I’ve been doing some maintenance on my master spreadsheet. It contains a record of every book I’ve read since 2007 and some from earlier. I used to write capsule reviews on it – I was able to refer back to my one on Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle just the other day during Shirley Jackson Reading Week so they do come in useful! Once I started my blog in September 2008 I stopped recording notes in this way – but I thought it would be nice to revisit my archives and share a few of these mini-reviews with you now and then, so here are a pair from earlier in 2008 …
A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
The annual rattlesnake round-up in Mystic, Georgia bears no relation to ‘whacking day’ in The Simpsons at all. When the thousands turn-up to take part and watch, by the day of the actual hunt, you know it’ll have all gone horribly wrong. Throw a handful of good ‘ol boys and their women, moonshine and whisky, fighting dogs, diamondbacks and the return of the prodigal cheerleader queen into the mix and you have a heady brew that will burst its bottle in a flash. At the centre of this is Joe Lon Mackey, a former footballer who didn’t get the grades to go to further. Stuck in a trailer with his fading wife, two babies, and with nothing to do except mind his father’s liquor store, he misses his former girl – Berenice the cheerleader and finds himself taking it out on everyone …
It’s tragedy in the making, and the writing is brutal, visceral, yet not without a wicked sense of humour in the caricature of the characters. No words are wasted in this cinematic novel of murder and mayhem, and the tension builds and builds until it finally explodes in an stunning ending that shakes you to the core.
9/10 (July 2008)
NOW: I do so love a bit of Southern Gothic. I shall have to re-read this one!
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The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas
This ambitious novel is hard to pin down – a sort of post-modern psychodrama with Gothic overtones involving philosophy, quantum physics, mind-melding and time-travel. It’s an attractively produced book with striking covers and brilliant black page edges – does it live up to the design? Well partially – mainly because at 502 pages in the edition I read it is rather sprawling…
The main plot about a lost book, which contains the recipe for mind & time travel, and is said to curse all who read, it is top notch. Ariel, the heroine, is a sparky and independent post-doc student, yet is needy and always broke. The bad guys are suitable threatening, and Ariel gets the help she needs in the right times and places to resolve matters.
Yet interspersed with the action are myriad philosophical discussions about deconstruction (c.f. Derrida) and quantum mechanics, which while very interesting, do slow things down significantly. Their purpose as I see it is to posit a deconstructivist framework in which mind/time travel ‘could work’ using the wave-particle duality – in that everything exists as waves until you look for something and then it is pinned down in time/place. (I’m glad I have a basic grounding in the subject so wasn’t put off by it).
A novel that requires serious concentration – it took me a week to read, which is slow for me, but is no less enjoyable for that!
8.5/10 (June 2008)
NOW: Derrida? I don’t remember this part of the book at all and I’m not really up on dead French philosophers. I’d also never write a phrase like ‘posit a deconstructivist framework’ now – would I?! I am, however, looking forward to reading Thomas’s new novel The Seed Collectors very much indeed.
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To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews, pub 1998, Scribner. Paperback 188 pages.
The End Of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas, pub 2007, Canongate. Paperback, 512 pages.
10 thoughts on “What did I read pre-blog?”
How organised you are! and what great mini-reviews, considering you were only writing for yourself. A crack reviewer in training, obviously.
Thanks Harriet! You’re too kind.
how good those mini reviews, particularly given the fact they were going to be read only by yourself. It must have taken a fair amount of discipline to make yourself write in full sentences – I think I’d have taken the lazy route and just done bullet points or random, unconnected thoughts that wouldn’t have made sense a few years later
By the time of the two above, I’d certainly discovered Librarything and was adding some there (haven’t checked), but even further back I wrote proper paragraphs for some reason! More of these in another week or two!
I remember reading The End of Mr Y and really disliking it. For me it started really strong and then just faded into dullness. I wonder if I read it now I’d feel differently.
It’s all a bit vague for me – I remember it being long, and the philosophy getting in the way of the drama, but I remember liking the more thrillerish drama aspects. I don’t think I’d feel differently if I read it now though.
I love Harry Crews’s books, especially A Feast of Snakes – I’m probably due for a re-read soon. Have you read anything else by Crews?
Not lately, but I also loved The Mulching of America about a door-to-door salesman conning old ladies.
Oh how sensible of you to have had a spreadsheet in the time before the blog. I didn’t have anything of the kind, and all my pre-blog reading is lost to history, alas!
It was the first step in my progression (I missed out the ‘Reading Journal’ one) Spreadsheet – to Librarything – to blog. It’s come in very useful over the years too! 🙂