Monday, 15 December 2014

Books of the Year

It's time for my annual review of what I've read this year.

As with last year's list, it's influenced by things I saw on TV or in newspapers and other media, as well as the non-fiction I've read.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

I enjoyed re-watching this ITV Hercule Poirot adaption with David Suchet at the start of the year so decided to read the novel it's based on in which a serial killer's victims and the towns in which the crimes are committed proceed in alphabetical order.

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe

I spotted this short, semi-autobiographical novel about unrequited love on a list of supposedly unreadable books and thought I'd take up the challenge.

The Jealous God by John Braine

I picked this up after reading a description of it in Jay P. Corrin's Catholic Progressives in England after Vatican II, about the Catholic left of the 60's. The main character is a young Catholic schoolteacher of Irish descent in a small Northern English town who meets a Protestant woman, a world I instantly recognised given my own similar background.

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

Pretty much the only thing I hadn't read by Conrad, this novel, about exiled Italian revolutionaries in a fictional South American country, is widely regarded as his masterpiece.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The only book I hadn't read by Austen, for similar "completist" reasons.

Ulysses and Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

I tried to read Ulyssses as a teenager but didn't get very far. It's about Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jewish advertising salesman wandering around Dublin on a single day in 1904 (now known as "Bloomsday") and is actually quite accessible, especially compared to the supposedly unreadable Finnegans Wake, an avant garde mix of Irish folklore and puns which I read next.

The Group by Mary McCarthy 

This had sat on my bookshelves for many years and I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to this highly autobiographical novel about young female graduates and the American left in 1930's New York.

The Folks That Live on the Hill by Kingsley Amis

I read this social comedy set in early 90's North London after hearing an excerpt from it in a documentary about Amis.

Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbevilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Having not read a Hardy novel before, I had a midsummer binge on four of his tales of life and love in his native Wessex.

The Spire by William Golding

Stopping in South West England, I read this novel about the building of Salisbury Cathedral's spire in the early fourteenth century.

Nana by Emile Zola

I read quite a few Zola novels as a teenager and this was the only one on my bookshelves that I hadn't got round to. The young prostitute Nana serves as a metaphor for the corruption of the French Second Empire on the eve of its downfall.

The Long Memory by Howard Clewes

Set in the post-war London Docklands, this novel was made into a film starring John Mills which has long been a favourite of mine. The main character is an ex-convict who - in an almost Dickensian plot - wanders along the banks of the Thames attempting to clear his name.

Catholics by Brian Moore

I bought this after a seeing a clip from the film adaption of it. A short novel about an American priest sent by Rome to to suppress the Latin Mass at a monastery off the coast of Ireland after the Second Vatican Council, I read it straight through in a little over an hour.

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym

Also on the theme of religion, this light comic novel features camp Anglo-Catholics in a London parish of the late 50's.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Long on my "must read" list, this is a psychological study of a young man who commits a double murder in mid-nineteenth century St Petersburg.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

Rounding off the year on a Russian theme, I read Gogol's comic masterpiece about landowners and their dead, but still taxable, serfs and the conman who aims to exploit that.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Matt's mats

Rather stereotypically for a cask beer drinker, my favourite types of music are blues and jazz.  Those two interests coincided yesterday when the secretary of Manchester Jazz Society, of which I'm a member, very kindly gave me a collection of 1970's beer mats which he was clearing out.

As well as being visually appealing and in some cases jogging memories of pubs from my childhood, they also give a snapshot of a vanished world: not just the breweries that no longer exist such as Ansell's, Higson's and Walkers but also the unexamined sexism, tobacco advertising and the appeal on the back of some of them that drivers only drink moderately.