Who's reading what?

Was Albert Camus a better goalkeeper than George Orwell? Have your say here.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Mon Sep 16, 2013 10:44 pm

Antcliff wrote:
What do you think of Gascoyne?
Talking of madness. He was for a period..various breakdowns. I have not read enough of him as yet to have an opinion worth hearing.
PTS/shell-shock wasn't it? I read a Selected of him many years ago and remember being impressed with the later stuff, after his "comeback".
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Antcliff » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:27 pm

I don't know anthing about the origins of his breakdowns. I agree that the later ones seem better. I especially like two rather tied in with religious experience..."Concert of Angels" and "Rex Mundi"..although I think they were from the forties.

Seth
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:37 pm

Argh, I was thinking of Gavin Ewart re: the biographical details... just ignore me...
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David2 » Tue Sep 17, 2013 4:55 pm

k-j wrote:Good stuff, MacNeice is always good to come back to.
He is, and he's mostly new to me. We went to a wedding in Norn Iron recently, and on the way to a National Trust garden, as a sort of quid pro quo, I dragged us (slightly) out of our way to visit his grave.
k-j wrote:Somewhat related perhaps: I've been dipping into a book called "Cities of the Classical World" by Colin McEvedy.
I've seen that, picked it up and - eventually - put it back. It did look tempting.
k-j wrote:Wow, this I must read! And a reread of Lucretius while I'm at it!
A reread of Lucretius! Triple word score! Actually, I find the Greenblatt slightly pedestrian, and with too much filler about the background to the rediscovery of the book. I'd have liked more about how his physics stands up now - not at all badly, I would think. I went through the Oxford (paperback) Lucretius, which doesn't really take flight either, but Greenblatt quotes some of Dryden's translation - rhyming couplets! - which looks really good. I'm looking out for that.
k-j wrote:I was turned off this by the reviews when it came out... didn't sound like my thing. But I've been meaning to read "The Debt to Pleasure" for a while.
The D to P is waiting to be read. Capital is surprisingly soapy, but very likeable. His best stuff, though, is his economics / banking stuff in the LRB. Brilliant. You'd love that.
k-j wrote:Try [Saki] again sometime, that's a harsh assessment.
Yeah, I think I was seduced by my weakness for a soundbite.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Elphin » Tue Sep 17, 2013 9:36 pm

Always like to see what everyone else is reading. Recent likes for me

Boxer Beatle by Ned Beauman - a new young writer, written with verve and a couple of well written characters. Reminded me of Patrick McCabe

Quarantine by Jim Crace and now reading Arcadia.

Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - historical panaromic by David Mitchell

All worth a read

elph

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Sep 17, 2013 9:48 pm

Elphin wrote:Boxer Beatle by Ned Beauman - a new young writer, written with verve and a couple of well written characters. Reminded me of Patrick McCabe
That looks like fun. Pretty out-there, story-wise, isn't it? I think with new writers these days they have to come up with something outré to get noticed.
Quarantine by Jim Crace and now reading Arcadia.
I read Quarantine a few years back and liked it, not blown away though. I liked the fat guy, an Arab I think he was? Great character. Jesus was pretty cool too.
historical panaromic by David Mitchell
Aren't they all? I don't know, I haven't got around to Mitchell yet.

Thanks for the notes Elph, good to see you.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Sep 17, 2013 10:06 pm

