Career of Evil: The Live Commentary. SPOILER ALERT!

The highlight of my year has occurred: Robert Galbraith’s third book, Career of Evil, was released yesterday. For those of you not in the know, “Robert Galbraith” is J.K Rowling’s pseudonym for her crime fiction novels. A couple of years ago I was spending a Saturday afternoon leisurely enjoying reading interviews with JKR. She was asked if she’d ever publish under a pseudonym and her response was something like, “Oh, it would be fun, but I’m sure the secret would get out in about five minutes, so probably not.” Could you imagine my excitement, then, when I arrived at work (a bookshop) the following day to the news that The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, released about six months prior, was actually penned by the literary queen herself? I screamed. I nearly fainted. I checked the stock level at the supplier as we did not have a copy on the shelves. They had one copy, a hardcover, which was rather pricey, and I needed it. Of course once the announcement was made, plenty more copies were printed and made available, and I didn’t have to rely on the slim chance that this one copy might find its way to me no matter how deserving of it I felt.

Now while I have reasonably diverse taste in books, crime is not one of my preferred genres. I love true crime but seldom get stuck into the made up stuff: I don’t pick up any of the clues, forget which character is which, and when the big reveal is made, struggle to understand the chain of events that lead to the conclusion. However, I was prepared to enjoy this one thanks to my unswerving bias towards anything that HRH JKR puts her pen to, if not her name. And what do you know, I loved it. The Cuckoo’s Calling is the story of Cormoran Strike, a private detective, and his recently acquired assistant, Robin Ellacott, working to uncover who killed Lula Landry. Landry is a supermodel who died after falling, jumping or was pushed off a balcony, and the death is ruled a suicide. Her brother seeks their services because he disagrees. There are several suspects, each with their own motives, who could be guilty and it’s anyone’s guess whodunnit. I thought I had a fair idea about the identity of the killer. I was completely wrong.

One of my favourite facets of JKR’s writing style is how she goes about planting innocuous seeds early on that bloom in importance further down the track: for example, Sirius Black is mentioned in the very first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, then not again until Prisoner of Azkaban and the pieces start to fall into place. And that whole thing with the Elder Wand throughout Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows… Genius! This talent translates perfectly into crime. Clues are laid early on, and as the story progresses everyone becomes a suspect. Most of these are, of course, red herrings, and I found myself completely sucked in to thinking the killer was one character or another. I was shocked by the reveal but of course the clues were there all along.

About a year later, book two was released. The Silkworm picks up where the first left off, and Cormoran and Robin find themselves with no shortage of clients to appease and mysteries to solve after their success with the high profile Landry case – particularly as they completely trumped the police, who were left looking a bit silly in their inability to solve the crime in the first place. The characters are allowed to develop, and we learn a bit more about Robin’s fiance Matthew, who doesn’t like Robin’s line of work. He thinks she is overworked, underpaid, and that her boss shows her an interest other than professional. I have my own opinions on him which will be disclosed if you continue reading. (Hint: I don’t like him.) Book two’s plot follows the design of the first, and I wonder how long it will be before it starts to seem formulaic. The answer is, “not yet.”

Which brings me to book three, Career of Evil. I finished a book on Sunday and had the difficult task of choosing what to read on Monday and part of Tuesday before CoE hit the shelves. It had to be something I wouldn’t mind putting down while I read CoE, and could come back to in a potentially distraught state that my new book was over. I decided on The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. I’ve read it before. It’s at the top of my favourites list alongside Winnie the Pooh, and is so vastly different from a murder mystery that I was unlikely to confuse the two. I own two copies of this book so I can lend one out and maintain sanity if it takes a long time to come back to me, if (perish the thought) at all. Unfortunately they are both in a storage unit, along with hundreds of other titles, but my local library had two copies. We’re on the same wavelength, the library and I. I had my friend good friend Elle, who still works at the bookshop I used to, promise to inform me as soon as CoE came in yesterday, and took ULoB out for a walk. Naturally my anticipation was so high that I couldn’t sit still. I had been walking and reading for nearly an hour and a half, was getting tired and heading home, when a perfectly timed text came through from Elle. I ran to the bookshop and we were in business.

