You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘books’ category.
10. Burning Chrome
When the afterimage faded from Earth’s monitor screens, the Alyut was gone. In the Urals a middle-aged Georgian technician bit through the stem of his favourite meerschaum. In New South Wales a young physicist began to slam the side of his monitor, like an enraged pinball finalist protesting TILT.
Looking back on this collection, I was unsurprised to notice that I remembered choice phrases or overall tone more than I remembered the actual plots of the stories themselves. William Gibson has always (for me, at least) been an author more about style than substance – or perhaps an author so closely immersed in crazy post-modern academia that my simple caveman brain can’t tell the difference between the two. I enjoyed the hell out of Burning Chrome nonetheless.
9. The Fatal Shore
Upon the harbour the ships were now entering, European history had left no mark at all. Until the swollen sails and curvetting bows of the British fleet came round South Head, there were no doubts. The Aborigines and the fauna around them had possessed the landscape since time immemorial, and no other human eye had seen them. Now the protective glass of distance broke, in an instant, never to be restored.
I was talking to a Kiwi co-worker a while ago and trying to get out of them the specific date New Zealand was first settled – a question Wikipedia and Google had failed to answer. I didn’t understand, at the time, that there was no specific date; that New Zealand had been first settled in dribs and drabs by missionaries, whalers and pirates, and that Australia’s 17-ship fleet of official British settlers was the exception amongst New World nations, not the norm. Did you know that the First Fleet was the largest voyage ever undertaken by such a large group of people, and that nothing on par with it before or since had ever been attempted?
My point is that Australian history is more interesting than many Australians imagine. Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore is not a comprehensive history of Australia, but it is an exhaustive history of the British convict transport system, an integral part of early Australian history. It’s fascinating, vivid and compelling in a way I never expected history books to be, probably becuase Hughes (who died a month after I read this book) was usually a critic, not a historian. The Fatal Shore is well worth reading for anyone who wants to learn more about Australian history.
8. A Monster Calls
The monster smiled. It was a ghastly sight. If I must force my way in, it said, I will do so happily.
The concept for A Monster Calls originated with Siobhan Dowd, but before she passed away from cancer she entrusted it to Patrick Ness, who has done a sterling job with it. A Monster Calls is an illustrated YA novelette following a boy whose mother is dying of cancer, who must also cope with nightly visits from a horrifying monster demanding to know “the truth.” An adult reader will quickly see this is an allegorical novel, but figuring out what it’s an allegory for (before it’s revealed, I mean) is not as obvious.
Aside from being an excellent story, the first hardback edition of A Monsters Calls is an aesthetic beauty, enhanced on every page by Jim Kay’s beautiful illustrations – or rather, in the sence of invoking horror, his horrible illustrations.
7. A Game of Thrones
“If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”
Sometimes I use a single book to stand in for an entire series – in this case, A Game of Thrones truly is the finest book in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. That’s not to belittle the series as a whole, which is an excellent saga of political fantasy, but none of the subsequent books can quite match the power of the first. Perfectly voiced, brilliantly paced and containing some of the most unexpectedly shocking scenes a reader will ever find in genre fiction, A Game of Thrones deserves all the applause it gets.
6. The Magician King
That’s what death did. It treated you like a child, like everything you had ever thought and done and cared about was just a child’s game, to be crumpled up and thrown away when it was over. It didn’t matter. Death didn’t respect you. Death thought you were bullshit, and it wanted to make sure you knew it.
A wonderful, enthralling and bittersweet sequel to Grossman’s novel The Magicians, The Magician King takes Quentin Coldwater on quests and adventures through multiple worlds, and features more of the author’s adept combination of literary deconstruction and genuinely enjoyable adventure. Best of all, Grossman doesn’t merely repeat the themes and morals of the first novel – which would be tempting, given how unique they were for the genre the first time around – but develops Quentin into a more mature and likeable character, which is an admirable accomplishment, given that the point of the first novel was partially about Quentin’s inability to develop and mature.
5. King City
There’s so much of this town that I never think about. All this city going on all at once. You can spend forever in a place like this and still see hundreds of new faces every day. Face. Face. Face. All of everyone piled up on each other. I wonder how much is going on in all those windows.
Cities are amazing places. Millions and millions of people rubbing up against each other, all the stories inside their heads, all those little universes concentrated into one. On a map they look like spiderwebs shooting roads out. what was King City about? I can’t remember, exactly. But I can remember what it felt like – a big, bold, brash, fun adventure in an awesome, crazy city where anything can happen.
4. The Long Walk
“Do you think you’ll win, Ray?”
Garraty considered it for a long, long time.
“No,” he said finally. “No, I… no.”
Stephen King is widely known as a horror writer, but I’ve always found the appeal in his books to be their fascinating situations: a superflu wiping out civilisation, a mist full of monsters enveloping a town, travelling back in time to prevent JFK’s assassination, and so on. I never find his books unsettling or disturbing, let alone frightening. That changed with The Long Walk – a young adult novel set in a dystopian America where a hundred teenage boys participate annually in the titular competition. They start on the US/Canadian border and begin walking south. There are no rest breaks. If you stop, you get shot. Last man standing wins. It predates Battle Royale and The Hunger Games by a good few decades (King began writing it during the Vietnam War, and it’s at least partly an allegory for conscription) and he manages to make the whole thing horribly realistic – the cold gaze of the carbine-bearing soldiers, the fanatic screaming of the onlookers, and the terrible agonising pain of having to walk or die. One of his greatest novels.
