<> Books Read - 2000 <>

Last modified: Sunday, 14 August, 2016

+ My recent, current, and forthcoming reading is covered elsewhere, here's what I read in 2000:

* Terry Pratchett: Maskerade

Pretty much what you'd expect from a Discworld version of the Phantom of the Opera. More easy going and less barbed than Pratchett can be, this entry in the series is an undemandingly entertaining read featuring Granny & Nanny as the major characters.

* Chris Tarrant: Rebel Rebel

A survey of a quarter of a century of teenage rebellion from James Dean to punk rock.  Particularly interesting in dealing with the fifties and early sixties when Tarrant was himself a teenager and can give the inside view alongside the historical perspective. As a teenager myself in the seventies it's obvious that Tarrant observed us from the outside rather than living along with us.  The many, well-chosen, photographs capture the moods of the times accurately.

* Graham Bleathman: Thunderbirds FAB Cross Sections

Strictly of interest to fans of the 1960s Gerry Anderson puppet shows, this book shows more detail than most would want to know about the internals of the machines and home bases of International Rescue.  I loved it!

* Peter Whitfield: Mapping the World

Illustrated with maps from the Classical period to the 19th Century, this book tells the  warts-and-all story of European exploration of the globe that has (for better or worse) shaped the modern world.

* Alan Bennett: Telling Tales

Ten short autobiographical vignettes of his early life to delight all who warm to Alan Bennett's well-established style and authorial persona.  To this unabashed fan, the only flaw in this book is that it's too short and the wait for more new Bennett will be too long!

* Stella Gibons: Cold Comfort Farm

There's something nasty in the woodshed as Flora Poste forsakes the city to sort out her bucolic Starkadder relatives and finds them rather a handful.  Some of the humour doesn't seem to have worn well but overall this was an interesting read that left me even more impressed with the John Schlessinger film.

* Vikram Seth: An Equal Music

A compelling story of love, music, and the role of each in people's lives, believably set in the fascinating world of a professional string quartet.  That I so often wanted to give the main protagonist "a good talking to" shows how ably Vikram Seth made me care about his creations and their messy lives.  The conclusion is unsentimental but hopeful.

* Michael Palin: Hemmingway's Chair

Debut novel by the globe-trotting ex-Python.  A traditionalist post-office worker and Hemmingway fanatic faces twin crises in his working and private life.  Superbly easy-reading with utterly believable characters and situations, until the sudden lurch into an action movie ending, totally absorbing!

* Daphne Turner: Alan Bennett: In a Manner of Speaking

An interesting study of Alan Bennett's writing from 1961 to 1994.  Especially strong when analysing the stage plays, and generally good at identifying the recurring themes in Bennett's work and the subtlety with which he uses formal techniques to reinforce multiple layers of meaning, the book is disappointingly superficial in its treatment of the famous Talking Heads monologues and the TV play Intensive Care whose complexities seem to have been underestimated by Turner.  Worth reading though, especially for those who may know only parts of Alan Bennett's wide range of work.

* John Brunner: The Shift Key

The man who, with his 1975 novel Shockwave Rider, invented cyberpunk long before the genre gained a name invades John Wyndham territory with a tale of strange goings-on in a model English village in this 1987 pot-boiler.  This wasn't written with the care apparent in his best work, but the occasionally lazy writing doesn't prevent it from being a very readable story with which to pass a few hours.

* Alan Bennett: Father! Father! Burning Bright

This brief tale (under 100 pages long) is tremendously sad but not perhaps in the way you'd expect of a story dealing with a man waiting at his dying father's bedside.  Bennett's writing is, as always, illuminated by his perfectly observed characters and dialogue.  His people speak in an entirely natural and (Northern English) idiomatic way, yet express what is usually only felt or at best faultily expressed.  Masterly writing.

