October 29, 2012

More books, a little writing

I finished The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie with enjoyment. The elements of what I think is called magic realism in it didn’t bother me, as I had thought they might. It’s full of allusions to Indian history and culture, about which I am woefully ignorant, so I am sure I missed a lot of them, but I found the book fascinating and full of big ideas treated thoughtfully and with fun. What’s to not like, never mind get outraged at.

Joseph Anton, the book Rushdie wrote about his years under protection because of the (misnamed) fatwa that put his life at risk because of The Satanic Verses is another large book. I read it over three days; even though I knew (more or less) the ending it was a page-turner.

One of the things that makes the book gripping is that he—unless there is a good reason not to—uses people’s real names. I’m sure there are things left out in consideration of people’s lives and feelings, but there’s plenty left in, so the whole tale has a specificity that gives it a sense of being a real telling of Rushdie’s experiences of living under a death threat. He writes of being shamed and being ashamed of himself and, rousing himself to fight,

“…against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to palce a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also, scepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy and unholy glee.”

There are also his gratitude to friends, his love and concern for his son, the domestic details of having four policemen living in his house and much more. Actually, there was nothing in this book I didn’t like reading. I haven’t come away with a picture of Salman Rushdie as necessarily an easy person to get along with, but I do admire him.

The edition of Joseph Anton on sale in New Zealand has an ugly cover. Who did that? The Random House hardback cover is much better. I can only show the ugly one from my copy.

It’s unusual for me to stop reading a book in the middle, but that’s what I did with Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. I didn’t like the characters (except for the old man who talked to his fan) or the story. I guess plenty of other people did, it’s well reviewed.

People all over the book pages, both in print and on the internet, have been raving about Allison Moore’s The Lighthouse. Perhaps I read too many of these before I read the book, but I couldn’t get fully involved in it. I did finish reading it, and I do admire her writing, but there were too many coincidences, too many repeated hints at connections between the main characters and a contrived—though darkly funny—final scenario that both amused and irritated me.

The two more pieces I need to write to complete the collection of sixty I will publish as an ebook, are slow to develop. I’ve had a few opening lines, but nothing yet that has grown into a piece of writing. I could publish a collection of fifty-eight pieces, I suppose, but I always had in mind that it would be sixty, at one point I was thinking of calling the collection Sixty Pieces. For now, it’s called Stones Gathered Together. I’m playing around with some photos I took of a pile of small stones in my study for the cover.

October 1, 2012

Five Big Books

The whole month of September without a blog post, oh dear. No more statements of intent.

I read three big paperbacks (as in many pages, brick-like shape) during the month, and am in the middle of a fourth in preparation for a fifth. Ten days on holiday in Samoa, a place where the weather, the sea and the people are all warm, provided the context for a large part of this reading: five days in Apia at the famous Aggie Grey’s:
The dining room at Aggie Grey's
And five in Lolomanu:

Taufua Beach Fal├ęs
Richard Ford’s Canada is told in the first person by Dell, looking back from his retirement as a teacher to the events of his year of being fifteen, when his parents robbed a bank. Dell reflects a lot on how to get going in his own life, rather than having things happen to him, and on what sort of people people are, beginning with his twin sister and his parents. Canada is quite different from Ford’s Sportswriter series. I liked the issues it raised, while not being sure they are fully worked out—or whether they could be.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, follows on from the brilliant Wolf Hall, and is every bit as good. Her constructed character Thomas Cromwell continues to be the centre of the story, set in the world of Henry V, in this volume during the time of wife number two, Anne Boleyn. An inconsistent king with mood swings desperately strives for a legitimate son among a court full of people full of their own importance bent on power, influence and wealth. The young Elizabeth is in the background and Mary hovers. Mantel portrays Thomas Cromwell as socially enlightened, with concern for orphans and the poor. Court life is fraught with rumour and intrigue and while Thomas Cromwell’s position is powerful, the nobles patronise him for being of low birth. It’s a great read, and I’ll certainly read volume three.

John Lanchester’s Capital  is a large ramble of a book. The title is nicely ambiguous for a book set in London with characters variously affected by the financial events of 2008 and beyond. The main characters live in a street named after Pepys. The resolution of the main threads—one concerning postcards with the message “You Have What We Want,” and the fate of Roger Yount—are a bit feeble. But then, it could be that life is like that, with more whimpers than bombs and maybe that is Lanchester’s point, or one of them. I did enjoy reading Captital, it was when I finished it I was left feeling “so what”ish.

I am currently—back home—over half way through The Satanic Verses, which I am reading in preparation for Salman Rusdie’s opus on his years in hiding as the result of the fatwa declared against him because of this book. Magical realism is not generally my favourite writing, but the mixture of fantasy and reality in The Satanic Verses is keeping me engaged. Joseph Anton is the title of the book about the effects of the fatwa. More about these two books in a later post.