Welcome to 2012. While you’re waiting for the publishing world to get back into the swing of things following the festive period, here are the books BookMachine staffers found stuffing their stockings come Christmas morning. If we’re lucky, we’ll have them read by the time Quetzalcoatl rains fiery death upon us from above.
- World’s Ultimate Running Races by Angela Mudge
- The Art of the Put-Down by Winifred Coles
- In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy
On the face of it, this might seem like a weird mix of topics, but I reckon collectively they’re actually a decent blueprint for 2012. First up was In the Plex by Steven Levy, a book that delves into the secrets of Google’s success. The cover notes suggest that it was down to speed, openness, experimentation and risk taking.
So in a similar spirit, it’s January and time to get off the couch and recklessly enter one of the events suggested in the World’s Ultimate Running Races. The Antarctica Marathon caught my eye. There will be a few doubters, some will say there isn’t a hope in hell of getting through one of these races alive: for them, The Art of the Put-Down by Winfred Coles should come in handy.
- Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
- Leadership: Plain and Simple (Financial Times Series) by Steve Radcliffe
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Into the Darkest Corner was my first Christmas read and what a great novel to get started with. It was totally gripping, and actually had me checking behind doors. It was Elizabeth Haynes’ debut novel, and her next one is out in March, called Revenge of the Tide. Watch out for it.
I’ve also dipped into Leadership: Plain and Simple. Not really a holiday read I know, but I’d read good things and was keen to get started. I wasn’t overly keen on the ‘fill in the box’ type activities, but love the general theme of getting you to think bigger than being a manager; basically keeping an eye on the big picture and where you are heading, and losing the focus on small operational details.
My final Christmas read is The Sisters Brothers – I’m only a few chapters in, but so far am loving the tone, the pace and the characters. If I wasn’t back to work I think it would be the kind of book I’d be racing through; but alas…
- Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Penguin Modern Classics) by Franz Kafka
- Harper Perennial Modern Classics – Papillon by Henri Charrière
I am usually swamped by novels at Christmas because people know I like words and not much else, but it seems everyone is getting sick of me talking about publishing so this year it was all video games. (Nice try, guys, but you’re still going to be on the receiving end of all the rants.) Still, I managed two books this season, one of which is an all-time-greatest-book-ever that I lost some time ago (Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories) and the other I have never heard of (Henri Charrière’s Papillon).
Papillon is the autobiography of a convicted felon who is staying in a penal colony and tries to escape, as they do, and has a couple of adventures, probably hurts himself frequently, gets captured at least twice, learns some stuff about himself and so on. The premise is close enough to Shantaram to make me think it’s not worth reading, and flipping through it I found it has the most insanely small margins of any novel I’ve seen since high-school.
Still, people generally give you books that are something of a reflection of their own personality, and I like the person who gave this one to me enough to think maybe it won’t be so bad. The danger now is not the quality of the book, but that I’ll put it on my bookshelf and forget about it until next Christmas when I do the same with another gift.
- Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
- The Complete Peanuts 1967-1968 and 1969-1970 by Charles M. Schulz
David Foster Wallace’s much-vaunted 1996 novel Infinite Jest has long been my literary white whale. I’ve been working up to it for years, with bits of Wallace’s essays and short stories here and there, but to my eternal shame have kept finding reasons not to get around to it – I’ve got books to read for uni, wah! I’m too busy with work, wah! I’m in a book group now, wah! It’s 1079 pages long, wah! – despite every indication suggesting it could end up becoming an all-time favourite.
Well, no more will it be my guilt-inducing blind spot, for, having made it one of my few specific gift requests this Christmas, I’ve decided that in 2012 I will finally read Infinite Jest, even if it takes me all year (and well it might – did I mention it’s 1079 pages long? And not to crow on this point or anything, but the typeface is really small, wah!) And once it’s done, I can finally get around to the unread copy of The Pale King – Wallace’s unfinished final novel, published three years after his untimely death in 2008 – that’s been sitting on my shelf since my birthday. My only worry is that upon finishing I’ll be seized by the usual mix of rage, envy and self-pity with which I’m prone to greet precocious genius – Wallace wrote the book in just three years, and was only in his early thirties upon its completion. I, on the other hand, am 25 and crafting an extended alternate history in which Amazon is a professional hitman. Swings and roundabouts.
On a lighter note – but only slightly, given the existential angst that permeates proceedings – every year for the past five, my brothers have delighted me at Christmas by following my instructions to the letter and gifting me the latest instalments of Canongate’s wonderful ongoing quest to reprint every single Peanuts strip in chronological order. Published at the rate of two volumes a year, and with each volume covering two years’ worth of strips, this Christmas’ entries cover the late 60s. Sally is shouting ‘I HATE YOUR GENERATION!’ at Charlie Brown. All is well.