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… In which Andy takes one last look back.

March 8, 2016

Given this is potentially the last time I blog on Andy and Netty’s Reading Challenge I thought I’d try to get it out of the way before the beginning of autumn. You could say “oops”, or you could say “today was 39 fucking degrees”. I’ll leave it up to you.

the endThere was only one out and out failure this year: Michel Holeybottom’s Atomised was as fatuous, overblown a piece of pseudoexistential postmodernist desperately-wanting-to-be-clever-clever-clever-but-actually-completely-skullcrunchingly-stupid fuckwittery as I have ever had the misfortune to read. Truly, inutterably awful. And so I’ll utter no more.

Babel-17 was an odd, slightly disappointing read for me. I love my sci-fi, and I’d been led to believe Samuel Delaney was a fabulous, genre-defying queer writer who was well worth seeking out. The novel’s not a failure, but it wasn’t the exciting find I’d hoped I’d ferreted out.

Wonderfully written but really quite gross was Lolita; Nabokov is a novelist I’d like to look into more deeply, but nothing changes the fact that the narrator of this novel is a pedophile. We know it, Nabokov knows it, Humbert Humbert even knows it, in his rare glimpses of self-knowledge. Still. It’s a novel about a middle-aged man shagging a twelve-year-old. Ick.

The other seven books Netty and I read (I did actually read King of the Badgers, and it’s bizarrely awesome, but since Netty’s copy has only just hit Australia’s shores I’ll restrict my comments to that: bizarrely awesome) were all, if not faultless, then very, very good. Perhaps Knausgaard’s slightly rambling first volume of autobiography, A Death in the Family, could’ve been more tightly edited, and perhaps better translated; but it’s still an impressive achievement. And it’s disappointing to find that Randy Shilts took some liberties in recreating certain real-life events in his riveting, traumatising depiction of the first years of the AIDS holocaust. But And the Band Played On is riveting, and it is traumatising, and for me as a gay man who grew up in the midst of that holocaust it perhaps had more resonance than it has for others.

I’ll go with Netty’s judgment and put Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun top of my list. Another riveting, traumatising depiction of real events – in this case the Nigerian civil war of the late’60s – but Adichie is a novelist, not a reporter like Shilts, and her fiction introduced me to a slice of history I’d previously been unaware of (although I vaguely remember “jokes” about Biafrans when I was a kid in the ‘70s). That aside, she is a terrific writer – I’ve also read a collection of her short stories, and have no doubt I’ll get to her other novels in the near future.

Beyond that, though – beyond the also-rans and the best of the best – I struggle to distinguish. Of a Boy – riveting and traumatising once again, and also queasily creepy, but also a wonderful evocation of the streets of ‘70s suburban Melbourne I walked, schoolbag in hand, myself. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie another fascinating snapshot of school-aged childhood, though this time ‘30s Edinburgh, and a meditation on the different manifestations of fascism. And Ann Beattie’s New Yorker Stories – Just. Fucking. Glorious. For the most part anyway. In fact that’s maybe what got Adichie across the line: I have no recollection of her putting a foot wrong, while one or two of Beattie’s stories didn’t quite gel. Or that’s what I remember, anyway.

So there you go: 2015’s reading, done and dusted. As I said, this will probably be my last regular (although we have seriously “challenged” the meaning of the word “regular” in this challenge) post at ANRC. I’ve begun doctoral studies in creative writing at one of Australia’s fine institutions of tertiary education, and that means the next three years will see my reading (and writing) quite focused; too focused, I think to allow me to continue contributing regularly here.

Very few people read the blog, and very few people are going to read this post, but I have to say the challenge has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done over the past decade. Since 2008 Netty and I have read some absolutely magnificent books, and had fun reviling some absolute rubbish. But it’s the good stuff that makes it all worthwhile.

It’s been fun.

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