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Holiday Reading

January 16, 2009

The recent trip to Malaysia met all my criteria for a “good holiday”. The food was amazing, the hotels were comfortable and well located, getting around was easy, we had a good split between city time and beach time, and I had time and space to get quite a bit of reading done. More, in fact, than anticipated, which meant that I ran out of books and had to rely on H.S. Sam’s second hand bookstore in Georgetown.

So, all in all, I read seven books and crossed none off my “to read” list!

Goldengrove – Francine Prose

The Gerald Manley Hopkins-inspired title was what caught my eye; the beautiful writing captured my attention. I put this book down reluctantly late on the first night of reading, and picked it up again first thing the next morning. The scope of the story is small and the plot is simple, but Prose has managed to create a surprising amount of tension within this work.

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Lots of Booker Prize winners leave me cold (The Line of Beauty stands out as an exception), but this is wonderful. The structure could have been irritatingly gimmicky, but it works perfectly. Energetic, witty, tragic… another novel that demanded attention.

Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – Fuschia Dunlop

Entertaining and frustrating, in equal measure. Dunlop’s decision, at a relatively young age, to take up study in Chengdu was offbeat and courageous. She captures the exhilaration, as well as the frustration, of adapting to a new culture and language and the passion with which she writes about food is engaging. I did, however, find the combination of naivety and arrogance irritating – where she can no longer claim to be oblivious to the nature of the Chinese state apparatus, she attempts (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) to justify her acceptance of preferential treatment. I’m always put off by memoirs that have this brand of “it was great, but it’s gone now so you missed it” smugness and, towards the end, this becomes overwhelming. It’s an interesting book, but perhaps I should have read it over a period of weeks, rather than over a couple of days.

With Nails – Richard E. Grant

The cover line read “Funny, bitchy, utterly fascinating” and this is about 58% true. It’s quite funny – particularly on Withnail and I, the “bonding” camp at Coppola’s ranch for Dracula, and all of the Hudson Hawk entries – somewhat fascinating (he writes beautifully about his father, and his authorial voice matches the expectation set by Wah Wah), but not at all bitchy. This is not a criticism; I would, quite possibly, have been devastated had it been bitchy. Still, the cover line demonstrates what publishers think will sell in celebrity memoirs.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People – Toby Young

I wasn’t expecting much from this book and it failed to meet even those limited expectations. My love for Simon Pegg will probably find me renting the DVD version, but not until it comes out as a weekly. God knows how Young even got the Vanity Fair gig – dude cannot write. The fact that he’s parlayed his utter failure there into two books and a spin-off film is unfortunately less unbelievable than it should be.

Love in a Cold Climate –Nancy Mitford

A very silly book. Lots of fun.

Wicked – Gregory Maguire

When I saw this in H.S. Sam’s, I thought “oh, no, somebody’s cashed in on the musical and written a book”. God, I’m ignorant. This is a good “beach” book: it’s engaging enough to keep the pages turning but not so engrossing that you miss out on swimming and walks down the beach; interesting enough to pack in the bag for the trip home, but not so valued that it matters when the spine fills up with sand. Maguire’s “alternative Oz” has clearly been successful – having not known of the existence of this book prior to my encounter with Sam’s dog-eared copy, I can’t seem to avoid seeing the sequels everywhere. I doubt that I’ll pursue my relationship with Oz beyond what it is now (although I’m planning to watch the movie – Judy Garland’s, not Michael Jackson’s – again soon).

What’s next?

I’m currently reading Kafka on the Shore and I still have People of the Book sitting on the shelf.  Hopefully I won’t have to wait until another holiday to get stuck into that!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    January 16, 2009 3:50 pm

    Yay for good holidays! Reading is also a good thing. My mum tried to make me read Love in a Cold Climate once — she dumped about five books on my desk that she wanted me to read. One was by Trotsky, three were in French, and the last was Love in a Cold Climate. I never read any of them, though. Perhaps I should. (Well, maybe not the French ones.)

    The only book I’ve read these holidays is “Citizens”, for History this year. I’m only a quarter of the way through, because it’s not very exciting. I even managed to fall asleep when reading it once — one minute I’m reading something about “virtuous citizenship”, and next thing I know I’m jolted awake by my cat. The book has, however, made me discover that I hate Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His theories are terrible.

    Now that mini-rant is over, perhaps I should force myself to read some more! I hope you’re enjoying your holidays still, even though you’re back from Malaysia.

  2. injera permalink*
    January 16, 2009 4:10 pm

    I can see why having books thrust upon you can turn you against the idea of reading them (I’m assuming that the French books your mum dumped on you were actually in French, rather than translations of books written in French). My mother spent years (years!) pushing “The Old Man and the Sea” and I duly resisted. Eventually I did read it – enjoyed it, never told her. As for Tolstoy, I have only ever read Anna Karenina, and that was only because a well-travelled friend’s only advice to me on my first big solo trip was: “take a big book – a stodgy big classic”. It was good advice (although AK is not at all stodgy).

    Oh, dear, you must read something frivolous after falling asleep with “Citizens”. LIACC fits the “frivolous” bill perfectly. It’s the type of book that, once you’ve read a few pages, you find yourself reading in whatever approximation of a Mitford accent your imagination produces.

    Enjoy the rest of the holidays (preferably with books that don’t encourage sleep – although keep “Citizens” close in case insomnia hits you again this year)!

  3. realityravings permalink
    January 16, 2009 7:21 pm

    Your holiday sounds so relaxing.
    I used to love Gerard Manley Hopkins. Your holiday reading looks sensational and puts me to shame. Please write about the food and which beach places did you went to?

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