Thursday, December 30, 2010

and so what were the grownups reading in twentyten?

well i don't know about most grown-ups, but for me it was a little bit scary when i realised these three books were probably the only 2010-release grown-up books i read this year. they were all fabulous, at least.

our tragic universe, scarlett thomas

scarlett thomas' third book was sort of about nothing, but was also a wonderful story all about stories. about writing and ideas, coincidence and relationships, knitting, the beast of dartmoor, taking the dog for a walk, kissing married friends on ferries - this is an absolute must-read for all writers (and readers).

read my review here.

the hopeless life of charlie summers, paul torday

i've relished each paul torday book since his brilliant 2007 salmon fishing in the yemen. you never know what his next book will be about. this one is actually narrated by hector 'eck' chetwode-talbot who is in finance in the city, but it's also about eck's doppleganger charlie summers, whom he meets by chance. eck works with money in the million, the billions, the squillions. charlie sells weird dog food and has lots of hairbrained schemes. eck's about to find out just what makes him so different from charlie. now i don't pretend to know a snit about $ or finance, but this book played on my unease regarding stocksbondsinternetbanking:
'then, somewhere, someone asked a new question. it was: "can i have my money back?" we didn't know it then, but the money that had come out of nowhere was about to return to exactly the same place.' (p8, uncorrected proof)

eleven, mark watson

at once hilarious and tragic, i loved eleven. xavier ireland is a late-night talk back radio dj in london, his sidekick murray a more laconic version of murray from flight of the conchords, but xavier was once chris cotswold and lived in melbourne. this book is about why he left. at first i was concerned this book was mere dick-lit and was hesitant to get on board with the omniscient narrator that told me all about a series of other people whose lives were getting increasingly difficult. but he pulls it off! however, it's marketed as a funny book by "one of britain's best-loved comedians" but THIS BOOK HAS A HARROWING, HARROWING MOMENT. my blood ran cold and i cried. read it, this one is worth it.

here's a photo from the launch at the sun bookshop (actually held in 'the grand' at the sun theatre due to massive attendance):

i did also read some grown-up classics, including (but not limited to):
  • keep the aspidistra flying, george orwell
  • nausea, jean-paul sartre
  • pursuit of love, nancy mitford
  • the great gatsby, f scott fitzgerald

but here's to a new years resolution to read more contemporary fiction. anyone read anything amazing this year i should go back and explore??


  1. Cool list! I love Torday and after thinking Eck was great in The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce I definitely want to read the new one.

    Personal adult recs for the year:

    We The Drowned, by Carsten Jensen - Danish seafaring epic set in a small town over 100 years between the mid 19th and mid 20th centuries. Gorgeously written and utterly compelling.

    One Day, by David Nicholls - Follows 2 people through the course of 20 years by looking at them on each 15th July, from the day they meet in university onwards. Funny but also really moving in places.

    Classic that I finally got round to reading this year is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - 1930's parody of English rural authors such as Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence and Mary Webb. Flora Poste goes to stay with her cousins the Dooms, who take her in because of the mysterious wrong that they did to her father. Despite them all referring to her as "Robert Poste's child", and being varying degrees of insane, Flora applies common sense to their problems and drags them into the 20th century, eventually even standing up to Aunt Ada Doom who saw 'something nasty in the woodshed'. Absolutely hilarious.

  2. Hi Kate,
    I've long maintained that adults in the children's lit world should also read at their own (ie adult) level - it scares me sometimes that many people seem not to. So it's great that you're reading the classics, and other books for much older people. The older I get (and I think that it's because from here on my years are numbered - or just that my reading muscles seem to be at their peak) the more I want to read truly excellent books that have stood the test of time - and a lot of these were written by long dead people.

    Over Christmas I read Christina Stead's 'The Man who loved children' (1940) - and I want to do a post on this as soon as I've read Hazel Rowley's bio of her. Next year I want to read a book of Patrick White's that I've not read ('The tree of man'), and reread some old japanese greats. Contemporary writers : I love Kasuo Ishiguro (have I spelt that right?) - finally got round to reading 'Never Let me Go' recently, after being put off by the subject matter for years. It's a book that might easily be read by young adults (and might have been a YA if it wasn't by KI) - and is excellent.

  3. thank you for the recommendations. i'm onto it.

    everything in my life is pointing to me reading 'the man who loved children' so i think that will have to be first. 'cold comfort farm' has been on the list for a while, so i guess that's second.

    i hear you, jo, about the classics. truly excellent books. what a truly excellent idea. xx

  4. YA 1) The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing traitor to the nations (Anderson) about a precocious African slave was incredible. I still can't stop thinking about the characters. Quite astonishing. 2) How I live now (Rosoff). Beautifully plotted story about a future war in England affecting a family of very self-sufficient children. Thought provokling about how my own would cope. How I would cope for that matter.
    Adult 1) Eucalyptus (Bail) A love story with quite a bit about gums in it. Beautiful. Miles Franklin winner from a while ago. 2)The underground man (Jackson) Booker prize shortlist. Sense of place, suspense finely tuned. Amazing debut novel.

  5. i have been meaning to read Eucalyptus for so long now. it's defo on the list. loved Octavian Nothing enormously - mt anderson was incredible at the 2009 reading matters conference.
    thank you for your recommendations!


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