Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten new to me books.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and is a weekly top ten.

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I’ve read a lot of new (to me) authors this year. Here are the ones I enjoyed the most. 

1. Josh Lanyon – Come Unto These Yellow Sands, Snowball in Hell. It’s not often I read two books by the same author back to back. An excellent combination of LGBT issues and detective fiction.

2. Jeffrey Eugenides – The Virgin Suicides. As with a number of authors on this list, I can’t believe I didn’t read this earlier. Difficult reading at times but definitely worth it.

3. Simon Lelic – Rupture. A detective novel that explores the idea of responsibility.

4. Ben Goldacre – Bad Science – A must read for anyone who is sceptical about alternative medicine.

5. Ira Levin – Rosemary’s Baby. One that has been on my to read list for a long time. Superbly creepy.

6. Patrick McCabe – The Butcher Boy. Disturbing first person narrative of madness and neglect.

7. Iain Pears = An Instance of the Fingerpost. Interesting historical fiction with four different narrative voices adding clues to the mystery.

8. Peter Lefcourt – The Dreyfuss Affair. Funny and touching story of the romance between two baseball players.

9. Suzanna Kaysen – Girl Interrupted. An interesting contrast wit The Bell Jar.

10. Michael Moorcock – An Alien Heat. Amusing and well observed science fiction.

My Reading Year

It’s been a good year for reading. I’ve read almost twice as many books as last year (60 compared to 31). I’m not entirely sure why this is but I know I have not felt as enthusiastic about reading for an awful long time. There are a number of reasons for this.

The biggest reason is probably the kindle. I’ve got used to using it now and I have found that you can get some excellent books at a very low price. As well as some free classics. It has made it so much easier for me to read on the go.

I made a decision quite early on with the kindle that I wasn’t ever going to pay full price for a book on it. There were two reasons for this: one, I felt that if I was paying 6.99 for a book, I wanted to have the flesh and blood thing in my hands and two, it was pointless to pay full price when you could get very good books for 2.99 or less. This has changed the way I buy books for the kindle and it may seem a little odd. (Certainly, it is not the way I would think in an actual book shop.) But it has meant that I have experimented more and found some excellent authors into the bargain. (Josh Lanyon, Simon Lelic and Patrick McCabe spring to mind.)

The other main reason is I started to use the recommendations on Goodreads to help me choose. This has led me to many new authors – in fact more than 50% of the authors i have read this year have been new to me. I feel like I have climbed out of a reading rut and am very excited by the thought of what I will read next year.

I’d also like to thank the Eclectic Reader Challenge for helping to fire my enthusiasm. This led me to read genres I wouldn’t normally think of and helped me to broaden my reading horizons. I managed to do the challenge twice which was pleasing and I am already thinking about what I might read for next year’s challenge.

As for the best books I’ve read this year, I’d have to say The Road by Cormac McCarthy was a favourite. A devastatingly bleak version of the future that seemed all too possible. The bleakly sarcastic world view of Charlie Brooker was another excellent read – I can Make You Hate is a collection of his columns and articles from over the last few years. And very entertaining it was too. Food for thought, definitely.

I’ve included a list of all the books that I’ve read this year along with their ratings from Goodreads. I’ve included links to the ones that I’ve reviewed.

Adventure

Detective Fiction

Dystopia (By which I mean, a story set in a world of the future which is similar to ours but with certain details changed or exaggerated.)

Erotica

Family Drama

  • Empty Mansion Empty Heart – Everett Beich 1/5
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread – E. M. Forster 3/5
  • The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf 3/5
  • I’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill 3/5

Historical Fiction

Horror

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury 4/5
  • Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis 4/5
  • Under the Skin – Michael Faber 3/5
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin 4/5
  • The Butcher Boy – Patrick McCabe 4/5
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau – H G Wells 3/5

LGBT

Literary Criticism

  • Margaret Atwood – In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination -currently reading

Memoir

Satire

Science

Science Fiction (By which I mean a story set on a different planet or universe with great advances in technology.)

  • The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks 3/5
  • An Alien Heat – Michael Moorcock 4/5
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 4/5

Short Stories

  • How it Ended – Jay McInerney 4/5

Supernatural

  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 4/5
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson 3/5

Travel

Young Adult

Reading Habits

I was looking for inspiration by looking through old posts and I realised that I had resolved to read more female authors this year. That was after I only read 5 female authors out of 31 books. This seemed a low percentage. Hence the resolution. However, I had forgotten so I haven’t particularly been making an effort. I went straight to Goodreads to see how many I had read.

