Arbitrary Recap

I had originally intended to do a six month summary of where I’m up to in my quest of reading 100 book in a year. Unfortunately, I lost track of time, and am a month late for that party. So as the title of the post says, there’s no particularly milestone being recorded, here, and instead it’s almost completely arbitrary.

At this point in time, I’ve read 36 and a half books (I’ve still got to do a write up for the 36th, and obviously finish the half), which works out at a little over 5 books a month. Due to the fact I’ve been working more hours than I was back in September, and have had various other things that have left me with less time to read than I’d hoped, I’m 3 books short of the 9 a month I should be reading if I want to make this goal. This means that in the remaining 5 months until September, I have to read nearly 13 books a month. Eek…

Now that the scary bit’s out of the way, I’m going to do a bit of a statistical breakdown of the books I’ve read.

So of the 36 books, I have read the works of 32 different authors or authorial teams, who between them hail from 10 countries and 4 continents, translated from 6 languages. The largest single nationality is the US with 16 authors, giving North America the lead with 18. Despite my best intentions, I’ve only read 2 Scottish authors thus far, and one of them wasn’t even fiction, and was instead one of the  3 non-fiction works I’ve read.

I have also done quite distressingly badly at reading works by female authors, with only 8 out of the 36 fitting that qualification, again, something I had not intended to be the case.

I’ve also only managed to whittle down my Nobel Laureates list by 4, though I have read the a book by another, that was not the first of his works I’d read.

I’ve also abandoned 3 and a half books (Horror of Horrors), because I was unable to get into them. The three being In Search of Lost Time, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and The Shipping News, the half being Les Miserables, because damn it, I still aim to finish reading it (Les Mis is another reason I’m behind on my quota. Have you seen how long that book is? The pitfalls of the eReader…)

So in light of this, am I going to change anything? I’m going to aim to read more international books (if nothing else, I’m going to complete the continental set (Africa and Australia, watch out!), more Scottish books, and more books by female authors.

Any Suggestions?

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Year of a Hundred books – #35 The Demi-Monde: Summer

The Demi-Monde: SummerThe Demi-Monde: Summer, by Rod Rees

1/5

I can’t think of a book, or series of books, that I hate more than Rod Rees’ Demi-Monde. The writing style is juvenile, the characterisation appalling, the story a smug, convoluted mess, and frankly anyone that writes half their characters with ridiculously exaggerated, borderline racist, phonetic accents, should be too ashamed of themselves to publish their book.

The problem is that the first book wasn’t so bad. The writing style, characterisation, and accents were still bad (though the latter was more tempered than in the following two books), but the plot seemed fairly like a straightforward post-cyberpunk adventure. The basic plotline is that the US army have created a hellish computer synthesised reality to train their soldiers in urban guerilla warfare against, for no real reason, the most evil human beings in history. The president’s daughter somehow jacks into this matrix, and get stuck. The heroine is sent to get her out before everything goes to hell. Seems like a good enough story, right? The cosmology and society within the simulation is a bit weird, but it kind of makes sense in context. A little bit. Anyway, so while reading the first book, I got so caught up in the world that by the time I got to the end, I was hooked. Then I read the second, which was worse, what with the development of the universe, and worst of all the revelation of the vampires.

Yes, Vampires. Except they’re not really vampires, and they’re not just in the simulation, they’re in the real world. Oh, and the whole simulation is run by them, rather than the US Army who just think they’re in charge.

The third book is so bad it’s practically insulting to read it. There are occasional moments of good storytelling and empathy, but in general it’s just a series of events that lead from one thing to another with no sense of smooth progression. Oh, and the final straw was, when the bizarre cosmology Rees has created, is revealed to include an anciently genetically engineered sub-species known as the “Kohanim”, who over time, became the Jews.

Yes, you read that right.

I was all prepared to give up with the series once I’d finished the book, but unfortunately the last couple of chapters, once the action began again and we stepped away from the absurd pseudo-philosophy, dragged me back in, ending with a hell of a cliffhanger. Which means I’m going to have read the final book in the series.

But seriously. Don’t put yourself through the misery of reading this series. It’s not worth it.

Year of a Hundred Books – #34 The Valley Under the Cross

The Valley Under the CrossThe Valley Under the Cross, by David Bruce

1/5

I’m not entirely sure why I decided to read this book. Or rather, I am sure, but in hindsight I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea. Every year or so, my secondary school sends out a newsletter to all of its alumnus. Mostly full of obituaries, old photos of the school, and updates on what various graduates are doing now, in the most recent issue there was an excerpt from an edition of the school magazine from 1950, celebrating the publication of one of the Old Boys’ début novel. The book is described as being the story of what would have happened in the Oberammergau Passion Play had been performed during the Second World War, rather than being postponed as it was in real life. Having a passing interest in the story, I decided, on a whim to buy it for cheap online.