3. Riddley Walker
There wernt nothing terbel happening and yet there wer. Whats so terbel its just that knowing of the horrer in every thing. The horrer waiting. I dont know how to say it. Like say you myt get cut bad and all on a suddn there you are with your leg opent up and youre looking at the mussl fat and boan of it. You always knowit what wer unner the skin only you dont want to see that bloody meat and boan. Never mynd.
The gimmick of Riddley Walker is that it’s a post-apocalyptic novel written in debased pidgin English, mimicking the manner in which people might speak two thousand years after a nuclear holocaust. The marvel of Riddley Walker is that Hoban has actually developed a consistent form of pidgin with its own rules, quirks and phrases. But beyond its inventiveness, Riddley Walker is simply an excellent post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. Hoban’s invented language is brilliant, and I’m glad he wrote the book with it, but the impressive thing is that he didn’t even need to.
“I don’t agree. I don’t agree with what you are doing. Do you think that by meekly accepting what happened to you, you can set yourself apart from farmers like Ettinger? Do you think what happened was an exam: if you come through, you get a diploma and safe conduct into the future, or a sign to paint on the door-lintel that will make plagues pass you by? That is not how vengeance works, Lucy. Vengeance is like a fire. The more it devours, the hungrier it gets.”
Disgrace – deserved winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, written by Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee – is the kind of book where it’s difficult to explain why it’s so good. It merely is. You can throw around staple book review words like “masterful” and “elegant” and “engrossing” or you can just say that this is a really, really, really good book – one of the finest novels of the last 25 years, with not a word or a sentence out of place, remarkably accessible for a Nobel Prize-winning novelist, and all packed into a concise two hundred pages.
1. The Magicians
Brakebills let out for the last two weeks of December. At first Quentin wasn’t sure why he was terrified of going home until he realised that it wasn’t home he was worried about, per se. He was worried that if he left Brakebills they’d never let him back in. He would never find his way back again – they would close the secret door to the garden behind him, and lock it, and its outline would be lost forever among the vines and the stonework, and he would be trapped out in the real world forever.
What would happen if your childhood fantasies came true? What if you could really go off to Hogwarts to study magic? What would happen if you could really walk through a gateway into Narnia to have fantastic adventures? Would it make you happy?
The fundamental themes of Grossman’s novel The Magicians – that realising our fantasies could ultimately be hollow, that the perfect is the enemy of the good, that ennui is a pervasive gloom that can’t easily be defeated – seem trite when summarised. Grossman succeeds in writing about them by creating a fantasy world that is authentically exciting, desirable and fantastic. If Brakebills, his American wizard college located in upstate New York, was merely a stylistic metaphor for Hogwarts (as it doubtless would be if a proper “literary” author had written it) The Magicians would be a dull, stale novel. But Brakebills is a place that’s genuinely appealing to imagine, as is Fillory, Grossman’s Narnia fascimile. By creating a fantasy world that simultaneously celebrates and deconstructs the fantasy genre, Grossman has written one of its finest novels, and The Magicians is the best book I read in 2012. It also contains one of the most disturbing chapters (and ending to said chapter) that I’ve ever read. Read this book.
2011 was my personal best year yet for books – 55, although that includes four graphic novels and two quarterly essays. Here’s my annual list of the best books I read for the year (not the best books that were published in the year).
10. A Little History of the World
What we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort.
History is a huge, complex and difficult subject, which is why we often prefer to learn about it from blockbuster films or period dramas and thus come away somewhat misinformed. You are never going to get a comprehensive understanding of human history unless you dedicate your life to it, but if you have a merely casual interest, A Little History of the World is not a bad place to start. Commendable for his understanding that history is more about opinions, attitudes and how societies relate to each other than it is about dates and battles, Gombrich brings this book to life with the air of a scholarly grandfather telling his children a story by the fireplace.
A Little History of the World at The Book Depository
9. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
“Welcome to England!”
The concept of having thousands of fictional characters stuffed into one world didn’t greatly appeal to me as much as I thought it would, but the second volume of Alan Moore’s thought experiment is largely a retelling of War of the Worlds, and is terrifyingly brilliant. That means it’s largely piggybacking off the success of another work, but whatever. I do intend to read the original someday.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at The Book Depository
8. The Testament of Jessie Lamb
I felt as flat and heavy as if a steamroller were on top of me. I just wanted it to end.
It can be diffcult – almost impossible – to writte a novel from a teenager’s perspective without it becoming an insufferable moanfest. And indeed, The Testament of Jessie Lamb features all the uncertainty and naivitie and foolishness and foot-stamping that one would expect from a novel narrated by a teenage girl. Yet it’s also a much darker novel, about the intersection between our acknowledgement that sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and our hostile unwillingness to actually let our loved ones make them. There’s also a darker, implicit undercurrent running through this book – or at least I thought there was – about Jessie’s real motives.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb at The Book Depository
7. The English Patient
Give me a map and I’ll build you a city. Give me a pencil and I’ll draw you a room in South Cairo, desert charts on the wall. Always the desert was among us. I could wake and raise my eyes to the map of old settlements along the Mediterranean coast – Gazala, Tobruk, Mersa Matruh – and south of that the hand-painted wadis, and surrounding those the shades of yellowness that we invaded, tried to lose ourselves in.
A difficult book to read after seeing the masterful film, since the scenes are often identical and the visual version plays itself out in your mind as you read. But Ondaatje’s novel is undoubtedly one of the finest of the last decade (I cannot understand why it shared the Booker with Sacred Hunger), a melancholy tale of desert exploration and forbidden love and Italian castles and bombs raining down on England. His lyrical prose style is, quite simply, beautiful.
