15.30, Sunday 30 Nov 2008

Books read November 2008, with date finished:

I read Pirsig first when I was maybe 17, a copy from the year the book was published (1974) in fact, my parents' copy, and this was a period of time when books would mean a lot to me, this one especially, and so when I lent it to a friend I was disappointed that circumstances (I don't recall, just missed chances and then the moving away of everyone and the drifting apart of that group) meant I didn't get it back. Earlier this year or maybe last year at a birthday party that I, in a somewhat unlikely fashion, attended, my long-time-ago friend also - and in even more unlikely a fashion - appeared, and it turned out she had brought Pirsig along with her, just in case I was there, and so after 13 years I have the book back. It's pretty good, and presents a number of neat approaches and vocabulary, but I feel differently about Pirsig now and so I feel distant from the ideas despite having the physical thing in my hands.

Bhagat was also a little disappointing: I love the lyrical quality of Indian English, and enjoy reading the Times of India online, but the story didn't transport me. Le Guin is a favourite but I've maybe read it a little too recently; Moorcock is amusing but that's it; the design work and discussion in Product as Landscape is thought provoking and again shows some neat approaches, but didn't inspire in me any cascade of epiphanies.

American Psycho is disturbing. It's another book I first read at 17, I think, and I re-read out of curiousity. Ellis is a masterful storyteller. The tone is hypnotic and the chapters - it's a sequence of long photographs, I guess, a story told under strobe lighting - vivid and lucid. Humanity, when you see it once maybe twice, is a glass of fresh water. Compelling and horrible.

I'm beginning to feel about Nabokov how I feel about Vonnegut: an author I wish I'd found much earlier, both holding a level of control over their writing that means everything you want to read into the story is there and more besides. That quality lets the words burrow into you much deeper. Pale Fire is a poem by one author followed by detailed commentary by his friend and the story emerges, as in several books I've read this year, only in motion, slowly and from the coming together of many small and hidden parts. The story is steganographically encoded, unpacked by the act of reading. These stories cannot be summarised. Highly enjoyable; recommended.

So far in 2008 I have read 99 books (not counting online stories or graphic novels) and so my target for December is to finish another 5. These I have in hand although life details (moving flat, which is both time consuming and will eliminate my commute, which is where I read most; a different pattern of going out; energy devoted to reading; the holidays) may prove to make this challenging.

Follow-up posts: