2013 – Some dickhead beat some other dickhead in an election, and Andy and Netty read some stuffJanuary 27, 2014
So, not for the first time, the rules of the Reading Challenge 2013: For the first time Netty and I read only six books in common – one every six months – and every month we individually read one unread book from our own individual bookshelves. I’ll review both groups of books, and Netty no doubt will do some list or some shit.
EL Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel stands out from the competition between the six books Netty and I both read – although Harry Crews’ memoir, A Childhood, is up there and John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer gives both of them a red hot push. Crews is probably the most readable of the three but Doctorow’s depiction of American political life from the 30s through to the late 60s is just so brilliantly absorbing for me personally it takes the metaphorical cake.
Nipping at Dos Passos’s heels are Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children and Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. Stead is the better writer but Children is sometimes a little laborious, whereas Jim is mostly just hilarious (Netty disagrees with me on this, rather violently).
Lagging well behind is the man who, ironically, probably had the highest opinion of himself as a writer – Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Much of the book is not just readable, it’s hugely entertaining; the problem is all the pseudo-philosophical drivel Miller subjects us to in between those moments, undermining the only thing he does well.
Of the 13 books from my shelves that I read – all written by women – two stand out, clearly, as truly awful. Fay Weldon’s Moon over Minneapolis and Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman are pretty terrible books. I am not prepared to call Sylvia Plath”s Collected Poems pretty terrible; I am prepared to say I did not understand them, and did not enjoy them, and was left bemused by her legendary status.
Banging around above these are a handful of books I enjoyed without necessarily rating stratospherically. The Blood of Flowers, On Beauty and To the Lighthouse had much to recommend them, while The Beauty Myth was interesting, and certainly much better than The Whole Woman, but not entirely convincing.
Slotting in a little higher than this – although to honest there is probably some smudge, which is why I don’t do Netty’s top 12 pallaver – are Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Memories of a Pure Spring, Carson McCuller’s Member of the Wedding and Janette Turner’s Hospital’s Dislocations – a collection I only read because Fay Weldon’s stories were so shit. Christie probably doesn’t deserve to be this high but fuck me I enjoyed that book. I enjoyed that book A LOT. Memories and Member were both just wonderful.
And so the pinnacle of my challenge reading this year are Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood and Janet Frame’s An Angel at my Table. Angel probably takes the biscuit, to be honest, but both books are stupendously good.
I think I might have enjoyed this year’s reading a little more than Netty. But ultimately Greer and Weldon were the only out-and-out failures – because even Miller, as flatulent as he so often is, was ultimately pretty enjoyable.
Annnnnd bring on 2014…