The English Patient at The Book Depository
6. The Road To Wigan Pier
On the day when there was a full chamber-pot under the breakfast table I decided to leave. The place was beginning to depress me. It was not only the dirt, the smells and the vile food, but the feeling of stagnant meaningless decay, of having got down into some subterranean place where people go creeping round and round, just like blackbeetles, in an endless muddle of slovened jobs and mean grievances. The most dreadful thing about people like the Brookers is the way that they say the same things over and over again. It gives you the feeling that they are not real people at all, but a kind of ghost forever rehearsing the same futile rigmarole.
Lord knows how a book about the miserable conditions of the working class in Depression-era North England managed to be funny, but somehow Orwell managed it. He also manages to be a spoilt Southern lad turning his nose up at the characteristics and mannerisms of the wretched poor without ever seeming like a jerk. The Road To Wigan Pier is, as always with his books, “both an excellent book and a valuable social document,” and the fact that Orwell can keep your interest even when discussing the vanished political situations of the 1930s is a testament to his ability as a writer.
The Road To Wigan Pier at The Book Depository
5. Homage To Catalonia
Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal Weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.
George Orwell went and fought for something he deeply believed in. As so often happens with things we deeply believe in, it became corrupted, and he became more gradually disillusioned with it until it came to the point where he was actually a fugitive and was forced to flee the country. Homage To Catalonia is a deeply political book, and can be difficult going for the modern reader, but like A Road To Wigan Pier it is well worth the effort. It contains not just an account of its own time, but a deeper examination of human experience. Being a stranger in a foreign land, watching your beliefs be compromised and corrupted by the subversion of powerful forces, and the final prescient remarks mixed in with the nostalgic joy of returning home.
Homage To Catalonia at The Book Depository
“I know this is insane, but sometimes I wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents, so I could really know what they lived through.”
We have reached saturation point with the Holocaust – with all of World War II, in fact. At least I have. The sights and sounds and facts and feelings have bombarded me my entire life, and the generation before me as well. It holds about as much reality to me as the War of the Ring, and stirs no emotion within me. This is a sad thing, but the answer is not yet more Holocaust and world War II stories.
The reason I found Maus to be so engaging was that it is not simply a Holocaust story, relying on its own historical weight for emotional punch, like so many Oscar bait movies. I’s about growing up as the son of a Holocaust survivor, about spending your whole life hearing about the horrors of something you can’t even imagine. It’s about dealing with someone who, despite being a victim of a terrible crime, is a bit of an asshole. It’s about coping with the long and far-reaching ramifications of something as huge and terrible of the Holocaust. It’s about having creative and financial success after writing a series of comic books about a genocide you never experienced. It’s about many, many things, all of them ripple effects of the 20th century’s greatest crime. Maus is an elegant, thoughtful and profoundly sad masterpiece.
Maus at The Book Depository
3. The Sisters Brothers
He stood there weeping and watching us go, while behind him Lucky Paul entered and collapsed the prospector’s tent, and I thought, “Here is another miserable mental image I will have to catalog and make room for.”
A very, very weird book, flippant and off-beat and darkly humourous and however many thousand adjectives various reviewers used to describe it. The best word, I believe, is “”unique. It is certainly a funny book, a dark comedy, and yet it is also entirely serious and, towards the end, even touching. It is undoubtedly a literary book, and one worthy of Booker shortlisting – better than The Sense of an Ending, certainly.
The Sisters Brothers at The Book Depository
2. The White Tiger
Now, what happens in your typical Murder Weekly story – or Hindi film, for that matter? A poor man kills a rich man. Good. Then he takes the money. Good. Then he gets dreams in which the dead man pursues him with bloody fingers, saying Mur-der-er, Mur-der-er.
Doesn’t happen like that in real life… The real nightmare you get is the other kind. You toss about in the bed dreaming that you haven’t done it – that you lost your nerve and let Mr. Ashok get away – that you’re still in Delhi, still the servant of another man, and then you wake up.
There are seven billion people in the world. One billion of those live in luxury in the developed regions of Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. Seven billion of those live in the less developed regions of Asia, Africa and South America, in circumstances ranging from the reasonably comfortable middle-class of China to the crushing, squalid poverty of Sudan.
This is not fair.
It’s an issue entirely separate from that of political oppression. If you were to pick the most wretched nation on Earth, you might well choose North Korea. But even in India – the world’s largest democracy, albeit a corrupt one – millions of people live in their own filth, with no hope of anything better. They live in an almost medieval world, which we cannot even imagine in our world of skyscrapers and frappucinos and iPhones.
The White Tiger is a novel about those worlds colliding. It’s not what I’d call an enjoyable story; it’s an allegory, a book with a definite point to it, and a book that I believe is absolutely essential reading, but which I will probably never read again. It’s a book about a man born into dire poverty who realises how bitterly unjust that fate is – and who, after much agonising soul-searching, murders an innocent man in order to lift himself out of that fate. I can’t sum it up any better than I did in my review:
Who among us truly knows what horrible things we would be capable of doing to escape Balram’s fate? Who among us has the right to judge him?
A dark and gripping novel about the greatest injustice that exists in our world.
The White Tiger at The Book Depository
1. Jamrach’s Menagerie
A mess of them like eels slipping wormily over one another in a muddy tussle over a foul carcass, a red and pink rag trailing festoons, the grinning head of which, half severed and hanging back, revealed it to be one of their own. Another watching, a huge thing, solid and impassive as a rock, huge, trunk-like legs planted before it.
