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February 07, 2009

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I couldn't agree more. If I know the ending then I won't bother reading the book. It isn't that everything before the ending is unimportant but I do like to be surprised when I get there.

This is my pet hate as well, but I get over being insulted by the publishers - who, nine times out of ten, feel the need to tell you about the writing style, what influenced it, everything you're about to read and what it means - by skipping all introductions. I never read them now. Or the introduction on the introduction on the subject of the person writing the introduction and how qualified he or she is. And they say the first page is crucial in snaring the reader!

I have noticed now that many new editions of 'classics' do contain a spoiler warning.

You should expand this series out into bizarre things readers do.

I ahve had two partners now who both read the final page before starting teh book - why? My wife will skp ahead to check if a character is still alive! Both of these behaviours strike me as madness and in direct contravention of the sacred code of readers!

I always read the "Introduction" after I have read the book. They never make a lot of sense in the abstract and I find I get a lot more out of them (and the book) if I read them afterwards.

Something that niggles me is when lengths are gone to in order to try and hide the fact that the book is a translation. I vaguely remember reading a book where the only hint was a translation credit on the copyright page.

It should be mandatory that the cover should proudly proclaim 'Translated from the [language] by [translator]'. I don't know, for example, if my copy of Yuri Rytkheu's 'A Dream In Polar Fog' was translated from Russian or his native Chukchi.

One of my pet peeves is the author's photograph on back cover or flap. I wonder why that is important at all. The author has written a book and that is all there is to it. Does it matter how he or she looks? A related peeve is the modern disease of book reading. I hate it when something as solitary as writing and reading is turned into a performance art.

I have to admit, I don't really get book readings myself, but I find that's easily addressed by not attending them.

Definitely agree on the introductions point, I actually like a good introduction - one that tells me something about the author's life, issues of the day which might have influenced the novel, things I might not know that might cast light upon it. I just read Good Morning, Midnight, which has a spectacular introduction in the Penguin Classics edition by AL Kennedy.

If you have to discuss the ending though, and I doubt significantly that you do, it would be preferable then to have it in an endnote section. It is slightly irksome to be reading an introduction to something you've not previously read, Hard Times say, and have the whole werewolf subplot ruined before you get to it.

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Books Read: 2014

  • Natsume Soseki: Kokoro

    Natsume Soseki: Kokoro
    Took a while to work for me but once I got into it I really enjoyed it. A Japanese novel from the early part of the last century. Reminded me of EM Forster in the way it presented restrained emotions. (****)

  • Ted Hughes: The Iron Man

    Ted Hughes: The Iron Man
    I was quite enjoying this until the space dragon turned up and then it all got a bit too silly. (***)

  • Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

    Leah Price: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books
    A bunch of authors answer questions about their book collections and allow their shelves to be photographed. Great book porn. (****)

  • Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel

    Charles Bukowski: Pulp: A Novel
    His last novel is a far-fetched private eye novel that is completely daft but good fun. (****)

  • George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

    George Saunders: Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness
    A short speech about kindness Saunders gave to graduating students at Syracuse University. It is born of good intentions and has been turned into a very handsome little volume. Sweet but slight. (***)

  • Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife

    Thomas Christopher Greene: The Headmaster's Wife
    Great story. Beautiful prose. Amazing twist. (****)

  • Matt Rudd: The English

    Matt Rudd: The English
    A very funny field guide to our (my) great countrymates. Great social commentary, manages to make serious points and subvert your expectations while making you laugh. (****)

  • Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1

    Jack Standing: The Bug - Episode 1
    First instalment of a horror novel being released in six parts for 77p each. A neat idea and, although horror is not a genre I bother with normally, I really enjoyed this. Would make a great TV drama. (****)

  • Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox

    Barry Webb: A Book About a Matchbox
    At times this was brilliant. At times this was frustrating and in need of a jolly good edit. A novel about a sentient matchbox and the lives of the people who own it. A bold experiment that almost comes off. (***)

  • Danny Rhodes: Fan

    Danny Rhodes: Fan
    A novel about the Hillsborough disaster, or rather its aftermath. A Nottingham Forest fan who has moved down south finds himself reliving that awful day when, years later, he receives news of two deaths back home. Rhodes holds nothing back. This is an important and unforgettable book. (****)

