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Jamie John

What books did you read in 2019?

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For the last couple of years I've done the Reading Challenge thread, where people state how many books they'd like to read by the end of the year and then periodically post updates. This year I thought I'd simplify things by just completely ripping off the format of @Unofficial Who's popular annual 'What games did you complete?' thread in Discussion (hopefully he won't mind).

 

So, once you've read a book, post it in here along with your thoughts and hopefully this will be a way of generating some intellectually-stimulating literary discussion and allowing others to pick up some reading recommendations. Each time you read a new book, post the list of the books you've read so far this year in spoiler tags to keep things tidy. If you still want to set yourself a reading challenge number, like in previous years, then of course that's fine too (if you use the Goodreads app then it can keep track of your progress for you, which is what I'll be doing).

 

-------------------------------

 

I haven't actually read anything so far this year yet, what with it being the second of January, but I have got Life, The Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams on the go, which I've not read before, despite loving the first two books in the Hitchhiker's trilogy (of five). I'm only about a quarter of the way in at the moment but it's already made me laugh out loud dozens of times, so it's off to a good start.

 

As for my reading challenge, I've set myself a very modest target of just 24 books this year. This is mostly due to the fact that I've not had a huge amount of time to read since the birth of my son four months ago, so I don't want to be overly ambitious and stress myself out by not getting through my books quickly enough.

 

The much more difficult challenge I've set myself, however, is to not buy any more books until I've got through my teetering physical and digital book backlogs, even if they are just 99p. I've made some progress towards this goal already by deleting the Kindle sale notifications from my phone and by having a ruthless cull of some of the stuff in my bookcase that's been gathering dust for years and which I'm never going to read. Hopefully I've got the will power to see it through.

 

What have you read this year?

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First book down. The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah. Struggled a bit with it and think it would be better experienced as an audiobook if he is the narrator. The latter third is excellent but I found that he’s not the most absorbing of writers when it comes to describing his early life. His prose doesn’t sparkle and fascinate anywhere near to the standard of his poetry. I’m not sure he ever really shows regret for the crime he committed in his early life. And despite his valuable achievements to human rights, politics and literature he comes across as quite arrogant at times. He’s an amazing man but this insight into his life didn’t really do much for me. 5/10.

 

Now onto Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. 

 

Hoping to read around 40 books this year. I’ve got at least 20 books stacked next to my bed that have sat on my book shelf, unloved, for a fair few years. 

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13 hours ago, Jamie John said:

This year I thought I'd simplify things by just completely ripping off the format of @Unofficial Who's popular annual 'What games did you complete?' thread in Discussion (hopefully he won't mind).

 

 

Don't mind at all as I originally stole the idea from (searches to the 2008 thread)..er...Joyrex. Hmm.

 

So anyway, not my idea to steal.

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I've set a 30 book challenge. Finished the first one today: The Body Library by Jeff Noon. It was in one of the Guardian best of 2018 roundups and the description sounded right up my street. I loved the start and enjoyed it throughout, but it fell short of greatness for me, despite being brilliantly inventive and well written.

 

On to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine now, which I have little enthusiasm for based on the title, but everyone seems to say is great, so I'm giving it a go. 

 

Edit - 10% in: it's much better than I feared!

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1. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

 

First book of the year and it was a stinker. Only through a combination of it being an audiobook and stubbornness on my part that I finished it. Everything about it is bad, everything. The guy narrated it did a decent job, is about the only nice thing I can say about it.

 

###

 

Started In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, also as an audiobook. Only fifteen minutes in but I am already digging it. Also reading Shogun by James Clavell, only a few chapters in but I've enjoyed what I've read thus far. I find book and movies really off-putting when I lose track of who's who and plot points, so I've started notes document to jot down the characters and places, etc. It's quite a satisfying process and one I'm planning to continue.

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I don't get around to a lot of personal reading at the moment because I read so much other non-fiction for my thesis. I never set myself a challenge either.

 

This weekend I took a little research break and read Stephen King's Elevation. It's a very short little book, a novella really. It's about a man who starts losing weight for no reason, but keeps looking the same. It's a very absurd story and due to it's shortness and lack of horror or gore, as well as little drawings above new chapters and a bigger font it almost felt like a children's book!

