Friday, December 31, 2010

Gifted by Patrick Evans

On this, the last day of 2010, I can’t think of a better book to have finished reading than Gifted by Patrick Evans.


For starters, it was last December that I paid a visit to Frank Sargeson’s house in Takapuna, which is the setting for much of the novel. Sadly, the army hut in which Janet Frame lived 1955-56 is no more and the portion of the back garden that housed it was sold off to pay for the upkeep of Sargeson’s house as a museum of sorts. Similarly, the macrocarpa hedge that is so large a symbol in the novel is less of a presence these days, but my time inside Frank’s fibrolite bach made reading the novel a very real, very navigable experience, the same as one might feel reading a novel set in Tuscany after renting a villa there.

Perhaps more significant than the physical overlap between myself and the novel’s two protagonists, Sargeson and Frame, was the fact that these writers featured so prominently in my reading in 2010. I’d read Sargeson’s collected stories at high school (and with a high school student’s exam-focussed eye), but the mention of his early collection, A Man and His Wife, in a review of my own short story collection prompted a trip to the local library (as Sargeson does so frequently in Gifted). My reaction to A Man and His Wife features in my July reading summary.

2010 was also the year I read Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame, which is the novel (or as Frame refers to it in Gifted, ‘an exploration’) she wrote in a furious five months in the army hut. Owls Do Cry made it all the way to #2 on my best reads of 2010 list.

Reading Gifted for me was like standing at a river delta and watching the different coloured waters collide, moil and eventually mix. Evans’ novel is both a tremendous piece of imagination and scholarship (see the three page author’s note at the back of the book). I’m not sure, however, if the story ever elevated beyond, as Kate De Goldi calls it on the back cover blurb, a “re-imaginging of a signal moment in our cultural history”. The ontological clash between Sargeson and Frame that provides much of the fuel for the story was the least engaging part for me, perhaps because I found all of the stuff about mimesis in 100 level English papers terribly dry and unsexy.

But anyone with a passing interest in Sargeson or Frame will get a lot out of reading this novel, and I feel invigorated for another year of reading well and reading widely in 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some thoughts on The Hut Builder by Laurence Fearnley

The Hut Builder

One reason I keep this blog is to open the door (however slightly) on my own writing process. So this is not a review of The Hut Builder. A review would take a more rounded, less personal approach to the reading experience. What I hope to do here is capture a few of my thoughts upon reading Fearnley’s novel and how this relates to my own writing.

Spoiler alert: The Hut Builder isn’t exactly a thriller or a mystery, but I do disclose certain elements of the plot in the following discussion which are kind of surprises at the time. You’ve been warned.

A brief summary

The novel is divided into four sections: ‘Fairlie’, ‘The Hut Builder’, ‘The Poet’ and 'Boden'. The first section covers the childhood of Boden Black in the early fifties. Boden’s twin brothers died in the war and his mother is forever diminished; his father, the town’s butcher, is also affected but powers on. The key scene in this section involves Boden’s first trip to the Mackenzie Country with his neighbour; inspired by the landscape, Boden is prompted to compose his first poem.

‘The Hut Builder’ section focuses on the time Boden spent constructing a hut on the slopes of Aoraki/Mt Cook in his early twenties, in particular his relationship with fellow hut builder and former conscientious objector, Walter. By this time, Boden is working with his father at the butcher’s shop and still harbours dreams of being a poet.

In ‘The Poet’, we mostly follow Boden in late-middle age. One of the poems he wrote after his hut building expedition, ‘Three Days At Least’, has become New Zealand’s “the third most widely read poem” after ‘The Magpies’ (Glover) and ‘Rain’ (Tuwhare). Boden’s poetic output (and success) since then is limited and he continues to work as a butcher, taking over the shop after his father’s death. He finds love with Stella, a historian, though they never live together in the same town, and meets his long lost birth sister (spoiler: he was adopted). After finally publishing a new collection of poems, Kindred Spirits, Boden is commissioned to write a new poem to commemorate the opening of a new museum at Mt Cook, bringing the story back in the final brief section, if not quite full-circle, at least to its centre.

