Books, Books and yet more Books

When I started this blog I thought I’d write about the books I’d read as a reminder. So often, I’ve stood in a bookshop or library looking at books and thinking, ‘have I read that book, or have I got it already -it looks very familiar’? Sometimes, I’ve borrowed (or even bought) a book and got it home only to find another unread copy sitting in a pile, or on a shelf, or even worse find out I’ve already read it. So I also keep a notebook where I write titles of books I’d like to read and a note of where I heard about the book. But it’s not foolproof.

Today, I went to the library and saw Author, Author by David Lodge on the books for sale trolley. That’s a book I know someone on one of the blogs I read wrote about some time ago and I thought sounded worth reading. I remember looking for a copy, but I’m sorry whoever you were I didn’t write it down in my notebook. Anyway, I bought it for the grand sum of 10p – a bargain, indeed and thank you fellow blogger, it promises to be an interesting novel. It’s set in London in the 1880s and is a fictionalised story of Henry James. In the preface David Lodge writes:

Nearly everything in this story is based on factual sources. With one insignificant exception, all the named characters were real people. Quotations from their books, plays, articles, letters, journals, etc., are their own words. But I have used a novelist’s licence in representing what they thought, felt and said to each other; and I have imagined some events and personal details which history omitted to record. So this book is a novel, and structured like a novel.

I know what to expect and I think some biographers could benefit from making such a statement, as sometimes I’ve read in a supposedly factual accounts phrases like ‘must have thought’ ‘possibly’, and ‘would have’, making sweeping assumptions about a person’s state of mind, or knowledge.

I also intended to write about each book I read, if not in detail at least a short note on what I thought about it. In December I read a number of books very quickly in the run up to Christmas and New Year and never made any notes as I read. Now when I look back I realise I can not actually write very much about them without re-reading them and much as I enjoyed reading them the first time it’s too soon for re-reads and two of them are library books that have to go back soon (I can’t keep on renewing them).

So, here are the books I read in December that I’ve not written about:

Four Stories by Alan Bennett

I do like Alan Bennett’s books. I can hear him speak as I read. These are long short stories, which I think I prefer to the really short short stories. In the first story The Laying on of Hands, about the funeral service of Clive, a masseur to the famous, the congregation is made up of numerous celebrities and others who had known Clive. The service didn’t go as Father Jolliffe had planned, although he hadn’t decided what exactly he was going say about Clive, until he started to speak. Then he found himself throwing it open to the floor and the true circumstances of Clive’s death emerged.

My favourite story is The Lady in the Van, the true story of Miss Shepherd who lived in her van in Alan Bennett’s front garden. A sympathetic and amusing account of an eccentric old lady.

Solstice by Joyce Carol Oates

I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of the other books by Joyce Carol Oates that I’ve read. I think it’s because I didn’t really like either of the two main characters and got rather irritated by them. It’s beautifully written, so I did finish it. It’s about Monica who arrives to teach at a boys’ school in Pennsylvania after the break-up of her marriage and Sheila, an artist who is rather a recluse, eccentric, and unpredictable. Sheila just breezes into Monica’s life, with disastrous effect.

My Cleaner by Maggie Gee

Again, I didn’t get on with the two main characters in this book, but this didn’t prevent me from enjoying this book. Vanessa, white, middle-class and totally self-absorbed asks Mary, black, and equally selfish, to return from Uganda to help look after Justin, Vanessa’s 22 year old son. Mary had worked as Vanessa’s cleaner 10 years earlier, but their relationship has changed and the balance of power between the two women shifts as the story reaches its climax. This is the first book by Maggie Gee that I’ve read and I would like to read more.

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

I’ll write about this in more detail. For now I’ll just say that this is one of the best books I’ve read recently. I always like books about Arthur and Merlin and this more than lived up to my expectations. Thanks Table Talk for introducing me to this book. It has most of the things I look for – believable characters, a riveting plot and well written.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam

This was a good find from the library. It’s funny, warm and tells the story of a retired QC. I became very fond of him. I think I will re-read this before returning it to the library and write about it properly.

7 thoughts on “Books, Books and yet more Books

  1. I really like Jane Gardam and think she should be better known than she is. I loved The Flight of the Maidens by her, and Bilgewater.


  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Reeve. It’s very different from anything he’s written before, so when I picked it up I wasn’t certain whether it would work, but now I’m hoping he’s going to go further in this style because ‘Arthur’ is so good. It’s nominated for the Carnegie and I really hope it makes the short-list.Jane Gardam is one of those writer’s I just have to read as soon as she has a new book out. Have you read ‘Queen of the Tambourines”? Absolutely stunning.


  3. Thanks Litlove and Table Talk for details of more books by Jane Gardam. I agree she should be better known – it was quite by chance I picked up The Sidmouth Letters by her and then went to see if the library had any more of hers.I haven’t read any of the titles you have both mentioned. I must look out for them.I hadn’t read anything by Reeve before, but going off your review Table Talk I expected it to be good and it is!


  4. Nice blog about books. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t read any of the books you’ve reviewed. If I have the resources, I will go looking for them.Thanks for writing.


  5. I always wonder when I am reading a book and not liking a character–can I call this book a success (at least for me)? I suppose so, though, as I think often an author intentionally makes characters unlikable. Banville’s The Sea always comes to mind–I loved aspects of the book and the writing was lovely, but I really disliked the main character. I really need to read Jane Gardam, too. I’ve heard very good things about her!


  6. I almost bought a copy of Old Filth, and I kind of wish I had! It sounds interesting, and I’ve heard so many good things about it. Some day!


  7. I also keep lists. One of what I read and one for books that sound interesting and where I heard about them. Many of these come from blogs. When I page through this list, I’ll notice some titles I’ve written down multiple times. Then I know I’ve got to just read that book and stop reading about it!


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