Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Reading Matters


Instead of writing, I have been reading, getting through swathes of books and loving them. Here are some:

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

Described as Burroughs’ “debut memoir” since he has recently published another that is a prequel to this, Running With Scissors is graphic, shocking, unputdownable and, according to some of the people who were there, not entirely true. It tells the story of what apparently happens when Burroughs’ mother, an unsuccessful and suicidal poet, hands her teenage son over to her psychiatrist to live in his spectacularly unconventional household that includes a paedophile who immediately starts a relationship with the boy. Die-hard Burroughs fans don’t seem to care whether RWS is memoir, creative nonfiction or pure fantasy, and I would have to say I agree. It reads like a novel, the characters are grotesquely fascinating, and Burroughs’ voice is an enticing admixture of knowing and innocent. If you enjoyed A Million Little Pieces and weren’t particularly bothered whether that was reality or part-fiction, you would find RWS fascinating. Like reality TV, it’s gruesome, but it’s hard to get up and switch it off.

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Words fail me. Nothing I try to write does justice to the broad sweeping vision and forensic scrutiny that Ford applies to American suburbia in this novel. There isn’t a bad note; every paragraph contains jewels that seem to slip simply into the text without any indication of the sweat and work that must have gone into writing this book. To combine such a superb evocation of suburbia with such an empathetic writing of what it is to be a middle-aged man in America in the year 2000 makes Ford a master storyteller. On top of that it is funny, which I always like. I will now go backwards and read the first two parts of the Frank Bascombe trilogy. I just hope I won’t be disappointed. The Lay of the Land is up there with Half of a Yellow Sun as one of my books of 2008. It’s simply superb.

Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel

Mantel’s memoir is evocative, yet slippery. The ghosts of the title are many: the children she is never able to have after her hysterectomy at 27; the long-dead parents and grandparents she left behind in northern England to move to London, the ghosts of herself in homes in England, Botswana and Jeddah. Houses are important in the memoir, as are the memories interred in them. For a couple of years, Mantel was actually a neighbour of mine in a converted lunatic asylum outside London, where she says visitors ask her if she is afraid of ghosts. No, she says, but she was a ghostlike and mysterious presence there, especially to an aspiring writer who would have liked to have trapped her in the car-park to talk books. Giving Up the Ghost is a moving read that focuses mostly on her northern Catholic childhood and her longterm suffering with endometriosis and depression. I was pleased to fill out the ghostly image of the neighbour I always fantasised about meeting, but still came away knowing little about her.

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

If stonking great historical novels are your thing, then this is the book for you. Set in England in the time of William the Conqueror, it focuses on a passionate love affair between William’s half brother Odo, a Bishop, and Gytha, one of the women working on the Bayeux tapestry. It’s fascinating, fun and lively. The dust jacket says The Needle in the Blood “is a powerful tale of sex, lies and embroidery”, which, following Victoria’s enthusiastic review on Eve’s Alexandria, was more than enough to sell it to me. Happily, it lived up to both its own and Victoria’s promise.

And now I’m about to settle down with Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. How lucky am I?

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

13 thoughts on “Reading Matters

  1. Good Lord, a “stonking great” book about “sex, lies, and embroidery” featuring Odo and Gytha? I am so there!

  2. Tadpole was elated to receive an e-mail the other day. But he was so embarrased when he heard about the stinging reminders, that he hid his face in his hands. He murmured something about they’re supposed to be loving (caring) pats on the shoulder.

    Nevertheless, he scribbled a response and asked me to pass it on to you.

    tadpole is swimming in froggy pond, a shadow flits over him, he looks up, and sees sailplane soaring the skies,

    on silent wings she rides a thermal, she lifts above the clouds, comes out of the top of the updraft and planes to the next column of rising air, she glides swiftly,

    to everyone else in the pond, sailplane is cruising leisurely, only tadpole realises she is gliding at over a hundred knots, he knows sailplane is going places,

    as he watches, she rides the thermal ever higher until she is outasite, tadpole says, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

  3. Great reviews of books I think are pretty much all in the TBR pile! Richard Ford has now leapt up several notches to a much higher place in the queue. Our reading tastes are really very similar indeed.

  4. I’m always impressed with your reading list – especially since I manage to read less than half of what you do. I look forward to your review of Bourdain since I’ve been wanting to read “Kitchen Confidential” for a while.

  5. I watched the DVD of RWS the other day and thought it was very funny (and disturbing). Very jealous re the Mantel. Happy reading on the Bourdain – review should be fun.

  6. Sex lies and embroidery?? Gotta get me some of that.

    Thanks for the RWS review as well – I’ve been dithering about putting it on my “to read” list. As you say – who really cares whether it is 100% true to the facts? We are reading for relaxation here, not finding sources for a PhD!

  7. Loved the movie of RWS.
    Adored Kitchen Confidential.
    Have read 2 other Ford novels and was blown away.
    Just finished totally unputdownable Swedish crime novel by Stieg Larsson called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Hero of the piece is a financial journalist. Larsson was also a journalist who delivered 3 books to his publisher – and then died. Waiting with baited breath for next 2…..

  8. Wow. You ARE a reader, aren’t you?

  9. Pillowblogger – the other two Stieg Larsson books are great too! (I’ve read them in Swedish – lucky me)…

    Thanks for the list, Charlotte!

  10. I’m jotting these down furiously. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction on raising and teaching kids. A friend of mine just loaned me Water for Elephant by Sara Gruen. I was hooked by the first line in Chapter one..”I’m ninety. Or niniety-three. One or the other.”

    I realized just how much I’d missed reading fiction. You are lucky indeed.

  11. Haven’t read any of those – but I loved Kitchen Confidential.

  12. hmm, you have me re-thinking my thoughts on Richard Ford. I read the first two in the trilogy but I had to in college and I think maybe I was a bit too immature for them at the time.
    We still need to have our novel conversation…I will write you off-line…

  13. Sometimes I think Frank Bascombe inhabits my head now. I read the whole trilogy (and I though the first one was hands-down the best) a year ago and still, I’ll be idly petting the cat or something and suddenly I’ll hear the scene narrated by FB. That voice was just so natural, so intimate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s