The third instalment begins when Robin signs for a package that encloses a woman’s severed right leg. Not only is this creepy and just a bit icky, it is worth noting that Cormoran Strike is missing his right leg, amputated below the knee just like the one Robin receives. Before you ask, no she didn’t order it as a present for him.

I began reading Career of Evil at exactly 2pm on Tuesday 20 October and had the idea to document my thoughts on it while reading. Honestly it was a bit annoying to do, but if and when I give the book another read, I won’t have allowed myself to forget my reactions on the maiden read. One of the great tragedies of my existence is not being able to read good books again for the first time. So here it is.

I do not give away who the killer is but do reveal other plot points. Read on at your own risk.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

2:00pm – Here we go!
2:09 – The severed leg is a thinly veiled reference to Cormoran!
2:11 – Uh-oh. 11 minutes in and I’ve spilt beetroot on the book.
2:17 – I understand, Cormoran. No one ever gets my name right either. (NB: Attenborough is not my real surname. Like all great writers, of which I am surely one, I use a pseudonym. But my first name really is Erin.)
2:18 – Hmm that beetroot stain kind of looks like blood. What a fitting food to have eaten messily over a crime novel.
2:31 – “…referred to her (Robin) as Strike’s secretary.” Is that a clue?
2:45 – What on earth is a Waitrose? Probably should google it.
2:51 – I think it’s an off-licence supermarket.
2:52 – Yep. Google confirmed. Can read on with impunity.
3:00 – Robin’s drinking hot chocolate. I might have a cup of coffee. And look, I’ve been reading for exactly an hour!
3:06 – I wish my glasses wouldn’t fog up when I drink a hot beverage.
3:43 – Hehe, Cormoran missed his train stop because he was busy thinking. Sounds like someone I know who is usually too busy reading.
3:54 – Nearly another hour. All this talk of severed limbs is making me thirsty. Good time for a cuppa tea.
3:58 – Is that grammatical error intentional?
4:09 – Oh Cormie, you make me feel normal. I’m ten years younger than you and I hate loud noise and crowded places too. What are you doing later? I don’t want to massage your stump, I promise.
4:11 – Masham… Isn’t that where Rosemary Shrager works?
4:14 – When did those coffee stains get there? Book must’ve been printed that way.
4:16 – Why are there buckets of Indian food at Robin’s florist? Oh, mimosa is different to samosa.
4:20 – Elin Toft… That’s rather like my name, if my surname was Toft.
4:25 – Beyonce used to be in Destiny’s Child? You learn something new everyday. Also, autocorrect knows to put the accent above the E. It is officially more clued in to pop culture than I am.
4:39 – Why do I have to pee? Oh right, those caffeinated drinks. Suppose I could bring the book with me just this once.
4:41 – Couldn’t do it. Ignored book for an entire minute. Needed use of hands.
4:43 – Although I did just manage to fold up a chair, and open, close and lock the two doors to the balcony with a book in one hand.
4:46 – Mary next door is watching the news. I wonder if she can hear me reading.
5:03 – Look at the time. Why do I have to go out? I wonder if I can do the washing up and get changed while reading. Probably not. Think I left my mug out on the balcony.
5:05 – I did.
5:24 – Okay book: if I have to go out, you’re coming with me. Don’t worry about those storm clouds; I brought an umbrella for you.
5:33 – I forgot how hard it is to walk and read with an umbrella. At least we’re on the train now. My, what a short walk to the station!
5:40 – No wonder Cormoran’s out of shape. All that beer and fish & chips.
5:44 – “…her fair-lashed eyes pink like a piglet’s.” Do piglets have pink eyes? Do people?
5:48 – Alight train at correct stop. Cormoran Strike: 0, Erin Attenborough: 1.
5:49 – Ugh, people. Peak hour. Can’t you see some of us are trying to read? Honestly, watch where you’re going.
5:51 – Venison pies? Seriously, Strike. You JUST ate!
5:52 – Nooo! Thunder AND rain. I wonder if this will wash out the beetroot and coffee stains.
5:57 – Turns out I do remember how hard it is to read and walk under an umbrella. Especially when you start sneezing and trying to document the experience. Also, someone needs to invent windscreen wipers for glasses.
6:00 – I give up. I’m nearly late as it is.