There are a lot of flaws in the book; the plot is appalling clichéd and formulaic all the positive characters are practically sanctified already, all the antagonists are evil (apart from the one morally ambiguous character the protagonist falls in love with), women are not Nazis, even when they are, and most of all the writing is abrupt and lacking in subtlety.

That said, is it right to criticise this book for that? There is a historiographical debate known as “Presentism“, which basically states that you can’t necessarily judge people in the past according to today’s morality. Usually it’s applied to atrocities like Slavery, but I think it’s actually applicable for this book. As much as I’d like to condemn this book for the faults listed above, am I really justified in criticising a book written in the 1940s for an unbalanced portrayal of Nazis? I should be thankful that it does actually depict any Germans in a positive light. As for the quality of the prose? Well, it was hardly high class literature in the first place, and just because it’s dated, that shouldn’t draw further criticism.

But somehow, I can’t help myself. I suppose I might have enjoyed it better if it had been written today and thus was more in line with today’s literary techniques, (oh, and if my copy hadn’t been missing 20 pages in the middle! The fact I was able to finish the book does say something about the formula I suppose)  but I might not have done.

However, one thing does strike me, which is the fact that (unless anyone reading this inexplicably feels inspired to seek out this book), I’ll probably be one of the last person ever to read it, which feels quite odd really…

Year of a Hundred books – #33 The Hill Where Thorvald Slew Ten Skraelings

The Hill Where Thorvald Slew Ten SkraelingsThe Hill Where Thorvald Slew Ten Skraelings, by Regan Wolfrom

4/5

It feels a little cheeky to count this as one of my 100 books, bearing in mind it’s a short story and only just over 5000 words. However, I’m going to count it, because I enjoyed it so much.

The actual story itself is fairly conventional, the protagonist is an ageing shaman, ostracised by his Christian tribe members, who is called on to first save the life of a relative, and then the souls and future of his entire community, with a bit of help from the old gods. 

However, I will admit, the fact that it’s setting is a Norse community in Greenland, in the aftermath of conversion from the Old Ways to Christianity is one of the main reasons I liked the story; these are all settings and tropes I’m fond of, and in part are why I chose to read it in the first place. Not only is the setting appealing however, but the atmosphere created by the prose was such that I was able became lost in what I was reading, despite the fact I was sitting on a cramped and overheating bus.

The story is, as far as I can tell, only available for the Kindle and related Apps, but at less than a pound, I’d definitely say it’s worth picking up if you’re between books and wanting something worthwhile to read.

Year of a Hundred books – #32 The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin SuicidesThe Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

5/5

I love Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex and the Marriage Plot are two of my favourite books for so many reasons, so I was quite excited to read The Virgin Suicides.

What’s it about? Well, the title really explains it all. The titular virgins are the five teenaged Lisbon sisters, who, for reasons that are never revealed, commit suicide. Acts which shake the entire community and, by extension, the whole of the United States.

As with all of Eugenides books though, the way the story is told is just as interesting as the story itself. The unnamed narrators, who always refer to themselves in the collective first person, are the boys who lived in the Lisbon’s neighbourhood, who harboured obsessions for the girls during the tortuous years of their decline, and are now constructing a sort of oral history to try to make sense of the senseless acts. There are constant references to the people from whom various information has come, and often there are discrepancies in their stories, a trope that I always enjoy. The narrators have often been described by reviewers as being a modern-day Greek Chorus, an assessment that Eugenides has refuted, claiming it’s a lazy assumption based on his surname, and I have to say that I agree. First and foremost, the Chorus is traditionally omniscient in their commentary, whereas the narrators in The Virgin Suicides are demonstrably not so.

I think The Virgin Suicides is perhaps the least enjoyable of Eugenides novels, however that’s somewhat misleading, because of its subject matter. For all Middlesex had some horrifyingly sad moments, and I found myself wanting to shout at the characters in The Marriage Plot for being so stupid, they both ended on reasonably optimistic notes. By its very nature, The Virgin Suicides does not, and thus I would never recommend reading it right before going to bed (as I did, most sensibly!). However, to miss out on it is to miss out on some beautiful prose and one of the best constructed novels I’ve read. So by all means come to it last, as I have, but don’t miss out.

As an afterthought, I’m quite excited about watching the film. Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is one of my favourite films, so the idea of her adapting one of Eugenides’ novels seems as though it can only end well. Does anyone have any opinions on the matter?