Jamrach’s Menagerie begins on an exciting wave of youthful exuberance, adventure and discovery, and plunges into an abyss of horrific misery. Eight-year old Jaffy Brown is rescued from an escaped tiger in Dickensian London, and is given a job tending to the menagerie of the tiger’s owner. A few years later he finds himself enlisted on a sea voyage to capture a Komodo dragon, forming bonds with his fellow teenage sailors and his best friend Tim as they get up to all manner of exciting escapades. The Azores, a whale hunt, tropical islands, the prize of the dragon…
…and everything collapses. Jaffy and his friends are embroiled in a living nightmare, every step and every page dragging them further along a hellish path of survival. In the hands of a lesser author this would seem like an incongruous twist. In the hands of Carol Birch, it struck me as realistic. We go through our lives, we enjoy ourselves, we have fun, and then disaster and terror and the explicit, visceral nature of the physical world we live in looms up out of nowhere. The routine of life masks that reality like our skin masks our organs.
I have never read a scene more heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching than that which occurs between Tim and Jaffy at the climax of this novel. I literally couldn’t put it down. Carol Birch was robbed of a Booker prize.
Jamrach’s Menagerie at The Book Depository
With the completion of The Sense of An Ending, I’ve wrapped up my Booker Prize Challenge 2011 with more than a week to spare. Prediction time!
There are two different picks to make: which book deserves to win, and which book will actually win. The first is much simpler beacause it essentially means “which book did I like the most?” From worst to best, they were:
Pigeon English is the only one I outright disliked, although the top two are the only ones which I think are definitely worth reading. Jamrach’s Menagerie is by far the greatest: an exciting and evocative adventure story which eventually becomes a gripping and terrifying tale of a brutal ordeal. Carol Birch has penned a marvellous novel which is head and shoulders above its competitors,and she absolutely deserves the 2011 Booker prize.
But will she actually win it? Unfortunately, my personal opinions do not always set the standard the rest of the world follows, so there’s always the chance the jury may select something different. Predicting which book will actually win involves examining the jury itself – specifically the books it selected for the longlist and the shortlist, and public comments made by its members.
General agreement holds that this year’s longlist had some unusual selections, and even more unusual was which books made it to the shortlist. Snowdrops was a particularly suprising wild card, being a genre novel that doesn’t make apologies for itself and, while not a bad book at all, doesn’t deserve to win one of the world’s greatest annual literary awards. (Not because it’s a genre novel, but rather because it’s not a particularly amazing genre novel.) The Sisters Brothers and Half-Blood Blues are more “literary” than Snowdrops, but still unusual inclusions, given that they are unusual books. The jury’s decision to accept these books – and its decision to cut literary heavyweight Alan Hollinghurst – is quite telling. It’s backed up by statements from the panel, with Chris Mullen saying the books had to “zip along” and Stella Rimington saying “we were looking for enjoyable books.”
This set literary snobs all a-flutter because, as we all know, Literature Is Not Meant To Be Fun. I’ve talked in the past about my Venn Diagram theory of literature: that there are books with literary merit, and there are books that are fun and enjoyable to read, and that a deadly boring piece of literature which won critical acclaim is not really any better for you than the latest ghost-written Robert Ludlum thriller. There are plenty of books which are interesting and fun while still having literary merit, so why bother with the other types? I feel quite sorry for critics who have convinced themselves that “readability” and “enjoyment” are Bad Things, and somehow mutually exclusive to Real Literature.
So the shortlist selection and judges’ comments reveal that that Booker panel this year is largely in line with my own ways of thinking about literature. Or, in other words, I believe that Jamrach’s Menagerie is the book which both deserves to win and will win. It combines a 19th century boy’s adventure and a grisly ordeal of survival with a very poignant tale about brotherhood, friendship and sacrifice. It is one of the best books of the year and absolutely deserves to sit alongside previous great winners like Life of Pi and The English Patient.
(If this prediction is wrong I am going to have such a hissy fit.)
I hadn’t read nearly enough of the Booker longlist to make an informed prediction before it was announced yesterday, but I did anyway, on Twitter…
#manbookerprize shortlist prediction: stranger’s child, pigeon english, on canaan’s side, jamrach’s menagerie, sense of an ending, far to go
…and was way off the mark. The actual shortlist is:
Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman
Snowdrops, by A.D. Miller
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt
Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
Jamrach’s Menagerie, by Carol Birch
2 out of 6 is pretty bad, but I’m actually quite pleased with the real selection. My shortlist prediction was based around the idea that more interesting, unconventional genre works would be excluded, because for some reason I imagine the Booker panel to be comprised of people like David Stratton, who cluck their tongues and stroke their beards when given something unconventional.
So it’s a shame I wasted weeks slogging through Alan Hollinghurst’s ten-kilogram novel The Stranger’s Child, but on the bright side I now have a number of books I look forward to reading. I’ve already read Half-Blood Blues, and wrongly bet that it wouldn’t make the shortlist, but I still doubt it will win. I’m currently halfway through Jamrach’s Menagerie, and not enjoying it as much as I thought I would, but it is starting to pick up a bit. I particularly look forward to reading The Sisters Brothers, a rollicking Western adventure, and Snowdrops, a literary thriller set in Moscow. The Sense of an Ending is the most firmly literary of the group, but is also quite slim and will be a breeze to read; Pigeon English is a tale about African immigrants and gang warfare in London, which I suspected would be shortlisted after the recent riots gave it a topical boost.