—break for things that are less important than reading—

10:18pm – Oh Robbie G, why did I leave you? Safe on the couch once more. Anyone could’ve been tailing me while I was reading you in transit. This is the only reason I’m not a private detective.
10:21 – Oh Robin, you poor girl. At least you can now enjoy the single life. But please don’t go walking around alone at night within days of receiving a severed leg in the mail. Sincerely, your mother.
10:27: Strike: 1. Hey, a pun! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?
10:31 – Matthew you scoundrel. Never trust an accountant.
10:32 – I hope my dad (an accountant) doesn’t read this. Or my mum. She probably will. Frau, don’t tell Tub what I said.
10:33 – With Sarah Shadlock! More like Sarah BADlock. I knew I didn’t like her.
10:38 – Oh Robin. Come sit by me. You can share my blanket and I’ll make you tea. Strong tea like you had at the bridal shop.
10:40 – Vitiligo, huh? I didn’t have to look that one up. I have it too.
10:54 – Robin’s a complicated middle child with two brothers too!
10:55 – Correction: she has three. Guess we’re not the same person after all.
10:57 – I don’t know what a needlepoint stool is (hehe… stool…) but it sounds uncomfortable.
11:04 – I really hope that spelling mistake solves this crime. Maybe I could be a private detective after all.
11:09 – The victim doesn’t have a One Direction tattoo, surely.
11:17 – More fish & chips. For real?
11:22 – I could almost be Cormoran, you know. I nearly had my leg amputated. I’d have to eat more fish & chips though. And actually have my leg amputated.
11:31 – Just remembered I prepared a treat for a late night of reading. Frozen yoghurt with blueberries, oh yeah.
11:39 – “He’s got a cauliflower ear.” I really want that to be literal.
11:45 – Ate something without spilling it on my book. I am an adult!
11:47 – Every time I read they’re going to Barrow-in-Furness I picture a wheelbarrow on fire.
11:51 – Searching for Cauliflower Ear in Wheelbarrow-on-Fire. Shouldn’t be too hard.
12:08am – “Yew.” Is that a reference to Voldemort’s wand? Oh wait, this is Robert Galbraith, not J. K. Rowling.
12:27 – One more chapter, then bed.
12:28 – Guess what they’re eating. Hint: it’s always fish & chips.
12:38 – Matthew and Kimberley. Like the proper names of the band. Good old Matt and Kim.
12:41 – Just one more chapter.
12:42 – “Why had she had waved?” Why the extra “had”? Honestly, doesn’t this publisher employ proofreaders?
1:03 – Actual last chapter now.
1:32 – I lied. I read two.

Wednesday 22 October 2015

10:12am – I’ve got a couple of hours before I need to be anywhere. Go!
10:14 – Correction to earlier thought: I am nine years younger than Cormoran, not 10.
10:25 – The royal wedding. I watched about five minutes of that. Got bored after it seemed unlikely Kate would fall over.
10:59 – You’ve thrown away the flowers, received another body part, and still haven’t opened the note. Is nobody else as curious as I?
11:09 – Another One Direction reference. I was totally right about the tattoo.
11:10 – What a competent detective I’d make.
11:26 – I wonder if anyone stalking me might think of me as The Librarian. It would be strange to refer to me as The Secretary.
11:33 – Just chips this time. No fish.
11:39 – I wonder if Two-Times has anything to do with this.
11:41 – Nah, can’t be. Two-Times has money.
11:48 – Uh-oh. Don’t do anything rash, Robin.
11:58 – And they know what Two-Times looks like. Duh.
12:06pm – Damnit, things are getting very interesting and I have to go! I’ll be back. With a vengeance.