A voice never raised

The novel is narrated throughout by Boden, the emotionally reticent butcher-poet. His language is very restrained: formal in its construction and cadence. A couple of illustrative sentences selected almost at random:
"I could see the woman but I was too embarrassed to intervene. On the one hand I wanted to disown my father, but I also didn't want to deny him this small pleasure." p2
"Determined to make one last-ditch effort I went at my tunnel with renewed vigour, and after another twenty minutes or so of back-breaking work I felt a faint breath of air against my face..." p97
"If I stand back a little, however, I can credit the poem with bringing me to the attention of my future partner, Stella." p174
The voice is clearly not the sort you'd hear in spoken conversation. It's much more considered, almost stuffy (he hardly sounds impassioned when talking about the love of his life!), which goes a long way to describing Boden Black.

It was on the level of language that I had my first strong reaction to The Hut Builder. I saw many similarities in the voice to the narrator in the novel I have been working on (off and on) for the last two years. On this blog I have referred to this project as Novel B. In part, it was to be the story of the narrator finding his way in the world of visual/mixed media arts rather than poetry. Boden is writing his story from an older age (sixty something) and a significant chunk of the novel is set in the fifties, while the narrator of Novel B is writing at the age of about thirty and the events are mostly contemporary, though they seem to share that sense of stuffiness when it comes to language.

The net result in reading the first eighty or so pages of Boden’s/Fearnely’s crisp, thoughtful, carefully constructed sentences — that were very much what I was trying to perform with my narrator in Novel B — was a sense of dissatisfaction. The words were not lifeless, exactly, but there was a distinct lack of vigour.

And while Boden Black becomes a believable character by the end of the novel — one of the lingering-in-your-thoughts variety — his emotional reticence kneecaps his ability as a narrator to engage the reader’s (or this reader’s) emotions. The language does not leap off the page, nor does the action, nor does the emotion. What we get is a well told story which flirts with being interesting, flirts with being sad, flirts with being poetic, but never quite follows through on its promises.

Chutzpah, or the lack thereof

Related to the muted voice of the narrator is the amount of work left up to the reader in terms of Boden’s poetry. We do not get to read any poems, or even a single stanza. The total evidence of our hero’s poetry comes to: a rhyming couplet from his first, childish poem, the title and a couple of rhymes from his ‘greatest hit’, the fact he had been writing sonnets at one point then decided to abandon the form but keep the content, and a couple more titles. The reader is left to construct Boden’s poetry from these hints, his discussion of other poets (Charles Brasch, Ursula Bethell, Byron) and the language of his narration.

As Lawrence Jones puts it in his review for the Otago Daily Times, there is, “a hidden Boden expressed only in his poetry.”  Even in his memoir, which The Hut Builder is on one level, Boden does not delve too deeply into emotion. He never writes much about his love for Stella, for example, though we hear he once wrote her a love poem (which he wasn’t that fond of). Where’s the poem? Where’s the love?

The GiftIt is one thing to read about art, another thing to experience it. Poetry is one of the few art forms that lends itself to presentation in fiction. And yet the reader of The Hut Builder is left empty handed.

Bend SinisterI was forced to draw an unfavourable comparison between this book and Nabokov’s last (and greatest) work in Russian before turning to English, The Gift. Nabokov’s novel focuses on the literary ambitions and artistic development of the poet Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev. Fyodor’s poetry is a central part of both the narrative and the characterisation, and we get to read it! As Nabokov says in another novel, Bend Sinister, when talking about his philosopher protagonist:
"It was much the same as is liable to happen in novels when the author and his yes-characters assert that here is a ‘great artist’ or a ‘great poet’ without, however, bringing any proofs (reproductions of his paintings, samples of his poetry); indeed, taking care not to bring such proofs since any sample would be sure to fall short of the reader’s expectations and fancy."
Pale Fire: A NovelLater, Nabokov would take the poetry-in-novel conceit to its extreme in Pale Fire which centres around a 999 line poem and the excessive, mad footnotes from (ostensibly at least) the poet’s neighbour.

