2019 appears to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang here at 746 books!
For the usual reasons that no one really wants to read about, I haven’t been blogging very much and with Christmas and the twins’ 9th birthday looming, it’s unlikely things are going to pick up. So I am going to cut my losses, do a bit of a round up and come back to you all fresher at the end of the year. Well that’s the plan anyway!
This time last year, I set myself the challenge of getting my TBR into the 400s before the end of December. I haven’t done it, but I am very close, so here are a few of the books I’ve been reading that have brought me tantalisingly close to saying goodbye to the 500s forever!
No 505 Zone One by Colson Whitehead
As is always the case, when everyone else is reading the latest shiny new book by an author, I am still trudging along trying to catch up on their back catalogue! Zone One has been termed a ‘literary zombie’ novel and although it took me a while to get into, it was an entertaining read.
An inevitable inexplicable plague has struck the world, causing the collapse of society on what is now called ‘Last Night’. Some years later, an emerging government has reformed in Buffalo, and have decided to band together survivors to reclaim their world. They are starting, of course, with Manhattan, the Zone One of the title.
Mark Spitz is our narrator, working in a team of ‘sweepers’ attempting to clear the city of its undead, investing his work with as much enthusiasm as he did his previous mid-level job for a chain of coffee shops. Can he buy into the new hope that the city can be reclaimed? Alternatively, should he trust his gut that things are, most probably, only going to get worse?
There is enough action and gore here to please genre fans, and like all good zombie tales, Whitehead creates an appealing allegory of contemporary life, where the plague simply ‘reveals our family members, friends and neighbours as the creatures they have always been’. The prose can, at times, be overdone, making for some sluggish reading, but overall this is a thoughtful take on an apocalyptic tale.
Read on: iBooks
Number Read: 242
Number Remaining: 504
No 504 Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosches
It is always a shame when you are driven to read a book you have owned for years because of the death of the author, but that is the case here. Nick Tosches, legendary music writer, died last month and I decided to finally pick up this biography of my favourite Rat Packer Dean Martin.
This is a biography that will divide opinion – Tosches is a writer who uses flamboyant prose and inserts himself into the mind of his subject to create an over-the-top novelistic depiction of Dean Martin’s life.
Born Dino Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, Tosches follows Dino as he becomes Dean Martin, wins over Manhattan, becomes a star alongside Jerry Lewis and achieves worldwide fame as one of the infamous Rat Pack. He was the man all men wanted to be and all women wanted to be with, but he was also the man who did not seem to care about any of it. Notoriously aloof, Dean is a hard man to find in this book, as he seems to have kept everyone – from Frank Sinatra, to Mob bosses to his own family – at an emotional remove. As his drunk act finally became his real act, Tosches depicts a performer dripping with talent who was known to the world but never let himself be truly known by anyone.
That is an obvious draw back in a biography, but Tosches puts Martin’s life in fascinating context, using America of the 1950s with all its political and social upheaval as a stunning backdrop for this tale of the darker side of the American Dream.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 243
Number Remaining: 503
No 503 Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck
This book took me completely by surprise. I had no idea what to expect from this tale of one house and its inhabitants over key points in Germany’s history, but it will definitely be one of my books of the year.
In a house by a lake in Brandenburg, a succession of occupants come and go against the backdrop of the political upheaval of 20th century Europe. In the 1930s, the house is owned by a Jewish family who are forced to leave while waiting for visas to escape the Third Reich. At the end of the Second World War, an architect and his wife move in and renovate, creating a home they love until the Russian army appear. The house is then reclaimed by returning exiles, before being sold on again. The narrative is held together by one constant, the Gardener, who works on the land through all its reiterations, and whose care for the place is incredibly moving.
This is an epic story told with brevity and through small, personal stories. Erpenbeck is skilled and getting to the emotional heart of a scene through small details and nuanced observations and packs more into these 150 pages than many weightier novels can manage. Visitation is also thoughtfully translated by Susan Beronofsky, who captures the poetic, incantatory style of the novel to perfection. Highly recommended.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 244
Number Remaining: 502
No 502 American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story by Cynthia True
‘There’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream and you are the imagination of yourself. Here’s Tom with the weather.’
In 1994 Bill Hicks, the fearless and often offensive comic was taking Britain by storm and winning acclaim in the US, when he died of pancreatic cancer aged only 32. His controversial body of work was driven by a passion, compassion and anger that means it still resonates today, 25 years after his death.
Cynthia True was a comedy critic for the New York edition of Time Out, and despite never interviewed Bill Hicks, has created an insightful and thoughtful exploration of his life and his work. Speaking to colleagues, relatives and old friends, each chapter contains an epigraph from answer machine messages he left to people he loved, which depicts the man as separate from the performer.
It would be tempting to turn Bill Hicks’ story into the tragic tale of a talent that was lost before its time, but True resists and focuses instead on the triumph of Hicks’ life, highlighting his achievements and most of all, his posthumous influence. The scenes of his illness and ultimate death are subtle and moving, emphasising the loss not only to his friends and family, but also to culture as a whole.
Bill Hicks often said that life was ‘just a ride’ and Cynthia True has captured his particular ride with intelligence, humour and insight.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 245
Number Remaining: 501
Can I read and review just two more books before the end of the year? Probably not. It might not be a win, but this is as close as I am going to get at this point!
I’ll be posting my books of the year just before the end of December, so if I don’t get back to the blog before then, a Happy Christmas to you all. May Santa bring you lots of books!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!