It was my husband’s birthday last week, and as usual some of his presents were books. This might not sound entirely altruistic on my part, except that he and I have radically different tastes in literature and choosing for him is always quite a challenge. I do love picking out books for people, though; when I worked in a bookshop it was quite my favourite part of the job, and when teaching I’d often suggest novels to students not simply because they might be discussed in an exam paper, but because I though they suit the mentality of the students concerned. Knowing that scrutinizing lists of books other people have recently received is one of the great joys of blogging, I thought you might like to know what I got him.
The Giles Wareing Hater’s Club by Tim Dowling. This was a mid-life crisis book about a hack journalist who turns 40 and discovers, by typing his name plus ‘unfunny’ into google search, that the web hosts a site for the aforementioned hate club, where everything he has ever written is held up to ‘excoriating criticism and ridicule’. It’s described on the back as a ‘hilarious and razor-sharp look at the modern male in all his dysfunctional glory’ and I thought it might be appropriate for my own just-turned-40 husband. He’s actually read this one already, and deemed it a frothy concoction for males, entertaining but not what you’d call profound.
The Song Before It Is Sung by Justin Cartwright. I’m a big Cartwright fan, so I might actually be after borrowing this one later on. This is a fiction based on a true historical story: the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that ended with the culprits being hunted down, tortured and killed. In this novel, sixty years later on, Conrad Senior is left a legacy of letters that put him on the track of a film that he thinks may still exist of the assassins’ execution. Weaving together the past and the present, Cartwright explores questions of ethics, courage, ideas and friendship.
Ascent by Jed Mercurio. This is another story partly based in fact and concerned this time with the fallout of the Korean War. It’s the tale of a legendary Russian fighter pilot who is removed to a remote arctic base after the war because Russia’s involvement in Korea against the Americans has had to be kept a secret. ‘But in 1964’ the back cover tells me, ‘a man arrives from Moscow, from the space committee, in search of a volunteer prepared to sacrifice everything for his country…’ It’s a man and machine adventure story but with literary pretensions, by the sound of the enthusiastic reviews.
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. I’ve seen several laudatory reviews of this in the blogworld, and so am once again quite interested in it myself (this is unusual for me to want to read two of my husband’s books). It’s about a man who comes out of a coma suffering from a strange brain disorder where he believes his sister is an imposter. There’s a mystery as to what caused the accident that left him in the coma in the first place and an investigation into Mark’s identity conducted by a renowned psychiatric doctor. I think it sounds most intriguing.
Particularly when one other recent purchase went down well with my husband, V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms of the Brain, a popular science book on neurology bringing together case studies and recent research into the deep architecture of the brain. When he was reading it my husband was full of the strange world of phantom limbs, Capgras Syndrome (which is the Echo Maker’s situation of seeing familiar figures as imposters) and the neurology of laughter. Other books he’s enjoyed of late include The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings which is a novel about three separate individuals whose lives intersect in unexpected ways and which has a particular thematic interest in mathematics, And Then We Came To An End by Joshua Ferris, which he read incredibly slowly (for him) up until about two-thirds of the way through the book, and then, with the arrival in the office of a paintballing clown fixated on revenge, the whole thing seemed to take off, and he finished it in a rush. Apparently he found the sections about the boss with cancer rather bleak. He also enjoyed Curveball by Bob Drogin, ‘curveball’ being the code name given to the defector whose first-hand ‘evidence’ of Sadam Hussein’s chemical weapons programme was a major influence in the decision to go to war – although as it turned out the evidence was nothing but a pack of lies. And finally, another book I am intending to read (and would read sooner if it had anything to do with mothers) is Jonathan Rabin’s Surveillance, which is about the difficulty people now have of assessing risk in a terrorist-threatened society. So having begun this post by saying I never read his books, I’ve now managed to earmark three that I’ll put on my tbr pile. Sigh. It’s just the inevitable effect of blogging, isn’t it?