Actually, I find the Greenblatt slightly pedestrian, and with too much filler about the background to the rediscovery of the book. I'd have liked more about how his physics stands up now - not at all badly, I would think. I went through the Oxford (paperback) Lucretius, which doesn't really take flight either, but Greenblatt quotes some of Dryden's translation - rhyming couplets! - which looks really good. I'm looking out for that.
I read the prose translation in the Loeb Classics bilingual edition, purely functional. Will definitely go with verse next time around. I bet Dryden is great. It is a lot of fun looking at his physics, although apart from the ideas about atoms I remember thinking how much of it hadn't worn well... What I really enjoyed was the moral side of the poem where he lays all (or many of) the ills of world at Religion's door. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum, the one bit I liked enough to commit to memory. And his argument for non-interventionist (as opposed to interventionist) gods.
The D to P is waiting to be read. Capital is surprisingly soapy, but very likeable. His best stuff, though, is his economics / banking stuff in the LRB. Brilliant. You'd love that.
Actually I do get the LRB (though it hasn't come in a while so maybe my sub expired) and I remember now reading at least one such piece. Yes, I agree, marvelous. I never connected the name with the novelist though! The LRB is like that, you'll be reading a piece on representations of the codpiece in Occitan ballads, or the Marxist Culinary Tradition, and nodding along - or more often, I find, growing increasingly exasperated - and then you check and it's by Salman Rushdie or Les Murray or someone...
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Antcliff » Wed Sep 18, 2013 7:09 pm

now reading Arcadia.
I'm taking this on holiday with me, Elph. If it is bad I'm blaming you.

seth
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Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Elphin » Wed Sep 18, 2013 9:17 pm

Hello Seth

I am on holiday too - a few pages left to read in Arcadia. I dont think you will be disappointed. Not a massively complex plot but great characters.

Have downloaded Lies of Locke Lamora as my next read and a couple of editions of northwards now.

A good mix I think

elph

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Thu Sep 19, 2013 9:17 am

Lies of Locke Lamora is excellent, Elph.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Travis » Fri Oct 11, 2013 10:07 am

Finished A Storm of Swords. It picked up.

A couple of hundred pages into A Fire Upon the Deep. It's quite the universe. Runs the gamut from medieval situations on a backwater planet to extragalactic, transcendent AI. It's one of the most expansive SF novels I've read, and it forces you to look at bigger and bigger pictures. The scale of technological advancement is massive, and we get to see one species after another look more and more like ants compared to the increasingly advanced beings introduced. Ultimately we get to what are essentially gods: artificial intelligences that exceed what mere biological species are capable of. And these gods eventually transcend themselves, exceeding what mere biological species can even dream of. Massive scope. And a lot of fun.

What else...

It's a "singularity" novel, if you're into knowing such things. The singularity being a theoretical point in our future (or anyone's future, if technological advancement plays out somewhat like our own across the board) where, once it arrives, further advancement can no longer be accurately predicted. Let that sink in for a second. A runaway train of technology, the emergence of AI, etc. Scary. Exhilarating. Anyway, in the novel's universe the singularity is basically a given for any technologically advanced species that makes it to a certain point, and things go from there. It's an interesting topic.

And there's a wonderfully imaginative take on the Fermi paradox--a question/problem that, if you really get into it, can make you lose sleep.

Wonderfully imaginative as well are the Tines, a canine-like species that achieves intelligence via a group mind. A "person" would consist of a pack of dogs basically. Each dog is essentially just an animal. But put a group together and you get an intelligent individual. It's very cool.
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Elphin » Tue Oct 15, 2013 9:39 pm

Well I have finished Locke Lamora - an entertaining read, reminded me of Neal Stephenson System of the World but set in a fantastical world.

The Gentlemen Bastards and their exploits were brilliant. Only quibble, without spoiling the plot, was the ending which felt a little bit expected.

Are the sequels worth a read? The reviews seem mixed.

elph

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Wed Oct 16, 2013 8:02 am

I'd say yes, elph - not quite as good as the first, but worth reading.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Elphin » Wed Oct 16, 2013 5:18 pm

I will put them on the list Ros, just started to read Patrick McCabe Winterwood. Loved Butcher Boy and breakfast on Pluto in the last but I missed this one for some reason.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David2 » Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:18 pm

Travis wrote:Finished A Storm of Swords. It picked up.
I tried the books but couldn't get into them. I am watching the TV version with the lad, though.
Travis wrote:A couple of hundred pages into A Fire Upon the Deep. It's quite the universe. Runs the gamut from medieval situations on a backwater planet to extragalactic, transcendent AI. It's one of the most expansive SF novels I've read, and it forces you to look at bigger and bigger pictures. The scale of technological advancement is massive, and we get to see one species after another look more and more like ants compared to the increasingly advanced beings introduced. Ultimately we get to what are essentially gods: artificial intelligences that exceed what mere biological species are capable of. And these gods eventually transcend themselves, exceeding what mere biological species can even dream of. Massive scope. And a lot of fun.
I'm seriously tempted by that. I think I recommended Embassytown, somewhere a bit further back on this thread. I'd definitely still recommend it. Sci-fi about language!

