What Are You Reading?

Reading & Writing


Whenever I’m out of London, I read more, partly because it’s quieter almost everywhere else, and because there are no interruptions. London is a ridiculously noisy city, from tannoyed announcements to sirens. I’m back in Barcelona writing a thriller, and as it’s a town that doesn’t raise its sleepy head before 10am there’s always time to read, so here’s what I’ve tackled;

First off I tried something popular, ‘The Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins, not because it appelaed but because it’s everywhere at the moment – but the mundanity of its flat language killed my interest within a few pages. Clearly this unreliable-narrator thriller isn’t aimed at me, and I imagine some will love it, so good luck to her. I envisage a raft of prosaic tales following, like ‘The Girl Who Stared Out Of A Window’. And why are women so keen to infantilise themselves as ‘girls’ when men are anxious not to be branded ‘boys’?

Next up was ‘The Fateful Year’ by Mark Bostridge. This turned out to be a thoughtful, humane look at the events of 1914, from the suffragette who slashed the Rokeby Venus to the situation in Northern Ireland, royal scandals, strikes, tabloid murders, the opening of ‘Pygmalion’ and the rising drama of approaching war, bringing colour and life to a year too easily reduced to simple statistics. Seeing the end of a world in colours that bring such immediacy to it makes you parallel today’s event alongside and compare them. I’ll be reading Mr Bostridge’s other books next.

Ellen Datlow’s ‘The Cutting Room’ gathers together lots of strange and disturbing stories about movies, from the way we watch them to the events within the films themselves. It’s one of this editor’s strongest volumes in years.

I’ve got Dino Buzzati’s ‘The Tartar Steppe’ before me (where it’s been for too many years) and am finally getting to read this extraordinary Italian author’s only novel. I’ve devoured every one of his short stories, only available in the USA, where they care about such fascinating writers, and figure it’s finally time for this. Books written entirely without sentiment can profoundly shock, and he is such a clear-eyed author you almost dread to read him.

A friend just gave me ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ because it’s set in Barcelona, but I’ve just realised it’s part of a massive trilogy that will take some time to read – I read with slow exactitude. After that a long line of Kindle books is lined up, from Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy to Stephen Gallagher’s ‘The Kingdom of Bones’. There are currently 125 books waiting to be read on this, my fifth Kindle, which has remained unbroken for nearly six weeks now, so fingers crossed!

Recommendations accepted so long as they’re not heartwarming tales of people who mend their lives by training a hawk or having a bittersweet romance with an unsuitable European.


18 comments on “What Are You Reading?”

  1. Simon says:

    I can recommend Dangerous Parking by Stuart Browne or The Sorrow Of War by Bao Ninh but I absolutely do recommend you make a start with Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy that you already have in your possession. Enjoy Barcelona.

  2. Colin Stanton says:

    Is a collection of Dino Buzzati’s short stories available?

  3. Tony Walker says:

    What about going back a little (well, a lot really), to the 1930s? J B Priestley’s novels ‘The Good Companions’ and ‘Angel Pavement’ still stand the test of time. The latter should appeal to you as a Londoner.

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    Your comment on the end makes me think of A Kestrel for a Knave/Kes by Barry Hines. Not really heart-warming though. Well, he won’t be working down the pit now, It’s the old phrase be careful what you wish for.

    The Gangs of Manchester by Andrew Davies about Victorian ‘youth’ gangs terrorising the city, they even had pointed clogs with brass tips, you can keep your winkle pickers.


  5. Jo W says:

    “What are you reading?” – well,the latest B&M of course,what else? Enjoy Barca😎

  6. J. Folgard says:

    ‘Hild’ by Nicola Griffith, very moving & involving, I’m loving it. Next up will be David Rosenberg’s ‘Rebel Footprints’.

  7. Vivienne says:

    I would second Paul Auster, and at least he writes about the present. It seems that so many recent books backtrack to some mystery or hidden family secret about something that happened when grandpa was in the Indian colonial service or back to the War. There doesn’t.t seem to be anything of the type that Graham Greene would produce: immediate and relevant.

    If you go for JB Priestley.though, I’d try Riceyman Steps, set in Clerkenwell not far from you. I enjoyed walking around spotting the locations.

  8. Ed Beach says:

    Just finished Paperboy and was blown away. Next up maybe Wolf Hall but Ill check it’s premier on PBS tonight.

  9. admin says:

    OK, I’ve read ‘Angel Pavement’ and thought it was brilliant – very touching at the end. Vivienne, I think ‘Riceyman Steps’ is Arnold Bennett.
    There are three collections from Buzzati, ‘Catastrophe’ and two others, with no repeated tales, all US-published.
    Auster appears popular here, so that’ll be up next.
    And I agree there are too many historical novels around; where are the modern stories?

  10. Juan says:

    Since you are in Barcelona, and you don’t want trilogies, I recommend “La catedral del mar” (The Cathedral of the sea), set around the construction of Santa María del Mar, or “Victus”, set in 1714, during the fall of Barcelona (and the origin of our September 11th festivity).

  11. admin says:

    Juan, it might as well be a trilogy at 752 pages – do you know how slowly I read????

  12. Juan says:

    I can guess, sometimes I have the same problem which, added to the fact that I like my books one at a time, sometimes can create a lot of stress when you’re halfway on one an already have another one there waiting for you (like right now, I’m trying to finish “The geek’s guide to world domination” before Wednesday, when my copy of “The burning man” is expected to arrive. And just came to my mind another recommendation, though not related at all with Barcelona: “House of leaves”, a great book that is a real delight to read, though the editor might not think the same (specially the editors of the translated versions, who had to adapt the translated texts to make them look like the original book).

  13. martin says:

    If you’re in the mood for short stories-albeit set in Ireland, I’d recommend Dark lies the island by Kevin Barry. I’ve just started Nightwalking, a nocturnal history of London

  14. Xas says:

    Wake by Elizabeth Knox. NZ horror novel, which I think has been released in the UK recently, but no idea if it’s available on Kindle.

  15. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    Cumberland Furnace & Other Fear-Forged Fables by Ronald Kelly ,It’s got ” The thing by the side of the road ” in it !
    And don’t say ,Ronald Kelly who?


  16. Lisa Scott says:

    I’ve just finished ‘H Is For Hawk’ and I wouldn’t class it as heartwarming at all. It has a dark streak running through it with the parallel tale of T.H.White and his troubled ‘outsider’ (in reference to your other post) life. You might like it. I enjoyed it for the author’s descriptions of the countryside and the interest in becoming an austringer myself.

    I read a lot of Euro crime fiction and am currently enjoying the 5th book in the Department Q series from Jussi Adler Olson. I enjoy the humorous camaraderie between the Danish detective Carl Mørck and his assistant (started off as the cleaner) Assad, even if Carl’s character is a bit of a stereotype.

  17. admin says:

    Fair enough Lisa – I’ll give ‘H Is For Hawk’ a try. And as I love Nordic Noir I’ll put that on the list too.

  18. Michelle dempsey says:

    Anything by Caro Ramsay, nothing like a bit of Scottish Noir, Tana French or Patricia Highsmith.

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