—another unwelcome break—

2:15pm – We’re back on.
2:19 – So are Robin and Matthew. I confess myself disappointed.
3:31 – They’re “taking a fortifying drink of tea.” Think I will too. I need some fortifying if I’m to solve this case.
3:38 – Someone’s “twerking”! I know what that means! Impressed that JKR does too.
3:44 – I wonder if JKR visited strip clubs herself for this kind of field research. Sorry, I mean RG. Himself.
3:55 – Was that run-in intentional? There’s a pun in there.
3:57 – People are sending you body parts. You should be bloody paranoid!
3:59 – Ha! What did I tell you? And her modus operandi is just the same as mine: fall over embarrassingly, find clue.
4:01 – It can’t be him though. Hmmm.
4:02 – Or can it? Maybe he’s faking it. Wouldn’t be the first one in this story.
4:03 – I knew it! The run-in WAS intentional!
4:09 – Prostitution in London sounds nothing like Secret Diary of a Call Girl. This sounds much more like Jack the Ripper territory. Note to self: do not take up a career in prostitution.
4:12 – “…a twenty-first-century Jack the Ripper was stalking the streets of London.” God I’m good.
4:17 – Strike’s hungry. I wonder what he’ll eat.
4:30 – Nothing. Mary next door is listening to classical music.
4:36 – Remind me never to get married. It sounds like an awful lot of trouble.
4:50 – Did Stephanie at any point tell Robin her name? Could’ve been a giveaway.
4:53 – Oh no!!
4:56 – Oh phew. You scared me good and proper there.
5:02 – I wonder if it’s Mad Dad. No wait, they’d recognise him too.
5:05 – Okay, Corm’s on it. Must go shower and get ready. Forgot to shower yesterday. Oops.

—break to shower and get ready for a somewhat important engagement—

6:12pm – On train, have book.
6:22 – Oh dear, Robin’s hatching a new plan. My bet is it will be reckless, physically dangerous, and Corm will hate it and between their plans they’ll get the guy.
6:32 – Straight outta hospital and in a fist fight. You’ve got balls, Ellacott.
6:35 – Off the train and into crowds. Yuck.
6:39 – Just tried to go up the down escalator. More important things to focus on.
6:44 – Alright better go. Was onto something with that last prediction.

—break for a somewhat important engagement—

8:51pm – On train.
8:55 – Strike’s figured it out. Tell me!!
9:01 – Damn that short train trip!
9:15 – Walking home in the dark. I have an umbrella and bag of groceries if anyone attacks. I know Cormoran has figured out who the killer is but he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend so it may be up to me and my groceries to bring him down.
9:25 – Back home, yoghurt and blueberries are in freezer for when I remember I didn’t have any dinner. Not even gonna change into something more comfortable.
9:35 – He’s eating a ham & cheese panini. I guess most cafes don’t serve fish & chips first thing in the morning.
9:37 – Of course he ate two.
9:43 – What’s a “Girl Friday”? No time to google it now.
9:44 – Swinton Park… Isn’t that exactly where Rosemary Shrager works? Will she be at the wedding? Will Cormoran? Please tell me they go home together!!
9:52 – It’s HIM!!
9:56 – Get out, get out, get out!!
10:05 – This is not good for my anxiety levels!!
10:12 – Yes, he’s got him! Cormie’s okay! Hooray for Cormie!
10:13 – For how long was I holding my breath?
10:14 – Redcap… Is that another Harry Potter reference?
10:19 – Flowers? That was the winning lead? The leader, if you will. And here I was thinking a mimosa was some kind of curry puff.
10:25 – Classy, Corm.
10:25 – Robin rocks.

