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Author Topic: What are you reading? (apart from this)  (Read 59700 times)
Ed
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« on: February 21, 2007, 04:59:48 PM »

I did my usual thing while at the airport - I went into WHSmith and bought about a dozen books to 'read on holiday' (which would equate to more than one a day) grin

Anyhoo, one of the books I bought was The Liar, by Stephen Fry.  I bought it without knowing anything about it, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have read it if I'd known what it was about.  Thing is, I'm really enjoying it - more than anything else I've read for a while now.  I'll post an excerpt below that really struck a chord with me, because it's something I've felt myself, since living in the countryside again, getting involved with country pursuits, village fetes, etc.  I've found myself standing back at times and just soaking up the atmosphere, allowing myself to sink into this kind of dreamlike utopia, knowing deep down that it's fake and fragile, ethereal, harking back in time to a place that was never really there.  I thought this excerpt put it very well:

(excerpt from The Liar, by Stephen Fry)

The ground was in a kind of valley, with the looming Gothic of Narborough Hall on one rise and the church and village of Narborough on another. The pavilion was whitewashed and thatched, the weather perfect with only the faintest of breezes luffing the fielders' shirtsleeves. The grim seriousness of the children preparing to play, the detached amusement of Hugo at square leg, the church clock chiming mid-day, the round circles of fine gang-mown cuttings in the outfield, the sun winking off the roller by the sight-screen, the distant clatter of spiked shoes on the pavilion concrete, the open blue of the wide Norfolk sky, the six pebbles in the hand of Adrian's outstretched arm, this whole monstrous illusion froze, while to Adrian the world seemed to hold its breath as if uncertain that such a picture could last. This fantasy of England that old men took with them to their death-beds, this England without factories and sewers or council houses, this England of leather and wood and flannel, this England circumscribed by a white boundary and laws that said that each team shall field eleven men and each man shall bat, this England of shooting-sticks, weather-vanes and rectory teas, it was like Cartwright's beauty, he thought, a momentary vision glimpsed for a second in an adolescent dream, then dispersed like steam into the real atmosphere of traffic-jams, serial murderers, prime ministers and Soho rent. But its spectral haze was sharper and clearer than the glare of the everyday and, against all evidence, was taken to be the only reality, its vapour trapped and distilled in the mind, its image, scents and textures bottled and laid down against the long, lonely melancholy of adulthood.
Adrian brought down his arm.
'Play!'
Rudder bowled a ball of full length and the batsman swept his bat elegantly forward in defence. But the ball had already gone 'through him and Rice the wicket-keeper was leaping in glee. The batsman looked round in disbelief to see his off-stump lying on the ground. He returned' to the pavilion shaking his head, as if Rudder had been guilty of some appalling social blunder. There was a liquid spatter of applause from the boundary. The school were in lessons and wouldn't be watching until after lunch.

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Anyway... what are you reading at the moment? (apart from this) smiley
« Last Edit: February 21, 2007, 05:13:29 PM by blunt » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2007, 02:39:49 AM »

*The Liar* is a superb piece of work, Ed.

I read Dan Brown's *Angels and Demons* at the weekend. Not everyone's into Brown's formula-fiction thrillers and many felt let down after all the brouhaha to find that *Da Vinci Code* is little more than competent (I liked it, but wouldn't recommend it to my book circle). *Angels and Demons* on the other hand, is a superbly handled job of work.

It came before *Da Vinci Code*, of course, but the basic formula's in place: hunky Harvard professor teams up with beautiful daughter of murdered scholar to uncover a secret society's plot to rock Christianity to its foundations. Lots of obscure symbols and signs dropped as clues. What's different is that in this first of his planned series, Brown spins a red hot action tale that drives the reader at breakneck speed through its six hundred pages ... so quickly that the nitpickers won't have time to poke holes in his (perfectly adequate) backdrop research.

As far as I'm concerned, a ripping yarn makes up for a multitude of perceived research and linguistic sins. Brown's a sound operator in my book and there's not many a thriller writer whose work hurtles along at such a pace.

Never quite understood why commercially successful novelists, from PJ Wodehouse and Agatha Christie to Stephen King and JK Rowling, come in for such a rollocking -- not only from pro critics, but a *reading public* ... that mostly doesn't read at all.

Hoots. Neil
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Ed
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2007, 03:25:32 AM »

Yep, I agree that a strong story makes up for a multitude of sins - I like a lot of pace in my fiction, and I found the subject matter of DVC fascinating, because I hadn't heard of most of it before. It makes me laugh that all the literary types pour scorn on authors like King and Brown, who sell millions of books to a mass market, while the heavy lit books sit mouldering on the shelves (if they're lucky) afro

I think there appears to be more of a rollocking from the public than there is/should be, because a lot of people don't seem to be able to form an opinion of their own, so they side with the loudest voice. Many of the people I've seen giving Dan Brown a hard time had never actually read any of his work. That's not only unfair to the author, but frankly stupid on the part of the individual.
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« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2007, 02:43:25 AM »