I can understand Fearnley’s reticence to hand the reader a poem such as ‘Three Days at Least’, which is held up as Boden’s biggest achievement, the one studied by two generations of high school students. For a novelist, to write a self-proclaimed ‘great NZ poem’ takes some chutzpah, and chances are it would fail in some way.

It’s like the uncanny valley in robotics, which describes the fact that the closer to human appearance a robot becomes, the more disconcerting it is, because we are almost fooled but then notice those little quirks, the slightly unhuman movement of the eyelids, or the too-regular complexion. So too, a slight misstep in a ‘droid’ poem (one that resides in a work of fiction, but is supposed to read as something taken from the outside world) is likely to irk readers more than a piece of doggerel (which would then throw the novel into a satirical space, prompting the reader to reassess the seriousness with which Boden pursues his poetry and the kind of general public who would hold up a poem as a national treasure).

So basically, the droid poem must be flawless to succeed. But without it, we are left at such a distance from the narrator-poet and even the version of New Zealand it presents. It is easy to write the words "one of the most famous poems in recent New Zealand literature" (p174) — that’s the kind of notebook entry a writer makes all the time. The challenge of the novelist is to convince the reader of this fact and I was not convinced by the evidence provided in the novel.

The Shanghai Knights effect

Shanghai Knights The third issue I had with The Hut Builder was the plot’s relationship with history. I have come to think of this as The Shanghai Knights effect, which is named after the entirely forgettable action movie starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson (the movie was a sequel, which should tell you something about its quality off the bat). In Shanghai Knights, Chan and Wilson’s characters travel to London and by the end of the movie it seems everyone they’ve met turns out to be some kind of historical figure. ‘Artie’, the inspector from Scotland Yard, turns out to be Arthur Conan Doyle (despite the fact Doyle never worked as a coppa). The young street urchin will grow up to be Charlie Chaplin. Rather than adding to the effect of the story, these contrivances are a kind of literary outsourcing and reduce the imaginative power of a work for me.

So it was, to a lesser extent it must be said, in The Hut Builder. When Boden’s mother takes a train trip up to Auckland to visit her ailing mother in December 1953, sure enough the Tangiwai disaster rushes into the story and prompts Boden’s father to tell him he was adopted.

What’s my problem? Many people were affected by the disaster, and it could make for interesting reading. The problem: there is so much evident engineering to get Boden’s mother on a train to Auckland (they barely ever leave Fairlie). It felt like Tangiwai was being used to add oomph to the novel rather than generating that oomph — and the prompt for Boden’s father to open up — from something internal to the story. It is true that events such as Tangiwai and more recently the Christchurch earthquake or Pike River impact on a lot of people (and shake the headspace of people who haven’t suffered any real loss) in a seemingly arbitrary fashion, but there are ways such events can be incorporated into fiction in satisfying, subtle and believable ways. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel this was the case in The Hut Builder.

Perhaps it was because of the Tangiwai affair, but when Sir Edmund Hillary popped up in the novel for the second time (we already know Boden climbed Mt Cook with Hillary from the photo in his father’s shop in the prologue) he felt a bit perfunctory. I didn’t actually have any issue with Sir Ed as a character, what he said or did. It’s the fact that he just happened to come along the one time Boden helped construct a hut. And lo, our timid narrator gets the chance to climb our greatest peak with our greatest mountaineer. It could have been any mountaineer who took Boden up Mt Cook, and the fact it was Hillary can either be viewed as serendipitous or cynicism on the part of the writer (I don’t trust myself to make a ficitional mountaineer  interesting enough…).