There you have it. Please read Career of Evil soon so I have someone with whom to discuss it; I’m interested to hear your thoughts. Mostly if you correctly identified the killer. I decided it could be one of two people, and I was right. Well, half right. Even if I was all right, however, I doubt I would have been disappointed: Strike correctly evaluated clues I hadn’t even noticed. There were just enough twists to shock without confusing me; plenty of action that wasn’t corny; writing from the perspective of the killer that was creepily believable. Do not be fooled into thinking that because this was written by the brain behind Harry Potter, it will be childish or fantastical – I guess that’s why she takes a pseudonym. Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Robert Gailbraith, whatever you want to call her: she is one talented writer.


2013 Reading List

Oh 2013, what a year you were, and one of the least impressive in terms of amount of reading I did. I can count on one finger the reason for this: I was dating a guy who didn’t like books. It’s not just that he didn’t like reading (although he pretended to), he didn’t like me reading. (WARNING!! NOT A SUITABLE MATE!!)  I read the latter 75% of Looking for Alaska in one night after he had fallen asleep, and boy was I in trouble. We had a very heated argument at around 3am when he woke up; apparently if he fell asleep before 10pm I should wake him so we could spend more time together, doing things that aren’t reading. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t survive. And thank goodness for that. What would we talk about? I can scarcely remember what we did talk about. I recall telling him not to call until I first made contact with him after I got my hands on The Cuckoo’s Calling. I remember he took a photo of me reading Paper Towns with his cat. I probably complained to him that Mad About the Boy didn’t live up to my expectations, and he probably ignored me. Ah, young love…

…anyway, this is what I read in 2013. Coincidentally, I started the year with another Murakami. I read a few more true crimes, which I promise says nothing about my character except that I find it interesting and am willing to bribe my way into a Bolivian prison on the recommendation of a book; but I think that story needs its own post. I fell in love with John Green, revisited some classics, and searched for meaning with Victor Frankl. I didn’t find it. Guess I’ll have to keep reading.

  1. Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
  2. Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing – Benjamin Nugent
  3. Hotel Kerobokan – Kathryn Bonella
  4. Hot Six – Janet Evanovich
  5. Half the Sky – Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn
  6. Seven Up – Janet Evanovich
  7. Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (reread)
  8. Talk to the Hand – Lynne Truss
  9. The Universe versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence
  10. Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan
  11. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
  12. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate – Alexander McCall Smith
  13. Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry
  14. The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson
  15. Killing Time: One Man’s Race to Stop an Execution – David R. Dow
  16. The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry
  17. Mary Poppins – P. L. Travers
  18. Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor E. Frankl
  19. The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil – Philip Zimbardo
  20. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  21. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  22. Bluff Your Way in Philosophy – Jim Hankinson
  23. Crossing the Ditch – James Catrission
  24. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (reread)
  25. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  26. Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature – Linda Lear
  27. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (reread)
  28. The Three Incestuous Sisters – Audrey Niffenegger
  29. Fatal Females: 13 Cases that Gripped a Nation – Libby-Jane Charleston
  30. The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith
  31. Rock ‘n’ Roll Babes from Outer Space – Linda Jaivin
  32. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
  33. The Lady of the Rivers – Philippa Gregory
  34. Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff
  35. Cannibals and Evil Cult Killers: The Most Unthinkable and Heinous Crimes – Ray Black
  36. Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey
  37. An Abundance of Katherines – John Green
  38. To Kill a Mockinbird – Harper Lee (another reread)
  39. Looking for Alaska – John Green
  40. Manuscript Found in Accra – Paulo Coehlo
  41. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy – Helen Fielding
  42. He Died with a Felafel in his Hand – John Birmingham
  43. Paper Towns – John Green
  44. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez
  45. The Shining – Stephen King
  46. All That I Am – Anna Funder
  47. Let it Snow – John Green, Mauren Johnson & Lauren Myracle

2012 Reading List

Ever the list-maker and cataloguer, these are the books I read in 2012. It’s a nostalgic experience copying out this list and remembering where I was as I read some of these. 1Q84 I began reading in a tent, and The Hunger Games trilogy over the course of six days in an apartment on the Gold Coast. I read a number of books for the second time, and began a love affair with the works of Alexander McCall Smith. Fitzgo I read while locked out of my parents’ house and picked it up on their back deck. It wasn’t very good, and yet it struck a chord: Fitzgo was the name of a dog my mum had a long time ago, and who I remember vaguely from visits to my grandparents when I was very young. Several of these books were read in entirety in the waiting room at Royal North Shore Hospital, where I had regular appointments with my surgeon, and many a plaster cast fitted/removed. 2012 was also a year I really tested the “don’t knock it ’til you read it” epigram (E. L James, M. L. Stedman) and read the books everyone was reading (Stieg Larsson). I had already read the Twilight series while travelling in 2009 and it took three years to once again put my reading time where my mouth was.

