Not the best of holidays for reasons I’d like to have been able to leave at home, but in between driving and eating far too much, I did read some good books. Most of the holiday book lists you see consist of either: people trying to impress their readers, talk up their mates or (at best) mention books they read ages ago that they think others might enjoy. Here’s what I actually read (along with catching up on back issues of the New Yorker, Uncut and the TLS that we took with us), in order of how much I enjoyed them.
1) The Nashville Chronicles: the making of Robert Altman’s Masterpiece by Jan Stuart took me over a year to track down, by which time it had a new publisher. It still hasn’t come out in the UK. This is a completely engrossing, superbly researched and pretty well written account of the making of my favourite movie, a 1975 film I’ve only ever seen on video, inexplicably unavailable on DVD. The account’s so fascinating, I rationed myself to 80 pages a day to make the book last the best part of a week. You find Altman living in a lush ranch house, drinking heavily and smoking dope like it’s about to go out of fashion, while his cast are holed up in shoddy motels. The actors are invited over to party after watching the ‘dailies’ most nights. They make up much of the movie as they go along. Full of great gossip. The director isn’t as likeable as a fan might hope, but geniuses rarely are.
2) English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. I know, I know, everybody else read this two years ago but I’m not keen on books about the sea. This one’s funny, absorbing, informative, superbly plotted. And, I believe, a first novel. I’m jealous.
3) The Blue Afteroon by William Boyd. This one’s even older. Boyd writes so well that he can get away with starting a novel as one thing, changing it into another then throwing in an unconnected side story about the early days of aviation to boot. A really good read. To my mind, he botches the ending, though.
4) L.A.Requiem by Robert Crais who used to write for my all time favourite TV show Hill St. Blues. This is the third Crais thriller I’ve read, and the best. It’s from a series, featuring LA detective Elvis Cole and his tortured sidekick. Really well written and plotted – OK, it’s full of familiar genre stuff and his books repeat themselves a little, but it was perfect for reading on the boat and the first couple of days away.
5) In Every Face I Meet by Justin Cartwright. The third novel I’ve read by him, too, and the worst. Not to say it’s bad (Booker shortlist etc) but that nothing dates as quickly as the recent past. While there’s plenty of good writing here, the thrillery bits read like TV and the end of the boom yuppy obsessed with Nelson Mandela is a little too like a two dimensional Martin Amis character for us to give a monkey’s about his fate.
No I didn’t read any YA or children’s books. I was on holiday…