The story serves as a backdrop for King's pleading for a progressive America. It's set in Castle Rock, which King states voted for Trump in 2016 and is very conservative. It felt a bit strange, knowing how much King tweets about US politics these days, to feel that seeping into this story. But on the other hand, it's his voice and he can do with that as he pleases. I think he wanted to create a little light and hope in the current darkness.

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I finished my first book of the year the other day: The Long Walk by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King. I would have finished it much sooner but I didn’t read for a whole week while I had flu and couldn’t concentrate on anything! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

 

Anyway, The Long Walk is a bit of an odd one. It’s very readable although it doesn’t make perfect sense; there are hints that it takes place in an alternative dystopian America but these are never properly developed so you don’t get a sense of the context in which the walk takes place; and like many King books the ending is quite anti-climactic, although I did like the link on the last page to the Dark Tower.

 

But on its own terms, as a tightly focused story of a group of teenage boys taking part in what is basically the ultimate game show (or what would now be the ultimate reality show) and gradually realising the reality of what they’ve committed themselves to, it’s a success. All these boys volunteer to be one of 100 randomly chosen participants, knowing full well that 99 of those 100 will not survive to the end, because they’re teenage boys and all think that they’re effectively immortal. The whole thing could be read as a Vietnam parable, with the state literally killing its own young, cheered on by the general public, but it’s not necessary to do so and it definitely isn’t laboured. It works like the best King stories, through its characters, and this is as good a bunch as any: flawed, and ultimately doomed.

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2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Really enjoyed this. I thought it was exceptionally well written, with an interesting, thought-provoking central character. I thought the first half was especially strong. That'll teach me to be such a terrible snob.

 

Currently reading Enlightenment Now and Little Fires Everywhere.

 

Previously:

Spoiler

1. The Body Library by Jeff Noon

 

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On 15/01/2019 at 02:03, TurningMonster said:

1. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

 

First book of the year and it was a stinker. Only through a combination of it being an audiobook and stubbornness on my part that I finished it. Everything about it is bad, everything. The guy narrated it did a decent job, is about the only nice thing I can say about it.

 

###

 

Started In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, also as an audiobook. Only fifteen minutes in but I am already digging it. Also reading Shogun by James Clavell, only a few chapters in but I've enjoyed what I've read thus far. I find book and movies really off-putting when I lose track of who's who and plot points, so I've started notes document to jot down the characters and places, etc. It's quite a satisfying process and one I'm planning to continue.

 

I quite liked Pillars of the Earth, but then as historian of that period and also of monasticism, the subject matter was right up my street. 

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So far I’ve read the Motley Crüe autobiography The Dirt, which was great. An absolute soufflé of nothing, but delicious with it.

 

I’ve also read The Queen of Swords by Michael Moorcock, was chatting about that trilogy on here with someone and I’ve tucked back into them for old time’s sake. I probably last read them when I was 14, and I’m pleased to find they still stand up today. I’m reading The King of Swords at the moment, and it may be difficult not to stay reading Moorcock for the entirety of 2019.

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On 15/01/2019 at 11:25, Darren said:

I finished my first book of the year the other day: The Long Walk by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King. I would have finished it much sooner but I didn’t read for a whole week while I had flu and couldn’t concentrate on anything! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

 

Anyway, The Long Walk is a bit of an odd one. It’s very readable although it doesn’t make perfect sense; there are hints that it takes place in an alternative dystopian America but these are never properly developed so you don’t get a sense of the context in which the walk takes place; and like many King books the ending is quite anti-climactic, although I did like the link on the last page to the Dark Tower.

 

But on its own terms, as a tightly focused story of a group of teenage boys taking part in what is basically the ultimate game show (or what would now be the ultimate reality show) and gradually realising the reality of what they’ve committed themselves to, it’s a success. All these boys volunteer to be one of 100 randomly chosen participants, knowing full well that 99 of those 100 will not survive to the end, because they’re teenage boys and all think that they’re effectively immortal. The whole thing could be read as a Vietnam parable, with the state literally killing its own young, cheered on by the general public, but it’s not necessary to do so and it definitely isn’t laboured. It works like the best King stories, through its characters, and this is as good a bunch as any: flawed, and ultimately doomed.