I’m not going to make a prediction for winner yet, but I’m definitely going to read all of them and do so before the winner is announced in October. And they’ll doubtless pick the wrong one, and I’ll bitch and moan about it, but this year I’ll be qualified to do so!
I had an epiphany yesterday: bookstores deserve to die.
I have wanted to be an author my entire life. I work in a bookstore. In the brewing war between traditional brick stores and ebooks/online retailers, I would have previously been galloping into battle alongside fellow bookstore lovers. I love browsing, I love discovering books I’ve never seen before, I love the different moods and characters of independent stores. I love the musty smell and quiet atmosphere of a second-hand store – I recall one store in Marylebone that was so cram-packed full of books that you literally couldn’t get down the aisles. I love the jumbled decorations and hipster music of stores like Readings or Planet Books. I love being in a foreign country and tracking down an English-language bookstore, a homely refuge of familiar Western culture – the best English-language bookstore in Asia, by the way, is What The Book in Seoul.
All that was my point of view as a reader, a consumer and a customer. I’d be lying if I said I never used online retail – it’s vastly cheaper than inflated Australian retail prices, and I’m more or less guaranteed of finding the book I need. But I felt guilty about it, especially using The Book Depository, which I’m pretty sure is deliberately selling books at a loss in order to gain a market share. I still shop at independent stores, and when I use Abe Books I always try to shop from stores in Australia or New Zealand. I’m no hippie, but I don’t feel comfortable having a book flown all the way from England or the US just to save myself a few extra bucks.
But my point of view as a bookseller? I’ve worked at my current store for about six months. Recently our stock manager went on holiday for a few weeks, and I accepted the offer of covering for her, since it meant regular hours and less customer service. Yesterday I tackled the thousands upon thousands of overstock books in our warehouse and spare room.
When a book in a bookstore is not sold, it is not marked down – at least, not at my store. It is “returned,” and packaging and sending returns is a huge part of a stock manager’s job. Nobody had done returns at my store for months, which was why we could barely move in our back room. Yesterday I went through the shelves and pulled all the books that had been there for more than five months; some had been there longer than a year. Today I packaged some to be mailed back tomorrow. I filled 33 large cardboard boxes merely with United stock (Allen & Unwin, Simon & Schuster and Penguin). The place is still drowning in a swamp of books from Harper Collins, Hatchette, Random House and dozens of smaller publishers.
I would estimate that we sell less than 30% of the books that enter our store. The rest, ultimately, become returns. As I understand it, the distributors send them to other stores after they’re returned; maybe they return them too, and the cycle goes on until the books are all sold. Or maybe they get pulped. The number of books that get damaged during shipping, or when I’m scraping price stickers off with a razor blade, means a large number of them probably get pulped anyway.
But their ultimate fate is irrelevant. What I’m getting at is that the system in place is monumentally inefficient. We ship massive numbers of new releases and promotional stock into the store, sell a handful of them, eventually relegate them to the normal shelves, sell a few more, then – once they’ve been out for a month or two – leave a few copies on the shelf and shove the rest onto the teetering piles in the back room. Allegedly they’re kept there to restock the shelves when those few copies out there are sold, but in reality those copies don’t sell, and the extra two dozen copies out the back sit there until they’re returned.
If you’re even remotely environmentally conscious, consider the impact of all those trucks and planes going back and forth, ferrying unwanted piles of books between suppliers and stores, all so we can have a fully-stocked promotional display for Paulo Coelho’s new book, or because the last Harry Potter movie was released and there might be a few families left out there who don’t own the books, or because somebody at head office had a gut feeling that “Last Man In Tower” would sell 140 copies (I’m not exaggerating, we literally got 140 copies).
It might seem like a leap to go from complaining about this, to saying that bookstores deserve to die. We live in an interlinked, global society, and probably everything you or I own was manufactured overseas and shipped to us in the first world. There are already tens of thousands of cargo ships criss-crossing the oceans, gradually killing them; already thousands of planes in the sky, already millions of trucks on the road. What does it matter if the bookstore supply model is part of that ravenous machine?
It matters, I think, because we have a more efficient alternative. We have e-readers – which I’m not a fan of, but which are unquestionably more efficient in terms of both transport and raw materials, and which will probably endear themselves to the next generation. Closer to my point, we have online retailing, which still provides readers with the comfort, style and possession of a physical book. Ordering books from Amazon or The Book Depository or Abe Books still involves mailing them out to you, still involves that global supply chain – but there is no wasted travel. You select the book online, pay for it, and it’s sent directly to you. None of this zig-zagging back and forth like Odysseus, shuttled from store to warehouse to supplier to store, in the vain hope of finding a buyer.
All this makes me sound like some kind of efficiency-devoted robot who cares nothing for books and literature, but that’s not the case. We will always have second-hand books, and as James Bradley argues, we’re likely to see physical books become more of a status or prestige item in the coming years. I always notice when browsing at Readings that they tend to stock nicer editions of books; hardbacks, and books with interesting covers, like this edition of “The Slap.” I think independent bookstores will persist for some time yet, out of customer loyalty if nothing else; I know of nobody who was sad to see Borders and Angus & Robertson close down (apart from their shareholders), but there were plenty of long faces when Reader’s Feast closed its doors. For dedicated book lovers, I suspect there will always be a few places in any major city where they may indulge themselves.
