What We're Reading

Neil's picture
Neil

Big Ray, by Michael Kimball (Bloomsbury, January 2013)

This was one of those books I thought I'd read a few pages of to get a feel for it, then would probably put aside, but finished up reading in a sitting. It's short, only 180-odd pages, and slips past at speed, and but carries real force. Daniel's father, Big Ray dies at the beginning of the book, on or around Daniel's 38th birthday. The event triggers a series of around 500 short reflections, confessions and memories about Daniel's childhood, his parent's life together and apart, and Daniel's journey into adulthood. It's not a happy story.

Neil's picture
Neil

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy

I was really looking forward to reading this. Booker shortlisted, well reviewed, and one of those English middle classes on holiday in exotic places novels in which families and friends politely tear themselves and their lives apart. I must be missing something. The positive reviews talk about 'allusive, elliptical and disturbing storytelling', 'an epic quality', 'sharp as a wasp sting', 'an urgent world humming with symbols'. I thought the symbolism was clunky and too obvious, the prose awkward and strange, the characters poorly drawn and their behaviour implausible.

Neil's picture
Neil

The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam (February 2013)

Anyone who has read The Wasted Vigil or Maps For Lost Lovers will know what to expect from this new book - incredibly lush and beautiful prose, descriptive sentences reminiscent of Michael Ondaatje, tragically doomed love, utterly brutal violence, a background of appalling fundamentalism, a story which you just cannot put down, and characters who stay with you. For ever. The Blind Man's Garden delivers on all fronts. If this book is not in the running for next year's major awards, I'll be very surprised.

Neil's picture
Neil

The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal, and The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth

Two fabulous word books, both ideal Christmas gifts for the pedant in you life. David Crystal has been writing books on the English language for years, and now has at least 15 titles on the subject to his credit. In this one, he's picked 100 words which have in some way shaped the development and use of the language since the first English word was written down in the 5th Century, through to Twittersphere and Unfriend.

Neil's picture
Neil

Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

This novel is set in the New York suburb of Tribeca, and explores the lives of a group of 'creatives' at a time when the suburb is becoming gentrified by an influx of wealthy financiers. It brings to mind Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap in that each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, although some reappear, and some are told as first-person narratives, some in the third person. It's a complex structure, and it's not built around a single event, as in The Slap, but covers a year in the lives of the interlinked characters, with quite a lot of back story.

Neil's picture
Neil

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond (Canongate)

I've always been fascinated by time. (Who isn't once you pass 50..) This is a brilliantly written and accessible science book on the human perception of time. It really is fascinating stuff! She explains how and why our perception of time changes as we age, and looks into other conditions which can alter our perception, like depression, rejection, fear. She looks at the links between inaccurate time perception and some mental illnesses, and wonders which causes which. She also explains how we can change our relationship with time.