Easter reading

Freedom Day long weekend here and it’s freezing cold. I’m in the front bedroom at Betty’s Bay with L and the pie. Pie is going “a ooh goo” and L is going “blublublum”. Pie is wearing a white jersey knitted by granny and has just had some milk. L and I are drinking tea and eating hot cross buns.

I thought I’d tell you about some of the books I got for my birthday earlier this month. I can’t remember all the titles but here are the ones I remember:

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg
Edge of the Table (14 stories of youths from the Cape Flats)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Girl meets Boy by Ali Smith
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Changing my Mind by Zadie Smith

A good haul, wouldn’t you say? I’m also reading a few psychology books, including Writing through the Darkness (on writing as therapy for depression) and The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

One novel which I really enjoyed recently is The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell which was really excellent. This novel is similar in structure to The vanishing act of Esme Lennox in that O’Farrell tells two stories (set in different times) which then connect in a powerful way. I see that the Guardian reviewer calls it a “compelling story about memory and motherhood”. Here we have the parallel stories of Lexie Sinclair (a journalist in 1950s London) and modern-day Ted and Elina (young parents struggling to keep things together following the birth of their first child). I won’t give any of the plot away but I’m interested in how O’ Farrell manages to keep the reader engaged and in suspense over such a long time.

She’s also excellent at set pieces and I was reading out bits to L such as the one which describes in graphic detail what is known in our household as the ‘squirty poo’. What amazed me as well was the way she turns it into a crucial plot-device.

I’ve also started Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand which is a good choice for a seaside holiday since it’s a romance with a difference set near a small English seaside town. I’m enjoying the interaction between Major Pettigrew, a retired military man, and Mrs Ali who runs the local shop. Some of the characters are a bit two dimensional but both the Major and Mrs Ali are very well drawn.

One of my favourite things about the Easter holidays is that I get to catch up on other reading such as the London Review of Books. I read a brilliant piece by Eliot Weinberger on George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points. Weinberger uses the deconstructive language of Foucault to pick apart Dubya in a funny and very telling way.

Here’s an excerpt:

Foucault found his theories embodied, sometimes unconvincingly, in writers such as Proust or Flaubert. He died in 1984, while Junior was still an ageing frat boy, and didn’t live to see this far more applicable text. For the questions that he, even then, declared hopelessly obsolete are the very ones that should not be asked about Decision Points ‘by’ George W. Bush (or by ‘George W. Bush’): ‘Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse?’

He goes on to deconstruct the ‘lone hero’ style of George W. Bush and the fiction that is his memoir. All memoirs are fiction to a large extent but to see the way that Foucaultian theory unpicks the simple (and yet complex) way that the whole George W. Bush presidency was constructed is really helpful. I find it easy to get despondent about governments and politics (especially US politics) which is why it’s refreshing to see the subjectivity of leaders such as Dubya taken apart (almost like a doll) to see how they work.

And then I read (or tried to read) Jenny Turner’s piece on David Foster Wallace. Suffice to say that I’m interested to read his much-acclaimed Infinite Jest but definitely won’t be reading The Pale King.


15 Responses to Easter reading

  1. seachanges says:

    What a great pile of books. That should keep you happily munching through the hot cross buns for a while. I’ve got and read the last three on your birthday books list – all three excellent writers, also quite different styles. I must admit that I have not found the time to read the London Review lately and keep telling myself that I must MAKE time. Your comments on the deconstruction piece by Eliot Weinberger make me think that I should just get on with it and make time. I have mixed feelings though about the David Foster Wallace books: reviews and commentaries are quite mixed.

    • Pete says:

      Seachanges – Yes, there’s never enough time for reading is there? I only read the LRBs when I’m at my parents’ house so then I get to read a few at a time, which is a treat. I’ll let you know what I make of the other reads.

  2. Great haul. I just finished reading a book of Ali Smith’s short stories. Loved it.

  3. litlove says:

    Lovely books,and I own a copy of that Maggie O’Farrell novel and am really looking forward to reading it. Happy belated birthday! And do give the pie a hug from me.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks LL. I will. The pie is at a niggly stage at the moment. Some nights she sleeps through like a dream. And others … hmmm. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the Maggie O’Farrell. Oh, and two of my current psychology books are courtesy of your recommendations so I must thank you for those.

  4. I’ve just returned from two weeks in Cape Town, which was wonderful as always, but frenetic, trying to pack in people and places. Your long weekend sounds idyllic by comparison and just what I should have been doing instead! I totally agree with you about the Maggie O’Farrell, and thought her portrayal of the parent-child bond the most lucid I’ve ever read. US politics depresses me deeply too, and you’ve made me want to look up the Weinberger piece. Hope you find time to enjoy the rest of your reading haul!

    • Pete says:

      So glad you got to make it to Cape Town for two weeks even if it was a little frenetic! As for the reading, at the rate I’m going this lot will last me to Christmas. No rush though and I am enjoying them.

  5. Grad says:

    Love the pictures of Miss Pie! She’s a sweet pie, indeed. Wonderful load of books, there, Pete! And Happy Belated BD! I’ve not been able to find time to visit my blog friends lately, so I’m happy to catch up. I loved The Graveyard Book. I wept outloud at the end. That’s all I’ll say. I’ll stay away from politics (I’m an issue oriented voter, not an ideologue), but I see Dubya from a far different perspective. That said, I’m not crazy about any politician – including the ones currently in office. Have a happy time reading, my friend. P.S. I owe you a letter.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Grad. Not sure I like the sound of that ending though. I’m really enjoying this one – to the extent that I feel resentful when I have to put it down and do other things. As for politics, I’d be interested to hear your take on Dubya. My view here is very much influenced by how the rest of the world saw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – but I’m sure that Americans themselves would have a much more nuanced view of George W. I’ll also be interested to see how history treats Obama. What’s that saying about the highest trees getting the most wind?

      Oh, and I always love your letters (but no pressure!)

  6. doctordi says:

    Wow. Awesome haul!!! And you are getting through it, which is most impressive! Loved the O’Farrell too, as you know – couldn’t be a timelier read, could it?! Lovely to see all is tea and toast and tomes and tiny tot your end! Xx

    • Pete says:

      Hi Di! Well I didn’t mention the part when I landed up at outpatients with an infection (or maybe that was after I posted this). Fine now anyway.

      The days tend to flow into one another and sometimes it feels like crisis-management. But when I do get to kick back with tea and buns and some good books … then I usually feel guilty that L has to read in short bursts! Hope you’re having good times on your side.

      • doctordi says:

        Plenty of good times, thanks Pete, but I would give a lot for a day’s reading and writing. I am reading and commenting here thanks to my iPhone, which I just can’t work on!! But yes, days flow into weeks flow into months – time itself has changed!

  7. blogbehave says:

    The hand that first held mine by Maggie O’Farrell .. I have added it to my Goodreads “To Read” shelf.

    Re: David Foster Wallace, the universe is telling me I must read something by him. I wondered which one to read and now I know. Thanks.

  8. […] little while ago Pete mentioned having read The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O’Farrell.  As it was on my […]

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