It wasn’t good. I have read 42 books so far and 5 of them were by female authors. (It’ll be 6 when I’ve finished the current read, The Painted Girls.) So even less than last year. Interestingly, two of those were academic books – The Female Malady by Elaine Showalter and Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. But in terms of fiction, the men are winning hands down.

The question is whether this really means anything. I think of myself as a feminist but does the fact that I read so many male authors mean that I subconsciously think that male writers are better. It isn’t something I really think about when choosing a book – whether the author is male or female. It neither encourages me or the opposite.

Perhaps it is a question of identification. I’ve always been quite tomboyish (if that is still an appropriate term when you are nearly 41.) I’ve probably a lot more in common with the narrator from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity than with Fielding’s Bridget Jones. I don’t really like girly things and the women that I do read – Atwood, Barker, Carter, Atkinson – aren’t really girly either.

Nevertheless, I will try for the last few months of the year to read more female authors. I’ve a Susan Hill I’ve been meaning to read and, of course, the new Atwood will have to be bought. That’s at least another two.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Romantic Suspense – Awaken – Katie Kacvinsky

This genre caused me problems the first time round and this time I decided to leave it until the end as I just couldn’t decide what to read for it. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not a romantic person and I do not like romance films and novels very much. I was amazed to find that I loved Come Unto These Yellow Sands by Josh Lanyon (which I read for this genre last time round) so much. In fact, I was contemplating reading another Lanyon or something similar. But I had tried to make the books I read for each category as different as possible this time round. And it is called the Eclectic Reader Challenge after all. So I found myself trawling through lists of dreadful sounding books on Goodreads, unable to make a decision.

In the end, I asked for help from the Goodreads community and Awaken was recommended to me. It sounded interesting and certainly better than anything else I’d looked at so I decided to go with it. After all, this is the point of reading communities, to find books you would never previously have read.8665876

This book is set in a future where everyone lives through their computers and never has actual physical contact with anyone. In fact, many people never leave the house. It touches on many things that I have blogged about myself such as reading a book rather than a kindle and the thinness of online communication compared to face to face communication. Maddie, the heroine, is one such teen who is liberated from her safe online world by a group of teenagers who meet face to face, dance to actual music and go to cafes. They also protest against the controlling online digital world. So far so good.

As ever, though, the R word troubled me and I felt the love story detracted from the main story and slowed the action down too much. Even worse, I found the gendered roles stereotypical and a little depressing. It occurred to me that this is probably why I found the romance between Josh Lanyon’s gay characters easier to deal with. They didn’t fall into typical roles. In this story, Madelaine is supposed to be independent and strong, yet she cannot live without the impossibly handsome Justin even though he is arrogant, distant and talks in polemic all the time. He put his job above everything and believed he knew what was best for everyone. She fell easily into the idea of saving him from himself and breaking through all his barriers. I failed to see how it could be worth her effort.

All in all, I enjoyed the main plot about overthrowing Digital School and some good points were made about the importance of face to face communication but the romance was unconvincing and sometimes it felt like I was being hit over the head with a sign saying online communication is bad, the points were that lacking in subtlety. Overall, six out of ten.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – New Adult – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

I bought this book when the movie came out with the intention of reading the book and then seeing the movie. In the end, I did neither. It has been on my to-read list since then. So it seemed perfecphoto-14t for the Eclectic Reader Challenge category of New Adult.

The book is series of letters to an unnamed person addressed simply as friend. They detail the ups and downs of Charlie’s life as he starts High School describing events and people with a warmth and naivety that was mostly charming. He is shy, awkward and has little grasp of social etiquette. He is befriended by a group of older misfits and through them goes to parties, takes drugs and learns about sex and relationships. While his voice was convincing, I think that I’d have enjoyed it more if I was nearer his age. I found myself feeling a little impatient with him, the way adults do with teenagers but for the most part I was keen to read on and find out what happened to him.

It is apparent quite early on that Charlie has psychological issues relating to the death of his Aunt Helen and he swings between depression and optimism throughout the book. Details are gradually revealed giving the reader clues to what the issues may be. However, the final reveal – I won’t give it away for those who have not read it – felt a little underwhelming. Not that it wasn’t a serious issue – it certainly justified Charlie’s issues – but that it wasn’t explored very deeply, was almost brushed off with an ease that seemed unlikely.

