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So I’ve been talking recently about my reading slump, and several people suggested that I needed to be reading more than one book at a time (I have tended to be very traditional and have no more than two, three at most, books on the go); that way I can switch as my mood takes me.
That may seem very obvious to many of you, but let’s note for the record here that one person’s obvious is usually my “jings, why didn’t I think of that?”
So I have thrown myself into this with gusto, and am currently at various stages of reading the pile at you see here:
- Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock – a planned read for the Once Upon a Time challenge, this is a sequel to the equally excellent Mythago Wood
- Making Money by Terry Pratchett – will confess that I’m stalled with this one, I should be loving it but am finding it difficult to pick up again – another planned read for Once Upon a Time
- The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd – recommended by the Silvery Dude and only started late last night – creepy
- The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – because I’m in a bit of a non-fiction phase and I keep on meaning to read this
- Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk – as recommended by the Book God after an excellent lecture on engaging with China which we attended at the British Museum
- Classic Crimes by William Roughead – what it says on the tin
- The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks – vaguely unsettling what to do if they were real guide-book
- The Virago Book of the Joy of Shopping, edited by Jill Foulston – which called out to me by name when shopping in Blackwell’s on the Charing Cross Road for a present for Silvery Dude
- Duncan Grant by Frances Spalding – a Bloomsbury fix for the Art History Reading Challenge
And I might even finish some of these!
So, having read the first Dandy Gilver mystery (as reviewed here) and fallen in love with it, it seemed the natural thing to do to read the second as a way of getting myself a little further out of my current reading slump.
The Burry Man’s Day finds Dandy in Queensferry where an old schoolfriend and her American husband have come into their inheritance (a rather nice castle-type dwelling with attendant estate). With this inheritance has come some obligations around the annual fair – judging various competitions, awarding prizes and so on – and Dandy and her other friend Daisy are there to assist.
One of the highlights of the fair is the Burry Man – a sort of Green Man type character wearing a costume completely covered in burrs (hence the name) who progresses through the town collecting pennies and/or shots of Scotch to bring good luck to the town. Unfortunately said Burry Man drops dead at the end of the day and the big question is, of course, was it murder?
Step forward Dandy, who calls in her “Watson” from the first book, Alec, to assist.
I enjoyed this very much. There was sufficient uncertainty about whether there had been foul play to keep it going, and I liked the fact that Dandy did try to remind everyone that, though there may be a mystery about some of the actions of key players, that didn’t necessarily mean that murder had taken place. I thought the solution was plausible, but my only quibble is with the very end, which I did think was a bit far-fetched. But to be fair it didn’t spoil the remainder and did show (if it needed to be repeated) that the effects of the First World War were deep and far-reaching.
Still fond of Dandy, so much so that I’ve bought the three other books in the series so far, and will enjoy working my way through them over the summer.
Another excellent entry in the Bryant & May series, On the Loose finds the Peculiar Crimes Unit disbanded and our protagonists looking for a new purpose, or possibly just having to accept retirement. But the finding of a decapitated body in a freezer in a derelict shop in King’s Cross leads to the unit being unofficially reconstituted and as more headless bodies are found it becomes clear that something very strange is happening in this part of London. And the authorities want it all kept quiet, hence turnign reluctantly to the PCU.
This is great stuff; I’ve always been a fan of this series and one of the great pleasures of the books is the way Christopher Fowler feeds in the history and mythology of London. Now, I’ve lived here for over twenty years and don’t profess to know huge amount about the city but one of the things I do know is that it is an ancient and fascinating place and there is still an air of mystery about certain parts of the city, and it is tapping into this which gives the Bryant & May books such depth.
You wouldn’t think that an area as seemingly prosaic as King’s Cross, with its major stations and regeneration programme would fit the bill, but digging up a place can reveal some interesting elements of the past, and the idea that change can lead some people to get in touch with history and use it to their own ends is really plausible. So the idea that the personification of an ancient myth (in the shape of a half man half beast with antlers constructed from knives) can be terrorising the workers on a construction site isn’t really that far-fetched, especially when you consider that many of those workers come from eastern Europe where some of these traditions are still very evident in everyday life.
So not much more to say about the plot (don’t want to give anything away) but the villain of the piece is a very interesting character and the ending sets up a sequel very nicely. And I read this just in time for the next one (Bryant and May Off the Rails) which comes out towards the end of the month.
So, one of the best of the series and very, very enjoyable indeed.
