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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

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Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blog. Here’s a roundup of your comments and photos from last week, including Tolstoy, Zadie Smith, Murakami – and not one single happy marriage.

coburg just finished Haruki Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage:

...and I loved it! I know his books have been very popular for some time but seem to have passed me by, but then I read Patti Smith’s M Train and she kept referring to Murakami so then I read his first books Wind/Pinball, which were great but weird, and then got my hands on this book and it absorbed me cover to cover. Quite profound at times, simple yet deep – it leaves a lot space for the reader to ponder upon and fill in the gaps. I’m just so pleased he’s written so many other books which I can now indulge in.

Over the weekend I re-visited two, fine, black and white films of the 1930s based on novels by Dashiell HammettThe Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon. Watching The Thin Man again reminded me of a question I asked here a couple of years ago... Can anyone name me a novel that begins with a happily married couple and whatever travails they endure, ends with that same couple still happily married?

I don’t think the unequivocal absence of even one happy marriage in all of literature is an accident

Despite having a reputation as a crank who hates all things fun this is plainly a love letter by Alan Moore to the golden age and silver age of comments. With some gentle self mocking at the “dark age” of comics Moore was involved in ushering in. It’s also Moore just having fun in writing Superman mythos stories without having to work for DC who shamefully ripped him and Dave Gibbons off along with a bunch of writers and artists before them.

Like Tom Strong it’s not his best work or in the same league as Watchmen/V For Vendetta but a fun, humourous read for anyone who loves the medium and its great history. Alan Moore just having fun also tends to be better than most writers attempting a serious story.

The central displays provided two candidates: Tightrope by Simon Mawer and The Long Viewby Elizabeth Jane Howard. I ditched the Mawer after a little consideration. I remembered that Swimming to Ithacawas perfectly okay but not distinctive in any way. The Howard on the other hand did give me pause. It’s been donkey’s years since I read the first four Cazalet books and she seemed due for a revisit so I hurried off to the library (stressed and poor last week) and emerged with an armful.

I’m just not sure. I like all sorts of books written by women and consider “domestic” writing an important part of literary output. I’m not overly put off by all the upper-middle-class stuff and her books are certainly page-turning to a degree. And yet I’m still hesitating, unable to decide if the ease with which they can be read is due to exceptional and lightly-worn writing talent or because actually there’s nothing much there after all.

I found all three novels to be utterly wonderful – psychological studies focussed on one adolescent, following his (often confused, always self-conscious) experiences, feelings and opinions as he grows from a child in his family’s countryside home to a young man attending a Moscow university.

Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth are, all three, intellectual, rich, deeply perceptive, highly emotional, and often – something I feel is usually overlooked, or just not talked about much with Tolstoy – very funny. The protagonist, Nikolai, and thus Tolstoy himself as this is to whatever extent an autobiographical exercise, is so self-conscious, so self-(un)knowing, it can be completely embarrassing and brutal but it can also be really comical. (BBC documentary The Trouble with Tolstoy was particularly good when touching on this aspect of the writer: at one point Alan Yentob refers to his youthful diaries as being “Adrian Moleish”, and other contributors discuss how much of an absolute narcissist Tolstoy was, how completely self-obsessed – how he liked nothing better than writing about what he was most interested in: himself!)

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