Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Interesting books – in brief

This is going to be one of those “due to unforeseen circumstances”/”leaves on the line” posts. Wintry illness has occurred. Namely: flu. First in my child, now in me. Which means some NSFW symptoms, a banging head, coughing and snotting all over my keyboard, and the skinny version of what was supposed to be an in-depth post.

I was intending to write thoughtfully about the following books, as these were some of the books I found most interesting in 2012. They aren’t necessarily the books I loved most, or the ones I raced through, desperate for more. But they’re the books that made me think. And wonder. For days. Perhaps it’s no surprise that three of the four books could be defined as literary fiction.

My fluey self is laughably incapable of writing the post I wanted to write, but I can offer you blurbs, covers, plus a few lines that may or may not make sense. If any of the books take your fancy, then go forth and google, and perhaps even purchase. Clicking the cover images will take you to the relevant Amazon pages.

First up: Round Mountain by Castle Freeman.

roundmountain

In the backwoods towns of Round Mountain, time circles like a winding mountain road. Friends disappear and show up again, older if not wiser. Small incidents—a night of drinking, a robbery, a strange visitor—loom larger as the decades pass. And over time, the true colors of every man, woman, and child become known to all. Nothing escapes the clear eye of Castle Freeman, Jr., a meticulous master storyteller who knows his territory. Lean and razor-sharp, these ten stories pack more in Round Mountain than a novel ten times as long.

This is the most impressive book of short stories I have ever read: it changed the way I thought about story-telling and it showed me what could be done with characterisation. After reading Round Mountain (on the back of reading Freeman’s novel, All That I Have) Castle Freeman became my favourite contemporary author, because of his eminently believable characters, his philosophical insights, the warmth and tension in his writing, and the stylishness of his prose.

Of all the books I’ve read in 2012, Round Mountain is my No.1 favourite.

Concord Free Press. Ebook edition. £2.53

The New Goodbye by Neil Ayres.

thenewgoodbye

Alex Mooney hasn’t seen his friend Mila since she disappeared twelve years ago. Now she’s turned up on his doorstep looking for a place to stay. Both of them know Alex’s wife and brother-in-law won’t be as happy as he is to see Mila.

A quiet and introverted man, Alex’s life is a world away from Balkan gun-running and Mexican drug dealers, but these appear to be the reasons for Mila’s return.

The New Goodbye is a novel about memory, love and the implications of the choices we make, or it’s about guns, sex and death, depending on your point of view.

The New Goodbye is a beautifully written, complex little book that packs a big emotional punch. Worth reading simply for the portrait of the lost-in-his-own-life protagonist, the additional drama of Balkan gun-running and the sensitive portrayal of reckless, passionate young love, add up to an irresistible literary treat. It’s a bargain too: if you have a Kindle, you can buy this for £1.02.

andrei-makineThe Life of an Unknown Man, by Andrei Makine.

One night in St Petersburg, two men meet, both adrift in the brash new Russia: Shutov, a writer visiting after years of exile in Paris, and Volsky, an elderly survivor of the Siege of Leningrad and Stalin’s purges. His life story – one of extreme suffering, courage and an extraordinary love – he considers unremarkable. To Shutov it is a revelation, the tale of an unsung hero that puts everything into perspective and suggests where true happiness lies.

This was a random book sent to me by a publicist. I hadn’t requested it and didn’t know much about Makine, but I read a few pages and decided it was my kind of novel: the writing was exquisite, with a dark, humorous quality to the narrator’s navel-gazing that was delicious rather than annoying. I haven’t quite finished the novel (I have at least a hundred pages left to read: another thing I was intending to do this week), so for a proper review of it, click here. I’ll come back to the comments section of this piece and add further thoughts when I reach the final page of The Life of an Unknown Man. But since I’m moving into reviewing children’s books in 2013, I wanted to give this book a special mention before it was too late.

Sceptre. Paperback. £4.99.

Finally, I present to you:

BallooningBallooning: A History, 1782 – 1900. By S. L. Kotar and J. E. Gessler

The hot air balloon has a fascinating history of much trial and error, scientific research and bold adventure. This book chronicles the development and advances in the endeavor and also provides insights into the people who developed the sport–many of whom lost their lives in the process. The book traces the history of ballooning from the Montgolfier brothers’ first experiments with a paper balloon in Annonay, France, in 1782, through the next several decades, when the sport’s waning novelty forced aeronauts to develop bigger, better and more dangerous tricks. It concludes at the beginning of the 20th century, when the age of the airplane rendered hot air balloons all but obsolete.

I’ve been interested in ballooning since primary school, when I had a year’s worth of ballooning dreams. It was one recurring dream and in it, I was travelling in a hot air balloon over a turquoise ocean and then I crashed onto an island and set up home amongst giant tortoises. Yes, it was an awesome dream. During that year of primary school, I wrote up this dream and turned it into my first ever short story. So hot air balloons are something that I’ve always thought of fondly. Which is why I wanted to read this book. Okay, perhaps a majority of people might not consider a history of ballooning to be light reading, and it isn’t, exactly, but if you are at all interested in ballooning, this is the book for you. The book is not a technical, scientific tome; it’s an accessible read aimed at the layreader. The book relies heavily on contemporary, eyewitness accounts of ballooning, and these accounts are often amusing as well as interesting. However, they are best enjoyed one or two at a time. This is certainly not a book that I would recommend reading in a few sittings. I’ve been dipping in and out of this book for two years and will shortly be returning it to its owner, but I wanted to give it a shout-out before I did, because it’s weird, quirky and cool, and it made me feel like a kid full of wonder.

And on that random note, I wish you a glorious end to 2012 (hopefully not in the Mayan sense) and I will see you next year for some talk about children’s books.

6 comments on “Interesting books – in brief

  1. CFisher
    December 6, 2012

    Ballooning: A History. The title alone makes it a must buy!

  2. Lisa
    December 6, 2012

    Agreed. It’d make the coolest coffee table book ever.

  3. Kate
    December 6, 2012

    Castle Freeman, now on my list!

  4. trophos
    December 6, 2012

    I read Makine’s ‘Dreams of my Russian Summers’ years ago and remember liking it, I’ll definitely check out the new one, and look forward to your review. Hope you feel better soon!

  5. Lisa
    December 6, 2012

    Thanks, Trophos. Really hope you like The Life of an Unknown Man. I’d like to read more of Makine’s novels. Perhaps I’ll do that over the Christmas break. And Kate, Castle Freeman’s writing is superb. It’s not at all showy. It’s understated and quiet, but really powerful. I need to read more of his stuff too. So much to read, so little time. Ah well.

  6. Jackie
    December 7, 2012

    That is an awesome dream! I’m glad you wrote it down & can remember it & I can see why you’d have a soft spot for balloons after that. I find them fascinating, but am unsure why. Maybe because they are a storybook type of transportation?
    I really like the cover of the Makine book. I reviewed his “The Woman Who Waited” for VL, It was an intriguing book & I will look for this new one.
    The others sound very stark, but I know you like stark in authors such as Annie Proulx.
    Hope you feel better, very, very soon.

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2012 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: literary, Non-fiction: history, Uncategorized.

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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