mark Costello
That Which Was - Glenn Patterson
Brass - Helen Walsh
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
The Wife - Meg Wolitzer
The Anatomy School - Bernard Maclaverty
Troubles - J.G. Farrell
Brother of the More Famous Jack - Barbara Trapido
A Ship Made of Paper - Scott Spencer
Samaritan - Richard Price
Christie Malry's Own Double Entry - B.S. Johnson
Boyhood - J.M. Coetzee
Youth - J.M. Coetzee
The Great Influenza - John Barry
The Song of Names - Norman Lebrecht
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World - Francis Wheen
What's the Matter with Kansas - Thomas Frank
Gulag - Anne Applebaum
The Parts - Keith Ridgway
A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies - John Murray

But I have more on the way:
I'll Go To Bed At Noon - Gerard Woodward
Vol 3 Graham Greene bio - Norman Sherry (still need to read vols 1 & 2)
The Plot Against America - Philip Roth
Travels with My Aunt - Graham Greene
Brighton Rock - Graham Greene

And I really want to buy:
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Great Fire - Shirley Hazzard
The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem
A Bit on the Side - William Trevor

And I realize that is maybe a year's worth of reading. But there's no way I'll not acquire scores more things to read. I was on a nice pace of 50 books a year. But I've fallen behind. Since I can't play around on the internet at work, I do it when I get home at night and in the morning. And that cuts in to reading time. This cuts into reading time.

I didn't put Neal Ascherson's Black Sea on the to read list. But I should. I have it. I sometimes feel like the Black Sea when it comes to reading. If I understand it correctly, the Black Sea is anoxic because there are too many rivers flowing into the Black Sea and filling it with more nutrients than it can absorb. I think its like that with me and the books. I have to much printed matter. (Haven't even discussed the newspaper and magazine sitation. Its almost unbearable.)

I'm almost done with Nicholas Royle's Antwerp. I'm not too happy with it - The Director's Cut worked much better. And I'm a few pages into Our Man in Havana - I put it down after a few chapters a few years ago. But with all the stuff I read about the new Norman Sherry bio and the stuff about his 100th birthday, I've decided to give it a try again. Someone wrote something (who? what? Its all a blur) about how relevant Greene still is - and Havana was cited on the folly of intelligence (and with the whole Iraq - WMD thing, I thought it worth a look again).

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The IMF, Observer, and Blake Morrison

Today is the second day of the IMF-World Bank fall meeting. The police set up concrete barriers and metal fences in a several block area around the IMF and World Bank and the building in which I work was fenced off from the outside world. Which meant that we could not get our weekend deliveries - which was a huge problem because we had several large orders for newspapers for delegates attending the meetings. This problem was sort of solved by me waiting at the barriers and running in an out with a hand truck to bring in the newspapers. At six in the morning. Yesterday in the rain, today without rain. And unloading quickly before the police intervened and made the deliverymen move their vehicles.

Yesterday I brought a paperback copy of Donald Westlake's The Hook to read while waiting. But I couldn't read in the rain. Today I brought, in honor of his 100th birthday the day before, Graham Greene's The Honorary Consul but didn't get to read any of it because I was too nervous about missing a delivery because of the police.

We just started to get editions of the Guardian printed via satellite on the same day as they are published in the UK. Before we got a paper that was one day old. So yesterday I got to read the Saturday Guardian Review section on paper in real time. I was all set to read the Observer's Review section this morning (and I purposely didn't read it online last night) but we didn't get any Observers at all. I guess they'll show up Monday. I was so disappointed.

But then when I read the Observer online at home this afternoon, in my chair outside the bathroom (where I can use my wonderful neighbor's wi-fi connection), I was rewarded by getting to read the piece by Blake Morrison about his book And When Did You Last See Your Father? as I was sitting six inches from my copy of the book. Such a meaningless coincidence, I know. But I get such enjoyment from things like that.,6903,1318259,00.html

It was only after I read the entire piece that I found out that it is from the new issue of Granta. Had I known, I probably would not have read it because doing so spoils part of the thrill of getting a new copy of Granta. ( (Extra thrill - unpacking new issues of Granta when they arrive.) But since this is the jubilee issue (#87, 25 th Anniv), I guess its okay. And on Friday I read a piece by Ian Jack in the Guardian (,,1317191,00.html) about the history of Granta that is an edited piece of something that appears in the new issue. I figured that would be okay (its only cheating a little bit) because I will be able to read the full thing when I get the new issue.