But for casual readers, who comprise the vast majority of the buyers – people who buy paperbacks from supermarkets and newsagents and chain bookstores like Dymocks – a more efficient model has emerged. The online retailer is more environmentally friendly, more likely to have the books in stock that the reader wants, and has low overhead costs which are passed on to the consumer. Bookstores (like all stores, I suppose) were the only option for many centuries. That’s no longer the case. Like recording companies and real estate agents and video stores, they are middle-men, struggling to stay afloat after being rendered useless by a ubiquitous global communications network.
There are three responses I can see people making to my argument. The first is, as always,“But jobs will be lost!!!” This is never an excuse for anything. Eventually technology renders jobs obsolete. Deal with it, and get a new job. As I said, I hope there will still be a few independent and second-hand stores around, providing jobs for those who are truly passionate about being booksellers. For the vast majority of booksellers who work for companies that treat books like potatoes (which includes mine), there will always be plenty of other general retail jobs.
The second response is that I may be wrong about the scope and extent of the inefficient system, and it may simply be that my company is exceptionally badly-run. This would come as no surprise; they run a wide variety of retail stores, and head office often fails to grasp a lot of the fundamentals of being a bookstore (because, as Henry Rosenbloom points out, books are a hands-on, detail-intensive business which can only be run successfully by people who love books and know their stuff). Our staff turnover is amazing, and one of our senior employees told me the other day that she has never in her life worked for a company more poorly run than this one. Maybe other stores sell a lot more than 30% of their stock. If anyone well-informed would like to correct me, please leave a comment.
The third response is that it’s hypocritical of me to say that bookstores deserve to die out while still hoping that plenty of cool independent stores and second-hand stores survive. Well, you try spending all day boxing up Eckhart Tolle books and Snooki’s autobiography and see how you feel at the end.
It’s been a while since I issued myself a good challenge, but after being all bitter and cynical about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet not winning the Booker prize last year (or even advancing beyond the longlist), despite the fact that I hadn’t read a single one of the other contenders, I’ve been toying with the idea of reading every Booker nominee in 2011. Of course, there’s only a few months between the announcement of the longlist and the awarding of the prize, so for the last few months I’ve been making shrewd predictions about which books might make the longlist, so that I wouldn’t have to scramble so much once it was announced. I just started reading this year’s Miles Franklin winner, That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott, which didn’t make the list. I also suspected Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child would be on it, because even a smash repair apprentice in Toowomba could have figured that out. And that was about it. So my predictive skills are about as sharp as federal Labor’s PR skills, and scramble I shall.
The 2011 longlist was released a few hours ago. I hereby challenge myself to have read every potential Booker winner before the prize is announced on the 18th of October. (This gives me some wriggle room; if I pick wisely, I can avoid reading any books that don’t make the shortlist, announced on September 6th.)
I haven’t heard of most of these books (or authors, for that matter) so let’s do some googling to pull up some promotional blurbs.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (England)
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian’s life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.
Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
‘As they used to say in Ireland, the devil only comes into good things.’ Narrated by Lilly Bere, On Canaan’s Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. The story then goes back to the moment she was forced to flee Dublin, at the end of the First World War, and follows her life through into the new world of America, a world filled with both hope and danger. At once epic and intimate, Lilly’s narrative unfurls as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, it is a novel of memory, war, family-ties and love, which once again displays Sebastian Barry’s exquisite prose and gift for storytelling.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch (England)
‘I was born twice. First in wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.’ 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal. Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits. Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch’s epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the Indian Ocean. This great salty historical adventure is a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (Canada)
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.
With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Canada)
This is a new part of an old story: 1930s Berlin, the threat of imprisonment and the powerful desire to make something beautiful despite the horror. Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it’s been one brawl of a night, I tell you. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In “Half Blood Blues”, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong…
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards (England)
It’s been fourteen years since Jinx’s mother was brutally stabbed to death in their home in East London. Fourteen years for Jinx to become accustomed to the huge weight of guilt and anger that has destroyed her life. Fourteen years to nurture an impossible shame. Out of nowhere, Lemon arrives on her doorstep. An old friend of her mother’s, he wants to revisit the events leading to that terrible night, and Jinx sees the opportunity to confess, finally, her hand in the violence. But Lemon has his own secrets to share, and over the course of one weekend they strip away the layers of the past to lay bare a story full of jealousy and tragic betrayal. Narrated with a distinct and fiery spice, Jinx and Lemon must find their own paths to redemption in this stunning debut novel.
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst (England)
Alan Hollinghurst’s first novel in seven years is a magnificent, century-spanning saga about a love triangle that spawns a myth—and a family mystery—across generations.
In 1913, George Sawle brings charming, handsome Cecil Valance to his family’s modest home outside London for a summer weekend. George is enthralled by his Cambridge schoolmate, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by both Cecil and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will be recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried—until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.
Rich with the author’s signature gifts—haunting sensuality, wicked humor, and exquisite lyricism—The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, and about how the heart creates its own history.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (England)
Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of urban survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuiness (Wales)
The socialist state is in crisis, the shops are empty and old Bucharest vanishes daily under the onslaught of Ceaucescu’s demolition gangs. Paranoia is pervasive and secret service men lurk in the shadows. In The Last 100 Days, Patrick McGuinness creates an absorbing sense of time and place as the city struggles to survive this intense moment in history. He evokes a world of extremity and ravaged beauty from the viewpoint of an outsider uncomfortably, and often dangerously, close to the eye of the storm as the regime of 1980s Romania crumbles to a bloody end.
