1. The book I'm currently reading.
I have a lot of books on the go at once, but I'm closest to finishing (one in my study and one in the loo) these two rather different books: The Complete Book of Aunts by Rupert Christiansen (2006) and Pierre Frei's Berlin (2005).
They are different in genre (commonplace book/anthology vs. crime fiction) and other things (e.g., Berlin is a translation from German), but their biggest difference is quality: Berlin is a unputdownable story of a series of murders set in immediate post-war Berlin. It offers an interesting twist by tracing the lives of the victims from roughly ten years before the crime up to the circumstances that led to their being in that particular place at that specific time. It is an excellent and intelligent thriller.
The Complete Book of Aunts, which seemed so promisingly amusing when I saw it in a secondhand store, achieved the fate of relegation to the bathroom, where books go to
die force me to finish them in the absence of anything else to read. It is superficial and pretty sloppy in content. It needed a good editor and it certainly is not "The Complete Book of Aunts", given that the author claims very early on that there is no adjectival equivalent of 'avuncular' for aunts. Um, yes there is: materteral. Wouldn't you at least Google if you were interested in auntly completeness? It also contains sentences that should never have made it into print, such as: "After she died, Virginia wrote a memoir of Caroline Emelia..." Clever woman, Virgina Woolf, writing from beyond the grave... As I said, s-l-o-p-p-y.
2. The last book I finished:
The last book I finished was very enjoyable: Tess Gerritsen's The Silent Girl (2011). It was a crime novel too (I seem to be wallowing in crime at the moment) and the current last in the Rizzoli/Isles police procedurals by Tess Gerritsen. I had read none of her books before I read the other Simon's review of Keeping the Dead. Next thing I knew I had consumed the entire series in two weeks and was living in fear that even locked doors and windows won't keep out a serial killer who wanted nothing more than to mummify me for posterity. OK, I exaggerate a little, but these books are totally addictive, well-written and full of moments that are so frightening you will need to go and turn on all the lights and hide under the bed. For some reason there was always a gruesome autopsy scene just when I wanted to have dinner. I haven't read much along these lines since I gave up with Patricia Cornwell when her plots and characters got so ridiculous they made me laugh instead of tremble in fear, but I thoroughly recommend Gerritsen if you want to be scared out of your wits. My only quibble is that why is it generally women who meet gruesome and graphically described ends (and from women writers)? This article gave me pause for thought (and somewhere recently I've read something else about book jackets on these books always featuring anonymous chunks of naked women, but I can't find the link; I don't think it was this). Of course, Gerritsen does provide balance with her strong female protagonists who defy victimization.
3. The next book(s) I want to read:
Non-fiction? Rosemary Auchmuty's A World of Women: Growing Up in the Girls' School Story (1999). Why? I enjoyed her first book on this theme, about the elaborate worlds created in girls' stories set in schools.
Fiction? Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn (1984). Why? Love books set in the 1930s/Second World War.
4. The last book I bought:
Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (2008). Yes, I'm about two (and the rest) years behind on what everyone else has read. I like it that way.
5. The last book I was given:
As I was leaving work one day, a lady in the lobby was handing out the Friendly Street Poetry Reader 26 (eds. Ioana Petrescu and David Adès, 2002). Many passersby looked a little suspicious that someone was giving away (a) anything and (b) poetry and (c) something not involving enrolment in a religious cult or pyramid selling scheme. There was a lot of Don't Make Eye Contact going on. But the Friendly Street Poets are an Adelaide institution: a poetry collective established way back in 1975. They hold poetry readings, open mike nights and so on, and publish anthologies of their members' work. Poetry is food for the soul, so here's a taste:
To be a moth, once more, at the lamp
of a woman's eyes; seeking that flame
in the knowledge of cinders; and the
darkness when the lamp is turned away...
(excerpt from David Adès, 'To Hazard This')