Friday, 4 January 2008

Books 2007 (II)

Well, zero_zero_one did it, so I suppose I'll follow suit. I'm nothing like as organised (read: anal retentive) as him, though, so I never kept a list. This is based on memory. So:

My Top 5 Books of 2007

1. Gonzo, edited by Jann Wenner; a biography of the journalist/writer/alchoholic drug-addled visionary Hunter S. Thompson, made up of small segments of memory written by those who knew him best. An extraodinary portrait of an extraordinary man, the most interesting thing about it being its very stark portrayal of the line between genius and insanity. Thompson spent his life crossing from one side of the line to the other, it seems, and comes out of the book as something of a psychopath or extreme narcissist, actually - with the charm and charisma of somebody who doesn't care what other people think, but also the plain meanness and nastiness of somebody who just doesn't care that much about other people generally.

2. The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Unselfconsciously pulpy historical novel about a Saxon boy in early 9th-century England who is raised by Vikings and ends up fighting against them. What the term 'rip-roaring yarn' was made for, basically, and I've always loved that kind of book. But Cornwell also has a kind of genius for making history come alive; he's no Proust, but the atmosphere is absolutely what you suspect 9th-century Britain to have been like.

3. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. An autobiography of sorts, which deals with the writer's early life in Des Moines, Iowa during the 1950s. Hilarious, like all his books are (I've read all of them, even the slightly boring ones about language). Literally laugh-out-loud-and-embarrass-yourself-on-the-bus-funny.

4. The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe. Real fantasy, for people who've sucked up all the fantasy canon and are now onto the harder stuff (we're like hopeless drunkards, we hard-core fantasy fans; we've gone from the beer of Tolkien and Weis & Hickman, to the whiskey of Leiber and Moorcock, and now all that can satisfy is the pure ethanol of guys like Wolfe and M. John Harrison, which we consume as if it is squeezed out of rags soaked in methalated spirits, myth and orc-blood). Anyone who's ever criticised fantasy for being childish, escapist and pulpy should read this and eat their words. About as close to 'great literature' as fantasy writing gets, basically.

5. Rivers of Gold by Hugh Thomas. An account of the first decades of the Spanish exploration and conquest in the Americas; notable for the way it refuses to patronise the reader and assumes they at least know the backdrop to what's happening, which elevates it above most 'popular history' fare. (I'm snobbish about popular history; what can I say, I'm a history graduate.) I also find that period impossibly romantic - it was the first and last time in history that the entire world became 'one'.

And, just for, fun, two Turkeys:

1. The Bear and the Dragon by Tom Clancy. I've never read much Clancy and now I know why. Awful, boring, silly nonsense, that only comes alive when explaining about various types of guns and instruments of war (those bits were quite good, actually).

2. The Catastrophist by Somebody Or Other (I can't find it, and have forgotten the name of the writer). A good reminder of why I shouldn't bother reading 'contemporary literature' with lines from reviews by The Guardian on the back. Irish writer goes to Zaire in the mid-60s to hook up with his exotic French/Italian lover who has become involved in the decolonisation process. Cue pages of florid description of Africa, weirdly po-faced and unrealistic sex-scenes, completely uninteresting 'action' sequences and lots of emoting and angst. I gave up half way through.

That's that. Music tomorrow maybe.

1 comment:

zero_zero_one said...

I prefer to think that I was just interested in what I had read...

I've heard some really good things about The Wizard Knight, I might have to check it out.