Tuesday, July 29, 2008

the wheat from the chaff

The Booker judges caught us by surprise this year by announcing the longlist just after 2 p.m. I quickly made myself a coffee and then scooted through the list, cross checking prices at my favoured online booksellers and placing orders for the ones I fancy reading. Initial impressions are that I haven’t managed to bag any bargains like I did last year - prices quite uniform across my sellers. Bookrabbit has come out well on price on three of my chosen titles, and if their delivery speed is up to their usual standard I should be reading the first of these titles before the end of the week.

First to get those I haven’t ordered out of the way -

Gaynor Arnold - Girl in a Blue Dress

John Berger - From A to X

both of which are not yet released. I like the sound of the Berger, but the Arnold sounds a little reminiscent of the dreaded Winnie and Wolf.

Joseph O’Neill - Netherland

Salman Rushdie - The Enchantress of Florence

I’ve read reviews of both of these in the LRB. I’ve never read any Rushdie and perhaps I’m wrong to dismiss him without trying, but this doesn’t sound the best place for me to start. And I read the Netherland review only yesterday, and finished by saying aloud ‘that sounds like just the sort of book that used to be on the Booker list’. I simply don’t think I’m programmed to enjoy a cricket novel!

Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole

Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency

Both of these look quite good (and John Self’s review of the first didn’t totally put me off) but they are so hefty I don’t know if I can bring myself to make that kind of commitment.

Tom Rob Smith - Child 44

And I might / probably / perhaps get this one later on. But it just looks a bit too much like a cheap thriller to me. Hopefully someone will review it and change my mind.

So, having dismissed over half the list already, the ones I have ordered and am looking forward to receiving are -

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger

Sebastian Barry -The Secret Scripture

Michelle de Kretser - The Lost Dog

Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies

Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs

Mohammed Hanif - A Case of Exploding Mangoes

back on the branch

My desk calendar for 2008 comes from the marvellous Audubon Society. Each day a wonderful and often weird bird appears. Today, most appropriately is a kingfisher. But not just any kingfisher, gone is the familiar green of our U.K. friend. Especially apt as I plan to slightly redefine the purpose of The Kingfisher Scrapbook.

I’ve come to realise that whilst I love reading, and love reading about books, I don’t particularly enjoying writing about them. Or more specifically I don’t enjoy trying to write objective reviews. I don’t like re-capping the plot, or trying to give a fair overview of what a novel is trying to do. I am an analogy addict and I prefer to wrap up my opinions in a variety of unlikely metaphors. I like to say why I like or dislike a book with little regard as to whether that information is helpful or accurate or interesting to anyone else.

Later this afternoon I shall be thoroughly abusing my F5 key as I wait for the Booker Longlist to be announced. I will then peruse the list and grab any titles I like the look of. [I’m trying not to fall into another Winnie and Wolf trap this year, and order something I don’t like the look of, only to quit it 50 pages in and feel bad about it!] Over the coming weeks I will share my reactions to those books here, but possibly in a slightly different form than recent years.

Most Booker Prize titles are hardbacks. I find hardbacks by nature hard. They are heavy to take out of the house and have sharp and awkward corners, risky for reading in bed. As such I like to read a more friendly paperback alongside the Booker books to fill those book-needy moments where a hardback won’t fit. This summer I’ve decided to challenge a long held distrust - the short story. I’ve never been too sure of the form, and have read very few short story collections that I’ve really liked. I think I am a person that needs to be thoroughly immersed in a story, and no sooner have they begun than they have ended. But I have gathered a selection of collections and am keen to see whether I can break through my barrier. So let Short Story Summer commence with one of the following -