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller (England)
Nick Platt is an English lawyer living in Moscow during the wild Russian oil boom. Riding the subway on a balmy September day, he rescues two willowy sisters, Masha and Katya, from a would-be purse snatcher.
Nick soon begins to feel something for Masha that he is pleased to believe is love. As the snow starts to fall, the sisters introduce him to Tatiana Vladimirovna, their aged aunt and the owner of a valuable apartment. Before summer arrives, Nick will travel down to the sweaty Black Sea and up to the Arctic, and he’ll make disturbing discoveries about his job, his lover and, most of all, himself.
Snowdrops is a fast-paced drama that unfolds during a beautiful but lethally cold Russian winter. Ostensibly a story of naive foreigners and cynical natives, the novel becomes something richer and darker: a tale of erotic obsession, self-deception and moral freefall. It is set in a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical hideaways and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets, and corpses, come to light when the snows thaw.
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Canada)
When Czechoslovakia relinquishes the Sudetenland to Hitler, the powerful influence of Nazi propaganda sweeps through towns and villages like a sinister vanguard of the Reich’s advancing army. A fiercely patriotic secular Jew, Pavel Bauer is helpless to prevent his world from unraveling as first his government, then his business partners, then his neighbors turn their back on his affluent, once-beloved family. Only the Bauers’ adoring governess, Marta, sticks by Pavel, his wife, Anneliese, and their little son, Pepik, bound by her deep affection for her employers and friends. But when Marta learns of their impending betrayal at the hands of her lover, Ernst, Pavel’s best friend, she is paralyzed by her own fear of discovery—even as the endangered family for whom she cares so deeply struggles with the most difficult decision of their lives.
Interwoven with a present-day narrative that gradually reveals the fate of the Bauer family during and after the war, Far to Go is a riveting family epic, love story, and psychological drama.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Scotland)
Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it’s up to her. Set just a month or two in the future, in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman’s determination to make her life count for something, as the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart.
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor (England)
As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs – high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air – this is Derby Day. For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Even in dark November, when the wind whistles through the foggy London courts, the alehouses and gentlemen’s clubs echo to the sound of disputed odds. In Belgrave Square old Mr Gresham is baffled by his tigerish daughter Rebecca, whose intentions he cannot fathom. In the clubs of St James’ rakish Mr Happerton plays billiards with his crony Captain Raff, while in darkest Lincolnshire sad Mr Davenant broods over his financial embarrassments and waits for his daughter’s new governess. Across the channel the veteran burglar Mr Pardew is packing his bags to return, to the consternation of the stalwart detective Captain McTurk. Everywhere money jingles and plans are laid. Uniting them all is the champion horse Tiberius, on whose performance half a dozen destinies depend. In this rich and exuberant novel, rife with the idioms of Victorian England, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, and we wait with bated breath as the story gallops to a finish that no one expects.
Overall: the only book on this list I know anything about is Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, because conventional wisdom dictated it was a shoe-in for the prize. I’ve never read any of Hollinghurst’s previous books, though I do feel spiteful towards him for stealing David Mitchell’s Booker in 2004. I was also hoping it wouldn’t be nominated, because it’s the size of a phone book, which will make reading all 12 of these difficult. So that’s a good start! I’ve also heard of Snowdrops, Pigeon English and Jamrach’s Menagerie, since we stock all of those at my store, but I didn’t know anything about them until just now.
Of the books on offer, Jamrach’s Menagerie, The Sisters Brothers and The Testament of Jessie Lamb seem the most intriguing, since they all break out of the Booker-bait mould. Smart money is already on The Stranger’s Child, though, since it cosies itself into the Booker-bait mould like a cat into an occupied bed on a rainy morning.
This year’s selection continues the British-centric trend of recent years: only three of the authors on the list aren’t from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales, and they’re all Canadian.
That conclues my half-aware 3 am ramblings. I have 83 days to get through this list; if I’m canny enough I don’t have to read all of them. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
I quite enjoyed this article on e-readers in Publisher’s Weekly, and by enjoyed I mean I had a good chuckle at its stupid assertions. The publishing industry is, of course, still full of laughable people who sail boldly into the future secure in their knowledge that e-readers are just a fad that will die off, and that good old-fashioned paper books will continue to be read forever.
It’s easy to see why these kinds of people are involved in publishing rather than actually writing. They have a lack of imagination. They cannot look at our society, observe the progress of technology over the last half century, and use that data to make a reasonable prediction of trends over the next half century. Does anyone seriously believe that most of the developed world will still be reading physical books and newspapers in 2050? Compare 1950 with 2000. Compare the way we lived, worked and played, and note the vast technological differences – in computing, in entertainment, in communications, in virtually every aspect of our lives. It does not take a clairvoyant to figure out that 2050 will likewise be a very different place from 2000, or 2011.
I don’t read e-books, and I dearly love printed books. I like the smell and the presence of them. I like books as objects, not just as a means to an end. I like a room better with a few overflowing bookshelves in it. And I have no doubt that there will remain a market for printed books, even five hundred years in the future when we’re all living in dome cities on Mars, and there are just a couple of specialist antiquarian stores on the planet. None of that means I can’t tell which way the wind is blowing, and the publishing industry figures who are clucking their tongues and stroking their beards and just generally failing to learn from the mistakes of the music industry remind me of the same people who deny global warming based largely on their own love of the status quo rather than any actual evidence.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) 221 p.
