Monday, January 02, 2006

Books of '05

Back when I was a wee shaver, I could barely believe it when people told me they didn’t have time to read. Arrant nonsense! What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that I was still in school and living with my parents, and therefore my day was effectively done by four and didn’t involve any time consuming chores like cooking and cleaning.

Ten years on and some of my friends have managed to maintain this lifestyle and I am appropriately jealous. I, on the other hand, now know exactly how the “time” to which people referred seems to be in much shorter reserve than when I was nineteen.

Since then, my own reading has declined from something like 100+ books a year to about 30.

Of course, much depends on what I mean by “books.” For the purposes of tracking my intellectual decline, I refer to those physical objects comprising various numbers of printed leaves, stitched or perfect bound only. Electronic and stapled materials are prohibited from this survey. Screenplays published by Faber, fine; posted by Drew, verboten. One collected Vimanarama, fine, three issues of We3, nu-uh. Why? Because I said so, bitches.

Consumed by me in 2005 were:

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley
A Red Death - Walter Mosley
White Butterfly - Walter Mosley
Samaritan - Richard Price
Darkness, Take My Hand - Dennis Lehane
Hell to Pay - George Pelecanos
Hard Revolution - George Pelecanos
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The System of the World - Neal Stephenson
Anansi Boys: Neil Gaiman
Wolves of the Calla - Stephen King
Song of Susanna - Stephen King
The Dark Tower - Stephen King
The Alchemist - Iain M Banks
Olympos - Dan Simmons
River of Gods - Ian MacDonald
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - JK Rowling
Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn
Grass for His Pillow - Lian Hearn
Brilliance of the Moon - Lian Hearn
Thud - Terry Pratchett

The West Wing: Seasons Three and Four - Aaron Sorkin
The Sopranos: Selected Scripts from Seasons One-Three - David Chase et al.
Babylon Five Scripts: Volume One - J M Straczynski

Inferno - Michael Carey
Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway - Michael Carey
Lucifer: Children and Monsters - Michael Carey
Lucifer: A Dalliance with the Damned - Michael Carey
Lucifer: The Divine Comedy - Michael Carey
Lucifer: Inferno - Michael Carey
Lucifer: Mansions of the Silence - Michael Carey
Powers: Forever - Brian Michael Bendis
Daredevil: Golden Age - Brian Michael Bendis
Swamp Thing: The Curse - Alan Moore
Batman: Dark Victory - Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
A History of Violence: John Wagner
Vimanarama - Grant Morrison
Charley’s War: 1 August 1916-17 October 1916 - Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun

I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick - Emmanuel Carrere

I’ve already posted my thoughts on River of Gods, Anansi Boys (twice), I Am Alive and You Are Dead, and Babylon 5, so here are some reflections on a few of the others.

Two mammoth series wrapped up this year, with the publications of The Dark Tower (okay, actually 2004, but read in ‘05) and The System of the World. Stephenson has received a lot of flack for the untrammeled verbiage of his Baroque Sequence, but I savoured every word of it. The members of the Shaftoe family are fashioned with such unforgettable panache and elan, their (mis)adventures make for enthralling reading. Bouquets, then, for Stephenson, but brickbats for King, who appeared to show a sneering contempt of readers who just wouldn’t do what he told them. Roland’s eventual fate in King’s post-script cheapens the entire saga. In other news, The Greatest Epic Teenaged Wizarding Fantasy Ever lumbered interminably on - I skipped through Potter VI just so that I’d know what people were talking about for the week or so following its release. And I’m pleased to announce that Terry Pratchett takes readers on their thirtieth full-grown Discworld outing with a reliably thoughtful, humorous, and moral novel. No surprises here, just the relaxed storytelling of a master craftsman.

Olympus was a book I was really looking foward to, but left feeling sadly disappointed by. It didn’t seem to build on many of the themes introduced in the mighty Ilium and left far too many loose ends. A terrible shame.

Cloud Atlas was absurdly overhyped. It took me months to slog through and the storytelling was basically a cheap con. It stands next to Atomised as the most mystifyingly highly regarded book of recent years. Oh, and Twelve. And Vernon God Little (which Hey, Nostradamus pisses all over).

I love, love the work Pelcanos has done on The Wire, but thought Hell to Pay was too self-conscious to be successful. Hard Revolution, on the other hand, was a fantastic evocation of time, and place, and a brilliant moral study.

Discovery of the year has been Lian Hearn’s Otori Trilogy. I’ve had the first book of this sequence on my bookcase for years, and something about the look of it just kept putting me off. This winter I finally read it, and its two sequels, in under a week. It’s a brilliant look at an alternative 16th Century Japan, written for teens but dealing with some prety weighty issues - revenge, loyalty, gender, sexuality, identity. And it’s just beautifully written.

Lots of Lucifer up there. Carey has done a superlative job of carrying on where Gaiman left off, while at the same time making the character and cosmology of Samael, the Light Bringer, First of the Fallen, etc, etc, entirely his own. My comics consumption has fallen dramatically over the past few years. Many of my favourite series reached their conclusions some time ago, and very little has arisen to take their place. Also, storylines have become such sprawling affairs, often requiring seventy or so issues to play out, that it just doesn’t seem worth following anything month in and month out. Arcs are collected into trades so reliably, and usually for less than the total cost of the individual issues, that it makes sense to wait for a more handsome, permanent, ad-free edition. Unless, of course, you’re talking about something like Strangehaven or - remember this? - Berlin. What the hell are you playing at, Lutes? Three and a half years. THREE. AND A HALF. BLOODY YEARS.

And Charley’s War. Oh, Charley, m'boy; I wish I could be made to forget having read you, so that I could go back and start and be amazed all over again. You know, t used to take Joe Colquhoun five days to draw three pages, and is it any surprise? I mean look at this (and click it for the full experience):

That’s just one panel. They’re all like that! And it may have been twenty-five years ago, but Pat Mills has never been better; not on Slaine, not on Marshall Law, not on Accident Man or Brats Bizarre. Every three page tale is a masterpiece, and ought to be required reading at all levels of education. At the rate Titan are publishing Mills and Colquohouns’ magnum opus, it’ll be 2014 before the final volume is collected, which is actually kind of fitting, if you think about it.

And that’s it. I’ve prepared myself a big fat reading list for 2006, made up of books that’ve been on my shelves for upwards of fifteen years, and never been read. I anticipate moving house in the next month or so, and, following this, being broke. No profligate book buying for me this year, I will instead be working through my own neglected library, from The Cartoon History of the Universe (vols 1-3), to The Art of Memory, via The Dark is Rising and The Cold Six Thousand. If, of course, I can find time for any of them.

Category: Books and Comics

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could read as much as you.

    I just finished Samaritan and thought it was excellent. If you want, you can read my review here.