Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Books of the Year

A slightly shorter list this year, with most of the books on it ones I happened to see a favourable review of, or by authors whose complete works I'm trying to read.

Howards End by E.M. Forster

I read this after watching a BBC TV adaptation of it, although I still prefer the film version with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I've had this on my bookshelf for decades and this year I finally got round to reading it, prompted by the bicentenary of the publication of what is generally regarded as the first science fiction novel.

Guerillas by V.S. Naipaul

Loosely based on the Michael X case, this short novel about black nationalism in a post-colonial society is set on an unnamed island which closely resembles the author's native Trinidad.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

The classic satire about journalism, with some wonderful passages of purple prose. Waugh based it on his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Abyssinia, and its main character, William Boot, at least on part, on Bill Deedes.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The second of Greene's four Catholic novels (preceded by Brighton Rock, and succeeded by The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair, all of which I've read in the last few years) takes place in an unnamed Mexican province, a country he visited in the late thirties, and centres on a renegade priest, also never named, who is being hunted down by an anti-clerical government there.

Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence was a proto-fascist, but this novel, largely autobiographical, about love and disappointment in a Nottinghamshire mining village and the countryside around it is nevertheless a major work of literary realism.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read an abridged version as a child, but picked this up out of a box set of other adventure novels I bought a couple of years ago.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

At a little over a thousand pages, this was the longest novel I read this year, after seeing a newspaper review of it and being intrigued by the idea of telling the story of someone's life as four different, and essentially random, possibilities interwoven together, based on a near-death experience Auster had in childhood.

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola

I must have read at least half of Zola's Rougon-Macquart series of novels now, about two sides of a family (one legitimate, the other illegitimate) under the French Second Empire (1852-70). This one concerns the political intrigues around a defeated republican returning to France from exile, after Napoleon III's coup d'état, and is largely set in the then new and massive market hall of Paris, which gives the novel both its title and some of its famous descriptive passages.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

I bought this novel about a young man's first experience of combat in the American Civil War in a second-hand bookshop as a teenager, but only got round to reading it earlier this year.

The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty by Peter Handke

I saw the film based on this years ago, and was prompted to finally read the original novel when it was re-released during this summer's World Cup. A sort of existential murder story, it has echoes of works by other twentieth century European writers I admire like Camus, Kafka, Sartre and Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Who would have thought that an alternative history novel about a celebrity (in this case the transatlantic aviator Charles Lindbergh) unexpectedly being elected US President and pursuing an isolationist "America First" programme whilst scapegoating ethnic minorities and journalists would see a spike in sales since 2016?

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Winter Warmer Wander (w)ended again

I've just completed the Winter Warmer Wander, an annual celebration of porter, stout and strong ale organised by my local CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester, by visiting twelve pubs and drinking at least a half of cask-conditioned beer in one of those styles there.

Actually, one of the first places I visited on it, as part of a pub crawl to launch the promotion, the Arden Arms in Stockport, didn't have their seasonal pin of Robinson's Old Tom (which also sponsors the event) on the bar yet when we called there, so we had to substitute the strongest beer that was, their strong bitter Trooper, but apart from that I've managed to find plenty of winter-style beers going round Manchester and Stockport in the last month.

Of the eleven other beers, nine were stouts or porters and two strong ales, seven were made by microbreweries in the North of England, four were drunk in tenanted or managed pubs (three of them Wetherspoons) and seven in free houses or micropubs, and eight of them in Stockport and three in Manchester.

My favourite beer was one I've drunk and enjoyed many times before, and CAMRA's Champion Beer in 2013, Elland 1872 Porter, at the Paramount in Manchester city centre, a silky stout which doesn't really drink to its 6.5% strength.