This book is often compared to The Catcher in the Rye and, in some ways, it is an apt comparison. Both Holden and Charlie are caught in cycles of behaviour that they seemed destined to repeat and both have distinctive voices. However, ultimately I prefer The Catcher in the Rye because it is darker and less twee. I found the end of The Catcher in the Rye devastating as so little progress has been made in Holden’s journey of discovery. I don’t know why but I find this easier to relate to then the sweet optimism of Charlie’s last letter.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Humour – I Can Make You Hate – Charlie Brooker

I’m quite an angry person. I don’t mean that I go out and start fights or anything like that but intellectually, it is definitely my default position. The news, the abundance of stupid people on the TV, the growing gap between mainstream and genuinely alternative (rather than the mainstream MCfly version of alternative), all of these things and more are capable of making my blood boil. In this sense, Charlie Brooker’s I Can Make You Hate was the perfect book to read for the humour category of the Eclectic Reader Challenge. This book is very very funny but it is also incredibly angry. And understandably so.

I knew what to expect from this book. I’d read Brooker’s columns before – particularly when he used to write Screen Burn for The Guardian and of course, he is now on TV fairly regularly. He already ranked as one of my favourite angry people (along with Ben Goldacre, Mark Kermode and David Mitchell). You know the sort of people who are passionately and endlessly angry. Like when reading Kermode, there were numerous times when I felt as though Brooker had crawled inside my head and read my thoughts. Although, obviously, he expressed them with a lot more verve and potty humour then I would have managed.

Brooker’s bile is wide-ranging. There is political comment – in my mind, David Cameron will always be a foal swallowing lizard now – cultural comment on TV, video games, music and film, as well as coverage of the Royal Wedding and the Olympic preparations. Nothing escapes Brooker’s gleeful voice of angry destruction. He manages to cut photo-10through the bullshit of modern life with remarkable clarity. And while he can come across as an angry man on a rant and clearly does want to shock people out of their complacency, he manages to avoid saying things that are just offensive and not funny or pertinent; a knack that seems to have escaped Frankie Boyle.

I would recommend this book for anyone who thinks that modern life is a bit rubbish. Believe me, by the end of reading this book, you will know exactly who to blame.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Memoir – It’s Only A Movie – Mark Kermode.

There were a couple of reasons for picking up this book. First of all, it fulfilled the memoir category for the Eclectic Reader Challenge but, as the last couple of books I have read have been a bit rubbish (Yes, Tell No One by Harlan Coben, I do mean you”) I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.

And of course, I wasn’t. In this book, Kermode imagines his life as a made for TV movie – a very funny idea which sees him detailing who would play him – Jason Isaacs – and his family members. It does seem as if spending so much time in front of a cinema screen has left Kermode with an odd view of reality and a lot of the episodes he recounts wouldn’t be out of place in a (slightly dubious) biopic. Maybe that is the point.

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The story starts with Kermode’s early cinematic experiences, moves through his love of horror, particularly The Exorcist, through his early experiences as a critic to the celebrity status he has today. The early experiences were the most interesting, I thought. Recalling as they do, a different era when going to the cinema was a more intimate experience. Y’know when cinemas had two screens and ran two features. It made me think about going to the cinema in the early eighties and I began to recall my own experiences. Although unlike Kermode, who seems to be able remember which cinema and when for every film he has ever seen, I can’t remember what I went to see first although it was undoubtedly a Disney rerun, this being back in the days before Pixar and Dreamworks and a whole business aiming to sell cinema to small kids.

There is no doubt that Kermode is a geek – and I say this as a compliment – and a particularly grumpy geek, at that. (Amusingly a review of this, or possibly The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex, on Goodreads complained about this grumpiness as though it was a surprise. As if he had happened upon the book by sheer chance, knowing nothing about Kermode. It reminded me of when a friend went to see Billy Bragg and afterwards complained that he was too political. Well, duh.) He gamely outlines the number of people he was annoyed and irritated over the years including being put on the spot by Dame Helen Mirren after saying The Queen wasn’t a  proper film and, my own personal favourite, getting punched in the arm by Benedict Cumberbatch on behalf of Kiera Knightley who resented being called Ikea Knightley on account of her plank-like acting style. A very apt description, if you ask me.

Ultimately, this is a book about obsession and I think this is why Kermode can get away with his rants and raves. He loves cinema with his whole heart and hates the fact that some people do not give it the respect it deserves. It is only possible to remain calm about things that do not matter. Cinema matters an awful lot to Mark Kermode and thank goodness for that.