In the continuing, what shall I write about, Del said, THINGS YOU LOVE, and very much has a point, because goodness knows there is no shortage of those. And the nice thing about a blog, especially one which more than three people who already know everything about what you love and have loved for your entire life, is that you get to show other people what you love, whether they care or not (the nice thing is, they can always click away and I’ll never know, just feel uncommented-upon), and then at the least there’s more mention of what you love in a place. Initially, I was all, but how will I narrow down my loves and then it occurred that there’s a time-honoured answer for this: write in threes or tens.
Today’s edition: Books. Three of ’em.
This is the last book I read last year, and it took me about four months to get through it, because I loved it so very much that I’d read a page and put it down, never wanting it to end. And then I realised that was silly, because I could always read it again, and what if the end was rubbish (spoiler: it isn’t) and I should just suck it up and get on with it. I did. It was a glorious end to the year.
The plot is small. Mattias, a Norwegian gardener, has a small and contented life, until the content drops right out of it and he finds himself alone and confused in the Faroe Islands. He encounters a peculiar group of people, and, to be honest, virtually nothing else happens. Nothing else needs to. The prose and the weaving in and out of beautiful, desperate, poetic and sinister, is all you need. Backstory comes in and fills the space where less confident writers might’ve tried to put plot, and all the while Harstad employs my very favourite use of words, so natural and flowing it’s like you’re listening to your own thoughts, rather than reading a book, bits of pop culture and things you might once have known about somewhere flashing in and out of the prose.
I only found this because I saw Harstad was speaking at a children’s literature conference, talking about 172 Hours on the Moon which I liked, but didn’t adore. I do like to keep up with the Scandinavians though, so I figured I’d go. I confess I was captivated, particularly around the point where he recommended an experience I share with him: watching Apocalypse Now by the age of ten. It was around then that I realised I needed to go and find his other books. Alas, this is the only one available in English. But if ever there was a case for polishing my Norwegian, Johan Harstad would be it.
A reread from when I was about eight. There’s a book I remember extremely strongly from this time, and from discussion with others, it appears to be The Tombs of Atuan, so I’m particularly excited to get to that. Still on the first book at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s that Le Guin is, obviously, an accomplished and excellent writer to read, or the reassurance of remembering reading from a time before it was drummed into me that anything that was in a book might not automatically be great, but I’m enjoying it so much that, yes, once more I’m having trouble actually cracking on with it. Everything is so clear, again, so confident, and the worlds and characters so deftly sketched and animated that it’s effortless, captivating reading from the moment you begin.
I love diaries. Love them. Especially the ones that take into account things like meals, traffic jams, football results and books read. It’s like the internet, only before then. Michael Palin writes exactly the kind of diary I like to eavesdrop upon. A lot of people don’t seem quite so fond of his extensive recording of minutiae, but this is their loss. And it isn’t as if Palin didn’t have an exceptionally interesting time of things in the 1980s. The honesty of it all, the way in which he and his fellow Pythons are trying to forge their own careers, meeting with all manner of boozed-out BBC staff and financiers in London clubs, dipping in and out of projects, dotting around London and New York and India and a fair few other countries, is delightful. And then sometimes it’s a little more grim, because it’s the ’80s, and there was a lot of grim to take note of. There’s just enough detail about films like Time Bandits and The Meaning of Life to consolidate the fact that this is Actor/Python Michael Palin writing, but also enough of the adventuring and detail and wry observation that the BBC travel-Palin is clearly starting to emerge. I’m particularly looking forward to the diary release of those years, but meanwhile, this is excellent.