One of my new year’s resolutions was to read an average of 2 books a week, and see an average of 1 new film a week. I’ve managed the books this month, but I haven’t seen any new films. I caught up on about 20 hours of Scandinavian detective shows and watched a lot of tv documentaries though, so it’s not like I didn’t see anything. I just have to see one more film each of the rest of the months this year.
I’ve been keeping track of the books via Good Reads. Here’s the list for this month:
1) Papier Maché- Peter Rush 4/5
Does what it says on the tin, a book about papier maché sculpture.
2) Adorkable- Sarra Manning 3/5
Over Christmas, I house-sat for my friend Kate while she was in New Zealand, and took the chance to read a fair chunk of her books (some are on last year’s list). Sarra Manning was a writer for Just 17, the magazine I used to read as a teenager (I wish someone with loads of late 90s back issues would do a tumblr of scans), and I have a soft spot for her books. You don’t go reading them for their fine literary qualities or subtle characterisation, they’re the equivalent of eating an entire bag of pic’n’mix.
3) Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States- Pete Jordan 5/5
Again, does what it says on the tin. One of Kate’s books, a travel zine compendium. Pete Jordan spent the 90s travelling round the US supporting himself by washing up. He found washing up to be an ideal casual job- you’re left to get on with it, so you can listen to music and daydream, and no-one else wants to do it, so as long as all the dishes are clean, the bosses are happy.
4) Best of Temp Slave- Jeff Kelly 4/5
Another zine compilation belonging to Kate, but with articles by different writers on the theme of temp work. The quality varied a bit, but the good ones were really good.
5) The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the World of Little House on the Prarie- Wendy McClure 5/5
Another of Kate’s books. The writer was a huge Little House on the Prarie fan when she was little, and always daydreamed about living in pioneer times. As an adult, she rediscovered her old books, and decided to go on a roadtrip to see all the real sites and the Laura Ingalls Wilder tourist industry that has sprung up. The whole book is really funny and insightful about childhood obsession and historical recreation. My favourite bit was probably when the writer and her boyfriend go to a weekend festival at a working historical farm, and everyone else there is from a doomsday cult, learning to churn butter for when the End Times come.
6) On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does- Simon Garfield 5/5
I’m fascinated by maps, so a well-written, interesting book about their history is always welcome (I’ve been disappointed by dry ones before). When I used to live in Brighton, I used to have one of the large Ordinance Survey maps of the area pinned up on the wall, so I could find my nearest folly or pub in a hurry.
7) Son- Lois Lowry 4/5
The final part of the Giver story, the training wheels dystopia. I really enjoyed the first part set in the dystopian world of the first book, but I was pretty meh about the second part.
8) Collapse- Jared Diamond 4/5
About the factors leading to the collapse of various civilisations such as the Anasazi, Easter Islanders, Greenland Norse and various different Pacific islands. Very interesting reading.
9) A Carribean Mystery- Agatha Christie 3/5
I’ve had a stinking cold the past few days, so a nice mindless Agatha Christie whodunnit is exactly what I wanted. She went a bit senile in the late 60s, and started writing her books by dictation, so there’s lots of vague wandering bits that break off into diatribes about how crap it is to have sciatica. When I was studying in Budapest, there was a bookshop near the college that had a load of Agatha Christie mysteries in English that I’d never heard of for about £3 each. I got some, and realised why I had never heard of them, they were all written in the 70s and were either crap, baffling or dull. The TV show of Poirot usually plays it straight when it comes to the well-known books, but for the adaptations of the 60s/70s ones they changed the setting to the 30s, and re-wrote the stories to actually make sense.
10) Nemesis- Agatha Christie 1/5
Agatha Christie’s books from the 20s-40s are racist and sexist in the standard automatic way of the time. She really didn’t seem to like the 60s though, and by the time of this book in 1971 she’d turned into a cranky old lady who hated young people. She has Miss Marple (gentle, pink knitting Miss Marple, who won’t let anyone get away with bad deeds!) saying that a character’s rape conviction isn’t very important because “girls are so ready to be raped these days” (!!!) and that a young male character (who had been shown as a pleasant young man with a Beatles hairdo so far) should be suspected of the murder, mainly because he’s young and a student, so that obviously makes him dangerous. It was a crap mystery that didn’t make much sense either. I should probably have picked two better ones to read, but I just picked them at random really.
11) Who I Am- Pete Townshend 2/5
The main thing I took away from this book is that Pete Townshend is a massive prick. Also, Who lyrics look terrible when you see them written down. The book is pretty blandly written, and doesn’t do anything to conjure up the atmospheres of the different historical periods or the personalities of the other people involved (the same problem I had with the Joe Boyd memoir), it’s just Pete Townshend making a constant stream of bad decisions and never seeming to learn from experience. Reading memoirs of musicians from the time reminds me of the uncomfortable historical gap between the sexual revolution and the emergence of women’s rights. It seems for most of the 60s fashionable women were still expected to be decorative and quiet, but also almost obliged to have sex with everyone, no matter what their personal wishes, like they were some kind of prize to be awarded. Maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but that’s the impression you get from a lot of the male writing of the time.