  1. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
  2. Fitzgo – Paul Wilkes
  3. A Dance with Dragons – George R. R. Martin
  4. One for the Money – Janet Evanovich
  5. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  6. Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
  7. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
  8. The Philosopher and the Wolf – Mark Rowlands
  9. The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
  10. Wonders of a Godless World – Andrew McGahan
  11. Aleph – Paulo Coehlo
  12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
  13. Harry, a History – Melissa Anelli
  14. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chumamanda Ngozi Adichie
  15. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  16. Two for the Dough – Janet Evanovich
  17. The Housekeeper + the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
  18. Hana’s Suitcase – Karen Levine
  19. Inspirations: Selections from Classic Literature – Paulo Coehlo
  20. The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
  21. Harry Potter Should Have Died – Emerson Spartz & Ben Schoen
  22. The Light Between Oceans – M. L. Stedman
  23. Eats, Shoots & Leaves – Lynne Truss
  24. Rifling Through my Drawers – Clarissa Dickson Wright
  25. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
  26. Spilling the Beans – Clarissa Dickson Wright
  27. The Red Queen – Philippa Gregory
  28. Fifty Shades of Grey – E. L. James
  29. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
  30. Three to get Deadly – Janet Evanovich
  31. Game Control – Lionel Shriver
  32. When God was a Rabbit – Sarah Winman (second time reading this one)
  33. The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein
  34. The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
  35. The Great Gatbsy – F. Scott Fitzgerald (another reread)
  36. The Fault in our Stars – John Green
  37. Portuguese Irregular Verbs – Alexander McCall Smith
  38. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs – Alexander McCall Smith
  39. At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances – Alexander McCall Smith
  40. Mixed Fancies – Brenda Blethyn
  41. Four to Score – Janet Evanovich
  42. Newjack: A Year as a Prison Guard in New York’s most Infamous Maximum Security Jail – Ted Conover
  43. Broken Wand (or how J. K. Rowling Killed Harry Potter) – Timothy A. Wolfe
  44. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
  45. Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding my True Voice – Maureen McCormick
  46. 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff
  47. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff
  48. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
  49. The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – Stieg Larsson
  50. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (another loving reread)
  51. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Deborah Moggach
  52. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery (it seems I reread rather a few books)
  53. God Sleeps in Rwanda – Joseph Sebarenzi with Laura Ann Mullan
  54. The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith
  55. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  56. Now we are Six – A. A. Milne
  57. The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
  58. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (a partial reread)
  59. High Five – Janet Evanovich
  60. Three Singles to Adventure – Gerald Durrell (only realised halfway through I had already read this)
  61. The Bronze Horseman – Paullina Simons
  62. Gourmet Rhapsody – Muriel Barbery
  63. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
  64. We Need to Talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver

So many books, so short a life expectancy…

For a long time I could not leave a book without finishing it. I don’t know who I thought would berate me; it seemed unlikely Charles Dickens would tap me on the shoulder and give me a talking to if I put A Tale of Two Cities back on the shelf never to revisit, and yet I pushed through to the very end nonetheless. I guess my theory was that I owed it to Mr Dickens to give him a proper chance, and it was not his fault I was struggling. Nor was it his problem, but I’m glad I stuck it out. I understood approximately one word in every three beyond “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” so difficult did I find the ye olde language. I enjoyed the story, so it all worked out, but I haven’t started any of his books since. They now sit on my bookshelf just at eye level so anyone giving a passing glance to my library will think I’m incredibly well-read.

