Friday, 30 August 2013

The Summer's Novels

It’s just about the end of August and I’m thinking about what I want to be reading in the autumn already. I’m looking back on a summer during which I read a whole load of novels – perhaps more than ever before.

This summer began on the first of June, when Bernard Socks moved in with us and I was going through a phase of Richard and Judy novels. I read one after the next and thoroughly enjoyed most of them. Three months on, though, it’s interesting just how much they’ve faded from my memory, or coalesced into one big shiny-covered blockbuster. All those long afternoons in the Beach House with Bernard Socks exploring the garden around me – I was inside some vast, page-turning miasma. Of course, some of them I completely adored and would read again – books like M.L Steadman’s ‘The Light between Oceans’, ‘Secrets of the Tides’ by Hannah Richell and Paula McLain’s ‘The Paris Wife.’ However, because they were brought to me by a very famous and popular book club they don’t feel like mine, somehow. I don’t feel invested in them in the way that I do with books I have discovered for myself…

Books that I discovered for myself this summer will stay with me longer, I’m sure. The strangeness of Sam Savage’s well-read rat, ‘Firmin’, or the warmth and wit of Sebastian Stuart’s ‘The Hour Between.’ Similarly, of all the murder mysteries I read this summer (another great recent theme) the one that perhaps stands out most is Lilian Jackson Braun’s ‘The Cat Who Could Read Backwards’ – and I had to go digging back through time to find it – a 1966 novel reprinted in 1991.

There were only about seven or eight books that I wish I hadn’t picked up this summer. For some reason I’ve forgotten how to abandon books unfinished. It’s something I need to learn to do again. I won’t go on about the things that I didn’t enjoy so much – I want to stress the stuff I loved.

And I loved Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’ – which was a romp with real heart; I loved Jenny Colgan’s ‘The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris’, which was like having a marvelous holiday, a fabulous affair and eating as much fancy chocolate as you could manage – all on the Ille de France. And at the moment I’m loving Jo Baker’s clever revisiting of Jane Austen, ‘Longbourn’ – which I’m sure I’ll write more about here before the leaves turn.

So – the moral seems to be – FIND BOOKS FOR YOURSELF, PAUL. Yes, book clubs and promotions are all very well and make you feel like you’re part of a gang – for a bit. But the reductions make you feel queasy. You feel coerced into reading what everyone else is reading. You can see that the price-drops are ruining the very idea of choice and diversity and individuality. For every author and book raised up to dazzling heights of non-obscurity, dozens are cast into the fiery pits. After a summer’s reading and thinking about it, you’ve decided that BOOK CLUBS, PROMOTIONS AND MASSIVE DISCOUNTS are unequivocally JUST BOLLOCKS, REALLY.

You’re best off following your heart.

Every time.

So – here comes Autumn. What do you fancy reading?

I’m thinking about some Golden Age Science Fiction, actually. The type I really like has monsters and spaceships and exotic worlds. And, of course, autumn will bring ghosts and earthbound monsters and more detectives. There’s nothing coming out new that I’m particularly bothered about – save Susan Cooper’s ‘Ghost Hawk’, which is winging its way from Amazon as I write. Other than that, I’m content to slalom the stacks of novels I already own… I’m loading up my TBR shelf right now… hoping to attain the perfect mix of thrills, thoughtfulness, and getting carried away by it all.


  1. Hello Paul,
    I think you're quite right about the difference between books on lists and ones that you've found yourself - although I'd never thought of this before. I've always found that the ones I've discovered (or the books that have adopted me) have become the ones that have stayed dear to my heart.
    Many thanks for mentioning the new Susan Cooper, I hadn't realised that she was still writing, so will be delighted to read that.
    Love to Mr. Socks!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, I'm sure that's right. It has to be a discovery. If a book has been foisted on me by marketing then it just won't stick.

      Glad to find your blog, by the way!