Right with you, Ed. This kind of snobbery's particularly apparent when folks turn their noses up at Stephen King. Ask the same folks what they think about his dialogue and sense of scene and they wouldn't have a clue. For my money, he's up there with Dickens and Twain in terms of natural and convincing dialogue and tuning into the times and attitudes of his characters. 'Course, he sells far too many copies to be any use. Unless you land a Booker and go out of print within six months, you're not to be taken seriously in this game. At least not in your own lifetime. With very few *literary* exceptions, only dead authors can be both successful and valuable. Neil
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2007, 04:21:28 AM »

While on my rainy holiday break I took some books to read that were on the top of my list for different reasons. In brief:

The Snow by Adam Roberts. sci fi - the premise intrigued me: snow wouldn't stop falling forcing people to abandon their jobs and normal life. Eventually society and industry breaks down and it becomes a kinda survival of the smartest story. I enjoyed the first 50 pages or so but then it fell apart as if Roberts didn't have a credible reason for the snow or the reactions of the military and governments. I couldn't finish it.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. (seen the film but never read the 1929 book) A Sam Spade detective - advised as essential reading by a member of the Orbiters SF critique group. He said it was the best show not tell book he'd read and where no adverb was unnecessary etc. I can't agree - loads of tell, and many pleonasms - but it might well have been the most show noir story of its generation.

A Piano in the Pyranees by Tony Hawks. My son wanted me to read this cos he likes the humour and self deprecating manner of Tony Hawks. I liked his Round Ireland with a fridge and often burst out laughing reading that. But I could hardly raise a titter with this one. I've read better blogs, which this reads rather like. The funniest para is one in which he describes a form from the local French Mayor which is an application for permission not to need permission to build a swimming pool - <smirk> I like Hawks as a racantoer and personality but if this was his first book I doubt it would have got anywhere.

Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds is a sci fi that disappointed me. I liked the premise - a moon of Saturn starts moving out of the ecliptic on its own volition. It's chased by a comet mining ship to find what they can about it. But it is so pedestrian - I am shocked cos Reynolds is well known. But the writing is lack-lustre - I found no phrase I wish I'd written, which is something I always look for. I found the crew behaved like a badly behaved bunch of egotistical spoilt kids - the leadership swapping so unbelievable. I suppose the fact that it was published at all should give the rest of us hope that we will be too one day!

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee is a Nobel prize for literature and Booker winner - I like to get one of these literary books read now and then. I see why it won - excellently written and yet unforced, in spite of odd words like uxorious. He seems to have a literary formula for many sentences. eg
Soon, daintily, maliciously, he will be shuddered over.
He lives within his income, within his temperament, within his emotional means.
...he steels himself for angry words, a scene.

See how he uses commas to kinda list ideas within the sentence. Only read a third of that so far - I take longer to read literary novels. Sometimes I don’t pass that third of the way in – eg Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow (but I am enjoying it in a masochistic kinda way  - hah).

I agree that Dan Brown is a masterful story teller and can teach us a thing or two about pace, and how to get away with both show and tell in the same sentences. But I have to say that my notebook, in which I write those phrases I wish I’d written, remained empty after DVC. Maybe I should give Angels & Demons a try.

It’s more difficult for me to enjoy reading these days as a wannabe writer, compared to my teen years. I grab those top-sellers and read in the hope of finding their secret formulae. But it doesn’t work like that, does it? I go on courses where I’m told to have nothing but conflict and active voice in the first 5 pages, paragraphs, sentence, and yet what do I see in the top sellers? Languorous passive voice, clichés and multiple adverbs. OK, not in all of them – Waugh and Amis knock out textbook phrasing. In my own sci fi genre, most of the contemporary writers like in Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and anything by Jon C Grimwood are tightly crafted.

The last book I read that came over as pure pleasure was Howard Waldman’s Back There. Not only evocative of France, but of observational skills, self-deprecating humour, the joy of the reading.

Geoff
« Last Edit: February 23, 2007, 04:23:22 AM by Geoff_N » Logged

Dan
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« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2007, 05:03:02 AM »

Am sadly on a novel hiatus as i don't want any other writer's 'voice' to affect what i'm doing. Finding it surprisingly hard work - i never knew i was such a book-addict!

Between churning out words i'm enjoying Dorothea Brande's book about writing, and am also reading and analysing some George Bernard Shaw plays - if you want to know about rising conflict, he's your man  afro

Re Dan Brown - started Da Vinci Code on holiday last year (thought it was a 'holiday' book) - put it down after 100 pages. Not for me. Enjoyed the 'factual' side of it, but thought the characters were just too caricature.

Geoff - that's a whole list of books not to enjoy! Have you read any Jasper Fforde? His Thursday Next series (kind of comedy/literary/sci-fi mix) is excellent and you'd probably get a real kick out of them.
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« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2007, 05:19:24 AM »

Geoff - that's a whole list of books not to enjoy! Have you read any Jasper Fforde? His Thursday Next series (kind of comedy/literary/sci-fi mix) is excellent and you'd probably get a real kick out of them.
I'll put Fforde on my list, but I'm a bit like you in that I hesitate to read my own genre. When I was writing my humour thriller, Escaping Reality, an editor told me I wrote like Michael Dibdin, so I stopped reading more of his! I then realised they might have been commenting in the way that you tell someone that as a cook they are a good writer, and as a writer they are a good cook! But at last year's Writers' Con in Winchester we were told by agents, publishers and established authors to read the top sellers in our genre - and make sure they are the contemporary rather than the classics.

