Sunday, 31 December 2017

Top Ten Ton Up 1 - The Books

January 2005. Nearly thirteen years ago. January 2005 was when I first started blogging. My first blog wasn't this one but rather another with the quirky title of 'Utility Fish Shed'. Not that odd really as that is now one of my E-mail addresses. This blog, of the many incarnations it has had, was initially entitled 'Ritual Acts With Penguins.' You can instantly see a flaw in my invention of names. They are all a bit Zapperish. Under that name, it featured bits of my so-called art and some self-composed poetry. I am uncertain, unclear as to when I changed the name to the current 'The Wayward Ways of Russell CJ Duffy' but I'd guess about eight or nine years ago. In that time, the thirteen years I spoke of earlier, I have read a succession of books, a vast amount of novels, biographies, autobiographies, spiritual guidance, reference and historical books. Many of these have featured here in one form or another. I haven't included poetry though. Maybe I should. The reason I haven't is a bit foggy in my mind as I feel due deference should be paid to this blogs sister site, 'Something For The Weekend, Sir?' Although initially not a site dedicated as it now is to the spoken word, spoken word poetry, that is, I still feel that it has first claim on anything now to do with poetry. That may change. It may not. I really don't know.

So then, about a decade of reading, passing comment but not reviewing in the accepted sense, books. I have drawn up a 'long list' of those that I have read that I shall whittle down to ten thereby forming my 'Top Ten Ton Up' of that decade. Daft I know but then again ...

Here then are the books that have brought me such a massive amount of pleasure.some read whilst living at mum's, others here at 'Whispers and Shadows,' by default my 'home.'

The Long List.

"Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson published by Penguin Random House
"Familiar" by J.Robert Lennon published by Serpents Tail
"The Field of the Cloth of Gold" by Magnus Mills published by Bloomsbury
"The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell published by Sceptre
"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy published by Picador
"Lucian Freud" by Phoebe Hoban published by New Harvest 
"The Three Evangelists" by Fred Vargas published by Vintage
"The Book of Dave" by Will Self published by Penguin
"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes published by Vintage
"A Tale For the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki published by Cannongate
"The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry published by Serpents Tail
"My Name is Lucy" by Elizabeth Strout published by Penguin/Viking
"Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" by Max Potter published by Faber and Faber
"This Census-Taker" by China MiƩville published by Picador
"Beast" by Paul Kingsnorth published by Faber and Faber
"A History of the Wolrd In 100 Objects" by Neil MacGregor published by Allen Lane
"M Train" by Patti Smith published by Bloomsbury
"The Winter War" by Philip Teir published by Serpents Tail
"Frog Music" by Emma Donoghue published by Picador
"The Maker of Swans" by Paraic O'Donnell published by Orion Publishing Group


The Top Ten Ton-Up

"Familiar" by J.Robert Lennon published by Serpents Tail
"The Field of the Cloth of Gold" by Magnus Mills published by Bloomsbury
"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy published by Picador
"Lucian Freud" by Phoebe Hoban published by New Harvest 
"The Three Evangelists" by Fred Vargas published by Vintage
"The Book of Dave" by Will Self published by Penguin
"The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes published by Vintage
"A Tale For the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki published by Cannongate
"The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry published by Serpents Tail
"Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" by Max Potter published by Faber and Faber

Each of these I have read and re-read again. That is not to say that I haven't done the same with those left out from the long list. I have and no doubt shall again but these, little treasures tucked on my bookshelf, are the ones I like the most. Murakami is missing from the list. This may cause creased brows from some folk as I have never made it a secret how much I enjoy his work. I have not read "IQ84" although intend to and have yet to read this year, 2017's, "Killing Commendatore." As for "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage" well, I wasn't that impressed. So for me, that leaves "Kafka on The Shore" which lies outside the time frame I have used here.

