I didn’t intend to write an essay.
In casual conversation with the Mother and the Father who visited my humble abode this weekend, I mentioned that I’d just finished reading A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, a book the Mother bought me for Christmas or Birthday.
The Mother wanted to know what I thought.
The Father cut across our conversation in outrage.
“It doesn’t say so on Happenence.”
My debate with my Mother, on the evolution of fiction writing by women, was paused whilst I calmed the Father.
It’s true I haven’t written about any of the books I’ve read in a while. Part of this is the entropic nature of my reading habit, which means all books tend towards an unordered, chaotic state of half read.
Books I haven’t finished
In other words, I’m half-way through seventeen different books. This means I’m not finishing books, I’m just starting more and more. If book reviews only focused on the first half of a book I’d be fine.
I never used to read multiple books simultaneously. Then I met MathsBio, who was always half-way through half-a-dozen books, and my sense of normal changed.
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George had been on my ‘reading’ list for years. I’ve read 655 pages of tiny print and I love it, but I’ve fallen for Cleopatra and genuinely believe she won’t die if I don’t read the end. Yes, I know it’s bonkers, but it’s a twisted internal belief and those things are almost impossible to shift.
I’m also half-way through The Classical World | An Epic History Of Greece And Rome by Robin Lane Fox. I’m up to Julius Caesar. Soon he’s going to die; Cleopatra will follow. History is full of such deaths.
Like the Iliad where a dozen people dying on a page isn’t unusual.
Not all tragedy is death. Christine, in The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, is similarly about to have something go awfully wrong in her life. I can feel it. I was so in love with the book that I’d become accustomed to the grating present tense writing, yet the impending doom is preventing me picking it back up.
I’m sabotaging the stories by refusing to accept the inevitable.
Do you ever do this?
Books I have finished
Books I have finished in the last two months include 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow, Small Gods by Sir Terry Pratchett, Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, and Painting Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis.
Sir Terry Pratchett is obviously in a class above just about all other writers. I have two more of his books lined up, ready for a rainy day or when I have a cold and need swooping off elsewhere. Small Gods was great because it was about religion, a fascinating topic that needs simplifying to a story of a small whiny god with only one believer if you’re going to get anywhere at understanding it.
I knew The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver would be well put together with a purpose when I picked it up in a charity shop; I was hesitant at reading it because the only other book of her’s I’ve read was Prodigal Summer, which was well written but I despise the ending (my strong beliefs on the rights of men…).
While the Boyfriend was in Barcelona watching motorbikes races I wrote during the days, read in the evenings and had a rather wonderful weekend. It was a perfect uninterrupted moment for a serious moving book, and the 670 pages of The Lacuna fit perfectly.
The story, set in Mexico and the USA in the 1920s-40s, took me to a place and time that I didn’t understand or recognise, threw me into a world of communism and surrealist art and left me wondering what it was I did or didn’t know.
Maybe, if I’d read it a few months ago the effect would be different, but I’ve just spent three weeks in Eastern Europe. The Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw—a huge square communist building, a ‘gift’ from Stalin, is tattooed on my mind. I’m still unsure what it is I will eventually write about visiting Warsaw, but I think it managed to stick a lever into my brain and jar it open a little.
Meanwhile kids in Hong Kong—a country I associate with a water theme park where the Midget and I got into trouble for too much splashing, men playing monopoly, bright lights, a clay baked duck and hairy crab—are demanding a democratic voice.
Meanwhile, I know nothing. I’m the girl who happily reads Animal Farm without doubting it’s a fairy tale and only finds out it’s something more years later.
The Lacuna is partly about Snowball, it’s also partly about disfigured truths.
Under the Eagle
Under the Eagle is a much simpler book to comprehend. It’s no great literary work, but it’s a light book to swallow in an evening. Nothing all that much happens. It feels like a first book, but sometimes I actually want something shallow. I wouldn’t buy it, nor the next, but if I happen across it I might well read it.
Painting Mona Lisa
Painting Mona Lisa was a whimsical buy from a charity shop. I read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, set at the same time, which was enjoyable in parts, but never quite felt that it all went together. Painting Mona Lisa had a similar feel, but had a tighter weave; neither book had a wholly satisfying ending. But Painting Mona Lisa did keep me guessing with its twists, although I think I’m always going to struggle to get completely behind any woman from Savonarola’s Florence.
Switching to non-fiction—Remote was about the benefits of having a work force that chooses where it works. It read like a series of blog posts by a young entrepreneur wanting the world to embrace their new forward thinking creative ideas. Whilst I’ve no problem with people having control of their lives, and businesses respecting their employees as people, not just cogs, the book lacked any feel of concrete science. It sounded more like propaganda. In my experience, most books like this could do with heavy editing to at least be halved in volume. They’re too repetitive. You read along thinking ‘yes, but what else’.
44 Scotland Street
And finally a book written for a newspaper. Alexander McCall Smith’s characters are always soothing to read. I loved The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. They’re light books but colourful. I read 44 Scotland Street in a couple of evenings, mostly from the bath.
The origin in a newspaper as a series of very short chapters, each showing a very complete scene, is clear. Each scene is an amusing snapshot. Each character is almost a caricature, presumably to keep them memorable. The book was enjoyable, but you never truly sank into it. The plot never seemed to pick up pace, which wasn’t a problem, but was noticeable. I’m going to read the sequel, not for the story, but because of the style. It’s different enough that I feel that something can be learnt from reading it.
Anyway, that’s enough for now.