Hello everyone! Welcome to the September edition of A Blogging Good Read, where I'm joined by the two Emmas: Emma L from The Stones Inside My Shoes and Emma T from Emma Taylor London.
This month I chose Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill:
I was sucked into picking this book up by the cover - isn't it beautiful? Then I read the back, discovered it was one woman's journey through her bookshelves and I was immediately sold. The author went hunting for her copy of Howards End one day, couldn't find it (a feeling I'm sure is familiar to my fellow biblioholics!) and this sparked a resolve to spend the next year reading her way through her book collection rather than buying new books.
You do need to have a good tolerance for name dropping when reading this book as Susan Hill has spent her life in rarified academic and literary circles and clearly knows everyone, but if that doesn't irritate you then I can't think what else you'd dislike about this book. Her use of language is wonderful and reading this is like sitting down with a friend with excellent taste in books and chatting away. Admittedly I'm not familiar with some of the authors/books she mentions and I won't ever agree with her on Dickens but it was a delight to read about the books that she loves and find out why she loves them. Very appropriate for A Blogging Good Read methinks!
What did Emma T think of it?
I was so glad when I saw this book had been chosen. Ironically I'd been meaning to get around to reading it! One of my greatest fears is the knowledge that I will never be able to read all the books I want to in my lifetime. I doubt I'd be able to in five people lifetimes. So it was both equal parts pleasure pain to read this. For the most part pleasure.
It is a real book for book lovers and prompted me to wander through my own bookcases and re visit my collection. Which felt like visiting old friends. I suppose it's like a self help book for bibliophiles really. And what can be wrong with that? Read it and if you like it pick up The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel one day too.
Did Emma L agree?
Susan Hill opens this book by writing that she dislikes autobiographies as they’re just full of shameless name dropping, but that’s exactly how I felt about Howards End. She talks about all the writers and poets she admires through history, but I had no reference point for quite a few of the people she mentioned. It felt like being taken through a very traditional English Literature degree course, and although I did agree with some of her opinions about the writers and books I have read or studied, I found myself struggling to get through certain chapters as I wasn’t sure who she was talking about or didn’t really care. Sorry!
However, I did love some of her sentiments about books in general and she does use some beautiful language to describe the pleasure of reading and the weight of a book in your hand. Something for those who have read and enjoyed the classics.
Emma L picked Spares by Michael Marshall Smith:
Set in a world where the super rich are able to take out the ultimate health insurance in the form of human clones, Spares is a dystopian fiction with a crime thriller twist. We follow Jack Randall, an ex-cop, ex-soldier as he tries to liberate a group of spares from the Spares Farm that he was entrusted to watch as caretaker. Along the way we learn more about Jack’s past and become entangled in a web of corruption, murder and dodgy dealing in the city of New Richmond.
A comment on capitalism, consciousness and what it means to be human, Spares tries to cover all the bases which can sometimes make the overall plot a little lost and unified. To say that the book is called Spares, the actual spares don’t take up that much of the story, and the idea of disposable people is shared with the people of New Richmond who live below level 100.
I chose this book as I’d really enjoyed another of Smith’s novels, Only Forward, but this didn’t quite live up to my expectations. You can really see similar themes appearing in his books however, and the main characters of the two books are very alike. Smith also seems to really likes cats! Overall, a good read with some interesting thoughts that will question your way of thinking, but not as rip roaring as I was expecting.
I enjoyed this book. In a way it did suffer slightly from my having read Never Let Me Go so recently but the two are different enough in tone and genre, despite the similar basic premise, for it not to matter hugely. It's much more of a crime thriller than a searching exploration of the rights and wrongs of cloning and I think if you take it at that level, it's a perfectly enjoyable book. Jack Randall is an enertaining protagonist and the basic story - breaking cloned humans free from a body farm and the repercussions that follow - is always going to be worth reading about.
It's odd that it starts with a massively clunky info-dump though because from the second chapter onwards the story unrolls in a much more interesting way. I do think that all that world building information could have been revealed in a neater, more satisfying fashion throughout the book but even then, I wouldn't recommend going into Spares expecting it to be something amazing because it's not that. It's solid and decent fun to read but not outstanding.
What did Emma T think of it?
I hate not liking books but I'm sorry to say this one didn't do it for me. Exploring the ethics and emotions surrounding human cloning is an interesting concept but I felt like I had read this story in one form or another too many times before. And merged with the beat up, used up cop angle, again an area I feel I've read to death, I really was left half remembering other books I'd read and the whole lot became a peasoup in my head.
If you've never read any crime fiction and not even remotely brushed past Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go then do read Spares. It's well written, often funny and pacy. But alas not for me.
Emma T selected All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman:
This is one of my very favourite books. I even had a chapter of it read out at my wedding. The story follows Tom, a man whose friends all really are superheroes. On his wedding day to 'super' The Perfectionist all Tom's hopes and dreams for their future together are dashed, when The Perfectionist's ex Hypno shows up. Hypnotising Perf into believing Tom is invisible, utterly invisible, Tom is left existing to everyone but the one person that matters. Convinced Tom has just vanished, Perf makes the decision to move. And on a flight to Vancouver Tom has until the planes wheels touch the ground to prove to The Perfectionist that he has been sat beside her the whole time, before he loses her forever.
On the face of it there's a tragic love story filling it's pages, but beneath this lies one message: if you were to distill yourself into one overriding characteristic what would it be? This is the essence of the book. And as the cast of characters reveal their superpowers and you start the narrative journey of love & heartache, you can't help but wonder where you'd sit amongst them. And makes you take a very bittersweet look at how your own strengths and weaknesses make you who you are. This book will make you smile, cry and marvel in its genius.
Did Emma L enjoy it too?
The first couple of pages of this book threw me a little, as I had to get used to the slightly different style of writing, but after that I really enjoyed it. It was fun and nice, and included lots of great descriptions and metaphors. For instance, it’s totally normal for someone’s anxiety to take shape as an Anxiety Monster and claw at the door, or for someone’s heart to literally break and have someone to come and try and repair it.
A nice little book that’s easy to enjoy, but has a tone of melancholy and sadness throughout the main storyline.
This book was such a pleasant surprise. It's very different to anything else I've read and was a lot shorter than I was expecting but both of these things definitely worked in its favour. The use of quick, often single line, character sketches to neatly sum up people and create the whole extended metaphor of a disintegrating relationship is incredibly cleverly done.
Don't expect Superman and Batman to show up: this is very much more about the quirks, craziness and sweetness of humanity. It's an unusual little novella and I honestly don't think I'd ever have come across it in the normal course of things so thanks are due to Emma for selecting it! I'm still pondering what superhero I'd be...
Well that was September. Next month I'll be back with two different bloggers and we'll be reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie Collection) by Agatha Christie and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. See you then!