Not as sad as Dostoyevsky, not as clev­er as Mark Twain

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(not terrif­ic, but it’s compet­ent, I hope ..)

1. The Closed Circle- Jonath­an Coe
2. Dibs in Search of Self- Virgin­ia Axline
3. Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case- Agatha Christie
4. 99 Ways to Tell a Story- Matt Madden
5. Fragile Things- Neil Gaiman
6. Lost Worlds: What Have We Lost and Where Did it Go?- Michael Bywa­ter
7. Exer­cises in Style- Raymond Queneau trans. Barbara
8. The Atom Station- Halldór Laxness trans. Magnus Magnus­son
9. Sweets: the History of Tempta­tion- Tim Richard­son
10. Alias Grace- Margaret Atwood
11. Notes from Under­ground- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
12. Seeing Things- Oliv­er Post­g­ate
13. Letters from a Lost Uncle- Mervyn Peake
14. Queuing for Begin­ners- Joe Moran

Alias Grace- Margaret Atwood
This one’s based on the true story of Grace Marks, a maid in Canada who was convicted of help­ing to murder her employ­er in the 1840s, and spent 30 years in pris­ons and asylums before being pardoned. It’s told from both Grace’s point of view, and from that of a young doctor who’s fascin­ated by her case. I partic­u­larly like books where you see the same events from differ­ent character’s perspect­ives, and I’ve always liked Margaret Atwood’s refus­al to give simple trite answers, or simpli­fy people’s motiv­a­tions in the name of having a neatly tied up plot. I’ve enjoyed every book of hers that I’ve read, and this was no differ­ent.

I certainly never learnt anything about Cana­dian history at school. Plenty about the UK, US, Germany and Russia, but never a word about Canada. I think pretty much anything I know about the history of Canada either comes from Margaret Atwood books or Hark! a Vagrant (both recom­men­ded)

Notes from Under­ground- Dostoyevsky
I’ve been on a Dostoyevsky kick recently. He’s a cynic­al old bastard, but he makes me smile. I read this a few years ago as Notes from the Under­ground (they don’t use articles like the or a in Russi­an, so you can trans­late it either way). It’s strange how chan­ging one word in the English trans­la­tion can give it differ­ent over­tones. The Under­ground brings up ideas of living in some kind of defined subcul­ture, but plain old Under­ground sounds like being buried. I think I’d go without the the, person­ally. Anyway, what happens is that a self-described loser has a rant and takes the piss out of utopi­an visions of Russia’s future (take note Lenin), and then tells the story of how he humi­li­ated himself in front of assor­ted school friends and a pros­ti­tute. Read more Russi­an stuff, you. (This is not the book for people who find tv shows like the Office or Curb Your Enthu­si­asm horribly pain­ful.)

Some quotes:
“A lazy man! – that is a name, a call­ing, it’s posit­ively a career!”
“Well, in short, the Golden Age will come again. Of course it is quite impossible to guar­an­tee that it won’t be terribly boring then (because what can one do if eveyth­ing has been plot­ted out and tabu­lated?) but on the other hand everything will be emin­ently sens­ible. Of course bore­dom leads to every kind of ingenu­ity. After all, it is out of bore­dom that pins get stuck into people.”
“Ah, gentle­men, what will have become of our wills when everything is graphs and arith­mat­ic, and noth­ing is valid but two and two make four?”

Letters from a Lost Uncle- Mervyn Peake
The Gormenghast books are some of my favour­ites. I got the dvd set for my birth­day last month, but I haven’t got round to watch­ing it yet (in for a treat there). I wish Mervyn Peake had left the third book out though, it’s rubbish and you can tell that he was strug­gling with demen­tia while writ­ing it. My copy of Alice has Mervyn Peake illus­tra­tions too, which certainly add some­thing, as you can imagine. This is the story of an intrep­id arctic explorer uncle dying in the frozen polar wastes, send­ing his unnamed neph­ew letters of his exploits with his tortoise-headed sidekick. The book’s all pencil draw­ings over­laid with type­writer text on yellow­ing paper and fake blood­stains on occa­sion­al pages. I’ll scan some pages when I have time, they’re special.

Queuing for Begin­ners- Joe Moran
I love pop soci­ology books and useless trivia. This one’s about how the unthought about minutae of daily life in modern Britain came to be, like why queue in a certain way, why have your office set out just so. It starts with break­fast, and contin­ues through a bog-stand­ard office day. Inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive.

I’m going to write about the Oliv­er Post­g­ate book anoth­er time.

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