Thursday, January 29, 2009

Books I've read recently

I tried to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz when it came out last year but got so damned annoyed by the lousy printing of the British edition (I bought it in the UK) I gave up after 50 pages. The only way you could get the thing to stay open was by applying massive amounts of force using both hands and occasionally your freekin feet! Not really practical on public transport or on a plane. It was a disgrace.

Recently, however, I ordered the cheap US paperback edition from Amazon and it was a sheer joy to handle as well as read. A quality production.

If you like lively, wild, scorching, invigorating prose; wonderfully rich, larger than life, immensely likable characters; a savage political critique of a rotten state; and a heartbreaking family story, then you'll absolutely love this book. It's superb. It won the Pulitzer prize last year and no wonder. Do yourself a favor you young people and read it.

Albert Camus' The Outsider was featured on the ABC's First Tuesday Book Club late last year and received a rave review from Brendan Cowell, the young and immensely talented Australian actor, playwright and director ('it changed my life') so I decided to re-read it. Like Cowell I first read it when a mere callow youth. It didn't do much for me then and, re-reading it forty years later, it doesn't do much for me again.

A.A.Gill has just released Paper View, a collection of his TV criticism from his columns in Britain's Sunday Times. Perhaps not quite as good as last year's superb food book, nevertheless if you like Gill's writing - who the hell doesn't? - you'll enjoy this outing. No-one in Australia comes anywhere near close to Gill's talent and ferocity. Here's an excerpt:

'It must be said of Rolf Harris that he's a difficult man to hate, though that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. He was born nerdily embarrassing. Time and exposure have not awarded him a scintilla of gravitas, sagacity or dress sense. All his long life, Rolf has walked into rooms in the sure and certain knowledge that, on every level, he will be the least fashionable person there. His great and unnerving quality is the reverse Midas effect: everything he touches turns to dross. Aim his panting enthusiasm at a subject, however culturally impregnable, and his grunting, mewing excitement will reduce it to a car-boot sale. Harris is the neutron bomb of kitsch.'

Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat, by Australian, and ex-obese person, David Gillespie, is the only diet/health book you need to read - ever! It is so good. It's not your normal fad diet book, as it goes into a huge amount of detail about your body's biochemistry and how, basically, the whole food thing works. It is also an exceptionally well researched history of food and diet trends and movements, written in a very lucid prose style.

I was waiting for the clincher, the death rattle: what you shouldn't be eating or know the list: no alcohol, no pasta, no cheese, nothing enjoyable, nothing like a bloody monk, etc etc. BUT IT NEVER CAME! It turns out that eating healthily is pretty darned easy. Just give up fruit juices, sweet wines/liqueurs and sugar! Easy as! I'm onto it.

I'd never read any of Dennis Lehane's stuff. He wrote Gone, Baby, Gone, and Mystic River, among others. So I picked up his latest The Given Day and was absolutely blown away by it. It is set in Boston around 1918 when the Irish and the Italians dominated American life, Bolshevik sympathisers had a taste for unionisation and revolution, terrorism was pretty rampart, and niggers were niggers and well and truly kept in their place.

It's a solid read - 700 pages long - but I guarantee you'll be hooked and miss dinner, lectures, dates and all your appointments.

1 comment:

P.W.CHESTER said...

A.A. Gill is a genuis. Seriously.

"Aim his panting enthusiasm at a subject, however culturally impregnable, and his grunting, mewing excitement will reduce it to a car-boot sale."

Spot on.