  • Julian Barnes: Levels of Life

    Julian Barnes: Levels of Life
    A study of grief. I confess I did have uncharitable thoughts that he was dwelling rather too much and I preferred the earlier portions of the book which are all about the early pioneers of ballooning. (***)

  • Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too

    Nik Perring: Beautiful Words: Some Meanings and Some Fictions Too
    An alphabet book for grown-ups with just the hint of a story across its pages. Clever stuff. Quite charming. (****)

  • Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine

    Malcolm Lowry: Ultramarine
    A posh bloke tries to write about working men and doesn't really pull it off. Somewhat tedious with just occasional flashes of quality. (**)

  • Richard Hughes: In Hazard

    Richard Hughes: In Hazard
    Written just before the outbreak of WW2 this story of a steamer caught in a hurricane is a real thriller and, dare I say it, a bit of a lost classic. (****)

  • Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds

    Kent Haruf: The Tie that Binds
    His first novel, and the only one I hadn't got round to reading. Definite signs of the genius that was to come. Not quite as spare and economical as his very best work but still quite marvelous. (****)

  • Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets

    Lucy Inglis: Georgian London: Into the Streets
    A wonderful history which really brings to life the inhabitants of 18th century London to life. (****)

  • Éric Faye: Nagasaki

    Éric Faye: Nagasaki
    A middle-aged Japanese man becomes convinced someone is sneaking into his house and drinking his orange juice, among other things. A real little gem of a book. I finished it in one sitting. (****)

  • Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number

    Igort Tuveri: 5 Is The Perfect Number
    Some great images in this graphic novel about a retired mafioso who returns to the game following the death of his son but the writing isn't really of the same quality. (***)

  • Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl

    Osamu Dazai: Schoolgirl
    Japanese post-war existential novella that, I am guessing, has a bit more impact in its original language. Interesting but slight, and lacks any real clout. (***)

  • Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows

    Junichiro Tanizaki: In Praise Of Shadows
    An essay on aesthetics from the author of The Makioka Sisters. Some interesting passages and he makes a considered argument against electric light and the way it ruins the look of things. Mind you, this was written in 1933. (***)

  • Ben Watt: Romany and Tom

    Ben Watt: Romany and Tom
    A memoir of his parents. Contains some beautiful writing. (****)

  • Cynan Jones: The Dig

    Cynan Jones: The Dig
    Short, intense novel about a farmer trying to get through lambing season and a badger baiter attempting to evade the law. Told in short poetic bursts. Some wonderful lines in this. I read it in one sitting. (****)

  • Magnus Mills: Three to See the King

    Magnus Mills: Three to See the King
    A wonky, wonderful parable. As if The Woman in the Dunes had been rewritten by The League of Gentlemen. (****)

  • Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees

    Alejandro Zambra: The Private Lives of Trees
    An interesting novella from Chile. First half is better than the second half. (***)

  • Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower

    Charles Lambert: The View from the Tower
    Published by Exhibit A books, a specialist crime imprint, but not perhaps the sort of crime novel you'd expect. Romantic and political intrigue in a troubled Italy. (****)

  • Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The

    Banana Yoshimoto: Lake, The
    As I find with most of her books, this is enjoyable but slight. (***)

  • Diogo Mainardi: The Fall

    Diogo Mainardi: The Fall
    An unusual, experimental memoir. A father writing about his son who has cerebral palsy. He does so in 424 numbered paragraphs, many of which go off on tangents but all seem to find their way back to the subject somehow. Clever without showing off. Moving without being sentimental. (****)

  • Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock

    Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock
    A dark and haunting modern classic. A real shame that the author didn't write any more novels. (****)

  • Wesley Stace: Misfortune

    Wesley Stace: Misfortune
    Oh I loved this. A foundling baby boy is raised as a girl by an eccentric lord in this tale of family secrets, incest, libraries, ballads, forgotten poets, hermaphrodites and sweet revenge. Imagine Middlesex crossed with Crimson Petal and the White. (*****)

  • Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons

    Heðin Brú: The Old Man and His Sons
    A classic novel from the Faroe Islands. An old man gets drunk and bids too much for a load of whale meat. Most of the book is him trying to raise the funds to pay the impending bill. A black comedy. (****)

  • Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King

    Sophocles (Translated by David Grene): Oedipus the King
    This is the translation I read for A-level. Brought back memories. The centre of the play, when the secret is revealed, remains incredibly powerful. (****)

  • Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury

    Natalie Haynes: The Amber Fury
    A teacher in a school for expelled pupils wins over the older kids with some Greek classics but then, after all, these are the Greek classics so it is unlikely to end well. A promising debut novel which inspired me to re-read some Sophocles and Euripides. (****)

  • Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance

    Ingrid Winterbach: The Book of Happenstance
    A lexicographer is working on a dictionary of lost Afrikaans words when she is distracted by the loss of something closer to home: her collection of rare shells. An unusual novel which deserves a wide audience. (****)

  • John Banville: The Sea

    John Banville: The Sea
    I tried, I really did, but most of this just washed over me (pun noted but not intended). Interesting in places but ultimately a bit dull. (***)

  • Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus

    Robertson Davies: The Lyre of Orpheus
    The final part of the Cornish trilogy. Perhaps not quite as joyously entertaining as the first two but still marvelous in its own way. (****)

  • Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History

    Barbara Graziosi: The Gods of Olympus: A History
    Charts the history of the Greek gods from their origins through to the present day. Informative and entertaining. (****)

  • Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain

    Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain
    Short Kafka-esque romp which becomes somewhat vague and rambling in the second half. Started well, and promised much, but didn't quite deliver. (***)

  • Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

    Stephen Grosz: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves
    A collection of stories from the psychoanalyst's couch. It was interesting to take this peek into other people's lives (and minds) but it did get a tad repetitive by the end and the lack of any real resolution in most cases left me feeling short changed. (***)

  • Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch
    This is good, very good in places, but I had some issues with it. Also, it is 250 pages too long. (****)

  • Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief

    Lawrence Wright: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
    A study/expose of the Scientology 'religion'. I think it tries to be even handed but it is hard when the founder is quite clearly a con-artist and the beliefs are so fucking daft. Mind you, not much different to all the other religions out there. An absolutely riveting read. (****)

  • Charlie Hill: Books

    Charlie Hill: Books
    Patchy, and sometimes very silly, satire of the book world but I couldn't help but enjoy it immensely. (****)

  • Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium

    Plato (translated by Walter Hamilton): The Symposium
    A bunch of Greek blokes, nursing hangovers from the night before, decide not to get pissed and chat about love instead. Quite sweet really. Nice accessible translation too. (****)

  • Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake

    Ray Robinson: Jawbone Lake
    Robinson seems to reinvent himself with each book. This time he has written an exemplary literary thriller. The clever bastard. (****)

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  • Trick Mammoth -

    Trick Mammoth: Floristry
    Velocity Girl meets The Go-Betweens. Playing this a lot at the moment. Especially when the sun is out. (****)

Quick Flicks

Big Mouth at the Movies

  • : The Queen of Versailles

    The Queen of Versailles
    What starts off as a documentary about excess and the fact that money can't buy taste becomes something quite different. (****)

  • : The Grand Budapest Hotel

    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    I find quite a lot of Wes Anderson's films to be style and silliness over substance (see a couple of entries down) but this was simply glorious and Ralph Fiennes hilarious. (*****)

  • : Blue Jasmine

    Blue Jasmine
    Sort of OK. The acting was a bit too obvious and mannered for my liking and the script a bit lightweight. Not bad but not great. (***)

  • : The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

    The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
    Most Wes Anderson films are more silly than interesting and this is definitely one of those. Enjoyable, but daft. (***)

  • : Computer Chess

    Computer Chess
    Trippy comedy set during a computer chess tournament in the early 80s. Not entirely successful but captures the era brilliantly. (***)

  • : Lady Vengeance

    Lady Vengeance
    A bit confused and definitely the least rewarding of the revenge trilogy. Has its moments though. (***)

  • : Oldboy

    Oldboy
    Second time I have seen this. It loses none of its impact really. A real classic. (*****)

  • : Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance

    Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance
    Relentlessly grim but brilliantly realised revenge drama from Korea. (****)

  • : The Lego Movie

    The Lego Movie
    Not actually as good as I was led to believe although certainly better than most animated kids movies. (***)

  • : Harvey

    Harvey
    Beautifully written and acted. A proper delight to watch it again. (*****)

  • : Sightseers

    Sightseers
    Very dark. Very funny. (****)

  • : Somersault

    Somersault
    Australian indie film from a decade ago. Spellbinding central performance from Abbie Cornish. Well worth seeking out. (****)

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