Resolutions are bit of a non starter for me. Just after the excess of Xmas they always seem a little bit sub denomination Protestant rather than High Anglican; always a little bit more subdued and serious Brethren than bells and smells. For more thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions see Phil Kirby at Leeds Culture Vultures blog.
Since Xmas day I’ve read about 6 books. I say ‘about’ because I’ve dipped into others like the excellent Information is Beautiful by David McCandless and have abandoned one after 130 pages or so. What I’ve realised more clearly than ever is the preponderance of White, established authors I read and in 2014 I’m going to get away from this and see the world through other eyes. If this sounds austere, like “refrain, restrain and abstain” it’s not meant to be. I’m not cutting out, I’m adding. Bread is being replaced with cake.
Xmas Day evening and into Boxing Day, for various reasons, I pulled an allnighter and finished Robert Harris, An Officer and a Spy. It’s his usual impeccable work. The level of research is eye popping but he never makes the reader obviously aware of it. He knows the plot and the people are the important acts and the facts are the support.
From there I segued into Charles McCarry, Shanghai Factor, bought because he supposedly rivals John le Carre (never trust a book by its cover but always doubt the blurb). And I say segued because the Dreyfuss Affair, the story of a wrongly accused Jewish captain in the 1890s French army, is central to both Harris and McCarry. Shanghai Factor didn’t have much in common with le Carre other than it was spy fiction set in a post Cold War world. It was enjoyable but something about the prose and the scale of the ideas left me wondering about the comparison, however, the lovely coincidence of reading it straight after the Harris means I have a soft spot for it.
Next up, A Delicate Truth by John le Carre is typically brutally honest (and incomparable). There is something about his disconnected, multi cultural characters that I love. They aren’t anti heroes, they are little people who aren’t heroes. They get caught up in events and swim out of their depth and often drown.
Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea won a Nobel Prize for Literature. And it’s a short story. The story of a fisherman and his struggles to survive, his perceived bad luck, his comparison of himself with sporting heroes and the compassion of ‘the Boy’ is uncompromising too. Hemingway’s prose style is part of this, but also because the Fisherman lives so close to the ragged edge of hunger and dismay. The Fisherman doesn’t drown. His self doubt nags at him to stay alive.
Richard Brautigan is a Beat writer and Sombrero Fallout is a convoluted surreal story about a writer, the writing process, lost love and neuroses. Self doubt, little people, worth and underwhelming bravery in the face of terrifying odds seems to be a bit of a theme here!
As of today, I’m onto another le Carre, The Mission Song, as an antidote to the dreadful Shelley’s Heart also by Charles McCarry which is the one I had to bail out of after 130 pages. That was convoluted for the wrong reasons and too self conscious of all the research into the north American political process by the author. Salvo is perhaps le Carre’s most inbetween worlds character yet; Irish Congolese by way of Catholicism, and the Old Boy network of English self interest by way of Colonialism is about to stiff him. But I’m only a small way in.
And then something happened.
I read this post by Jeffrey Ricker via Thabo Morphiring on twitter: What I’ll be reading this year: fewer straight white guys
Even though my reading list so far in 2014 has themes of disconnection, mixed race, multiculturalism, global events, and anti establishment sentiments, all the writers are pretty much straight White establishment figures. I’ll finish this le Carre and then have a go at something else starting with some Walter Mosely.
Then, as Salvo in The Mission Song says (this time in Norwegian rather than one of the many African languages he has): ‘Fram’: onwards.
What’s on your reading list for 2014? Any recommendations for me please?