October Reading

Books Acquired

  • R.U.R. | Carel Čapek
  • Shelter and Shelter II | Lloyd Kahn
  • The Last Days of Hitler | Hugh Trevor Roper
  • Wide Sargasso Sea | Jean Rhys
  • Gentlemen of the Road | Michael Chabon
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe | Douglas Adams
  • The Library Book | Rebecca Gray (Ed.)
  • Phantoms on the Bookshelves | Jacques Bonnet
  • A Moveable Feast | Ernest Hemingway

Books Purged

  • Forty: my annual clean-out of books I’m never going to open again (or, in a couple of cases, have carted around for 20 years without opening yet).

Books Read

  • The Stranger’s Child | Alan Hollinghurst
  • Shelter II | Lloyd Kahn
  • Script and Scribble | Kitty Burns Florey
  • Hinewai | Hugh Wilson
  • The Library Book | Rebecca Gray (Ed.)
  • The Sparrow | Mary Doria Russell
  • Dreamers of the Day | Mary Doria Russell [abandoned]

The amazing levitating Hem

The amazing levitating Hem

The Sisters Brothers was a nominee for my Best Cover award this year, but A Moveable Feast is without doubt the winner in the Worst Cover category; terrible Photoshopping makes Hemingway look like a divine being, levitating over the pavement outside Shakespeare & Co., with Sylvia Beach about to drop to her knees and worship. No, actually, she just looks bored. “Levitating again, Hem?”


A mixed bag this month. I indulged my daydreaming about hippy-architecture with Shelter II, Hinewai was preparatory reading for my first visit to the nature reserve of the same name, and Script and Scribble was a pleasant but tame example of the current fashion for handwriting nostalgia. The Library Book, though, is pretty missable: a compilation to raise awareness of potential cuts to the UK library system, it’s weakest when it moves from a defense of libraries, based mostly on nostalgia, to disparaging the internet (with Seth Godin’s contribution a notable exception). Curously, none of the contributors are librarians; most are British genre writers I’ve never heard of, who wax poetic on the nice smell old books had when they were children and a library was a gateway into a magical world of freedom, and so forth.

Alan Hollinghurst won the 2004 Man Booker with The Line of Beauty, which I have but haven’t read, and his next book, The Stranger’s Child, made the 2011 longlist. I’ve now read both it and the Man Booker winner, Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, and I have to say I preferred the Hollinghurst. It reminded me of two of my favourite books, Possession (with its literary sleuthing) and Atonement (with its reworking of the past in light of the present), all cleverly, deftly done. Gay characters are central to the century-spanning story, but unlike The Line of Beauty only incidentally a novel about gay identity. One of my favourites of the year so far.

I’m now on record as saying I hate it when authors write science fiction and refuse to admit it, but The Sparrow is not really SF; its subject is more anthropology and religion, asking why a Jesuit missionary would keep his faith in a world full of pain and evil, in a culture that doesn’t buy into his beliefs. It mirrors the story of the Jesuit martyr Isaac Jogues, tortured by Iroquois and eventually murdered by them in 1646. Russell’s science fiction world in Alpha Centauri happens to have breathable atmosphere and humanoid aliens, but they fulfil the function of Native Americans so closely that this really could have been an historical novel, like her last three. (on the off chance, I had a crack at one of her more recent ones, Dreamers of the Day but could not get into it.)

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