As the Earth Turns Silver(I’m conscious that I am coming down quite harshly on this book and I am about to heap more doubts upon it, so it is worth re-iterating that I thought it was a decent book and would not be surprised or disappointed to see it nominated for the NZ Post Book Awards next year. For what it’s worth, I found The Hut Builder to be a more accomplished and far more pleasurable read than this year’s NZPBA fiction winner, As the Earth Turns Silver. Other readers will have no problem with The Hut Builder’s celebrity cameos or the articulate-yet-reserved voice of the narrator — indeed, many would point to these as a strength (or selling point) of the book…)

There are also a number of other historical connections, such Walter’s chums from prison including Hillary’s brother and Charles Brasch, the poet and editor of Landfall. I didn’t mind these so much, but then when it was revealed that Boden’s birth parents were close friends of Brasch’s, the network of historical connections felt just too tight, too perfect.

It’s an interesting question: when a story is set in the past, how much historical reference is too much? Clearly, the small stuff is important: the type of climbing equipment they would have used, the fashions of the time. That’s all crucial. And there needs to be historical touchstones for the reader. But when the number of characters and events in the book that are taken from the real world starts to dwarf those dreamed up by the author, it starts to bring the ‘reality’ of the fictional world into question. Do we really know that many people in our real lives who will be remembered in fifty year’s time? How likely is it that a poet-butcher will have multiple connections with the founder of one of our most important literary journals? Etc.

Bringing it all back home

The three factors I’ve discussed – my unfavourable reaction to the stuffy voice, the lack of chutzpah (not taking the risk of showing us poems), and the Shanghai Knights effect – prompted me to reassess what I’m doing with Novel B. The first two complaints, voice and chutzpah, I can also level at my completed chapters (while I make much more of an effort to show reader’s the narrator’s artistic output, good and bad, there’s a lingering lack of ambition, eg contemporary first person male narrator in lower North Island…). The third, the use of historical figures and research, and my views on what works and what doesn’t, is something I’m eager to demonstrate, but Novel B is not the place to do it.

Everything, it seems, is pointing me to the project I have kept on the back burner while struggling with Novel B. It is set around the turn of the last century (it opens on New Years Day 1903 and goes forward and back in time from there), so there’s scope to include historical personages. This project, by its nature, would also satisfy my issues with voice (third person semi-intrusive narrator in the mould of Dumas or Dostoyevsky, who is looking back on historical events from the reader’s present) and chutzpah (which I’ll need up the yingyang to pull it off). For the last week and a half I’ve been devoting my time to research and plot development (which includes coming up with character names). I love this part of writing — playing Maquet to my future Dumas — which isn’t technically writing at all.

What will happen to Novel B? This isn’t the first time I’ve abandoned it. I’ll come back to it in some form, some day. It did start out as a sequel to a short story and the chapters I’ve completed may be better served as a short story or two themselves. We shall see.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Worksheet #51, now with parentheses!

I haven't read everything in this year's edition of Turbine yet, but I have read Pip Adam's short story 'Featherston Street' and was well impressed. Don't let the dull title and the muted, engineering-speak opening put you off. It's a great example of Pip's aspiration to "represent large built forms in new and engaging ways", which she discussed more fully when I interviewed her back in July.



The Hut Builder
I've now finished The Hut Builder by Laurence Fearnley and have a number of comments I'll cobble together into a separate post. While it wasn't the sort of book that would cause me to reshuffle my top ten books of 2010 (there's goes any hope of a gender equitable split), it has prompted a massive realignment of my own writing projects… Like I said, watch this space.



I’ve submitted my entry for the Unity Books’ The long and the short of it competition. Despite best intentions to enter the ‘long’ category (10,000 words plus) I’ve put all my eggs in a sub-1000 word wonder.
Entries close on Christmas Eve, so I made it in plenty of time (as far as s/s competitions are concerned).

I was surprised to read in the confirmation email that winners would be informed by 1 May 2011. That sure seems like a long time, but I guess it’s to line up with the next issue of Sport (in which a select number of entries will appear).


