Reading Log – April 2011

I realise it has been a while since I posted on Paper Knife. May was one of those months when, whilst lots happened, little of it translated itself into energy for blogging. However, it is time to get back into the habit, so first, a round-up of some of my recent reading.

#26 The Horror Stories of Robert E Howard (2008)

This volume has been knocking around the house for a while, and for some reason had been sitting on top of a pile of books I pass umpteen times a day, so, well, you know … I read a certain amount of Robert E Howard when I was a teenager and forming my reading tastes. From quite early on I had a taste for sword and sorcery which has never entirely left me, plus an interest in ‘lost civilisation’ stories and tales about unwary academics and archaeologists and the supernatural. I am quite sure that some of Howard’s work delighted me at the time; looking at it from a distance of thirty-something years, I am rather less thrilled by it. Many of the stories were written in the 1920s and 1930s and reflect the attitudes of their times; Howard casually speaks of ‘blacks’ and ‘barbarians’ in the African adventures, representing them as mindless hordes, attacking for the sake of attacking, and while he shows more sympathy for slaves and ex-slaves in his supernatural stories set in the American South and Southwest, the language still grates. His antiquarian stories read like an unholy alliance between Lovecraft and M.R. James, both writers I admire, but Howard somehow doesn’t quite strike the right chord. I was more interested in the stories about Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn, but the stories with American settings seemed to me to show the greatest originality.

#27-#34 Various shortlisted books

April was mostly distinguished by a mad dash to read the shortlists for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the BSFA Awards, a feat which I duly accomplished, though blogging the novels as I went quickly became an unrealistic prospect. So, I read and enjoyed Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City (which won the Clarke Award) and Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, which won the BSFA Award for Best Novel, plus shortlisted titles The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Red Plenty by Francis Spufford, Declare by Tim Powers. I was, on reflection, rather harsh in my judgement of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (also, its prequels, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer), all of which I would still like to write about in more detail this summer.

#35 Eating Like the Pilgrims

I’ve enjoyed reading Calvin Trillin’s food writing in the New Yorker for years. Last year I treated myself to the Tummy Trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When I spotted a listing for Eating Like The Pilgrims I had to get it. In fact, it turned out to be not quite what I was expecting. It’s a slim, handsome volume, part of a new series by Penguin, called ‘Great Food’, a series of elegant chapbooks that showcase great food writing of the last 400 years. The acquisitive completist in me itches to buy the lot but reason, and at £6.99 a throw reason has a point, resists. I feared the volume was all reprints, but in fact, of 12 essays, only three have already appeared in the Tummy Trilogy, although a number are already familiar to me from the New Yorker, including ‘Where’s Chang?’, about a peripatetic Chinese restauranteur and ‘Missing Links’, about boudin sausage. It’s good to have them all in one place. All I need now is to think of a way of funding ownership of the rest of the Great Food series.

#36 The Republic of Love Carol Shields

I was under the impression I had read the oeuvre of Carol Shields, a writer whom I much admire, but though I’ve owned this novel for years I seem not to have read it before. We are in typical Shields territory, with the story of a strange little love affair between Fay, a folklorist working on mermaids, and Tom, the host of a late-night radio show. Reminds me that I must reread the rest of Shields’ novels again.

#37 Burning Chrome William Gibson<

A reread but I was pleasantly surprised at how well the stories had stood the test of time.

#38 On Stranger Tides Tim Powers

Read for review for Interzone, I am sure I must have read this when it originally came out, but goodness, it was enjoyable to read again.

#39 The Uncertain Places Lisa Goldstein<

Again, read for review for Interzone, and due to appear in IZ 235. I enjoyed it immensely but I have always been an admirer of Goldstein’s work. It’s an ingenious ‘secret history’, combining a lost Grimm’s fairy story and a strange family living in the Napa Valley.

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