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Wed Oct 16, 2013 6:50 pm

David2 wrote: I think I recommended Embassytown, somewhere a bit further back on this thread. I'd definitely still recommend it. Sci-fi about language!
Interesting, David. I've read a couple of China's and found them good but the endings a bit disappointing.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by David2 » Fri Oct 18, 2013 5:16 pm

I don't remember being disappointed by the ending of Embassytown. but I do remember being bowled over by the start. Is that in effect the same thing?

I'm reading Railsea at the moment. Started it, and got a fair bit of the way through it, before realising it's actually supposed to be a "young adults' novel", but I'm really enjoying it.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Travis » Fri Oct 18, 2013 10:30 pm

[center]
David2 wrote: I think I recommended Embassytown, somewhere a bit further back on this thread. I'd definitely still recommend it. Sci-fi about language!
+

Embassytown exists on the very edge of the "Manchmal" (from the German for "sometimes"), which is suspected to be the third iteration of the known universe, and which, given its distance from everything else, is only accessible by sailing through the "Immer" (from the German for "always"), a permanent universe with differing concepts of time and space.

=

Cool.[/center]
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by bodkin » Fri Nov 01, 2013 11:54 pm

Ros wrote:
David2 wrote: I think I recommended Embassytown, somewhere a bit further back on this thread. I'd definitely still recommend it. Sci-fi about language!
Interesting, David. I've read a couple of China's and found them good but the endings a bit disappointing.

Ros
I just read Embassytown. I enjoyed it a lot, but I am not sure whether the deep linguistics would hold up to a second reading. But I probably will read it again, which is not something that applies to most of his books...

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Sat Nov 02, 2013 1:06 am

Ever get a sense of deja vu?
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Jan 28, 2014 9:13 pm

Read since last update:

War and Peace - overall, worth the time it takes. Some excellent characters, most of them very convincing by Russian standards. Tolstoy's theory of history is rather dreary though, and the high-handed exposition of it even more so. The second appendix might be the most tedious prose I've ever seen, and doubtless would have been even worse had I actually read the whole thing instead of skimming. But otherwise, some memorable scenes, especially the early battle scenes illustrating the utter confusion and randomness of warfare - almost as good in that respect as the scene from Waterloo early in "The Charterhouse of Parma". And the long sleighing scene made me want to drink vodka and roll naked in the snow while listening to the troika from Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije. So I did, but without the snow.

The Questionnaire by Jiri Grusa - superior magic-realist story of growing up before, during and after WWII in the present-day Czech Republic. Highly recommended if you like early Kundera, Gombrowicz, or even Bruno Schulz.

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder - George Gaylord Simpson - picked up at random from the library. Curious time travel tale written by a famous naturalist. About a man who accidentally sends himself back to the time of the dinosaurs with no way to return. He scrapes his story on rocks which are discovered 250 million years later. Sounds good but the structure and style really let it down.

Andrew's Brain - E.L. Doctorow. This was an advance reading copy - the novel has just come out - and I thought it was rubbish. Avoid.

Black Mischief - E. Waugh - funny but not Waugh's best.

Bull Fire - MacDonald Harris - continuing my chronological voyage through Harris's oeuvre. This is another splendid, unusual novel. It's a retelling of the story of Minos - well, of various tales associated with Minos and Crete - with the action transplanted to the present day, or just before, and the place an unspecified Med island. Here you can see perhaps for the first time in Harris the trademark sexual weirdness coming to the fore, but as usual there are exceptionally fine insights into human character and a good deal of humour too.

The Book of Matthew - Matthew Welton. Picked up this after reading one of his that had been plagiarised. Pretty great little collection. A few duds but not many; generally very entertaining. The long title poem will stick with me. It's 50-or-so very subtle variations on a theme. Reading it is a mesmerising experience.

