Old Books of the Month – July 2014

July was a surreal month for me

It started with a kind of hangover from having spent the previous two months reading more out of obligation than pleasure. I was on a judging panel and quite a lot of the titles weren’t really my thing. They weren’t bad; just not my cup of tea. A few years ago I probably wouldn’t have minded – it was what I used to experience when virtually everything I read came from whatever the library had available – but over the past 4-5 years I’ve had a bit more disposable income and become very good at selecting books that appeal to me. Of course there were some great books in the mix but it was the ‘meh’ books that left an aftertaste.

So at the start of July I didn’t feel like picking up a book at all.

Then I had a brush with a real crime. A man I have known for a dozen or so years committed a horrific murder. I had spoken to him about something entirely inconsequential only the day before. He is an acquaintance rather than a friend but still… You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned of it. Probably still could. Although there is not a shred of doubt about his guilt I still can’t quite process it. I can’t even imagine what his family and close friends must be feeling if I am so unsettled out here at the very periphery of his world.

The silver lining to this particular cloud was that I felt like reading again. But not crime fiction. Not yet.

And, no surprise, I don’t have much else on hand. Except some old favourites. I haven’t done any serious re-reading for years but I found it hugely comforting to revisit some of my very favourite books.

TheHitchhikersGuidetothe11761_fLike Douglas Adams’ THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. I’ve no clue how many times I’ve read this book but it still made me laugh all these times later. And read bits out loud just to hear the cadence of the language. My first copy fell apart due to overuse so I bought a new one a couple of years ago. Plus I have the audio version narrated by Stephen Fry. Bliss. My favourite line remains “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”  That line encapsulates pretty much everything I love about Adams.

YearofWondersBrooksGera11374_fSomething of a change of pace is Geraldine Brooks’ YEAR OF WONDERS: A NOVEL OF THE PLAGUE. I’ve read this one less times but still don’t know how many. It is a novel of great despair and great hope too and this time I couldn’t help but be struck by the line “How little we know, I thought, of the people we live amongst.” Indeed.

 

NotesfromaSmallIslandBr10489_fThen I turned to some light non-fiction to re-visit Bill Bryson’s NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND. I’ve probably only read this three or four times but still my copy is falling apart. Bad binding? Rough friends? (it’s been loaned a time or three). I like the way he reminds us that we are (or at least we used to be) generally harsher on ourselves than others could ever hope to be

“How easily we lose sight of all this. What an enigma Britain will seem to historians when they look back on the second half of the twentieth century. Here is a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way, created a far-seeing welfare state – in short, did nearly everything right – and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure. The fact is that this is still the best place in the world for most things – to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in a view.”

Though of course he wrote that before the invention of twitter’s hashtag storms and the comments pages of online news outlets. In those worlds of anonymity cruelty to others has become a dark art. But I digress.

TheWestWingSeason1199935545_fWhen I wasn’t re-visiting my literary comfort zone I was getting stuck into a visual one. I started re-watching THE WEST WING from the beginning. It’s been about five years so it must be time. Part comedy, part fantasy it is my favourite TV show ever. If only wishing could make the world so. I keep thinking that one of the times I start to watch over again I’ll be bored and not want to keep going. It hasn’t happened yet.

By the end of the month I was starting to feel the pull of my TBR pile. But I went and bought a couple of new books instead. As you do. Well as I do. August’s reading?

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15 Responses to Old Books of the Month – July 2014

  1. Bernadette – I know what you mean about brushes with real crime. I had that happen (to a lesser extent, I’ll admit) once too, and it’s unsettling. It does make you step back, so to speak. You’ve got some great comfort reading, too. I have always loved the Hitchhiker novels, and Bill Bryson is a fantastic writer. And The West Wing too? Yes, definitely good choices as far as I’m concerned.

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  2. Col says:

    I’ve read a few Bryson books. They are always useful as a diversion from “normal” reading fare.

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  3. Sorry to hear you’ve had some reassessing to do. I love the books you’ve read, especially The Year of Wonders which is a book I found by chance that I loved (it is a great one to reread too)

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  4. FictionFan says:

    Great line from Hitchhikers! And you’ve really made me want to revisit The West Wing…

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  5. It sounds as though you really needed those comfort reads – I hope you’re starting to feel better about these events. I love Year of Wonders, now I feel I should read it again. Brooks is such a talented writer.

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  6. Kathy D. says:

    I have not read these books, but understand the need to read old faithfuls when the going gets tough, or true crime comes too close to home. What was the person’s motive in committing this horrible crime? Do you know? Does the media say why? That is chilling.
    I may try Year of Wonders. I had barely read any fiction in June or July, not sure why. I was very busy and also watching a lot of dvd’s, including the De Luca quartet and Annika Bengtzon as well as watching a lot of BBC episodes on TV. And I also wasn’t inspired by any books.
    I’m in duality about whether to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and think I want to read J.K. Rowling/Richard Galbraith’s The Silkworm soon.
    Always enjoy the posts here.

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  7. angelasavage says:

    Sorry to hear of the violence so close to home, Bernadette. I have a theory that for those of us who rarely experience the real thing, crime fiction is an escape. For others, crime fiction is too close to reality to derive any pleasure from reading it. The possible exception are the gangster types who, I believe, read books written about them in order to critique their accuracy.

    For one month in the year, I take a break from crime fiction. At present, I’m deep in festival preparation reading, to be followed by swotting to interview Val McDermid in Melbourne in September. I think October or November will be a crime-free reading month for me…

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    • I very much agree Angela that crime fiction is probably only palatable to those of us blessed without much real life experience of it. I am grateful to be so blessed most of the time.

      It’s only been the last 4 or 5 years that I have read almost exclusively crime fiction but I think I’ll take more breaks in the future too. Certainly want to add a few non crime novels to my TBR shelves for those times when I am in urgent need of a break 🙂

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  8. Kathy D. says:

    Is the perpetrator who was arrested involved in the 40-year-old case horrific rape and murder of a teenager?

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    • No Kathy not that one. It was a recent murder that I’ve no earthly idea of the motivation for. Some sort of mental/psychotic break is the only thing that makes “sense” but not really if you know what I mean. Everyone I know who knows this person is equally baffled.

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  9. Kathy D. says:

    Oh, maybe a psychotic break. That happens. Did he kill someone he knew well?
    The local news here is often so chilling I avoid watching it. And domestic violence, yikes

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  10. Kathy D. says:

    I really like the Annika Bengtzon dvd episodes. The De Luca was fine, although the fascist parts were difficult. It’s worth seeing. I learned a lot about the end of the war in Italy and the role of the partisans. It led me to read further.

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  11. What a hectic month for you – very distressing to hear about such things, even when you’re removed from it.

    My husband and I binge-watched all 7 seasons of The West Wing starting in about November of last year and finishing in late Jan or early February. First time I’ve ever watched it and it was amazing. One of those rare shows where there’s not a mediocre episode and I know I’ll be keen to watch it again in years to come.

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