Tuesday, January 03, 2006

 
GF6 600 - 07 Hail haloedI know what I haven't done in a while: books.

Which also cunningly ties in with the traditional stuck-for-ideas meme of "what I got for Christmas", as I'm currently reading Niall Ferguson's Colossus. I am aware that this book is a little bit dated, hence pointing out that only 91 Americans died in the latest Iraq war (a figure which is still true, as the current situation isn't war. It isn't exactly peace either, but that's getting off the point). But so far it's been quite interesting, and presenting an all too agreeable viewpoint. That and illustrating some of the finer points of the French president's character and those of the French government.

So fairly good so far, but I've literally just turned the page to see "Fall" written in big letters, so I'm not halfway through it yet (and it does have the rather annoying tendency to be one of those books one has to be awake to read, so reading replaces other activities rather than simply being tacked on to the end).

So why is this book linked to Christmas? Because my brother bought it fairly soon after it came out, but it has stayed unread until just before Christmas. It magically appeared in his bathroom, so I naturally enough started reading it, getting so engrossed that I took it out of the bathroom with me (thereby showing my altruistic kindness and generosity in preserving my brother's property by removing it from a dangerously humid room).

By the time my brother noticed I was already past his bookmark, so it's only fair that I continue reading it as I've less of it left, so I'll finish it quicker (this argument gets a lot of use in our family. The assumption that further ahead means finishing quicker seems logical but may not actually be true, but as reading cannot occur consecutively it remains rather hard to test. So the belief creates the rule which governs all books. Of course there are certain parents who will remain nameless who wilfully [or possibly just absent-mindedly] happen to borrow half-read books, carry them off to some mystical land and thereby lose them. The books either have to be recovered within six hours (and read sufficiently to make any claim obvious), rediscovered six years later or abandoned to the hope of exhumation 6 generations later). As he'd spent months reading the same thing he'd taken on holiday in September, he can't really claim he'll be quicker (said he happening to overlook the two my brother batted through the hefty thing and Colossus). Anyway, it took him four days to notice it had gone (or possibly four days to discover it wasn't his flatmate who borrowed it).

As I had taken such an avid interest in the work of Niall Ferguson, by brother gave me a copy of Empire. I didn't know he did hints.

He also gave be a copy of the latest Franz Ferdinand CD (presumably he gave himself the other one, both of us habitually waiting for the low prices that never come. I broke with tradition this year and didn't get him a CD (I didn't even get him Lego, which for years was the standard can't-think-of-anything gift)). I'm now trying to find the hint in the CD. I do hope it's not to get myself assassinated and anyway, surely he can't want his book back that badly?

I haven't read Empire yet, as I'm still midway through the sequel, although Empire probably dates less readily than Colossus.

Other recent reads include:
- Part of Mrs Dalloway. Read partly on computer screen from this text, then I got bored with that and printed it out (it's only 90 pages, said he using the department's paper and ink), although I haven't got much further with it in solid form.

I started reading it because the Guardian had a photography competition [now closed, appears to be annual] to do the cover of one of four books. I can't remember what the others were, but Mrs Dalloway was the one I hadn't read. Of course, all this occurred between the incapacitation and actual breaking of my camera lens (still haven't sorted it out).

Having checked the site, by "the one I hadn't read" I mean "one I hadn't read", as I haven't read any of the others, but I've heard of one of them and the author of another.

So another book I haven't finished yet. Not quite sure I understand yet though.

- Tender is the night, F. Scott Fitzgerald. It took me months to read it, which is not a good sign considering it's not all that long. A confused book. The author apparently rewrote it because he didn't think people understood it enough. In so doing he removed the central idea of the book, which is to show the varying sanity of the characters against a fragmented and jumbled timescale. So instead the book is chronologically accurate, plotting the slow shifts that occur between the characters. Which means it runs too slowly. I ended up not particularly caring what happened to them, as despite occasional good lines, cunning scenes or wryly amusing episodes [which I got the impression were crowbarred in from previous work. The blurb accompanying the book confirms the long running retention and recycling processes], the thing was about as interesting as listening to someone else's uncle detail his tax arrangements.

The whole wasn't added by the premise that the book was a psychological novel. This means the whole point of the plot was not the discovery of some overwhelming love, the capture of a malicious murderer or the slaughter of a bloated fish, but instead the entire plot hinged around the attitudes of people and whether or not they might change (spoiler: they do, glacially).

Bung in some dull, weak and generally highly derivative minor players (sober analytical German with narrow-minded sour-faced wife for example, or Barban the near barbarian, or Rex Campion, who one suspects was only saved from being called Regina Campion but virtue of the fact that some of the lesser readers might think he was a woman. We can understand that the character is camp. We don't need reverse engineered nominative determinism to hammer it home. That's on a par with calling the baddy Doctor Evil) and one starts needing hazchem labels for the thing. And why are there warnings for chemicals which are irritants, but none for the soporific?

There are good bits in it, but without the artifice of the jumping narrative (axed, by the way, because it was belatedly thought too modern), the book feels as lifeless as most lives are. It didn't help the characters supposedly inhabited the leisure class, and so had remarkably little to actually do (and so the book was about people doing remarkably little).

Which is all a bit of a pity, as I thoroughly enjoyed The Great Gatsby. Maybe it's just a poorer example of his style spread over far too much paper.

- The Chrysalids, John Wyndham. A read it while you sleep book. Pretty much standard for him. General idea: take recent innovation at time of writing, extrapolate with fiction, add in scare-mongering suggestions, shake well, a token love story, battle foe, escape to changed world, garnish, serve, start next story. Not much else too it. His work maybe worth reading if you want to spot both straight copies and his influence in films, but The day of the Triffids is a better, and better known, example of his work.

I've also started a book of his short stories, The Seeds of Time, but forgot I had, so I haven't got far with it. Very similar plots, based on different ideas. Probably best to lay off him for the time being. Maybe keep it until I'm ill and out of Dick Francis's.
---
As I've just had some rather infuriating news, I'd better stop this and do something more important. I can't think of anything else I've read recently anyway.

Anyhoo,

that was a very informative read. I did find Tender Is The Night difficult to understand. Maybe it was just too deep for me, or what, but I did get to read it. And yes. Nicole did get cold.
 
I've met Niall Ferguson. And John Nettles.
 
Layla: Oooh, new blood (and if that greeting won't send you running to the hills...). TIST - I'm not sure it was deep. It mocked the shallow, but I never found the point where it went beyond that. It was just amorphous.

Rachel: Together? Methinks this is how libel starts - do tell. So what were they like? Why are neither of them on your top 10 list? Or is it only for potentials, not actuals?
 
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