The Man Who Carved Women from Wood - Max White. This is a real oddity. Set in a boarding house in '40's or '50's New Orleans, which a pungent cast of characters getting mixed up with each other in all kinds of interesting and funny ways, and an increasing but always oblique supernaturalism which is never explained. You should pick up a copy 2nd hand if you can. I found this via the Neglected Books blog.

Cold Hand in Mine: Eight Strange Stories - Robert Aickman. Of the eight, two or three were very good, one or two only average, and the rest inbetween. Aickman was a skilful craftsman of the creepy and weird. I liked "The Real Road to the Church", about a dark paganism (or worse) beaneath the surface on one of the Channel Islands, and "Meeting Mr Millar", about a very strange solicitor and his unlawyerlike employees, but the stand-out is "The Hospice", which was the story that turned me on to Aickman when I read it in an anthology. Genuinely Kafkaesque but also original.

Moby-Dick. The second and certainly not the last time.

Wittgenstein's Mistress - David Markson. I liked this more than I thought I would. It's the story of a woman who may be the only living thing left in the world, told in disconnected fragments which gradually knit together without ever quite resembling a familiar design. It's about language, and identity of course, but it's rather unputdownable.

Herodotus, tr. Macaulay. An old translation of Herodotus from Project Gutenberg. I loved it but found it very confusing without maps.

The Free-Lance Pallbearers - Ishmael Reed. Pretty good. Picaresque, stinigng satire of 1960's America and black culture. New York (and by extension America) is ruled by a kind of presidential slumlord who can't get off his throne, which is an actual toilet. Short and madcap.

Crusoe's Daughter - Jane Gardam. Not as good as "Old Filth" but another example of Gardam's genius for character development. For some reason she rushed the ending; the book could easily have been 40% longer.

Frankenstein - Shelley - I think I started this when I was a kid but don't think I finished it. It is wonderful, immensely rich in its message and themes and influence. I did however struggle to suspend my disbelief when the monster taught himself fluent French just by watching a family through a hole in a wall for six months.

The Good Soldier Švejk - Hašek. Been on my list for ages and finally I read it. A real original picaresque, nothing quite like it. Švejk is a character who'll enrich your life for ever. It goes on and on and it's unfinished but it's one of those books where the plot is just a framework; the plot is really irrelevant. The whole thing is a delivery mechanism for Švejk's voice and his endless stories, and the other indelible characters like the idiotic Lieutenant Dub. I'll read this again someday.

Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon. An anthology of sarship-related fiction and non-fiction. Some of it's good, some of it's crap. The crappiest of all is a poem about starships.

The Innocents Abroad - Twain. I'm a Twain fan, who isn't. But this goes on way too long. Twain's great at sending up the ignorant Americans abroad and suitably irreverent of the supposed glories of the old world, repeatedly savaging the Italians and the Turks (among others) for not having in two thousand years got their shit together sufficiently to provide American standards of sanitation, public education, etc etc. Fine. But he also makes no attempt to talk to any of the people of these countries - he's very much a tourist on a guided tour, who visits every single monument but never sets foot inside a private dwelling. Maybe it's just that this kind of tourist is looked down upon now, at least, and probably wrongly, by people like me. It's fine as far as it goes, but once you've read one sneering description of a squalid Mediterranean village, you've read them all.

The Watcher - Charles Maclean. Excellent psychological horror which starts with a gory bang and then simmers and gets gradually more intense and bewildering. If you like "is he mad or isn't he" stories you'll love this.

The Woodlanders - Hardy. Decent Hardy novel with great seasonal/nature writing and one or two striking set pieces - the maidens' ritual in the woods and the incident with the mantrap. But mostly, standard Hardy with thwarted lovers.

Martín Fierro - Hernandez. Read this in the original Spanish parallel with the English translation of Walter Owen. Must say I loved Owen's very loose, flowing translation and I enjoyed the Spanish equally, although it's tough being 140-ish years old and full of Gaucho slang. Useful book for anyone visiting or working with Argies.