That all changed when I started reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I gave it about 250 pages and the story was only just getting started. The bookmark stayed there for a long time, but after about a year I realised that despite my best intentions I would probably never go back to it, and if I did, would probably also have to go back to the start. I removed my bookmark, folded down the page and have never gone back. And you know what happened? I don’t remember, so insignificant were the consequences. I probably moved on to a book I enjoyed a whole lot more. Ms Rand certainly didn’t hunt me down with a rusty spoon. As it turns out, I don’t know a single person who has read it, so I don’t even have to make appreciative noises and nod my head while my better-read friends discuss it.

I recently finished reading So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson. Essentially she turned what I’m doing here into a book. She set herself a goal of reading and reviewing a book a week for a year, though the result was a series of rants and rambles about what she read, or started to and failed. You might say she ignited my blogging ambition. I have kept a list of every book I’ve read over the last couple of years that I will post in due course. For now, here are my thoughts on my most recent read:

I had never heard of the author before reading her book, which was published in 2003. She is now the editorial director at Amazon, but at the time was only a senior contributing editor at Glamour and publishing columnist for The New York Observer. I didn’t pick up her book for any of these accolades though: I judged it by its title. Had I known any of her history I may have been less critical, though maybe it was good to go in with a fresh set of eyes. It was an easy read and on her recommendation I’ve jotted down a few titles to look up. I empathised with her, and she reassured me that it really is okay to put a book down halfway through. That’s not what I did with hers though.

I finished her book in three days, and I don’t know if she or her editors expected such a quick turnaround. I almost started a game of word bingo at several junctures: every few chapters, she latched onto a word and used it with gratuitous frequency. Or in the case of “oeuvre,” to death. I understand that this is an appropriate word to use in a book about books, but it seemed to appear every few pages, and it annoyed me. Perhaps she is not at fault; she may not own a thesaurus, or in her pre-Amazon days have been able to afford one. Still, I guess I expected better. She also used the word “kismet,” rather a lot. I admit that I was unfamiliar with the term and had to look it up. If you are in the same position, it means “fate.” As I was on a three hour train ride in an area with no 3G signal, it was a while before I discovered its meaning and had assumed it was some sort of Jewish/Yiddish jargon. The author drops plenty of references to her Jewish upbringing, and living in New York, may not have considered her Australian readership. While I thought the word was overused, I’m prepared to acknowledge that my unfamiliarity may have contributed to how annoying I found it. The last one that springs to mind (now that I am one day and half a book removed from it) is “wax rhapsodic.” This one packed a punch because I recently read a book I thought overused the term “wax lyrical,” so I was still sensitive. It was another term I had previously never come across, though I was able to hazard an educated guess as to its meaning. Needless to say, I waxed neither rhapsodic nor lyrical over its use and think she could’ve found suitable substitutes on several occasions.

I wonder why it is that in a book 242 pages long I’m able to single out three words (four, really) that are capable of shaping my experience of the work as a whole. I think it probably reveals a lot about me. A very smart lady, from whom I’ve learnt a lot, and is an incredible judge of character, has said only one thing I’ve ever disagreed with: she described me as having a “light streak of cynicism.” Light? Who is she kidding?!

You heard it here first: I am incredibly cynical.

Welcome, friend…

…I’ll put the kettle on while you have a look at my bookshelves.

I don’t think I’m the only person who checks out a friend’s bookshelf as soon as I’m invited inside. I have a friend who does this and immediately starts pulling out titles and making a pile she’ll take home with her. She doesn’t do this anymore because after she borrowed 21 books and returned only two, I’ve stopped inviting her over. Don’t worry though; that’s not what I’m doing. Usually I count how many of their books I’ve read and am searching for fodder should our conversation become strained.

