Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Short List

It comes around every November / December. One of the hardest decisions of the year. Every year, the agony and the ecstasy if a decision that will play on me for the rest of the year.

What the hell am I going to put up for book group?

I'm a member of a book group. All good writers should be a readers - and as a part of my reading, I go to book group once a month - I have done for a few years now. Some of my best friends are a members of this group. Merijn, Blarney, Georgie, Alice and Jonella are all a part, or have been part of the group. The others in the group are lovely too - and for the most part, we all get on.

This is not to say that all of our reading tastes are the same. Some of us have very different reading habits. A lot of members joined the group to get away from reading what they were used to - most of whom read either crime or vampire novels. Then there are the more literary readers, those who like a challenge, books that make you feel and think, books that have joyful subtleties and fantastic turns of phrase. I like to count myself as one of this group. I stopped reading predominantly chick lit nearly ten years ago, preferring material with a bit more guts to it - then again, I still love Marian Keyes, 'Rachel's Holiday', and Jane Green's 'Straight Talking'. The latter was sort of my life in London down to the getting the Sunday Guardian and The News of The World to read in bed on Sunday...

So here we are at the start of November, and we've come back from our last booked up book group for the year. This month's tome, Paolo Coelho's "By the River Peidra I Sat and I Wept" had two things going for it as far was I'm concerned. It was short and it had big writing. It's not my cup of tea - if I want to read allegoric self-help stuff I'll do it on my own time. It only just made it into this year's list, along with that cat book as it is now referred to. The rest of the years books were fine and enjoyable.

I rather enjoyed tonight's book group. I've been on a bit of a high today since I managed to source a ticket to see Geoffrey Rush as Lady Bracknell in the "Importance of Being Earnest" next weekend. I made a quip that I'd probably have to sell, donate or suck something to get a ticket - but as I've just managed to sell my old iPhone on ebay for a song, the ticket seemed justified. I also quipped at the time that no fellatio was required to get the ticket.
"What's fellatio?" asked one of the book group members. There was a muffled spit take or two around the table.
"It's Italian for standing in a queue when you know you have better things to do." I told her.
"That's a bit of a wanky work. Why not just say stand in a queue?" she asked.
"Well, I spose it's a bit of a mouthful." was my retort. "Go home and ask your partner. He'll know what it is."

Well, I couldn't blow her off, could I?

Back to books.

You're not going to like everything that is put up - and as we have a democratic way of choosing books, you're going to get something you like at some stage. Still wishing Georgie could have voted last year  - we tried, but circumstances meant she was waylaid in America stressed out of her brain. We would have had a few different outcomes I reckon. The cat book woudn't have made the top eleven for one...

Regardless, in a few weeks, our book group will be choosing books for next year. Everybody is to bring two books for consideration - and only two.

These books should be of the following criteria:

  • Fiction - no non-fiction, autobiography, biography or memoir will be considered - though I like a good non-fiction book, not for book group - they've proved hard to talk about. Also there is a very noisy faction in the group - the long-termers, who are completely anti it - and nobody turns up for non-fiction anyway.
  • Of no more than 500 pages - but can be negotiated - better if it isn't, but we're not going to scoff at something that's say 525 pages. People have other stuff to read in the month.
  • Of a literary or very good quality popular fiction standard of writing - so that cat book really shouldn't have made it in the list.
  • Should be readily available in bookstores (what's left of them), libraries or online. Nothing worse than a book you can't get hold of
Oh - if it is your book that is chosen, for the given month, you're in charge of the questions and run the conversation for the night.

At the book voting session, everybody is handed a bag of 25 lollies. You vote with lollies - you're not allowed to vote for your own books. You put lollies on the books you wish to read for the year - what ever your preferences are.

For a bit of guidance, group members have been recommended they check the Booker, Pulitzer, Age Book of the Year, Orange Prize long lists, the orange covered Penguins that are out, classics you might not have read at school (I must get around too Wuthering Heights one day in full -  its on the pile with 'The Hobbit', 'The Great Gatsby' and 'Catch-22').

Okay, other than that cat book, some of the stinkers we've read have included 'Pride, Prejudice and Zombies', that cat book, Anna Karenina (nearly brained the person who put Tolstoy on the list, especially when they didn't read it - you could bottle Russian Literature as a euthanasing agent), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  by Anne Bronte also got my ire. I remember being as sick as a dog the night of that meeting, but I wanted to slam that piece of Methodist Manifesto and burn it. And of course and that cat book which I wouldn't line a cocky cage with. The rest have pretty much met the standard.

So here I am thinking, what am I going to put up for next year. Only one of my books made it into the reading pile this year. I put up Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore", but it didn't make the list. I also dared to put a non-fiction book on "Reading Lolita in Tehran", which got championed and made the list. A fascinating read, but as it was non-fiction, half the group didn't show up.

We've got a few authors we like to avoid. I've been told that putting up Rushdie again won't be well received and will probably sit there with no lollies in the cup if it was put up. I love the novels of Salman Rushdie. We read "The Moor's Last Sigh" a few years ago and it was almost universally disliked. Ah well. Alice used to have a pathological hatred of Ian McEwan saying he understood England as well as she understood the workings of the bogan mind. Me - I'd have preferred not to have read Coehlo. It all comes down to taste. Alice was particularly fussy about what she read in book group - and that is fair enough - but she's not in the group any more to take on other pursuits. I've had a few members of the group say the books are a bit challenging - I point back that book group isn't about reading muck - when they joined they were told that the group has more of a literary bent - deal with it or leave. I'm being a bit more militant about this after that cat book got on the list.