* Mary Norton: The Borrowers Aloft

The last of the four original Borrowers stories.  The family are kidnapped by humans who plan to exhibit them for gain but manage to escape by balloon.  The romance between Arrietty and Spiller is given a final poignant twist as the family finally set out again to seek a life with just the right degree of separation from humanity.  A sadness and sense of  inevitability of rootless wandering pervades much of the book as the series ends on a decidedly low-key note.  Although marketed as children's fiction, the gently poetical writing makes these little books a joy to read and decidedly rewarding for adults.

* Terry Pratchett: Interesting Times

Rincewind the wizard is sent to the Discworld's version of China and gets tangled up in revolution.  The usual Pratchett laugh-out-loud-funny roller-coaster of a story that brings back a couple of old-time characters (Twoflower and Cohen the Barbarian) to help make some gently pointed fun of revolutionary and fuedal politics. Spirited and accomplished writing from an author in full command of his material.  The very end of the book leads straight into The Last Continent.

* William Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors

Farcical consequences of identical twin masters with identical twin servants.

* Daniel Defoe: A Journal of the Plague Year

Fictionalised account of London in the grip of the Plague in 1665. A few dull passages are more than offset by the many vivid portrayals of human reactions to the menace of the Plague.

* Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: The Tribe of Tiger

An engaging little book that examines the behaviour of the domstic feline by reference to their kinship with the Big Cats and then goes on to explore aspects of the social interactions between people and the Big Cats.

* Sir Ernest  Shackleton: South

The leader of the Endurance expedition provides his own account of events, written soon after his return from the Antarctic.  Authoritative but not as involving as Lansing.  Also describes the experiences of the other half of the expedition who had their own problems the other side of the continent in the Ross Sea while Shackleton's party were marooned in the Weddell Sea.

* Estelle Daniel: The Art of Gormenghast

Not just another "making of" tie-in, this has substantial content detailing the life of Mervyn Peake and the relationship of Gormenghast to his experiences. Written by the producer of the recent BBC production, the tone of the book underscores the care, attention, and seriousness with which the undertaking was approached as well as showcasing the sumptious costumes and spectacular sets (all so true to the original) and the expected "behind-the-scenes" anecdotes.

* Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: His Last Bow

More Sherlock Holmes stories.  No particular standouts here, though I like the "Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" for its London Underground connections.  The closing title story is unusual in being written in the third person rather than from Watson's point of view as well as for its 1914 setting.

* Terry Pratchett: Johnny & the Bomb

Johnny Maxwell learns something of the meaning of life from a trip back in time to 1941 in the third of the Discworld meister's sequence of young adult novels.  A fun read and more genuinely thought-provoking than the first two volumes.

* Henry Beard: Poetry for Cats

A selection of more or less distinguished feline verse from the associates of some well-known names. The version of "If" attributed to Rudyard Kipling's cat is especially fine. Some of the longer pieces are less successful, but overall it's an enjoyable enterprise that will tickle anyone with even a passing knowledge of cats and poerty.

* Esther Wanning: Culture Shock! U.S.A.

An interesting guide for foreigners to the culture and customs of (white, middle-class) America. Not as incisive and analytical as others in this series (Lisa rates Culture Shock! Britain.as essential reading for those moving here), perhaps because it is written by a born and bred American rather than an immigrant.

* Mervyn Peake: Titus Alone

The last, and very much least, volume of the Gormenghast trilogy. Having abandonned his birthright, Titus Groan gets mixed up in a wierdly warped version of the modern world. In contrast with the previous two volumes, the plot is rambling and unfocussed and the writing unpolished and prosaic. Faults that doubtless would have been rectified had the author been spared to undertake a measured revision before publication.

* Alfred Lansing: Endurance

A detailed and enthralling account of Shackleton's abortive attempt to walk across Antarctica. Written clearly and without undue dramatisation, the understated style quietly underlines the scale of the expedition's predicament. Authoritative and comprehensive as it is, it's perhaps surprising that it doesn't draw on the following source...

* Caroline Alexander: Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition (1914-1915)

Provides an unusual view-point from which to study the attempts of Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance to withstand a winter trapped in the Antarctic ice. Much of the detail is corroborated by Lansing (see above) which lends credibility to its source's unique insights.


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