A quarter of the way into 2015 and these are my top ten books so far…
I’ve read fewer books than usual during the first quarter of this year. It’s a strange and liberating experience. It’s all down to drawing and painting so much, and using my time quite differently. But it’s also meant I’ve been choosier with what I read, perhaps, opting for things that I’m pretty sure are going to be good and taking fewer chances on unknown quantities…
JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY by Brian Jay Jones
The last book of last year – so long that it becomes the first book of the new year. A smashing, exhaustive, completely absorbing tale of a man who made joyous TV shows and films and built an empire just for fun.
GREAT PLEASURES by Edward Southgate
An erotic picaresque romp through the apartments and bedrooms of contemporary Manhattan. It’s funny and self-deprecating and obsessed with sex – but never so much that it neglects to create these perfect little cameos of each individual encountered.
SOPHIE AND THE SIBYL by Patricia Duncker
A rich and complex study of George Eliot’s later years. In Duncker’s book Eliot is a kind of monster of High Realism, dragging young people into her orbit and seducing men and women, one after the next, with her grotesque and compelling brilliance.
THE MEMORY BOOK by Rowan Coleman
I found this moving and touching – a family romance about second chances and the losing of faculties. It’s a lovely portrait of generations of women – and these rather sexy men in their lives.
THE YEAR OF TAKING CHANCES by Lucy Diamond
I loved discovering Lucy’s books last summer, and this New Year resolution-themed novel was a good follow-up. I became involved in the stories of all three / four of the lead heroines. I like the way the stories are plaited into one and the way that almost everyone gets redeemed by the end of the book. I did miss some of the commonsense northern voices that we had in ‘One Night in Italy’, though…
LIVING COLOR by Natalie Goldberg
I can’t help it! I find her books – usually on motivating the reader into writing – utterly inspirational and wonderful. I’d read an earlier edition of this book on drawing a couple of years ago. This new version comes with extra examples of her bright, jazzy, proudly naïve art and some extra text. I love this book. She’s winsome and hippyish and like a nice old friend who’d always cheer you up. (Now, there’s a running theme through these favourites-of-the-year-so-far…!)
THE SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler.
I feared it was to be her last, but apparently she’s still writing. But this still feels like a book of summing-up. She returns to themes and motifs and character types we’ve met before, but this time her historical reach is clearly in evidence and we go backwards through the generations and come to a complete understanding of a seemingly rootless family that has had its heyday and now seems in danger of falling apart. I took a whole month to read this. Slowly and so carefully, like unpicking stitches in order to learn just how on earth she put it all together.
FANTASTIC FOUR - MARVEL MASTERWORKS VOLUME NINE by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
A chance visit to a remote secondhand bookshop had me buying a 1970s issue of ‘Titans’ comic and getting involved in reading strips I read when I was seven. In Central Library I found this continuation immediately. It fell off the shelf into my hands: late 1960s Fantastic Four, from Lee and Kirby at the height of their phantasmagorical, futuristic and cheesy powers. Here we’ve got the Uncanny Inhumans in their secret city, the hundredth issue robot villains team-up and the sinister figure of Agatha Harkness, the witchy baby-sitter. It was a lovely reminder of some of my earliest reading.
THE CREATIVE LICENCE by Danny Gregory
Another book about drawing! A terrific self-helpy book crammed with intricate, colourful drawings and handwritten from beginning to end. Lots of exercises and ideas and lots of inspiration for getting out and about with your notebook and doing observational drawing and writing, wherever you are. His description at the start of the book of how hand-to-eye coordination actually works in drawing is astonishing. I’ve never seen anyone explain it so lucidly and practically. I want to read all of his other books now.
THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT by Edward Kelsey Moore
Here’s a fantastic ensemble novel set in Louisiana, about three lifelong friends. There’s a murder or two, alcoholism, secret love, terminal disease, friendly ghosts and some wonderful laughs and gossip. It reminded me of Fanny Flagg’s ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and Sandra Dallas’ ‘The Persian Pickle Club’ – two of my all-time favourite novels. I’m hoping there’s going to be a sequel….!
And… that’s where I’m at right now.
It’s been a successful first quarter of reading, I think. I’m stacked up with new books to get on with – including the new Jenny Colgan and Carole Matthews. My kindle is bursting at the electronic seams and the weather is getting mild enough to return to the trans-dimensional depths of the Beach House library at the bottom of the garden…