Rare Earth - Ward/Brownlee. Why intelligent life is rare in the universe. The argument is that bacteria should be common but not anything more complicated. The authors draw from many interesting fields to support their thesis but it was written 10 years ago and they just didn't realise how commonplace planets, and indeed earthlike ones, (probably) are. Some of their reasons seem solid to me, others more tenuous, but even looking at the worst case, I don't think you can conclude that it's "rare". Of course we'll probably never be able to contact it...

Pan - Knut Hamsun. Strange and rather compelling short novel about a loner who goes a bit barmy living in the woods in Northern Norway, meets girl, loses girl, and eventually, well I'd better not spoil it. Third novel I've read by Hamsun; I really like his style.

The Flame Alphabet - Ben Marcus. I loved his 1995 "The Age of Wire and String" which is my favourite experimental novel. But this I thought would have been better as a short story. It's an excellent idea - the voices of children, and eventually all language, become toxic and deadly to adults - but Marcus seems locked in a narrative voice that really needs variation, or maybe it's a change of perspective that's required. This is still a good novel, but it does feel sort of monotonous - maybe that's the idea. But a dystopia ought to be more tangible than this.

Eugene Onegin, tr. Spalding. Early, free Gutenberg translation. Not great. Any recommendations for a better one?

Franny and Zooey - Salinger. I liked Franny better than Zooey, both story and character. Actually a little disappointed with this.

Bleak House - best Dickens of the four I've read so far, but still find it hard to stay calm in the face of the constant outrageous coincidences which drive the plot. But at least here Dickens lives up to his reputation for character. The hulking, skulking Tulkinghorn is a brilliant, and ambiguous, villain, the star of the show, but I also loved the detective Bucket and the oleaginous preacher Chadband. There are still a few uninteresting cardboard cut-outs, the fine fellow Dr. Woodcourt and the dreadful Ada for example, a insipidly worthy heir to Copperfield's Dora, but then on the other hand you have lots of truly marvelous urban writing, lashings of rain and smog and disease everywhere. Maybe "Our Mutual Friend" next? Want to try another post-Copperfield anyway.

In Youth is Pleasure - Denton Welch. This is an exquisite short novel about an adolescent boy's experiences one summer holiday, around the 1930's I assume. Hard to describe why I liked it so much. The writing is beautifully-weighted, the putting-together of the whole thing just seems effortless. Quite moving too, and suprisingly optimistic. Will definitely seek out more by Welch.

The Road Through the Wall - Shirley Jackson. Jackson's first novel, not supernatural like her later writings but just as dark. Arguable more so, depending on how inherently dark you find suburban existence to be.

The Name of the World - Denis Johnson. Picked up at random in the library. OK novella about an academic coming to terms with the loss of his wife and child. Some nice touches but a bit lacking in ambition.

The Landmark Herodotus - my wife could see me struggling with the Gutenberg Herodotus so she got me this incredible volume. Every house should have one! Everything is mapped and annotated and the translation is thing of unassuming beauty. There's so much to love about Herodotus but you need to be part of his world to see it all, and this book immerses you in that world. Some fantastic appendices too, a kick-ass index... it's got the lot. And H's curious, opinionated but mostly equitable and easy-going voice just booms out. So I read "The Histories" twice in three months.

Men and Cartoons - Jonathan Lethem. The first two or three stories I really liked but then they tailed off. I think Lethem's a good writer who likes to try new things, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Still worth reading.

Yukiko - MacDonald Harris. Sort of a meditative action story, if that makes any sense. It's just so hard to describe Harris, except to say that he ought to be up there with the great novelists of the second half of the twentieth century.

