What have I been reading this summer holiday? Stonemouth by Iain Banks, The possibility of an island by Michel Houellebecq, Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch and The Business by Iain Banks. OK, I dipped into a Jeremy Clarkson, but it really was as bad as I thought it would be. The Houellebecq novel was disappointing (after Atomised) because it fails the Montaigne test – if you have to struggle with a book, stop reading it.
Holiday reading is likely to be frothy, easy-read books that get sand kicked into them. But I do like a plot that unfolds subconsciously, or rather without me having to stop every few chapters and wonder if it’s worth carrying on. Luckily the Clarkson guff was just a collection of his rants and was easily putdownable! There is a lot to like in the Houellebecq; a despicable anti-hero, some imaginative sci-fi pseudo religious cult stuff and the usual liberated sexual antics to spice things up. Giving up on a book is not easy for me (unless it’s guff like Clarkson’s) so I have persevered with Houellebecq, but it has been put on the back burner while I raced through all the other books listed above.
Occasionally I wonder whether I am reading too little non-fiction. Maybe there is a bank of knowledge that I could acquire if I applied myself to works that do require effort, and possibly note taking. But those moments are fleeting and, although our shelves are stocked with reference material, I rarely do more than dip into books on Welsh history, beer making, gardening and other subjects that I should be sufficiently interested in to do more than dip.
Struggling with words can be pleasurable. I bought the odd paper in France. The local rag is called Sud-Ouest. I love reading the Saints day descriptions, usually martyrs. There was one poor soul who was tied to a stake, but the flames refused to touch her. Obviously the description was a lot more poetic, but you get the gist. Schoolboy French does not enable me to read and understand fully, but there is something to be gained by an appreciation of a different tongue. Maybe I will take some language classes…