Thursday, 6 September 2012

A year in Books - holiday reads

I've realised that I'm way behind in a Year in Books so the next coupe of posts are going to be a bit of a catch up.

I'll start with my holiday reads. I tend to save up books that I'm pretty confident I'm going to like and ones that are big fat reads. Despite an action packed holiday and 2 kids I managed to find time to get through 4 books.

First up is Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding which was released last year to a lot of hype. The paperback version has positive quotes from John Irving , Jonathan Franzen and Jay McInerney on the cover, 3 authors I really like , so expectations were set high.

A mixture of a sports novel and a college novel , the book follows Henry Skrimshander through his debut college baseball season as a star short stop and potential draft to a professional team.

As Henry moves in on a record for the most consecutive error free games, one throw goes disastrously wrong and impacts on the lives of his gay room mate , his captain and mentor , his college president and the president's daughter.

I've seen one baseball match on holiday in the states and the best thing about it was the hot dogs although this didn't impact on how much I enjoyed this book. You don't need to know much about the game as although a prominent part, the real joy is how the lives of the 5 main characters interact and impact on each other.

That and a great ending that stays just the right side of  cliche make this a great read.

You can buy the Art of Fielding here  

I've read a few books (okay maybe 2) that take Issac Newtons's time at the Royal Mint as their inspiration. In Dark matter Philip Kerr uses it as the backdrop to what starts as a murder mystery and then evolves into a wider political thriller. Its a good old fashioned entertaining romp that combines to good historical "well I didn't know that" with a style that doesn't take itself too seriously. It obeys the rules of the genre even with the usual Sherlock Holmes introduction of one character telling the others life story from obscure observational clues

If you like that sort of thing then you can get Dark Matter here

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is as whimsical as it could possible get and as a result I think will be a bit of a marmite book. I loved it.

It starts with Allan Karlsson who on the day of his 100 birthday decides to miss his planned party and leave his old peoples home. On reaching a bus stop he acts on impulse and steals a suitcase that happens to be full of money . Soon he has the police , the press and the local gangsters all hot on his heels as he road trips across Sweden picking an strange array of quirky characters and an elephant on the way. We also learn of Allans life story  the includes meeting presidents and dictators , time as a spy , fighting in the Spanish civil war , imprisonment in Iran  and advising Oppenheimer.

There is a flavour of Forrest Gump that runs through the book. The quirkiness may be a tad too saccharine for some people and the whole thing relies on ridiculous coincidences and a big suspension of logic, but the story zips along and the writing is delightful with every page full of comic gems.

I don't think I'll read anything else like this, it is pretty unique but if you want to take a bit of risk then give it a go it really is a joy to read

you can get the book here

I've no idea why it has taken me so long to read Middlesex, I think I was always put off by the fact that I thought it was about the life of a hermaphrodite ... which it partly is but it is also a whole lot more.

I'd enjoyed the Marriage Plot, Eugenides' new book, so much that I thought I'd finally give it a go and I'm so glad I did.

We are introduced to Cal , born once as a girl and then again as she realises that she is happier as a boy. Through Cal we get his/her family history in an attempt to help him/her understand how the gene lottery threw up this combination. What we then get is a big fat family saga that ranges from Greece to the race riots of Detroit and then back to Europe with modern day Germany.

The book is full of memorable characters and can switch from comedy to tragedy in the space of a paragraph . Cal as a narrator is full of humour , insight and self awareness, reviewing his/her family history with a questioning , critical and loving eye.

The fact that I knew little of two of the points in history , the turkish / greek conflict and the Detroit Race riots helped keep me hooked , with the massacre at Smyrna particularly powerfully written.

The second half of the book struggles a bit to match the first half, but it is still a fantastic book and if like me you've picked it up and put it down , I'd heartily recommend you give it a go

you can get Middlesex here 


  1. I only managed a fraction on my week away.
    I read 'Dark Matter' but a different one from you; mine was a chilling ghost story set in the Arctic. Lots of stiff upper lips and shifting shadows; followed it predictably with 'The Woman in Black'; predictable but effective; seems perfect for Harry Potter to stroll through. Manage to finish Iris Murdoch's 'The Sea The Sea' which never seemed to end... the worst best book that I've veered suffered (just 2nd to Fowle's 'The Magus'.)
    Currently on finishing Russo's 'That Old Cape Magic' which has got me editing 'In Cassidy's Care'...
    Next on the pile is the 100 year old man...

  2. Hi Trev
    hope the live appearance and brush with royalty went well

    The 100 yr old man is a delight

    I've read teh Dark matter ghost one - thought it was good
    scarily I picked up The Sea The Sea the other day and toyed with getting it as I've not read any IM ... a lucky escape by the sound of it.

    I've only read Empire Falls by Russo is the one you are reading worth getting?

  3. It is great; exactly what you'd expect; mid life angst with a bit of comedy; Russo has a keen eye and is laugh out loud funny. Always makes me think Richard Ford 'lite' for some reason...

  4. Richard Ford lite is a good call. The Sportwriter series (was it a trilogy ?) was so good i've avoided anythign else he has written as I cant imagine is can be as good I suffer from the same word blindess re Updike and only reading the Rabbit series

  5. His earlier stuff is great too.
    'The Ultimate Good Luck' is almost pulpy; a style that he seems to have returned to with the driving narrative of his latest; 'Canada'.
    'Rock Springs' is an early collection of short stories about losers; somewhere between Updike, Carver and Cheever...
    'Women with Men' is uncomfortably keen eyed with it's observations of trysts, affairs and the foibles of men.
    He's one of my favourite writers; The Bascombe trilogy broke my heart... I really look forward to a weekend free for 'Canada'.

  6. Btw, I've ordered Art of Fielding; another baseball story on my shelf with the highly rated 'Magic Time' by WP Kinsella... Like a dark 'Field of Dreams' apparently...

  7. I didnt know he had written stuff before the sportswriter so that gives me a good start.

    Interested to know what you thinkog art of fielding when you get round to it. At times it flirts with melodrama but it has a real heart at its core which wins through for me


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