 

I really liked the ending to this - and the way each boy drops out. Also the camaraderie on show between the competitors, I've read it a few times over the years. If you haven't, the other Bachman books are worth a look too. Think Rage has been removed from sale now, at King's bequest, albeit that may only be in the US. Runnng Man is fun and the film should have followed it closer... never happen now, due to that ending. Road Work is a breed apart from those three, and probably the best of the four.

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58 minutes ago, ZOK said:

I’ve also read The Queen of Swords by Michael Moorcock, was chatting about that trilogy on here with someone and I’ve tucked back into them for old time’s sake. I probably last read them when I was 14, and I’m pleased to find they still stand up today. I’m reading The King of Swords at the moment, and it may be difficult not to stay reading Moorcock for the entirety of 2019.

 

OMG! I'd forgotten all about those books. Loved them as a teenager, think I bought them on a trip to France in the English language section and only got them cos of the cover. Take off the eyepatch and beckon.... love it.

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5 minutes ago, Danster said:

 

I really liked the ending to this - and the way each boy drops out. Also the camaraderie on show between the competitors, I've read it a few times over the years. If you haven't, the other Bachman books are worth a look too. Think Rage has been removed from sale now, at King's bequest, albeit that may only be in the US. Runnng Man is fun and the film should have followed it closer... never happen now, due to that ending. Road Work is a breed apart from those three, and probably the best of the four.

 

I’m very gradually reading all of King in publication order (in between other books), a project which will probably last the rest of my natural life, so the other Bachmans are on the list too, except Rage which isn’t available anywhere and which I’m happy to ignore on the basis that the author has effectively disowned it.

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2 minutes ago, Darren said:

 

I’m very gradually reading all of King in publication order (in between other books), a project which will probably last the rest of my natural life, so the other Bachmans are on the list too, except Rage which isn’t available anywhere and which I’m happy to ignore on the basis that the author has effectively disowned it.

 

Yeaaah.... disowned because it has some glorification of a school shooting, Stockholm syndrome and can be a little bit immature, but is still a good playout of what is obviously a mentally unstable kid. I have a copy of the Bachman Books compilation which has it in. Welcome to borrow it if you want.

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How long ago did you read it? The first red light for me was when

Tom’s wife dies, then moments later he’s having passionate sex with some random woman. It’s so weird. Everything is so conveniently resolved, with the most obvious foreshadowing. The characters make the same mistakes again and again, people are duped repeatedly by kid levels of cunning. God, I hated it. William’s mother is some military mastermind for reasons never explained. Oh, and, the sex scenes, I actually cracked up after 1200 pages of the men describing all the women’s breasts in the kingdom, Aliaenna(?) starts to ponder what her own will look like in years to come.

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Last month :)

 

I thought there were a few contrivances for sure but generally I was happy how fast paced it was, nothing dragged. It just felt like a big warm blanket to me.

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3 hours ago, Danster said:

 

OMG! I'd forgotten all about those books. Loved them as a teenager, think I bought them on a trip to France in the English language section and only got them cos of the cover. Take off the eyepatch and beckon.... love it.

 

Yes! I had copies with amazing covers too, these ones:

 

Moorcock_Corum.jpg

 

The covers now are just awful, but it's on Kindle so hey ho.

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21 hours ago, Darren said:

 

I’m very gradually reading all of King in publication order (in between other books), a project which will probably last the rest of my natural life, so the other Bachmans are on the list too, except Rage which isn’t available anywhere and which I’m happy to ignore on the basis that the author has effectively disowned it.

 

That’s an odd coincidence; I’m doing the exact same thing with King’s books and am at the same stage as you. I loved The Long Walk. A harrowing read at times but totally captivating.

 

We’re obviously early on in this journey but his hit rate so far is impressive. Salem’s Lot and The Stand in particular are superb. I’m about 100 pages into The Dead Zone now and have high hopes. 

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I really loved The Stand but the five or so other books of his I read left me a bit cold.

 

I do have the Pet Semetary audiobook ready to go, though, as it's supposed to be his scariest book.

