I can’t believe that Christmas is only 3 days away. I have been on holiday (when not looking after Leah) and have done almost no writing. I know I need a break and I’ve been trying to relax but even the summer books are not quite hitting the spot at the moment. I have one book to go to reach my target of 20 books for the year but I’m not stressing about it. This was a guide more than a fixed target.
Looking over the books read this year, a few stand out. The year started with Book 3 of the Hunger Games Trilogy and that was a quick and easy read. I haven’t felt moved to watch the movie though since I think I got quite enough of the story in three book formats. The year ended with Portnoy’s Complaint which I generally didn’t like at all. I’ve been meaning to review it properly here but I also wonder if it’s worth it. If a book is that bad, does it warrant a review? But in the week or so since I finished it (and this was a skim-read for the second half since I didn’t want to spend too much time with Alex Portnoy) I’ve softened my reaction a bit and I can appreciate the significance of the book for its time (1969). I’m prepared to give Philip Roth a second chance at some point since I hope that having got this book out of his system, it freed him up to write more significant material? I’m also interested in the premise of the novel, which is that the whole book is addressed to his psychoanalyst as if he was lying on the couch telling the story of his life. The book ends with a rather telling punchline:
‘So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?’
Let me just say that my chief gripe with this book was that it was misogynistic and that Portnoy spent way too much time complaining and worrying about masturbation, his sexual relationship with his girlfriend whom he called The Monkey, as well as countless pages kvetching about his Jewish identity in a way that was very unproductive. The early chapters on Portnoy’s parents were hilarious but the rest of the book I found pretty dire.
Perhaps the most enjoyable read of the year was Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn. In contrast to Roth’s vast output, Vaughn has published almost nothing but hers is the voice I would much prefer to hear telling her stories.
Also worth a mention in terms of fiction: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Silver by Andrew Motion, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Night Circus, The Gift of Rain.
Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton was very good at debunking the science around depression. What I took from this is that anti-depressants just don’t work for some people and what worked for Brampton was regular exercise (walking mostly), maintaining friendships, a bit of therapy and generally regaining a sense of balance in her life.
The Real Self by James Masterson was very insightful. Masterson is a revered figure in psychology for his work with personality disorders. I was particularly interested to read what he said about the importance of rage and disappointment in facing up to reality and to engaging our “real selves”. Quite enlightening also when dealing with a toddler. If rage and tantrums are part of the process then it’s OK to say “No”!
I also enjoyed The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.
Finally, one of the finds of the year for me was A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The level of detail that Knausgaard is able to access is phenomenal and I was pretty impressed with his insights and the courage that it took to write this memoir. I would be interested to read a follow-up.
Reading goals for 2013? A balance between fiction and non-fiction. More South African writing (e.g. Redi Direko from 702 has written an interesting memoir on her childhood, particularly her friendship with an older boy who turned out to be violent criminal). Perhaps a few classics. More Self Psychology. More memoirs if possible.
Have a great festive season and see in you in 2013.