(disclaimer: I no idea what's going on with the video)


Speaking of long lead times, I received an email this week informing me that two of my poems had been accepted for the next edition of the online poetry zine Trout (#16). I appeared in Trout #15 way back in October 2008, so it’s been a long time between editions. I submitted my poems back in August 2009, so that means it was 16 months between submission and acceptance. Unfortunately one of these two ‘new’ poems had subsequently been published elsewhere (‘Free walking tour with my brother’, Snorkel #11)...



I went searching through my old blog to see if I mentioned the last time I got accepted for Trout (and how long the wait was), but I didn’t seem to. I did, however, re-read this post about when I went to Greece.
The sun sets everywhere, everyday, but not all sunsets are equal. 
How smart I was back in 2008!



Some more bracket-y type titles I couldn't find youtube versions for:

It's all over now, baby blue (live)

Gotta know (remix)

Yazoo Street scandal (outtake)

All in one (medley)

Good day (extended edit)

White riot (single)

Vamos (another version)




Newsflash: Trout #16 is now online.  I was cheeky and sent another poem which was accepted in the Snorkel poem's stead.

Read: 'Six napkins' and 'Ten places I could be with the big one hits' (which, coincidentally, shares something in common with 'Featherston Street'...)


Friday, December 10, 2010

Best of 2010: Reading

As promised, here are the top ten books I've read in 2010 (note: books not necessarily released in 2010)...

10. Brief Lives by Chris Price 
(Short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays - you name it; NZ, 2006)
Brief Lives

What I said in November: "I eventually got around to buying a copy of Brief Lives this year and really, really enjoyed it. Halfway through I was certain it would rocket into my top ten books I read in 2010... It may still make it [obviously it squeezed in], but I didn’t enjoy the big biographical/literary essay at the end of the book, ‘Variable Stars’, as much as I enjoyed the chunks of alphabetically arranged sui generis joy that preceded it. Some read like prose poems, others flash fiction, others short stories. One piece (‘Notebook’) is pure ideas as one may find in a...  notebook."

9. A Model World and Other Stories by Michael Chabon
(Short stories, 1991)
A Model World: And Other Stories

What I said in August: "I tried very hard not to like [this book]. The stories were too much like SHORT STORIES. The jacket blurb trumpets how most were previously published in the New Yorker, and they are very much in that mold... By the end of the book, however, I had to concede that I could have asked nothing more. And I wasn’t even in the mood for hard enlightenment or moments of bleak grace!"

8. Room Temperature by Nicholson Baker
(Novel, 1990)
Room Temperature

What I said in February: "Nicholson Baker’s narrator... takes the minutiae of a day with his baby daughter (cable knit sweaters and nose picking) and gives a kind of life story; in turn illustrating that [with reference to genetic cloning]: “the particular cell you started from colored your entire re-creation.” Room Temperature is both focused and meandering; myopic and exquisitely precise, but also profound and, at times, scatological. Every time I read one of Bakers books (this is numero tres), I leave richer and more wide-eyed."

7. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton 
(Novel, NZ, 2008)

The Rehearsal

What I said in January: "It’s easy to envy Catton's early success before reading The Rehearsal, and hard to begrudge her afterwards... The plot tends to chase its own tail, but there is beauty in the chase: sentences that flail for the trapeze and make it, great chunks of decanted observation about high school, sex, drama and fiction..."

6. Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon
(Short stories, 2009)
Love and Obstacles

What I said in January: "A collection of short stories sharing the same narrator, a Sarajevan who spends the war in Chicago... There’s clearly some autobiography going on, but the lives of the narrator, his family and passers-through are rendered so richly, one soon leaves distinctions like fiction and autobiography behind... The collection properly takes off at story three (‘Conductor’), which happens to be the first that directly deals with “the war”, and apart from a technical (point of view) gripe in ‘Smurza’s Room’, I was rapt the rest of the way."

5. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
(Novel, audiobook, 2006)

What I said in October: "I enjoyed this book immensely. The audiobook version, which I borrowed from the Wellington City Library via its overdrive online borrowing system (a fabulous thing itself), was nominated for an Audie (the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar) in 2007, and rightly so. Arte Johnson’s turn as the ebullient narrator, Misha Vainberg, unable to return to his beloved United States, could have easily been over-egged, but Johnson eggs it perfectly (so to speak). Shteyngart’s novel is funny, generous and carefully absurd. A great reading/listening experience."

4. Gilead by Marilyn Robinson
(Novel, audiobook, 2004)

What I said in June: "Listening to Tim Jerome read Robinson's novel was a fantastic experience. The story is told in epistolary form and one of the strengths of the book is the voice of the narrator, Reverand John Ames, who is writing a long letter to his young son whom he will not see grow up... There was plenty of time to marvel at the craft and intellect of Robinson, and the voice-acting of Jerome, while still feeling pulled along by the story."

3. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann
(Short stories/novella, 2008)
Legend of a Suicide

What I said in September: "Hard to classify, but its essentially three short stories, followed by a novella in two parts, and two more short stories to close out the book. Wasn’t so taken with the final two stories, but was gripped by the rest... Vann’s back in NZ later in the year to teach a short fiction course at the IIML. Would be great if our paths crossed and we got to have a chat..."  

2. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame 
(Novel, audiobook, NZ, 1957)
Owls Do Cry

What I said in August: Owls Do Cry had its quirks as an audiobook... being a Bolinda production means the reader, Heather Bolton, is Australian. Her accent was almost imperceptible for the most part, but sometimes when she did dialogue, especially males’, I was suddenly transported from Waimaru (or ‘WAI-ma-ROO’) to Woollongong... But the book, oh the book. What a gem."

1* Moby Dick by Herman Melville 
(Novel, 1851)

This comes in first with an asterisk since it was a re-read, which is totally cheating (not sure if it's Melville or me that cheating, though).

What I said in July: "This is one of my two favourite books I read at university (the other being The Great Gatsby). The last time I re-read Moby Dick was 2005... My big takeaway this time: I'm sure I'll return to it again within the next five years, but hopefully I don't feel the need to ravage it for material and can just enjoy the book on its own merits.


The Worm in the TequilaThis list may well look different if I were to prepare it in January. For one, I would have finished Laurence Fearnley's The Hut Builder and Patrick Evans' Gifted (both NZ novels released in 2010). I like to think at least one would edge into the top ten, in which case I'd bump Moby off and Janet could take the top spot.

But skimming through the list of books read in 2010, there are a number that could sit comfortably along side these ten. There's no poetry above, but Geoff Cochrane or Pablo Neruda could have made it only the list on sheer reading pleasure alone. Then there were the older books whose reputations preceded them and didn't disappoint, but perhaps suffered because they didn't overachieve (whatever that means): Lucky Jim, A Room with a View, Love in the Time of Cholera, perhaps even the re-released Sydney Bridge Upside Down. There were also more recent books with a rep which seemed (mostly) deserved: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
Love in the Time of Cholera (Popular Penguins)
In all, I read and commented on this blog about: 21 novels, 14 poetry collections or anthologies, 13 short story collections or anthologies, 4 books of non-fiction. I also read some more lit-mags and books about birds and trees and such, which would bring up the non-fiction and poetry/short fiction quotient a bit. In all, the mix looks okay. Maybe still a little light on non-fiction. I may try listening to some non-fiction audiobooks next year. We'll see how that goes.

Some more stats: 3 New Zealand books made my top ten and in all I read 22 books by Kiwi authors this year across all forms. That's about 42% of all books read. Again, that seems like a good amount. Were my reading selections influenced by parochial intentions? Well, I did state back in February how I try to read at least one NZ book a month, but that only seems fair. And 2010 has been a pretty great year for NZ books (much better than 2009, if I'm honest... besides Relief I really didn't rate any fiction that came out last year, including NZ Post Book Award winner As the Earth Turns Silver... what are people seeing in that book that I don't?).