So, what do I dare put up this year. What am I going to champion? I'm already seen as a bit of an egghead when it comes to books and reading. Merijn and I know that we will normally not like each other's choices - she loves Russian Literature - I was 50 pages into Anna Karenina hoping she's throw herself under the train there and then - I loathe it. I love the modern novel - she doesn't - though we sort of met in the middle with Rushdie.

So I'm thinking, and re-thinking - what am I going to champion at our meeting next month.

Here is my short list of considerations - I have to choose two:

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Stellar, stellar book - and not just because of the movie which I adore (even if Keira Knightly is too thin and she is impossibly gorgeous in that green dress). This is probably the best of McEwan - Saturday was okay, I really liked Amsterdam and Enduring Love - Solar was a load of bollox, but Atonement - ah - brilliant. So subtle. He gets the period just right - you want to clobber Briony from the second page, only to get a better picture of her after the events - wondering if she will ever atone for her actions as a child - and the ending is different to the movie too. Just stunning.

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Another one of my favorite authors, Faulks is the master of minutiae. A meticulous researcher, Birdsong is possibly the most beautiful novel ever written about WW1 trench warfare. Gut wrenching, gorgeous, sumptuous, sexual - it looks at the hell of war, its consequences and its triumphs. I adore this book - I'm just not sure anybody else will like it.

American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis

He, he, he. I so want to put this up, but I see a few members of the group walking out in utter disgust. This book is rated R and can't be sold to minors in Australia - it comes wrapped in plastic when sold retail. I read this for my smut course that I did a few years ago (Went back to university to do third year English - the course name was Art, Pornography, Blasphemy and Propaganda) This was on the list - and it was my favorite book of the course. Loved the parody. Love Ellis's easy charm mixed with hyper-violence. Not something to read late at night or when you're alone on the tram with somebody who's a bit loopy. There are parts of it that make you want to throw up. It's cool. Can't see the naysayers liking it, however.

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

One of my top three books ever. Pulitzer Prize Winning - an epic book about a person called Cal with a slightly bizarre family arrangement. Looks at Cal's family from his grandparents down to Cal's own life. Rather confronting in parts, brilliantly set in Greece and America with some fantastic characters along the way - heaps to talk about, heaps to think about - and just a magic tale. Like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, you can read and re-read and only get more out of it. Though technically we did it for book group five years ago, I think it's only Georgie and I who are left from the group, so I might chance it as I'm pretty sure Georgie didn't get around to it at the time.

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Spanish Author in translation - good popular fiction with a Gothic twist, set in Barcelona. And who says I only choose literature? A great yarn, well set with a great, Poe-ish storyline. Something a bit lighter for consideration. I love Spain, I love Barcelona - and this book takes me back there. And it's about books too - which is always good.

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

Other than having an ex called Kevin, I've heard only good things about this book - however after tonight's discussion about how people want to read things that aren't grim, I'm no so sure reading about murdering sociopathic teenager would go down.

Footsucker - Geoff Nicholson

There are two things that might put people off this one - I don't know how easy this champion novel would be to find - it may be out of print by now. It's also about a foot fetishist. As a reflexologist, I sorta get it. Not sure anybody else will appreciate the subtleties - maybe Jonella. It's a cool book. But you don't know whether to be turned on or outraged. Which is half the fun of it.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby

Unfortunately I can't put this up as autobiography is banned. But other than it's really short - as the author blinked the text to an assistant, it is a miraculous work of a person overcoming the most horrific of circumstances. A stunning book of great beauty and pathos. But autobiography. Bummer.

I have some decisions to make.

And probably a bit of explaining to do...


Days without ice cream - 23

Love’s Labours Lost

Old man, deathbed, cried.
Of fate’s cruel hand, joy denied.
Large hands, small dick. Died.


Kath Lockett said...

Atonement - Ian McEwan - Seen the movie but not read the book. Will add this to my own list. I'm in the 'waiting room' for a book club here. They only have six members and I was invited to express my interest because one of them might be leaving but that was three months ago!

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is in my bookcase, a two franc find from a local second-hand store. I'm looking forward to reading it as I've loved some of his other stuff (all whose titles presently escape me).

American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis - Hmmmm. Haven't seen the movie ('cos I can't stand Christian Bale) and bought 'Too low for Zero' in the late eighties and suffered my way through it. I felt ripped off after finishing it. Is AS better than this one?

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides - ANOTHER of my second hand finds! Lovely big book that I remember reading great reviews about, bought for a mere three francs and sitting there, waiting, waiting, waiting....

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver - boy oh boy, this is NOT a frivolous read. I saw her being interviewed once and this is the book she wrote to decide once and for all that she didn't want any children. You'll soon see why - but it is gripping, very well written and scary.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby - Oh come ON - this is ALSO on my bookshelf and cost me a single franc at a fundraising fete last weekend!

To sum up - I want to join your bookclub!! :)

Jackie K said...

I would like to read the Lionel Shriver book but have put it off...
Love Ian McEwan but haven't read atonement! Loved the movie though.
Middlesex - couldn't get into it, though everyone loves it I know.
Love Birdsong.

Liked your haiku too!