Friday, 2 March 2012

Top 5 Books I Read in 2011

Not a vintage year on the reading front for me. I struggled with a couple of books and even those I enjoyed took me longer to finish than they would normally. I blame the allure of my smart phone and the ease of in bed internet access for this. I intend to read a lot more next year.

1. Cormac McCarthy “The Road” – The second year in a row Cormac has provided my favourite read of the year. This novel is a very different kettle of fish to “No Country For Old Men”. A tale of a father and son and their efforts to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The sub-heading on some paperback editions call it “beautifully harrowing”, a term I think sums up the story very well. The characters find themselves in a miserable situation, living in conditions that seem dreadful yet all too possible, but McCarthy manages to retain some sense of hope throughout their journey. It is emotionally draining and there are moments where I could imagine being on the journey with them, but despite the sadness I felt at their plight and the state of the world I ended the book with an overall feeling of positivity. That said I did also feel the need to stock up on canned produce, you know … just in case. It’s not a difficult book to read at all, the words flew by for me, and once I’d started reading I didn’t want to put it down.

2. John Peel “The Olivetti Chronicles” – Whilst I enjoyed Peel’s unfinished biography it was a huge shame he did not live to complete it himself. His wife and children did a fabulous job and the book stands as a marvellous testament to Peel’s influence, but the parts written by himself are wonderfully witty and self-effacing and I felt a renewed sense of loss at the end of the self-written half. “The Olivetti Chronicles”, a collection of articles, columns and reviews for various newspapers and magazines, provided another opportunity to enjoy the man’s writing and his unique sense of humour. Short essays on everything from the strange joy of Eurovision to the horror of being sick in trains and musical comment on a diverse array of sounds from Tubular Bells to Berlin punk, interspersed throughout with references to Liverpool Football Club and his deep admiration of Sir Kenneth Dalgleish. There’s something to enjoy in every chapter and this is a must read for any Peel fan.

3. Kurt Vonnegut “Cat’s Cradle” – A lucky find in my local library, this is the third Vonnegut book I’ve read and proved to be yet another intriguing read from the author. It starts out as a satirisation of the arms race but develops into a study of religion (albeit a completely fictional one). This is one of the books I struggled with in places but I think that was more my fault than Kurt’s. It's not a book to dip in and out of, once I focused on getting the book finished it was a joy. Vonnegut has a very different view of the world to almost any other author I could name. A book to re-read at some point I think.

4. Lemmy “White Line Fever” – Lemmy’s a proper rock legend, an old fashioned Rocker who doesn’t care a great deal if you don’t like him very much. Maybe he’s not always done himself the best of favours with his choice of collectibles or public appearances but I’d always suspected that deep down he was a bit of a softy. “White Line Fever” tells his story pretty much from birth and is surprisingly open about his early life and the events that made him the man he is today. It flies through his move from local bands to touring Europe (with The Rockin’ Vicars) and from roadie (for the Jimi Hendrix Experience after flat sharing with Noel Redding) to Hawkwind. The first 5 or 6 Motorhead years take up a fair chunk of the book and provide some of the best stories. I was soon digging out the ‘Head albums I own and went out and bought a couple that I didn’t have. The last few chapters get a little repetitive as the pattern; Motorhead record an album/fall out with the producer/blame record label for poor sales/play blistering live tour to recover their money, is repeated several times. It’s a great read for anyone with fond memories of any of the bands Lemmy was in.

5. A.D. Miller “Snowdrops” – The Man Booker Prize hit the headlines towards the end of 2011 with arguments over readability vs literary ability. I flunked A-Level English so am in no position to judge but considered reading them all to form my own opinion. I haven’t got very far yet, partly down to my dislike of hardbacks (which are, I think you’ll agree both too heavy and too expensive) but mainly down to my lack of effort. “Snowdrops” was the only contender I read. After hearing Germaine Greer slag it off on Newsnight (along with just about every other candidate on the list it seemed) I was all the more determined to like it. It's nothing hugely original but is an engaging and (appropriately enough) readable story. Something I read quite quickly and was just what I needed after two months of failing to get very far with “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.


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