2 September 2022

A book meme

This is a meme I first took part in back in 2008, picking it up from Normblog, the blog of the late Norman Geras. My answers here have been changed and updated.

What was the last book you bought?

To Hell with Culture, by Herbert Read. These days, I buy most fiction in e-book format, mainly because I’m running out of space. I think the last new book I bought that way was I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. I still buy physical books by some authors, for example Terry Pratchett and Iain M Banks. Currently, I get everything from Charles Stross and Ken McLeod in physical format. Occasionally I buy to replace. My paperback copies of East of Eden by John Steinbeck and USA by John dos Passos are pretty battered, so have been bought again in hardback. I also buy lots of art books – not ‘how-tos’ but on particular artists.

Name a book you have read more than once and why

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck – beautiful writing and wonderful characters.

Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson – vivid descriptions of the Martian landscape as it changes under terraforming. The political elements are gripping in their way.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Yes, at the risk of repeating myselfArchitecture – City Sense, by Theo Crosby did just that. There have been many books since that have brought me up with a jolt, but nothing has had the impact of this one.

How do you choose a book? e.g., by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

I find them in all sorts of ways – book lists, blog posts, reviews, ‘others bought this’ on Amazon, more books from an author I’ve found in other ways.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

I read much more fiction these days.

What’s more important in a novel – beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

It needs to hang together – good writing on its own isn’t enough for me – it has to be saying something. A gripping plot on the other hand is great for the times you don’t want to be mentally engaged, just diverted. Having said that of course without good writing a gripping plotline is easily thrown away.

Most loved/memorable character

Lee in East of Eden

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

I don’t read in bed, but have a pile on a table beside my chair, including:

Dante’s Divine Comedy, translated by Clive James

Orientalism by David Cannadine

Art and Visual Perception by Rudolf Arnheim

The portable Hannah Arendt

Muddling Through by Duncan Weldon

The Vanquished by Robert Gerwarth

Hurrah for the Blackshirts! by Martin Pugh

My Secret Brexit Diary by Michel Barnier

Some of these are, in part at least, research for my Frozen Spring alternate history, so they have probably been filleted rather than read cover to cover.

I have another pile elsewhere, still waiting to be even started!

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

Dune by Frank Herbert, very recently – I read it as a serial when it was first published, then again a few times over the years as a novel, then recently, piqued by the recent film, I read it again. It stands up as a vivid story line, but some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

I see no point in persisting with fiction I am not enjoying, but I tend simply to lose interest rather than actively saying ‘No’. I have abandoned a couple of self-published books on Kindle, because they were so poorly written. Non-fiction is slightly different, but even then, since I no longer have to read anything, I will give up if the writing is bad. I don’t give up because I disagree, however.

One which you might say is on hiatus, is Michel Barnier, not because of the book, but because the subject makes me so depressed and angry at UK arrogance, stupidity and exceptionalism during the negotiations.

I have never finished Midnight’s Children or A Glastonbury Romance, several times.

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