One thing I never thought about till now, either in my reading selections or compiling my reading thoughts, is the gender mix. I honestly haven't thought about it. A quick tally shows I've read 13 books by female authors, about a quarter of my reading, the proportion as short story collections holds against other forms (and I really like short story collections!). Could the percentage of female writers be higher? Yes, certainly. Should it? Probably. But I don't think I want to add a quota system into my reading choices -- books have to earn their place on my bedside table (or iPod) on their own merits.  I will say that I probably read more female authors in 2010 than any other year to date. I think it's quite common for males to prefer males writers, especially younger male readers. I remember struggling with Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte et. al. when I was at university. These days, even without re-reading these books, I have a better appreciation for them.  Perhaps it says something that 4/10 of my top ten are books by female authors? Back in 2008 only 2 were (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital). If The Hut Builder edges Moby out, it'd be a fifty/fifty gender split.

The Three Musketeers
I've said too much about gender already for what is really a non-issue.
One thing I feel more comfortable commenting on is the lack of Young Adult fiction I read this year. Lack as in complete lack, zero, zippo, nil. Unless you count Alexandre Dumas, which maybe you can. But I just don't read "YA". Never have. Harry Potter? I've seen bits of the first film. Phillip Pullman? Ditto for The Golden Compass or whatever it's called. When I was a young adult I read Douglas Coupland and later Chuck Palahniuk, authors who definitely appeal to a younger audience who don't have time for subtlety, but not YA. I know it's a big industry and I don't have any active prejudice against it (how could I form such a prejudice without reading any?), I just don't read it. But in 2011 I'll dip my toes into YA waters and see what happens. Any recommendations for what I should read first?

Finally, the award you've all been waiting for... the book I enjoyed the least in 2010. Now, this isn't necessarily the worst book (only books I finished reading can qualify), just the one that disappointed and confounded me the most. Those that have read this blog throughout the year may be able to guess this one...

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark
(Novel, 2000)

What I said about it in October: "[Aiding and Abetting] is the worst novel I have ever finished. Thin, slap-dash, meandering... Its only redeeming feature is its brevity (if it were any longer I would not have retrieved it that time I threw it across the room)... The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of my favourite books, but I have also read and not-really-liked The Comforters, The Public Image and The Driver’s Seat. Which leaves me with a conundrum. Do I continue to pick up a Spark novel every year in the hope of getting another Brodie (I could, perhaps, be more scientific about which books of Spark’s I choose) , or do I just move on?"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Making the list and checking it twice

Good news list-lovers: A Man Melting made it into The Listener's 'Top 100 Books of 2010'.

If you zoom in really close you can see A Man Melting is even on the cover, along with a bunch of other books. Easier perhaps just to buy your own copy and hold it close to your face. AMM spine-action also on the contents page and there's a cover shot in the actual article so pretty good coverage all-told.

The full list is a great source of Chrissy present ideas for the book-shaped guys and gals in your life, and there's a  good percentage of NZ books represented. Ka pai, The Listener, as usual. Word on the street is there'll also be a summer reading issue... Now if only they'd go back to publishing poems and stories in regular issues!


Sprinkled amongst the Best Books list are brief 'What I've Been Reading' voxpops with local luminaries. These snippets aren't confined to books that have come out in 2010, as no one ever reads (or should read) exclusively from the new release table. This is definitely true of me. 

Quick tally: I will have read eight books published in 2010 by the end of December (currently reading The Hut Builder and Gifted is next), make that nine if you count the reissue of Sydney Bridge Upside Down. According to my monthly reading posts, I've read 53 books in 2010 (this excludes all the natural history books and lit mags I've read but haven't noted down), which means I read about 17% New Releases. I read 7 books that came out in 2009 (13% of total reading), so I'll surely tick off a few more of The Listener's latest list over the next twelve months (Freedom, I'm lookin' at you!).

Stay tuned for my 2010 Reading in Review extravaganza post. As you may expect, I will unleash my excel skills and supply more interesting statistics. I'll also the list my top ten books I've read this year (much as I did back in 2008). What happened to 2009? I ask myself that quite often.