I haven't told you for a while what I've been reading. This month has been mostly about writing with very sharp pencils in multiple notebooks. I've got first drafts of two different projects going on and there's something very satisfying about sharpening a handful of pencils and then just letting rip on the page for an hour at a time. So there's been less time for reading, with all this new stuff whirling scratchily around in my head.
I read 'Fifty Shades of Grey' and 'The Hunger Games' at the start of the month because I like to keep up with what the rest of the world is reading. I found 'Fifty Shades' weirdly tame and precious - and so peculiar with its endless contract negotiations and mimsying about. It's like straying into the bland sex fantasies of people from 'The Apprentice'. It's also filled with lots of unintentional laughs, which is always worth sticking around for. I found the characters a bit more engaging than I thought I would - but in the end I thought it was just poor. I won't be reading the sequels, I don't think. It's not even excitedly, addictively, feverishly poor, like - say, Valley of the Dolls or Flowers in the Attic. It's a tepid sexy book for a tame and yawnsome era.
'The Hunger Games' was great fun, though. But I've read it all before in John Christopher and other science fiction novels for kids. That's the thing about these huge-sellers - they attract the attention of non-readers who think what's being done is novel. It was the same with Harry Potter - which was new to those who had never heard of Eva Ibbotson, Diane Duane, Jill Murphy or Diana Wynne Jones.
So... what have I read that I've really liked?
Well, there was a Natalie Goldberg book I'd never come across before. In the 1990s I love her books on Zen and Writing, 'Wild Mind' and 'Writing Down the Bones'. Somehow I missed out on the fact that she'd carried on publishing. 'Thunder and Lightning' is a terrific continuation of her major themes - with a bit more consideration this time on the subject of reading as a writer, and what we can take from the books we love.
Then there was Diane Keaton's memoir about her relationship with her mother, 'Now and Then'. It was wonderful to find that Keaton is as earnest and amusing as any character she's ever played. She doesn't even know she's being funny at times. But she writes beautifully, I think - and, on the evidence of the reproduced journal entries - so did her stymied mother. I love all the stuff about their various collages and dappy art projects. When Keaton publishes a kitschy artbook in the 1980s, juxtaposing images of stars of the past with stuffed animals, she receives a letter from her all-time hero, Clark Gable. He tells her that her book is insulting crap. But still Keaton bounces back - creating further 'artistic' disasters and racketing around in Hollywood. It's a lovely book, I think.
Reading disasters this month? I splurged in Waterstones and bought things from their 'Book Club' - which was a disaster. I read a very anaemic literary novel. And then a comic fantasy novel by someone revered by *everyone* I know - and it has sent me to sleep several nights in a row.
But now i'm halfway through James Herbert's new monster tome, 'Ash'. He writes so badly - with people 'nodding affirmation' and hundreds of other redundancies - and spouting the most banal dialogue I've read anywhere ('Playing the subtext' as the tv soap people used to say...). There's a hackneyed haunted asylum setting, some ill-advised lesbian shenanigans and some characters tastelessly imported from 'real life'. But i still find him utterly, wonderfully, pulpishly readable. I always have!