“The Child that Books Built” by Francis Spufford [New Year’s Resolution]
This is an intellectual look back at reading in childhood and adolescence. It’s divided into four parts: the forest (stories for younger children – fairytales and picture books); the island (fantasy for the 7-12s) the town (books set in communities, again, for 7-12s) and the hole (books for adolescents with a strong focus on science fiction). I found this a bit underwhelming at first but I really started to enjoy it when he began to talk about books I had read as a child. Here’s a bit on Narnia:
So from the moment I first encountered “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to when I was 11 or 12, the seven Chronicles of Narnia represented essence-of-book to me. They were the Platonic book of which other books were more or less imperfect shadows. For four or five years, I essentially read other books because I could not always be rereading the Narnia books.
He has a lot on Narnia and Little House on the Prairie which is fine by me but I wonder how engaging it would be to those less familiar with the books. I suppose it is aimed at people who were bookish children and it’s a rare bookish child who wouldn’t have read these.
He mixes up his reading with some limited information about his personal life and I’m not sure how well that works. I think he would have been better with more personal life or none at all.
“City of Thieves” by David Benioff
A book club book. Alas, it did not appeal. Though a mild page-turner it is pretty poorly written. It’s about a hunt for eggs during the siege of Leningrad in the second world war (though so much more than this, universal themes love, friendship etc – write your own blurb). They get their eggs. Yeah, I know, I’ve ruined it for you. My friend D, who is a country girl, tells me that hens are very fussy about laying eggs and she thinks that the chance of them not being off their eggs in war torn Russia in the middle of winter is nil.
“Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro [New Year’s Resolution]
Famously beautiful short story writer writes beautifully. I prefer my stories with more zing and less quiet gloom but these are good stories.
“The Beautiful Changes” by Molly McCluskey [New Year’s Resolution]
I read this collection (a novella and a collection of short stories) at the same time as I was reading the Alice Munro collection and it didn’t do this author any favours. She covers much of the same territory as Alice Munro, small lives and tending towards the gloomy and she’s really very good but not as good as Ms. Munro.
“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes
Clever. And very short. Something of a page-turner. But I was left a bit dissatisfied either a) that wasn’t much of a twist or b) I didn’t get it. You can see why neither of these options appeals.
“Carry Me Down” by M.J Hyland [New Year’s Resolution]
Nicely written somewhat disturbing account of an 11 year old boy who is teetering on the brink of insanity. Wouldn’t exactly rush back for a second dose but I can see its merit.
I loved The Child that Books Built – thought it was fascinating on child psychology and reading (also your mother-in-law the psychologist loved it too). Haven’t read the others yet.
Hmm. My mother-in-law and I tend to diverge somewhat in our opinions on books. You will recall that she hasn’t read any fiction since 1967 and I rarely read anything else.