J. Robert Lennon, an author whose parents must have a great love of Beatle John, is still relatively unknown yet this novel, "Familiar" is an incredible, haunting story of dissociation. It begins with a crack in the windscreen that suddenly and mysteriously disappears. Then time, reality and parallel lifelines fold in on themselves as what was isn't what is. "Familiar is a masterpiece of a psychological thriller. 

Anything by Magnus Mills, surely Britains foremost bus driver and possibly its greatest contemporary author, or at least one of them, is worth reading. "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" is, I think for it is hard for me to tell, an allegorical tale. It touches on immigration and invasion. Of Roman conquest and Viking settlement. It is dark and covered with splashes of even darker humour. Personally, and this is what this post is all about, I love it.

"The Road" is a tale carved out of the raw heart of America. Cormac McCarthy defies not only English but American grammar too. His is the art of storytelling. Roughly hewn, hacked out of vast timbers yet never vulgar - always with a feral beauty. "The Road" is possibly the best post-apocalyptic story I have read. Not only a great book but a great film. Both of which shall stand the test of time as classics.

What I want from a biography is an author unafraid to present the subject with all their characteristics, good and bad revealed for all to see. If it doesn't convey a sense of yet another human being as flawed as the rest of us, it doesn't strike me as credible. "Lucian Freud" by Phoebe Hoban spares no blushes. It presents an artist, one of my favourites as it happens, in as true and honest a way as possible.

I have made my views on crime thriller fiction clear. Fred Vargas though smudges the accepted lines of the genre delivering fictions that are as quirky as they are curious mysteries. Sort of a cross between Christie and Bonfiloli. "The Three Evangelists" is the first in her series featuring the artfully delineated trio plus one of Marc, Matthias and Lucien who all share a house along with Marc's Uncle, Armand Vandoosler. It is the sort of crime thriller that resets the rules reshaping them to suit the authors intent.  Marvellous book.

"The Book of Dave" by Will Self is one of those novels that last long in the mind long after the final page has been turned. Imagine a future time, not that far-flung but far enough, where a book is discovered buried beneath what remains of a London awash with the Thames. Following some post-apocalyptic nightmare that sees the English capital flooded into divisional territories, the unearthed book is "The Book of Dave." It is nothing more than a diary written by a long-dead cabbie whose name was, you've guessed it, Dave. Like the Bible and the Koran, the book is taken to be some sort of messianic testament. 

Julian Barnes prose is both crisp and crystalline. So it is with "The Noise of Time" and "Arthur and George." That style is even more evident here within the pages of "The Sense of an Ending." There is little wonder it won the Man Booker prize in 2011.

"A Tale For the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki is a book within a book, a tale within a tale. All things are interconnected. Not just because Tao or Buddhism say so but realised by the science of Quantum Physics. Here is a story of two people, continents apart, who share an existence via the discovery of a bottle. This remarkable tale, Zen-like in its delivery, contains levels of warmth and compassion infrequently found within the pages of a book.

Another book from publishers Serpents Tail. An actively progressive publisher who promotes authors whose work is often challenging and diverse. "The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry is one such book. It is Sarah Perry's second. Filled with Victorian love of science mixed with the relentless pull of paganism among the peasantry. A monster, so-called, returns having first passed this way in the sixteen hundreds, to haunt, harrow and hasten the deaths of the local population. There is a gothic quality to the story but also elements of erotica courtesy of Anais Nin that spin the story into a glorious fictional orbit. 

"Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" by Max Potter is beyond superlatives. Both prose and poetry flood the pages along with vast volumes of emotional impact as we read of a husbands loss of his young wife and his struggles to come to terms with her death. If like me you appreciate innovation but without the burdensome artifice of pretension mixed with a clumsy, confounding modernism then this...whatever it is, novel, poem? is the book for you. Without any doubt in mind "Grief Is The Thing With Feathers" is my book of the decade and first among equals, as this century flies by, as the book of the 21st century. Absolutely amazing.





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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

2 comments:

Vanessa V Kilmer said...

The only book on your list that I've read is The Road.

Happy New Year, Russell.

Russell Duffy said...

Happy New Vanessa. Have a great 2018. x