Book Diary – March and April 2014

‘The Voice of the Violin’ by Andrea Camilleri

Sunday 9th March – Monday 10th March

After the lengthy tome that was ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You’, I decided that what was needed was a quick read, a lightweight bit of escapism. This arrived in the form of a Montalbano novel. The only downside was that this meant I had skipped from book one to book four of the series – anyone who knows me will know that I don’t like reading series’ out of order.

However, one of the good things about the Montalbano series which is true of both the books and the TV episodes is that while there is an ongoing story in the background (Salvo’s up and down relationship with Livia etc.), it rarely plays a crucial part in the plot of a specific novel and so it is possible to read them out of order without spoiling any major developments.

As with the others I have read, this is a well-written piece of sunny escapism despite the grim tale being told. While these will never be considered great literature, it was a very welcome change of scene and pace from ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You’.

‘The Embarrassment of Riches – An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age’ by Simon Schama

Tuesday 11th March – paused Wednesday 26th March, resumed Sunday 30th March, paused Wednesday 11th April

After reading the introduction, I was dreading the prospect of facing another six hundred pages of this book. However, once into the text, things improved quite a bit.

As you will have noticed, I did pause it a couple of times and moved off onto something lighter. This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of this book, which was very interesting.

What I love most about reading books such as this

‘The Terracotta Dog’ by Andrea Camilleri

Thursday 27th March – Saturday 29th March

I paused ‘The Embarrassment of Riches’ at the end of the first chapter, having found the latter portion of that section a little over my head. For something lighter, I turned to another of the Montalbano novels.

To be honest, I could repeat many of the comments in the write-up of ‘The Voice of the Violin’, but I won’t, if only in the name of brevity and originality. It ticked all the same boxes and provided a nice relief from the slower progress of Simon Schama’s book.

Tintin: The Art of Herge

Sunday 13th April – Wednesday 16th April

It’s probably a little misleading to say that I read this book, as over three quarters of the pages are covered with illustrations rather than text. This would explain how I managed to work my way through over four hundred pages inside three days.

This is, without doubt, one of the most wonderful books I own. As regular readers of this blog might know, I am a big fan of Tintin and Herge’s art, and so to have a book filled with everything from rough sketches to perfect reproductions of frames from the books is a joy in itself. The text is interesting and informative without going into too much detail and distracting from the main focus which is of course the art. Even though this is a companion to the Musee Herge and so probably is in effect the museum in paper form, it has made me more keen to see it in the flesh rather than less so.

Book Diary – August/September 2013

As David Peace’s ‘Red or Dead’ dominated most of August, I’m going to combine the tail-end of the month with September.

‘Vendetta’ by Michael Dibdin

Monday 26th August – Saturday 31st August

Following on from ‘Ratking’ in February, I moved on to the second Zen book.

As with the previous novel, I felt that the TV adaptation was very true to the spirit of the books. There were moments when the plots deviate but without jarring horrendously.

It’s a common thing for fictional detectives to have vulnerabilities, but I think Zen’s make him more human than the archetypal anti-social, alcoholic divorcee. He wants friends, a stress-free life, and is a reluctant outsider due to the fact that he’s a Venetian, rather than because he isolates himself through a lack of personal skills or overwhelming devotion to duty. It’s this that I think makes him my favourite fictional detective, ahead of Wallander, Kenzie and Gennaro or Derek Strange and Terry Quinn.

‘Hang Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly)’ by Simon Schama

Sunday 1st September – Thursday 12th September

Feeling artistic, I decided to start on Simon Schama’s collection of essays on the subject of art.

The essays themselves are perfect examples of Schama’s readable but intelligent style, and he does a great job of bringing pictures to life, even when you can’t see them.

The main criticisms of the book would be twofold: firstly, and most importantly, the subjects of the essays are often exhibitions which are long since gone, so it is impossible for the reader to ever truly experience what SS is talking about, and secondly, the lack of pictures. In some ways, I’m ashamed to type that, but I feel that a book about art is the perfect place for plenty of pictures, and there is a maximum of one picture per artist discussed, which leaves something to be desired.

I stopped reading about two-thirds of the way through for a number of reasons. Mostly, the last chapter was about fashion rather than art, but also because the format was becoming a little repetitive (though that is perhaps harsh as Simon Schama’s writing is always a pleasure to read) and he was heading into artists I don’t like (Cy Twombly for one!) and several of the later essays were clearly aimed at a more knowledgeable audience than I.

I will read some of the as-yet unread essays, and would recommend the book to any art fan.

‘Cabal’ by Michael Dibdin

Friday 13th September – Sunday 22nd September

Having enjoyed the first two of the series, I quickly moved on to the third, Cabal, which would also complete the set of three which the BBC had adapted for television.

This is the point at which the TV adaptation and the books finally part company once and for all. Beyond the opening scene in which Ludovico Ruspanti falls to his death, the book is unrecognisable as the TV episode bearing the same name and containing the same characters.

However, that is not to its detriment. The book is still very enjoyable, and Zen is still the most likeable of the fictional detectives I have so far encountered. His jealousy of his lady friend’s independence provides an amusing subplot and reaffirms his status as a proper human being.

 

Book Diary – October 2012

‘The American Future: A History’ by Simon Schama

Friday 28th September -Tuesday 23rd October

I picked this up for mere pence in The Works some time ago, having seen the TV series and enjoyed it. The problem I anticipated was that as this was written around the 2008 American presidential elections, it would be dated despite only being four years old. However, I was completely wrong. Only the introduction dates the book, and even then not in an ‘oh-that’s-so-2008’ way, more a contextual anchor for the rest of the text.

Despite taking quite a while to read the book, I found it fascinating. I tended to read in bursts of dozens of pages at a time than gradually working my way through the text.

I learned an enormous amount about American history (despite having seen – and clearly forgotten – the series when it was on television) and it was interesting to read the contrast between intention and realisation. The book painted a very attractive picture of the American ideal and a depressing one of the way in which this was twisted and exploited by immoral and misguided people over the last three or four centuries.

Having read Simon Schama’s ‘Power of Art’ last year, and enjoyed the television series which accompanied both books, I can honestly say I would willingly read anything he has written.

‘The Children of Húrin’ by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Wednesday 24th October – Thursday 1st November

I bought this several years ago at a bargain price in HMV, but had repeatedly put off reading it, having been rather daunted by The Silmarillion’s dense text and foolishly assumed that The Children of Húrin would be the same.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite its very dark and tragic plot. The lack of hope, and the despair which permeates the entire story make more grown up than many of his other stories, and puts the tone in stark contrast to the (I feel) rather childish style of The Hobbit. In some ways it is probably right up there with The Lord Of The Rings as my favourite Tolkien story. At 250-odd pages, it’s a much quicker read!

With the film of The Hobbit imminent, I was struck by how easy it would be to turn this into a fantastic Middle Earth tragedy, though it’s debatable what sort of audience such a hope-free film could attract.