Autumn reading roundup

Interspersed with P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, I have managed to bend my eyes around a few proper books in the last month or two…

The Ballad of Peckham Rye is great fun, my fondness for locally-set stories notwithstanding.   It reminded me a bit of The Wimbledon Poisoner, which is still the only book to have reduced me to helpless, sobbing fits of laughter.  On a crowded train.  I have also bought myself a copy of The Wimbledon Poisoner, which I intend to treat myself to a re-reading of over Christmas.

Jack Maggs is a clever, sideways re-telling of Great Expectations, but I don’t think you’d need to have read the latter book to enjoy it.  Worth it for the atmosphere and the dialogue; Peter Carey catches the Dickensian tone almost perfectly, which makes it all the more jarring on the couple of occasions where he misses it.

The Choking Doberman is all of the things I like best: a meandering, thoughtful discourse on the nature and history of some of the most famous urban legends of our times.  It was published over twenty years ago so there’s been plenty of development since, but the most interesting aspect of it is how many stories which I heard in the 1980s and 1990s were old news even then.  It’s also funny, creepy and disturbing in equal measure, and some of the stories are fantastically gruesome.

Mommie Dearest is Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina’s account of a life lived in the shadow of one of Hollywood’s more genuine fuck-ups.  The stories she tells about her childhood are harrowing, but I came out of it feeling more sorry for Joan, who never overcame her deep unhappiness, than for Christina, who at least managed to find her way out of it and make some sort of normal life for herself.  Worth reading, but steel yourself.

I had been slightly put off The Yiddish Policemen’s Union because for a while it seemed to be one of those books which everyone was reading, and I have a slight and perverse desire not to read those books, or at least not at the same time as everybody else reads them.  I remember mentioning a few years ago to two friends that I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, and having them both tell me that they were reading it too.  I felt sullied, and was slightly put off the book.  Anyway, I eventually got around to TYPU and I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed it very much indeed.  I don’t know if it’s because the characters are speaking and thinking in Yiddish (though everything is in English), or if that’s just the way Michael Chabon writes, but the language is so crunchy and substantial that the pleasure one takes in reading it is almost palpable.  It’s exactly as satisfying as making the first footprint in a sheet of deep snow.  It’s also a murder mystery, and I like them lots.

I’m now halfway through a book of short stories by Ethan Coen, which so far I’m also enjoying, and for similar reasons.  But that’s a post for another day.