This post is about what I’ve been reading rather than books published this year, at least in most cases.
But let’s start with my big disappointment of 2013 – David Peace’s Red or Dead. A novel about Bill Shankly’s Liverpool? Can’t go wrong with that I thought, especially having enjoyed The Damned United. But the repetitive prose goes a step too far here. At times it looks as if it has been cut and pasted into different chapters in order to go over stuff yet again. This eventually wore me down and I didn’t even get to the half-time oranges with what must be one of the longest novels ever written about football. For me, the author only succeeded in making the life and career of one of football’s most colourful characters appear tedious. I’d rather read a Shankly biography than plough through the rest of it.
Speaking of biographies, I’ve read a few this year. Some People Are Crazy: The John Martyn Story is a great read with John Neil Munro providing a fine insight into the life of one of my favourite musicians. I suspect that many who knew Martyn would not talk well of him as a person. Munro does not overlook this, but in order to get permission to work on the book about the late singer/songwriter, there may have been a limit to what he could include. Like me, Munro is clearly a fan of the artist and so the focus is rightly on his career and music.
Morrissey’s autobiography, which I wrote a full review of recently, is another very entertaining read related to the music industry. And one interesting biography that had passed under my radar was The Tailor of Inverness. Matthew Zajak’s tribute to his Polish father was initially a successful play but transfers well into this non-fiction work, as Zajak uncovers a few surprises about his dad’s past during World War Two and finds some unknown relatives along the way.
In terms of self-published releases, I enjoyed Brendan Gisby’s The Burrymen War, a tale of sectarianism and strange rituals on the East coast of Scotland, while Stuart Ayris’ novella The Buddhas of Borneo was an original and unorthodox piece of travel writing. All Dogs are Blue by the late Brazilian author Rodrigo Souza Leao’s was another oddball novella that does unusual things with language.
Unexpected bonuses of the year, as I had never heard of the book or writer in either case until friends gave or mentioned them to me, were Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and The Songs of Manolo Escobar by Carlos Alba. There is a full review of the the latter here. The former is a piece of investigative journalism with some intriguing case studies that seems to conclude that we are all touched by madness to a degree and that psychopathy of some sort is never far away.
Finally, my current reading includes Anne Quinn’s novel Berg, from the 1960’s. It’s quite odd and although short it’s not the easiest of reads due to the blur between what is actually happening and what the protagonist is imagining or fantasisng about. But I intend to persist with it. I’m also still about halfway through The Godfather. It’s always interesting to compare book and film versions, but I like to go against the grain and find examples of movies that are better than the novels, and I reckon this is one of them. Until next year. Cheers.