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A glut of stories

There are two piles of books on my bookshelf — actually, if I was going for strict realism, I would have to mention that these two piles are not alone, that the shelves are crammed full of the damn things, but for the purposes of this discussion, I want to point out that it is these two piles that are of most interest. So, there are two piles on my bookshelf: one is books that I have recently finished and are waiting to be returned to the library from whence they came; the other is books that are waiting for their entry cue. To this you could also add the smaller but no less pressing pile on my bedside stand — one library book, the last, whose completion will see the others return to their home with a papery sigh, and one thick in-progress reread. To this again you could add the ebook on my go-everywhere netbook: I usually have one waiting for me there. To this, further, you could add the huge, dizzingly huge, slightly nauseatingly huge stack of ebooks a friend just passed on to me. I could read every day, all day long, for a year, and not run out of things to read. And I wouldn’t get much else done either. It’s a pretty fantastic problem to have.

On Ravelry, folks talk of going cold sheep, committing to no-yarn-buying until a certain target is reached, usually a destash goal or a time limit. I’m starting to think I need to go cold  sheep on my books, which would be cold tree or something. Only some of them are ebooks, so that would be cold…mobi?  Got a few off my list lately:

The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer

Fascinating, stirring, occasionally annoying, and crowded with fictitious characters. This was a pretty cool book, altogether:. Took me a long time to read, because there’s a lot to get through. In case you’ve had your head stuffed under the carpet for the past billion years, this book is widely regarded as the one that set off the whole pesky feminist movement (well, that’s how it’s seen in some quarters, anyway). At its core, it argues that a patriarchal society fundamentally dehumanises women by sexually neutering them; in taking away their sexuality (defused through various bewildering methods of repression, judgment, criticism and threat), the culture takes away women’s personhood. They become objects — mother, wife, mistress — rather than people. The book explores this theory in range of life contexts, looking at attitudes towards women’s bodies, education, careers, motherhood, relationships and so on. And overall, it’s pretty compelling: while this is an older text now (first edition: 1970), we haven’t progressed so far as a culture that these scenarios are laughable or antiquated. There’s a lot to like in this book:  there’s a lot of agitation, frustration and anger, as if we needed reminding why the feminist movement needs to keep barrelling along. It’s also funny, sharp and really readable. But at the same time, there are a arguments that seem a bit strawman-ish: depictions of fictitious scenarios that are then challenged and criticised. But on the other hand, these arguments portray undeniably familiar tropes that deserve to be challenged. At times the book charged way ahead of me and I had trouble keeping up with where the arguments were going; when Greer started describing her vision for communal childrearing I was surprised and had to backtrack to find out how we got there. But ultimately, this is the kind of text that makes you open  your eyes and look around and start questioning some of those familiar tropes I mentioned — questioning leads to challenge and thinking, at least some of the time, so that alone is a damn good thing.

The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl (Volumes 1 and 2)

While working my way through The Female Eunuch, I was, on the side, dabbling in some dear old Dahl. Ever read the short stories? No? Just the kids’ books, huh? Well, I’ll wait — chase up…hmm,  which first…how about Kiss Kiss? Have a look. Yeah. Creepy as fuck, eh? I loved Roald Dahl’s books as a kid, not least of all because some had the thread of macabre running through them — the cruelty in Matilda, the gross aggression of the Twits, and the sinister Witches and giants (from The BFG) — and in the short stories, he really pumps it up. They’re fantastic. Many of them are creepy and clever and cunning; they’re weird and fast-moving and gripping and they are great. This collection included Kiss Kiss, Over to You (all stories about war pilots and flying: creepy, clever, thoughtful and interesting), Switch Bitch,  Someone Like You and Eight Further Tales of the Unexpected. Particularly satisfying stories: “The Way Up to Heaven”, “The Visitor”, “The Old Switcheroo”, “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “Neck”, “Mr Botibol” and “The Bookseller”. Oh, and “Skin”. And — oh look, just read them. They’re gripping and interesting and have a very vivid, Dahl-esque, English flavour.  Enormously good.

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories – Angela Carter

Whiplash! Going from Dahl’s short stories to Carter’s gave me serious author whiplash. So completely different in tone and themes. Angela Carter’s stuff is terrific: I love Nights at the Circus, and The Magic Toyshop was a corker too. Burning Your Boats is a complete anthology, containing the books Fireworks: Nine Profane PiecesThe Bloody Chamber and Other StoriesBlack Venus and American Ghosts and Old World Wonders, and six other stories that were never collected (three early stories at the beginning off the book and three misc at the end). Carter tends towards the lush and detailed, and it’s interesting to read the stories in chronological order like this, because that lushness and detail is at its heaviest in her early stories, gradually thinning as her career progressed. So while I found the first three early stories a little unpromising — not bad, but not quite my cup of tea — by the time I had reached halfway through Fireworks I was pretty interested. And then The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories — a collection of retelling of fairytales — had me completely hooked. Favourites from Burning Your Boats: “The Bloody Chamber”, “Puss-in-Boots”, “The Kitchen Child”, “John Ford’s ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore'” and “Gun for the Devil”. Really juicy stories, ripe with action, sex, laughter and conflict, as with the best of Carter’s stuff.

The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon

I started reading Lot 49 in uni but never finished it. (True story.) Found it in my collection the other day and read it, cover-to-cover, in one sitting (more or less — there were toilet breaks). Oh wow, man, far out, awesome. Oedipa Maas is summoned as the executrix of an ex-lover’s will and finds herself nudged all around by hints of a conspiracy: but you can never be sure if it’s in her head or if it’s an external force she’s stumbled on. This kind of book is perfectly suited to a single-sitting reading, because the story builds momentum and you end up sustaining the perfect headspace for the creeping feeling of paranoia that Oedipa develops. Pynchon’s got a reputation for being twisty and involved and complex, but Lot 49 is readable and interesting, with plenty of motion and dialogue and interesting characters. I think it’s a good intro to his stuff — I hope so, because I’ve got V and Gravity’s Rainbow lined up next.

In a misguided moment of honesty, I decided to have a squiz at how many books I’ve got on the go at the moment: if I only count the ones I’m earnestly reading and can confidently explain what plot point I’m up to, it’s still too many. Good problem to have.

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