Followers of this blog will roll their eyes if I were to say, again, that I am trying to cut down on my book purchases. But I am trying to institute a change and improve the quality of my purchases.
I think a fault of mine in recent years has been to be sucked in by discount book stores, particularly the pop-up stores that frequently appear and disappear from our malls. These stores do not often stock good novels, at least not of the literary kind that I am after, but they do often have lesser books by good writers. And this is where I go wrong. I spot a name I have heard good things about, who have won acclaim for their other works, but on the cover of a book I have not heard much about, I spot the price, often less than $10 and I think ‘why not?’ And now I have a lot of these ‘why not?’ books on my shelves and I’m not convinced it was a good idea.
So, now, in a resolution of sorts, I have decided to go back to where my main fiction-reading interests lie – classics, modern classics, and contemporary prize-winners. Outside of those, it will have to be something that strongly arouses my interest. To that end, this month I bought two Booker Prize winners, two modern classics, and a couple of non-fiction books I sought out on my bad days.
I bought Staying On by Paul Scott which won the Booker Prize in 1977. Having completed his Raj Quartet and enjoyed the excellent TV series adaptation, I was always going to add this to my collection. It is a story of English who choose to remain in India after independence as it is the only life they have known and, as I understand, it includes a couple of minor characters from the Raj Quartet. It is relatively short compared to the Quartet novels and I think I would like to read it soon if I find myself getting ahead in my reading schedule.
The other Booker Prize winner I bought was Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. A joint winner in 1992 with The English Patient, it is a novel that sounds fascinating, has received glowing compliments from other writers, yet I don’t believe I have ever come across it in a book store.
Years and years ago, when I was first starting my collection, I had spotted Kristen Lavransdatter in a lovely Penguin Deluxe Edition in my favourite store and had determined that I would buy it. But I never got around to it and forgot about it. Then, recently, I was looking for ideas for what else I might want to read and was going through a list of Nobel Prize winners when I came across it again. I am very happy to add it to my collection in the same edition I had first found it. It looks great doesn’t it? Technically it is a trilogy, but I’m not sure if I will read/review it as a trilogy or as a single book.
As followers will know, when I’ve had a few bad days in a row; when chocolate, ice cream or a glass of wine just doesn’t cut it to pick me up, I go looking for a book. February was a tough month. I had a really bad cold, a few days when my wife had to work late and I had 13 hours of non-stop minding a 22-month old, and the stress of my studying piling up on me.
After one of those weeks I bought another series in one volume – The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. This is one I had been thinking about for a while and had never seen in a store before either. It sounds like a really tough read; a book whose appeal is more about the style of the writing than the plot, a series that revisits the same events from different points of view. But it is rated quite highly by readers so there must be something to it.
After another bad week I sought ought Why the West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris. There are a lot of these attempts to understand the key factors in the development of civilisation and, in particular, how Northern Europe went from the world’s backwater to the dominant civilisation and culture in a matter of a few centuries. Some of these attempts are better than others. What intrigued me about Ian Morris’ attempt is that it has had positive reviews from two other writers whose own attempts are worlds apart. Niall Ferguson’s book Civilisation is one I believe to be weak (see my review here); it gives far too much credit and foresight to the West and ignores other factors that were at least as influential but can neither be credited to the West nor foreseen. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel takes an opposing view to Ferguson’s and yet they both give praise to Morris’s attempt at a similar question.
I’m still sick and stressed and getting run into the ground by a little girl who is not yet two, so I will probably have more of these stress-purchases when I do my post for March!