I've been lucky recently. For several months this year, I just couldn't seem to get into a book. I'd read half a short story here, and then a chapter there. It was as if I had reading attention deficit disorder. Mind you, then I was involved in writing a novel. It's the pattern to my reading/writing that still takes me by surprise every time.
Now I'm writing short stories, and I'm finding I can get absorbed in books again. So here are three good ones I've enjoyed over the last week:
Ben Okri's Starbook is just beautiful. It's about creativity and captivity and the importance of love and freedom. I don't always like fables so I thought I would be bored, but the language here is just perfect - is it wrong of me to hope that the self-help brigade don't get hold of it? Somehow this felt like a book I wanted to savour and make meanings of my own from - or even no meanings at all, just wrap myself up in the words. Here's a passage:
'When a people sense their own extinction what do they do? They either throw themselves into an orgy of distraction, or they try and resist the inevitable vision by deeds which make the feared thing happen, or they do nothing, as if they had sensed nothing; or they create, in a sublime fever of hope, magic works to divert disaster, or to perpetuate their memory, so that the earth will not forget that they once existed and were passionate under the sun.'
I'm a big fan of Kate Long, but now that I'm lucky enough to have got to know her as a friend, it drives me mad that I feel self-conscious about raving about her books. It's as if we'll be accused of cronyism, but to be honest I'm not sure how I would feel about developing a relationship with a writer whose work I hated. Most of my friendships with writers have, in fact, started through a deep admiration of their work so I'll shut up worrying and shout about Kate's latest novel now without embarrassment. The Daughter Game is, in my opinion, her best so far. It's full of complicated characters you like but still want to shake, good people doing bad things, and yet, somehow Kate manages to hold it all up in the air and leave me feeling satisfied. As an extra, it was like someone had lifted the lid of a school and let me see what actually happens inside. I loved it - this is the second time I've read it.
Hugh told me about this book, The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W E Bowman. He's just come back from the base camp at Everest and read it there, but he's annoying like that. I've been reading it in my Tunbridge Wells garden and still laughing just so much I cried at one point. It's a spoof of a mountaineering expedition and just so funny. The best thing of all is the bumbling expedition leader who is the first person narrator, and just doesn't realise what's going on around him. The author, W E Bowman, died with the book out of print, but it's since gone and been reprinted several times. There's even a Rum Doodle bar in Nepal apparently. The only thing I have to say against it is that in my edition Bill Bryson's name (he wrote the introduction) is larger than W E Bowman's. Still, I guess that's salesmanship for you...