I went down to some disused train tracks this afternoon to have my photo taken with the choir I’ve been singing with for the past few weeks. We must have looked a bit odd, wandering along beside the road with our orange silk scarves blowing in the breeze. I watched the photographer’s equipment with some envy, but reflected that herding a group of people with wildly differing heights into a nicely balanced shot was probably not the most relaxing way to spend your Sunday afternoon.

I drove home listening to The Inimitable Jeeves, which I have read before but, like many others, I never tire of PG Wodehouse.  I was choked with laughter (while concentrating fiercely on the road, of course) at the point where Bingo directs a children’s Christmas pageant in an effort to win the heart of his latest hopeless love, which naturally goes disastrously wrong:

I take it you know that Orange number at the Palace? It goes:

Oh, won’t you something something oranges
My something oranges,
My something oranges,
Oh, won’t you something something something I forget,
Something something something I tumty tumty yet:

Or words to that effect. It’s a dashed clever lyric, and the tune’s good, too; but the thing that made the number was the business where the girls take the oranges out of their baskets, you know, and toss them lightly to the audience. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but it always seems to tickle an audience to bits when they get things thrown at them from the stage…

But at the Palace, of course, the oranges are made of yellow wool, and the girls don’t so much chuck them as drop them limply into the first and second rows. I began to gather that the business was going to be treated rather differently tonight when a dashed great chunk of pips and mildew sailed past my ear and burst on the wall behind me. Another landed with a squelch on the neck of one of the Nibs in the third row. And then a third took me right on the tip of the nose and I kind of lost interest in the proceedings for a while.

When I had scrubbed my face and got my eye to stop watering for a moment, I saw the evening’s entertainment had begun to resemble one of Belfast’s livelier nights. The air was thick with shrieks and fruit.

The last words

I am reaching the last few discs of Possession, which is a sad realisation. I don’t want this story to end.

I read in the same way that Randolph does – he writes in a letter to Christabel:

“I cannot bear not to know the end of a tale. I will read the most trivial things – once commenced – only out of a feverish greed to be able to swallow the ending – sweet or sour – and to be done with what I need never have embarked on. Are you in my case? Or are you a more discriminating reader? Do you lay aside the unprofitable?”

Watching, reading

I am watching The Incredible Hulk, without a great deal of attention – partly because it’s not a very good movie, and partly because I much preferred Eric Bana as Hulk. I know most people thought that movie was far too long and faux-arty, but I liked it. I like the origin story more than Bruce and Betty (what names) dashing around the countryside trying to escape the military, who at present appear to be staging a war on what I think is a university campus. Very inconspicuous, guys.

After deciding that AS Byatt’s Possession was too long and too filled with poetry for me to ever read properly (I can be a scatty reader at times), I am now listening to it and enjoying it tremendously. (Although I must confess that every time there’s an entire chapter of epic poetry I have been flicking through them.) It is the perfect book to listen to – filled with rich language, letters, poems and diary entries – I am so fond of epistolary novels. And I am enthralled – do we ever find out the whole story of RH Ash and Christabel LaMotte? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. I am a fair way through now – disc 12 of 19 – and listening to Christabel’s French cousin writing in her first journal, about how much she wishes to be a writer, and perhaps a poet like dear Christabel.

On the bedside table

The pile that’s living beside the bed this week, consisting of two excellent non-fiction book (on how our brains interpret music, which is complicated, and how our brains work while reading, which is utterly fascinating); one trashy fantasy which I’ve stopped reading (Red Gloves, the name of the main character and a clue as to why I’ve stopped reading – I hate fantasy novels in which characters are named by physical characteristics. It’s very hard to pull off convincingly); one 50s novel and a Nick Hornby, neither of which I’ve started. I was feeling guilty that two perfectly good novels were waiting for me to get tired of Red Gloves striding around the landscape and being told she’s the Chosen one. (Yes. Chosen. With a capital C.)

The Week in Books

dead1hold tightgood news

This week’s books were a mixed bag.  I finished the excellent When Will There Be Good News, a Christmas present, polished off a mediocre audio book, From Dead to Worse, and had a couple of books from the library –  the terrible Hold Tight, and the decent Origin in Death.

