Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Summer Reading in Review

Now that it's September I'm looking back on the heap of books I've read between June and August and thinking about what I've been up to - the places i've been, and the characters I've spent my time with. And also, how one book links up and zig-zags into the next.

As always there are recurrent themes and tendencies. I see that I've elected to spend time with a bunch of old favourite characters (as if the difficulties of everyday life in the outside world send me off in my spare time to seek the company and solace of old friends.) So, this summer I've have spent days with Holmes and Watson; Jeeves and Wooster; Newbury and Hobbes; Doctor Who; Inspector Alleyn; the crew of the original Starship Enterprise; the Psammead; Mapp and Lucia, and the cast of characters in Jane Sanderson's 'Netherwood' series and Yasmine Galenorn's 'Chintz and China' series.  At the same time, I've plumped for three re-reads of novels that I've already read multiple times - by Alan Garner, Anne Tyler and Jonathan Carroll. At one level it looks like I'm looking for security and stability in my reading... but there's also a sense, to me, of somehow 'filling in the corners' in this returning to favourite characters. I'm finding the last in the series, or starting the first in a new, revived series - and reassuring myself of the ongoingness and indestructibility of those characters and worlds.  (The biggest feeling of glad ongoingness was something I got from J T Colgan's Doctor Who novel; Rohase Piercy's delightful gay Holmes novel 'My Dear Holmes' and Jacqueline Wilson's expertly-done E. Nesbit sequel, 'Four Children and It' (which came at the very end of summer.)

I'm surprised to find, adding it all up, that I've read more in the Cosy Mystery line than I have in Science Fiction and Fantasy this summer - revelling in series about Beatrix Potter and her sleuthing animal friends and witches who run teashops and do battle with ghastly spirits.

Where I've delighted in finding new stuff has been in the YA bracket - uncovering authors such as Katharine Paterson, whom I'd never read before - and finding new books to love by Penelope Lively and Diana Wynne Jones. I also had a bit of a rummage in elderly Penguin classics - reading 'Diary of a Nobody' for the first time and loving it - but also at last reading 'Memoirs of a Midget' by Walter de la Mare and not liking it as much as I'd always expected. In Classics, I learned, that for every Fabulous Nobody there's bound to be a Disappointing Midget.

Other disappointments of the summer included the new novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, whose first two novels I loved so much. This was the third in a series and I found it to be a mopping-up exercise for plot points, and uncaptivating on its own.

My two big personal discoveries of the summer? One that everyone has forgotten - James Leo Herlihy - and one that seemingly everyone but I already knows - Mitch Albom. I found books by both to be wholly absorbing and life-affirming. With both authors, I felt I was hearing the voice of a new old friend. What more could you want from summer reading?

Here's a picture of Fester reading 'Fifty Shades of Grey.'  Right now I'm having a dalliance with big bestsellers. I devoured 'The Hunger Games' in a weekend and now I'm making my way through all the shenanigans with Mr Grey...


  1. A lovely mix there Paul. I've been revisiting old big places like 'The Reality Dysfunction', and discovering unknown new apocalyptic stuff - 'The Passage' by Justin Cronin. I also have a mission to linger upon the combined works of some guys called Michalowski, Lidster, Russell and Magrs over the next few days!

  2. Oh yes, you're chairing our event, aren't you..?

    1. Moderating. Sounds far less pretentious! ;)