Beasts, Men and Gods - Ferdinand Ossendowski. A fast-paced account, which you suspect is richly embellished, of the author's journey into exile from red Russia in 1921, south into Mongolia, trying to get to the Pacific. There are life and death scrapes aplenty as he dodges and fights off Bolsheviks, Mongols, Chinese and assorted rogues and bandits of every stripe, crosses many a frozen river, eats raw meat for days on end... and there are many fascinating scenes of life in the vast plains and valleys of central Asia. There's also a large dose of mysticism, and magic which Ossendowski seems to suggest may have something to it in spite of all the rational explanations he offers. At the end he tells us the secrets he learned from the living Buddha and the story of the King of the World who dwells underground with a nation of 800 million, awaiting the day of judgment when he will return above ground to spread peace and harmony.

The World According to Garp - Read this in 24 hours of travel. Not a Great novel with a capital G, but I reckon a great one with a small g. Genuinely moving, at times, often made me laugh out loud and once or twice I nearly shed a tear. I thought it dragged on a bit at the end. I probably won't read it again, I think I've got out of it what there is to get, which is why it won't be a 9 or a 10 out of 10 for me, but it's a clear 8.

Currently reading "The Portrait of a Lady", about 1/3 through. And still, increasingly sporadically, £...
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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Nash » Tue Jan 28, 2014 9:49 pm

Man, that's a lot of books!

Good to see someone else reading Aickman. For me, he's the master of the genre. Another author referenced Aickman in an interview I read a while back, he likened writing a short story to a sleight of hand trick, making a coin appear and disappear - he said that when you come to the end of an Aickman story you're not even sure there even was a coin to start with.

I really enjoyed Knut Hamsun's Mysteries last year. Must read more of his.

Reading The World According to Garp at the moment, 50 or so pages to go. Cleverly written (Irving's a much better writer than Garp!) but gets a bit soapy in places, I thought.

Next on the pile is James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Really looking forward to that.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Ros » Tue Jan 28, 2014 9:53 pm

Goodness me. What period does this list cover?

I read Rare Earth - Ward/Brownlee, and agree that they emphasise the 'rare' far too much. And dated now, as you say, I'm sure.

Bleak House I have, and keep intending to read, when I've finished other things...


Men and Cartoons - Jonathan Lethem. I thought Motherless Brooklyn was a quite remarkable book. Haven't worked out which of his others to try yet - it seems they vary.

Finished Embassytown, by China Mieville, over Christmas and enjoyed it a lot.

Presently reading Alfred the Great by Justin Pollard - very interesting read. Going backwards - previously read The Norman Conquest, Marc Morris, also extremely readable.

You're all terribly literary.

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Re: Who's reading what?

Post by k-j » Tue Jan 28, 2014 10:28 pm

Nash - yes, Aickman was talented. The other thing I read by him was his short novel "The Model" which was also good. I'm not going to rush out and buy everything he wrote - some of it's pretty rare/expensive actually - but he's someone I'll always check for in libraries and 2nd hand shops.

Mysteries was the first Hamsun I read, years ago. "Hunger" and "Pan" are both similar in style but shorter and more intense, especially "Hunger". He was a Nazi, you know. Oh well.

Re: Garp. I thought "The Pension Grillparzer" was really great and I could see the appeal of "The World According to Bensenhaver" although I also agree with its critics. "Vigilance" was a lame duck though.

Justified Sinner is as great as everyone says, you'll love it. Must read that again one day.

Ros,

Ha ha. I started War and Peace late last August, so about five months. Motherless Brooklyn eh? I confess the title sort of puts me off, but I'll make it the next Lethem I read, and my first novel by him.

Reading "Rare Earth" I did sometimes get the feeling that they were setting up a creationist argument, or at least trying to nudge me in that direction. Probably just my [s]paranoia[/s]imagination.

China Mieville I've been meaning to read for ages... I've only read one short story and thought it was so-so. Where do I start with him, Perdido Street Station is what most people recommend?
fine words butter no parsnips

Nash

Re: Who's reading what?

Post by Nash » Wed Jan 29, 2014 12:37 am

k-j wrote:but the stand-out is "The Hospice", which was the story that turned me on to Aickman when I read it in an anthology.
I agree about The Hospice being the best one in CHIM, k-j. Just wondering if you remember which anthology it was in. I know Aickman used to edit the ghost story anthologies for Fontana back in the '60s and '70s, was it one of those?

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