Hold Tight is the first Harlan Coben I’ve read, and I definitely won’t be heading back for more – terribly wooden writing and similarly inanimate characters.  The paragraph below is how Coben handles the dramatic “reveal” moment towards the end of the book – Hester is a lawyer, LeCrue and Duncan are cops.

“The room pretty much exploded then. There were tears, of course. Hugs. Apologies. Wounds were ripped open and closed. Hester worked it. She grabbed LeCrue and Duncan. They all saw what happened here. No one wanted to prosecute the Bayes.”

Wounds ripped open and closed?  What the hell?

When I moved onto JD Robb’s Origin in Death, which I’d previously thought of as crack in the form of a book, I was a little surprised to realise that Robb was a far superior writer to Coben – crisp writing and vivid characters, and this book also features clones.  I love clones.  Robb’s books may be crack, but they’re healthy well-balanced crack.

From Dead To Worse hardly bears mentioning – it’s the eighth (and at this point in time, the last) book in a series that I can’t stop myself reading, and am mostly reading in any case because of the fantastic TV series based on the books, True Blood.

I love Kate Atkinson’s books – When Will There Be Good News is the third of her books featuring Jackson Brodie, private detective, and as usual features several connected storylines which gradually draw together over the course of the book.

Coolest book link of the week?   The Guardian’s series of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read, selected in themes over seven days (love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel).  Some great selections and I’ve got a couple of books out of the library based on the recommendations – Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

Book Round-Up for 2008

In 2007, I read 173 books. I was aiming, in a vague sort of way, for a total of 200 books in 2008 (just for the pleasure of the round number). However, I didn’t quite make it – instead I read 183 books in 2008, including audio books.

Best Nostalgic Journey

I start re-reading the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer, a mammoth series of books that runs to about 60 volumes. I began with The School at the Chalet, and got to book 26, Carola Storms the Chalet School, only skipping a few rare volumes I couldn’t get hold off. My enthusiasm for the books has waned the further I go on in the series, particularly as new characters are introduced who are exact echoes of the first characters. I rather prefer the first characters to those who come after, but alas, they all grow up, get married, and usually vanish from the storyline.

Best Book with a Mission

Scarlett Thomas’ PopCo might be a book with a message, and a wee bit moralistic for my taste, but it’s also a fantastic story about cryptography, marketing and ethics for the modern age. I enjoyed it so much it led me on to No Logo, Naomi Klein’s book about globalisation and marketing and the rise of sweatshop labour.

Worst Book

I read several dreadful fantasy novels, but the hands-down worst novel I read in 2008 has to be Breaking Dawn, the final book in Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series. One of the worst cases ever of an author inserting her religious and personal moral message into a fantasy book, of all things. I mean, who decides to use a book about vampires to create their perfect Morman marriage? The plot development and characters are also laughable. Any book that makes you visibly cringe while reading goes on the Worst Book of the Year list.

Best New Author

There were a few new discoveries, including Ellis Peters and his Brother Cadfael novels, Patricia Briggs’ novels about werewolves, and Patrick Rothfuss’ debut novel The Name of the Wind (which I loved despite its use of fantasy cliches). Oh, and Tana French’s debut, In the Woods, a brilliant mystery.

Most Long Awaited

The Stone Key, of course, the penultimate book in practically the longest running series of all time, Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. I was terrified Isobelle might die or something before finally writing an ending to this very convoluted tale – and although it’s not the most brilliantly written book, I loved it all the same.

Best Guilty Pleasure

Hands down, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, which I picked up after getting hooked on True Blood, the recent TV series based on the books. They’re pretty trashy and Charlaine needs a better editor, but I love ’em. I’m reading through the series way too quickly.

Best Audio Book

I really enjoyed The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a creepy mystery written in the 1860s that went for about 20 CDs. It’s the perfect sort of book to listen to though – you can let the language roll over you, and the narrator of the version I listened to did a great job, particularly with soft voiced Count Fosco.

And for next year? I’m going to continue plunging on through the volumes of Chalet School books, as I’ve had a few months off and I feel ready to venture back in. My mother introduced me to JD Robb at Christmas (Nora Roberts’ futuristic-thriller persona), so I think I might be reading a few of her books, and I’ve got several non-fiction books about brain function on hold at the library, just for fun.