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I got a bunch of crime books from my sister's brother in law who is one of the Daggers judges, but nothing I would recommend particularly - either they are good page turners but ultimately implausible, or bit workman-like (various BBC reporters guilty of this), maybe The Lying Game was the best of the bunch - nicely atmospheric and it's easy to believe a bunch of 15 year olds would act as they did.

 

First non-fiction book - Fire and Fury - Michael Wolff.  Very readable account of the goings on in the White House. You couldn't make it up etc (except you could as Sinclair Lewis demonstrated perfectly well in his novel).

First novel - White Tears - Hari Kuzau.  A couple of American fake a '20s blues record and upload it with dire consequences.  This is a strange novel and probably not one to worry about the story too much (for example did Shaw actually record or not?) but just let the experience wash over you - after about half way through 3 time periods get mixed together - the late 20s/early 30s, the late 50s/early 60s and the present day, and the whole becomes a sort of alternate futures or impressionist piece.

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6 hours ago, Timmo said:

I really loved The Stand but the five or so other books of his I read left me a bit cold.

 

I do have the Pet Semetary audiobook ready to go, though, as it's supposed to be his scariest book.

 

Which ones did you read, out of interest? I haven’t read Pet Semetary yet but what I know of the premise is certainly pretty gruesome. 

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6 hours ago, Billy Brown said:

 

That’s an odd coincidence; I’m doing the exact same thing with King’s books and am at the same stage as you. I loved The Long Walk. A harrowing read at times but totally captivating.

 

We’re obviously early on in this journey but his hit rate so far is impressive. Salem’s Lot and The Stand in particular are superb. I’m about 100 pages into The Dead Zone now and have high hopes. 

You’ll soon be way ahead of me then, I won’t be starting my next King for a few weeks yet. I like to read a few other things in between each one!

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7 minutes ago, Darren said:

You’ll soon be way ahead of me then, I won’t be starting my next King for a few weeks yet. I like to read a few other things in between each one!

 

I wouldn’t bet on it. I read Carrie about four or five years ago! I’m terrible for going months and months without reading but am trying to get back in the habit. 

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7 hours ago, Billy Brown said:

 

Which ones did you read, out of interest? I haven’t read Pet Semetary yet but what I know of the premise is certainly pretty gruesome. 

 

I've really had to rack my brains for this! Also I read these years ago so may be way off compared with how I'd view them now...

 

Needful Things - mediocre

The Stand - incredible

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - ok

Thinner - ok

Nightmares and Dreamscapes - poor

 

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On 19/01/2019 at 23:31, Timmo said:

 

I've really had to rack my brains for this! Also I read these years ago so may be way off compared with how I'd view them now...

 

Needful Things - mediocre

The Stand - incredible

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger - ok

Thinner - ok

Nightmares and Dreamscapes - poor

 

 

Ah, I haven't read any of those yet except The Stand. I'd definitely recommend Salem's Lot if you ever fancy giving him another go (although I imagine it's not top of the priority list after being disappointed with four books). From everything I've heard The Dark Tower really gets going after The Gunslinger.

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The Gunslinger builds to a peak at around book 3 and then goes downhill from there, from what I can remember. The latter novels aren't terrible, by any means, but for my money he starts to muck around with parallel dimensions and does things like including himself as a character, all at the expense of the plot.

 

Generally, with King, I find his shorter stuff better than his sprawling epics. Some of his short stories are fantastic, as well as things like The Shining and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon - tightly written, tense and imaginative. It's his longer stuff that goes awry - things like It and Under The Dome. He seems to begin with a horror story in mind and then feels the need to suddenly do something more self-consciously 'literary' instead of just telling a good story.

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I read Under the Dome a few years ago and thought it was great, although at the time I found the ending frustrating. But looking back I really like it - it might have been a bit clunkily done (I can't really remember) but the actual concept is brilliant. I'm avoiding specifics obviously.

 

I think I'm trying to say is that, from what I've read, I like the baggy epic Kings as much as the short sharp Kings. But then again I'm one of those weirdoes who really enjoyed the last few Dark Tower books so feel free to discount my opinion as the ravings of a lunatic.

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