Thursday, December 23, 2010

Intentions and reality: a 2010 blog review

I had intended to write about all of the books I’ve read over the last month or so to bring this blog up to date. I made a start on this when I wrote about Mike Gayle and 84 Charing Cross Road, but after that I lost my enthusiasm and didn’t see the point. Most of the books are by authors I already mentioned earlier in the year, such as Nick Hornby, Jasper Fforde, and Anne Tyler.

Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down is about a small group of people who are brought together by the only thing they have in common. They intended to kill themselves on New Years Eve. They run into each other on the roof a high rise building from where they have all independently decided to jump.

Each character tells their part of the story in their own words. Their vastly different backgrounds require Hornby to give each character their own distinct style of expression.

Other books have been with me almost from the start of this blog. They are non-fiction books I have picked up from time to time to read a chapter or two before turning back to another novel.

Chocolate and Zucchini is mostly a book of recipes – not exactly something to be read from cover to cover in a matter of days, but it is one I enjoyed a lot through my infrequent visits. Clotilde Dusoulier entertains and informs in her introductions to each recipe, revealing some of the personal history behind each dish and offering advice about various food related matters, like how to plan for a dinner party and how to create a balanced menu.

A Year of Slow Food by David and Gerda Foster is a book I had for a few years before I read it and it wasn’t one I wanted to rush when I had started reading. It’s the kind of non-fiction I enjoy, a personal account of country life and semi self-sufficiency. It describes the kind of lifestyle I’d like to follow – in fact the life I’d hoped to follow when I moved to a country town myself. His book is part diary, part recipe book – each section ends with a recipe using seasonal home produced ingredients, like vegetables, milk and honey.

The new authors I read during this period were Marele Day and Frances Eagar.

I’ve had The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender for almost 20 years. I bought it from the author when she was a guest tutor during my University course. I finally got around to reading it this month.
Several years after meeting the author I was employed briefly by her publisher and saw her in a nearby coffee shop having lunch with one of the Directors.

Harry Lavender is a crime novel involving a private detective, touching on the organised crime scene in Sydney where Harry is a major crime boss. Some of the locations were vaguely familiar and it is easy to project certain old time crime figures onto the character of Harry. The book uses a lot of computer metaphors and some of its computer references are now a little dated, but it was still an entertaining book providing a reasonably literary approach to the genre.

Frances Eagar’s book Time Tangle is another that I’ve had for more than a couple of decades. It is a children’s book that tangles a little history with the modern world as a girl of the present crosses into a different time, meeting a boy close to her own age. She finds herself caught up in the religious persecutions of the Tudor ages. It seems that time travel books of various types have been a regular part of this year’s reading.

When I started this blog my hope was to find inspiration and encouragement to return to writing my own stories. Partly I hoped to find some ideas about what made successful stories work. What was in the stories I liked that appealed to me?

That part of this blog has been a failure. I’ve written no stories and I’ve merely found how incapable I’ve been in analysing someone’s writing to assess why it appeals or not. I merely know what I like without knowing why I liked it.

In the end I have only concluded that a readable story needs an interesting plot and characters I with whom I can identify. There’s nothing profound or inspiring in that conclusion.

While maintaining this blog has helped me to persevere with my reading instead of continually putting books aside only partly read, I found towards the end that I was getting too caught up in the numbers game being more interested in reading 50 then 55 or 60 books before the end of the year. As a result I avoided books that would take longer to read. Why read one book of 500 pages when I could read two of 250 pages in the same amount of time?

Well that could be all for this year. It is Christmas Eve tomorrow. After that I’ll be away from the internet until the New Year when I can start a new reading list. Until then I have just over a week to reach 70 books for 2010 – can I do it?

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