So a literary day out; on a beautifully warm and sunny Wednesday we headed to Kipling’s home in East Sussex and it was a lovely experience. The house, Bateman’s, is, as you can hopefully see from the really not terribly good picture attached, is a genuinely beautiful building, full of wonderful things relating to the great man himself.
And that’s the interesting thing – I’m really rather fond of Kipling. When I was growing up, and especially when I was a student, reading Kipling was not the done thing – he was reactionary, imperialist, war-mongering and lots of other unpleasant things, usually said by people who had never read anything that he’s written. The most you could hope for was that people my age liked the Disney version of The Jungle Book.
I quietly hid my deep affection for the Just So Stories, but the more I read about Kipling the more interested I became, and although like all great artists he was probably a pain to live with, I came to see him as rather a lovely man. So it was a real thrill to visit his house, see his things (the Book God was particularly taken with the Rolls Royce), and come home determined to pull together a Kiplingesque reading list:
- Just So Stories - in a Penguin paperback with the author’s own illustrations; I do love these, especially How the Alphabet was Made
- Puck of Pook’s Hill - am appalled that I’ve never read this
- The Mark of the Beast - with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, this is a collection of Kipling’s dark and fantastic tales
- O Beloved Kids - Kipling’s letters to his children between 1906 and 1915, the year his son was killed in the Great War
- Something of Myself - Kipling’s memoir of his life as an author, written the year before he died
- The Hated Wife - a short life of Carrie Kipling, not a woman who seems to have attracted much warmth
- A Circle of Sisters - the story of Kiping’s mother Alice, and her remarkable sisters who all became the wives or mothers of equally remarkable men
So I may have mentioned before that I have been in a bit of a reading slump recently, but that seems mainly to be about fiction. I am solidly working my way through a number of non-fiction books at the moment, and the first I’ve finished is It’s Only a Movie by the one and only Mark Kermode.
Those of you who wander over to my other blog will know that I love movies and one of the critics whose opinions I pay most attention to (even though I don’t always agree with him) is the Good Doctor Mark Kermode. His Friday afternoon reviews with Simon Mayo on Radio Five Live are a real joy and the podcast is one of my Saturday morning rituals. So good fun to read his memoir, subtitled “reel life adventures of a film obsessive”.
It has all the great stories that those of you who follow the Good Doctor have heard before (his brush with Helen Mirren who took him to task for saying The Queen wasn’t a proper film, Werner Herzog being shot while Mark was interviewing him, and so on), plus some new stuff that I hadn’t come across before (the trip to the Soviet Union to visit the set of Dark Waters). The only thing missing are the great rants about films he doesn’t like (Pirates of the Caribbean a special favourite) so if you can search these out on YouTube or elsewhere because when he’s in full flow there is nothing more wonderful.
It’s difficult to review this – I thoroughly enjoyed it, one of the few books I could be bothered trying to read while standing up on my daily commute, precariously balanced but any man who
grew up believing that Planet of the Apes told you all that you needed to know about politics, that Slade in Flame was a savage expose of the pop world, and that The Exorcist revealed the meaning of life
deserves to be listened to.
So I’ve managed to wangle myself a week off work, most welcome given how busy I have been recently, as a means of celebrating my wedding anniversary at the end of May and the Book God’s birthday (which was yesterday).
We hired a car for a couple of days and have been tootling about the Surrey/Sussex countryside, indulging in what I have come to call “falling in love with houses we can never afford in places it would be impractical to commute from”.
This didn’t stop us identifying at least half a dozen large country piles which could be dream retirement homes. Assuming we win the lottery, that is….
On Monday we spent the day in Arundel, one of our favourite places (see not terribly brilliant photograph at the top of this post); this mostly involved eating a very, very nice lunch in a local hotel, the purchase of fudge, and a visit to a fabulous shop specialising in walking sticks.
On Tuesday, we headed down towards Portsmouth, mainly to visit Portchester Castle, an amazing place which consists of a Norman Castle in one corner of a huge Roman fort site (which has the best preserved Roman fort wall north of the Alps, apparently) with a lovely little Norman church in the opposite corner and a huge amount of space in between. While we were there a party of schoolchildren arrived for the traditional summer school trip – lots of small children being very excited to the accompaniment of teachers saying “shhhh” a lot.
We then headed to the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson which basically allowed the Book God to look at a lot of very big guns. Which kept him happy.
Read slump seems to be over in that I am reading more, though still not finishing anything, but the week is yet young.