I’ve decided to start a blog dedicated to books because there is almost nothing I’d rather do than read. At the moment I’m concerned the time I devote to this task will take away from my reading time, so I won’t promise updates with specific regularity. However, “everything in moderation” is a mantra my mother (henceforth referred to as “Frau,”) has tried my entire life to instill in me, and if I’m not reading books I might as well be writing about them. I have other hobbies too: I cross stitch swear words onto bookmarks, play videogames (mostly ones based on books) and have been colouring in since before it came in vogue. I’ve worked in bookshops for several years, and after four years studying media & communications, decided to retrain as a librarian – a process I’m in the midst of.

It’s ironic it took me such a long time to realise I really ought to build a career around books. I’ve always been bookish and remember spending many a recess and lunch time in primary school reading a book instead of playing with friends. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have many. Until high school, that is, when I was surrounded by many a like-minded girl, which coincided with the release of several of the Harry Potter books and we sat in a circle each reading our own copy. I have reasonably eclectic taste, a point Frau often remarks upon: she simply had to share with her colleagues the fact that I was so depressed by the ending of Anna Karenina that the only thing capable of cheering me up was rereading Winnie the Pooh and having him discover the North Pole.

A particular talent of mine is being able to read and walk simultaneously. It’s a skill I’ve been honing for the last nine years or so, when I realised that my 30 minute walk to work could be made significantly more enjoyable if only I were reading. Not to mention that on sunny days I would feel I ought to take advantage of the weather and go for a walk, but what I really wanted to do was stay inside with a book. Competent multi-tasker that I am, I combined the two and have never looked back. Or up. Nowadays I mostly capitalise on both opportunities by taking my book for a walk around the local oval. This way I am less likely to run into things, though I have had the odd stumble into a mud puddle after the sprinklers have been on. Unfortunately, this activity is often remarked upon by neighbourhood dog walkers, and scarcely a walk goes by without being asked what the book is that is so good I can’t put it down, how I’m able to read AND walk, how long I’ve been doing so, how don’t I fall over, etc. ad interruptum. I carry a bookmark which is cross stitched with “fuck off, I’m reading,” in cursive, and unfortunately most people don’t take the hint.

This is probably the most noteworthy aspect of my reading habits. I also listen to audiobooks in bed, though only books I’ve already read. Actually mostly just the Harry Potter series, if I’m really getting down to it. Although sometimes Winnie the Pooh or anything read by Sir David Attenborough. The advantage here is that if I drift off and “lose my place,” I haven’t missed any critical plot point as I know in advance what I’m missing. I have a waterproof Bluetooth speaker that allows me to listen to audiobooks in the shower. This is as far as my bathroom reading goes, unless you count texting from the toilet. I have an ex who would read on the toilet. I’ve always been a follower of the epigram “don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” so while I was skeptical, I gave it a go. It was an experience I’ve never revisited, and I’m unsure what the protocol around it is. Once finished with your business, do you flush the toilet and sit back down, or just let it sit? I opted for the former, as the latter seemed kind of gross, but then I felt silly just sitting there and reasoned I would be much more comfortable reading on the couch. Still not sure what the fuss is all about, but to each their own.

Other than audiobooks, I do read hard copies in bed. To me this has its merits and its flaws: it can be a terrible way to get to sleep if I’m reading something absorbing, though if I do happen to drift off, I fight the urge to sleep as soon as I wake back up. Whether I sleep or not is a battle I’m not sure I want to win, and by consequence I’m not sure I ever do. I am gratefully single at the moment, a blessing for a million reasons. Ex boyfriends have often come second (not sure if that pun was intended or not) to a book, and they rarely thank me for it. If I have to put down a book and pay attention to a bloke, I had better want to thank them later. As I said, “rather be reading.” And again, “fuck off, I’m reading.” Unless your pillow talk is in an accent closely resembling Sir David’s, I have a better offer at hand.

I think this is enough writing from me for now. It’s my bedtime, which means cuddling up with my latest book, So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson, followed by Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The former has been sitting on the top of my in-tray for the last few days. This is part of my personal system, which is a way of reading borrowed books in a timely fashion and returning them to the library without fines or to friends without resentment. Try it; your friends will thank you for it.