Kidnapped is the third-most famous of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels, overshadowed by Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, but it’s the first of his that I’ve read. If it’s anything to go by, I should definitely check out his other works.
The novel begins in 1751 with David Balfour, our young and resourceful Scottish protagonist, setting out to the house of the Shaws upon the death of his parents. Here he meets his uncle Ebeneezer, a wheedling little man who, rather than welcoming him with open arms, attempts to murder him to seize the family fortune. When this fails he sells David into slavery aboard a ship bound for the Carolinas.
What follows is a swashbuckling adventure of the highest order, containing shipwrecks, gunfights, sword duels, murder, pursuit by the British Army, outlaw hideouts and all manner of boy’s adventure tropes. Yet it’s a far more serious and polished novel than I make it sound, set against a well-developed political and historical backdrop and featuring several real-life figures – most notably David’s friend and mentor Alan Breck, a Scottish Jacobite. I don’t quite know what that is! Nonetheless, it grants Kidnapped a solid sense of time and place, which drags a little during David’s endless flight across the heather but which, on the whole, contributes into making it a more refined novel than the sort of typical adventure tale that any halfway decent writer can churn out (and which, indeed, I have been churning out for many years).
It’s also, despite being written in the nineteenth century, a remarkably easy book to read. Writers back then often had higher standards of vocabulary and style, which means contemporary readers often have trouble reading them, but Kidnapped could easily have been penned in the mid-twentieth century. This is probably the oldest book I’ve read that I found both enjoyable and worth my time. (Moby-Dick, written in 1851, was certainly worth my time, but “enjoyable” is not the first word it brings to mind.)
Overall Kidnapped is a pretty fun read, and I’ll check out Treasure Island when I get the chance.
On Writing by Stephen King (2000) 297 p.
Say what you will about Stephen King’s fiction, but in all his non-fiction – his forewords, his introductions, his EW column and this book – he’s refreshingly honest, down-to-earth and easily readable. On Writing is part memoir and part writing guide, written as King was entering his fourth decade of being an author (and, if I’m not mistaken, had only recently been unseated by J.K. Rowling as the world’s most popular author).
On Writing begins with about a hundred pages of vignettes across King’s life, beginning with his earlist memory and ending with him kicking his drug addiction in the 1980s. It moves on to a central section full of King’s thoughts about writing (theme, plot, characters, dialogue etc) and advice on how to become a writer, and finishes with a section about his near-fatal 1999 car accident (painful even to read about, particularly since he chose to weave it into The Dark Tower series). One of the most interesting things throughout is his little thoughts on all kinds of things related to the trade: genre prejudice, the reliability of agents, anecdotes about writing at Rudyard Kipling’s desk, and so on.
King said he was aiming to write a book on writing without any bullshit, and I think he succeeded. He makes it quite clear throughout the book that there is no magic solution or bag of tricks to being a writer. You just have to work very hard. You have to write a lot and read a lot, and there’s no getting around that. Creative writing classes and writing guides (including On Writing) may help a little, but nothing will get you there in the end except hard work. Lazy people won’t be writers (which I shirk from hearing, since I’m very lazy indeed).
He also shoots down a common myth in the creative writing world – something that’s almost taboo, in fact – which is that a bad writer can ever become a good writer, or that a good writer can ever become a great writer. A mediocre writer can become a good writer, but other than that, you either got it or you don’t.
It only took me a couple of days to breeze through, since Stephen King (being Stephen King) is quite easy to read:
Grammar is not just a pain in the ass; it’s the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking. Besides, all those simple sentences worked for Hemingway, didn’t they? Even when he was drunk on his ass, he was a fucking genius.
A refreshing change after the Byzantine prose of Kim.
Whether you’re a Stephen King fan, or an aspiring writer, this book is definitely worth a read. Roger Ebert (one of the greatest writers in modern America) called it the best book on writing since Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, which I’ll also have to get around to reading someday.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1900) 321 p.
This is the 100th book review I’ve done for Grub Street. I was hoping to time it so that I could review The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, the first novel David Mitchell has released since I discovered him, and the first novel I can remember really looking forward to, but I’m travelling with my friend at the moment and we’ve only got the one copy between us and he’s taking forever to read it. So Kim it is.
Which is a shame, because I don’t have a lot to say about Kim. It’s a classic novel by Rudyard Kipling, often considered his finest, which follows the early life of Kimball O’Hara: an Irish orphan who grows up in India, speaking the language and living as a native, who is picked up by the British and groomed to become a spy.
Kim is ostensibly a spy novel, but Kipling spends far more time being enchanted by the bustle and whirl of India, like a giddy schoolchild with his hands clapped to his cheeks. I understand that he loved the country, but there’s a difference between creating a vibrant setting and having the setting completely overwhelm the novel.
The prose is also quite stilted (“thou,” “thee,” “hast”) and the many social layers and relationships and castes of India are downright confusing. Throughout the majority of this book I had only the faintest idea of what was going on, which is always maddening. The middle section, where Kim is picked up by his father’s old regiment and then sent to a British school, was the most understandable and thus the most enjoyable, because Kim was surrounded by the plain and easy-to-follow British rather than the confusing whirlwind of Sikhs, Jains, Bhuddists, Hindus, Muslims, Urdu, Punjabi, lamas, chelas, etc. Maybe I’m missing the point of the book, but I’ve been travelling through Asia for four months now, and exoticism no longer holds any lustre for me.
Overall, Kim was not the kind of book I was expecting it to be, and not an easy book to read. Oh well. Happy 100th book review, Grub Street!