Category Archives: Uncategorized

Book 17 – Red Shift by Alan Garner

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Never read any Alan Garner before, though there are a number of his books around our house, possibly originating from my older brother’s teenage collection. But this is the 1992 impression and just happened to be sitting on the shelves, so I have no idea how it entered our universe.

Anyhow I read it because:

  • It’s short (I’ve been reading through a lot of doorstops lately)
  • It was mentioned in a tangential discussion about the folk horror genre on my new, favourite books podcast, Backlisted 

    I think it’s fair to call this quite an odd book. Set in three time periods, but one location, it explores fear, violence, alienation and sex in a way that let’s its early 70s sensibilities hang loose and free. 

    My main thoughts:

    • Don’t read this if you are looking for coherent narrative (there are three clear “stories”, but you have to work to find them.
    • They’d never publish this under a Young Adult imprint now.
    • I really hated the awful relationship between the modern story male protagonist and his parents. 

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    Book 16 – A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

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    Wow, I had no idea. I’ve not really read any Woolf so far, but I’d this is anything to go by I’ll be teaching much more. Second wave feminism being expounded 30 years before the first wave got going. And such writing.

    (PS I’ve only read the first essay so far, may come back to Three Guineas later)

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    Book 15 -The Russian Countess by Edith Sollohub

    Fascinating autobiographical account of the privileged early life of a Russian woman at the turn of the 20th century, her childhood, marriage and hunting exploits; then the coming of the revolution, separation from her husband and children, hardship, imprisonment and eventual escape to the West.

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    Book 14 – The Glory Boys by Gerald Seymour 

    Pedestrian thriller, written in 1976, shows its age.

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    Book 13 – Emma by Jane Austen 

    I will never, ever tire of this novel. That’s all.

    (ps, Clueless is the best film version, no contest) 

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    Book 12 – The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs

    So this is a biography of John Donne who as well as being one of the greatest poets the English Language has produced, lived, survived, faltered and prospered through the English Reformation. 

    It’s there anything this man did not do? He was the young Catholic student, attending both Oxford and Cambridge under the radar of the Elizabethan persecution. He was a law student, putting himself about town (in every possible way).  He was the careerist administrator in Government, the gentleman soldier heading off with the Earl of Essex to the sack of Cadiz, the lovelorn youth with insufficient prospects eloping with his employer’s niece, the exile from influence forced to earn a living by accompanying rich young men on their Grand Tour, and finally the respected clergyman and Dean of St. Paul’s.

    This is a fascinating book. I don’t pretend to know much about metaphysical poetry, so can’t really comment on how much insight is given to Donne’s creative life. But as a gallop through the life and times of someone who lived through such a tumultuous period of our history, is definitely a recommend. 

    (My one gripe is that I wish they had modernised the spelling where Donne’s writing is directly quoted. I found it distracting and annoying) 

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    2017

    So, in 2017 I’m going to have a go at filling in the blanks and reading some of the (many) classic novels that have passed me by so far.

    With any project there must be rules. These are the rules:

    1. I’m not reading Ulysses.
    2. Or D.H. Lawrence
    3. Er, that’s it.

    But how to choose which books to read? There are lots of resources available on the interwebs and my first port of call was the Guardian 2015 list of the Top 100 Novels Written in the English Language. I’ve crossed out and made blue the ones I’ve already read.

    1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
    2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
    3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
    4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
    5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
    6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
    7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
    8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
    9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
    10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
    11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
    12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
    13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
    14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
    15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
    16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
    17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
    18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
    19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
    20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
    21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)
    22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
    23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
    24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
    25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
    26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
    27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
    28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)
    29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
    30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
    31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
    32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
    33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
    34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
    35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
    36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
    37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)
    38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
    39. The History of Mr Polly by H. G. Wells (1910)
    40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)
    41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
    42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
    43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
    44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
    45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
    46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
    47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
    48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
    49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
    50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
    51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
    52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
    53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
    54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
    55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
    56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
    57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
    58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)
    59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
    60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
    61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
    62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
    63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)
    64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)
    65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
    66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
    67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
    68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
    69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
    70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
    71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
    72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
    73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
    74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
    75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
    76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
    77. Voss by Patrick White (1957)
    78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
    79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)
    80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
    81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
    82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
    83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)
    84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
    85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)
    86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
    87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
    88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
    89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
    90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)
    91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
    92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)
    93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)
    94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
    95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
    96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)
    97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
    98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
    99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)
    100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

     

    I think it’s fair to say that I have a few issues with this list. It’s not actually a list of the 100 best novels, because it seems to be operating a “one novel per author” rule. So only one Austen, one Dickens, one Eliot and no Gaskell. And I can’t really respect any such list which omits Tolkien. However, it has thrown up some interesting suggestions for my reading.

     Next up, and in the interests of journalistic balance, the Telegraph’s list of 100 Novels Everyone Should Read, also from 2015. This one includes translated works.
    1. Middlemarch by George Eliot
    2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
    3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
    5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    6. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
    7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
    8. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
    9. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
    10. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
    11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    12. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
    13. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
    14. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
    15. The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
    16. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
    17. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
    18. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
    19. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
    20. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
    21. 1984 by George Orwell
    22. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
    23. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    24. Ulysses by James Joyce
    25. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
    26. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
    27. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    28. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    29. Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
    30. Atonement by Ian McEwan
    31. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
    32. A Dance to the Music of Time: Fourth Movement, Winter by Anthony Powell
    33. Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
    34. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
    35. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
    36. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
    37. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
    38. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    39. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    40. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
    41. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    42. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    43. Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy by John Updike
    44. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
    45. The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet
    46. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
    47. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
    48. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
    49. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    50. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    51. Underworld by Don DeLillo
    52. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
    53. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    54. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    55. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald
    56. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
    57. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
    58. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
    59. London Fields by Martin Amis
    60. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    61. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
    62. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
    63. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
    64. The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street by Naguib Mahfouz
    65. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
    66. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    67. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
    68. Crash by J. G. Ballard
    69. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
    70. The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa
    71. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
    72. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
    73. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
    74. Waiting for Mahatma by R. K. Narayan
    75. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
    76. The Trial by Franz Kafka
    77. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    78. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
    79. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
    80. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
    81. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
    82. The Stranger by Albert Camus
    83. Germinal by Émile Zola
    84. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
    85. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
    86. Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
    87. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
    88. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse by Alexander Pushkin
    89. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
    90. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
    91. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
    92. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
    93. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
    94. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
    95. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    96. The Arabian Nights by Muhsin Mahdi
    97. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    98. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore
    99. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    100. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
    This was a bit more like it, though they also operate the one book per author rule, leading to the frankly outrageous exclusion of War and Peace. Sure, we can have a debate about which of Tolstoy’s two great novels is the greatest, but to set up any list like this which can’t include both just isn’t honest.

    No matter. I’ve now got lots of reading ideas for next year and will try and select at least 10 from the unread books listed above.

    Happy New Year.

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