Dan, you say Fforde is a mix of comedy, literary and sci fi. That's tricky to pull off, so I will read some. Some editors say I had too much comedy in my Left Luggage leading to some characters lacking the credibility they needed. I accept that criticism because the original premise is serious enough to warrant a more credible feel to the story. I cannot help but have humour - maybe I should return to writing sit com scripts as I did a few years ago - but I've cut the comedy to just one character. I think it's more believable to have one joker out of 5 crew on a Nasa shuttle rather than 4!

Cheers

Geoff
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« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2007, 11:42:47 AM »

Interesting, Geoff that you should mention *Snow* and that you didn't get along with because it lacked a reasonable explanation for the main plot element -- and then *Maltese Falcon* in the next paragraph.

The Maltese Falcon statue itself is a perfect example of the 'McGuffin' ... the unexplained wotnot everything hangs on but which could just as effectively be a magic sword or a frozen mince pie. More recently, we've had the ark in Raiders of the same and the brilliant use of the mysterious suitcase in *Rodin*. I love this last. About the last line of dialogue is one character asking another *what was in that case anyway?* and getting no answer.

McGuffins are finest kind. They're there as symbolic goals like the worthless laurel leaves in a Roman chariot race and are innumerable examples. The Pink Panther Diamond in *Pink Panther*, the rings in the *Lord of the Rings*, etc. etc. etc ...

All three of these were cracking yarns. Wonder if snow was a McGuffin in *Snow* (which I admit to not having read) and that it should simply be accepted as a device to motivate its characters -- a little like the world's impending demise in Sam Smith's outstanding *The End of Science Fiction*. (If you've not read that one, Geoff, just holler and I'll send you the ebook version. I think you'd appreciate it).

I'm stuck for this weekend's bedtimes with a book my wife just brought back from Italy; Neil Gaiman's *Anansi Boys*. Anyone read this one yet and have any views?

Hoots. Neil

PS: She also brought back Dan Brown's *Deception Point* because she knows I'm intrigued by the sheer simplicity of his formula and want to pare it right down to the bone. But Dan Brown's become an intriguing working assignment now and not for bedtimes any more. N
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« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2007, 12:03:05 PM »

I
Anyway... what are you reading at the moment? (apart from this) smiley

Re-reading Mothers and Daughters by Evan Hunter, a book I read about 30 years ago and had to track down on Amazon.
The Boy in the Light Blue Striped Pyjamas. (or whatever it's called) Don't like it.
All The Lights In The House Burning'- Andrea Levy- Not bad.
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Dan
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« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2007, 01:42:58 PM »

Anansi Boys is an excellent read. Won the BFS award for best novel and deservedly so.
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« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2007, 06:47:43 PM »

I'm alternating between 2 books right now.

The Sirius Mystery by Robert Temple
                       and
Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock.

Both pretty intense reading, best digested chapter at a time.
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« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2007, 07:59:23 PM »

"McGuffins" - interesting concept.  That's life in a nutshell, right there, isn't it? grin


It’s more difficult for me to enjoy reading these days as a wannabe writer, compared to my teen years. I grab those top-sellers and read in the hope of finding their secret formulae. But it doesn’t work like that, does it? I go on courses where I’m told to have nothing but conflict and active voice in the first 5 pages, paragraphs, sentence, and yet what do I see in the top sellers? Languorous passive voice, clichés and multiple adverbs.

I think it must be to do with that vorsprung durch thing. Same with an omlette. In its simplest form it's just eggs, a dash of milk, a little butter and salt, but there are still good ones and bad ones, so I assume the only difference lies in the skill with which the ingredients are put together. But then there's the issue of how you like your omlette, too.  scratch
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« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2007, 04:56:04 PM »

Finished The Liar tonight - not sure what to read next.  I've got The Cell by King, as well as Lisey's Story, both waiting for me.  In addition I've got Barcelona Plates, by Alexi Sayle, and James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall.  Choices, choices scratch
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Planning is an unnatural process - it is much more fun to do something.  The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression. [Sir John Harvey-Jones]
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« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2007, 04:57:00 PM »

Well, I started into Barcelona Plates. Yeesh - I don't see what all the fuss is about. scratch  I'm quite prepared to accept the fault may lie with my brain not being up to the task of decoding some kind of clever hidden meaning, but the title story left me bemused by its crapness - it just seemed like a very long build-up to an irrelevant punchline, to me.

Anybody else read it? If so, what did you think of it?
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« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2007, 03:29:08 AM »

I read it years ago before i knew my theme from my arsehole. I liked the first story (BP), but it's a testament to the rest of them that i don't remember any others! (Though i do remember being disappointed by them in general)
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