Adventures in Reading and Writing, Part 15
Everybody knows that books make good presents (and whilst it’s good to receive a book you’ve asked for, it’s even better to receive a book you’ve never heard of which then turns out to be wonderful) because they are personal, quite easily postable, last a long time and it is a bit like saying to someone, “I like you and I liked this book, I think there may be a place for it in your brain too.” So this week I thought I would write about some novels I have received as presents from friends, all in the name of celebrating the goodness of books.
ANTAL SZERB: Journey By Moonlight
I’ll start with the most recent from those selected – this is a Hungarian novel from the 1930s which my good friend Lee gave me as a present last Christmas, which I read between Christmas and New Year, and to which my thoughts kept returning for months afterwards.
It is a book packed with story, there’s a lot to take in. The main character, Mihaly, is a man whose nostalgia for his teenage years seems to both weigh him down and keep him alive. As he embarks on what seems to be a largely accidental adventure (though adventure may be too strong a word), he is haunted by his old friends and the reader is left with the impression that nothing that happens to Mihaly is of his own devising. Also, the ending manages to be brilliantly constructed, hilarious and touching – and I’m a reader who doesn’t really care much for endings. This is just a beautifully made novel.
DANIEL CLOWES: Ghost World
And the birthday before last, my friend Helen in Scotland sent me a copy of Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. Drawn in black and green ink, Ghost World is a comic which paints small town teenage life through the eyes of two best friends who live in one another’s pockets (not literally). Their lives are populated with strange characters, whose oddities may be nothing more than overinventive embellishments on the part of the two girls, their world views feeding back off one another until they blow up.
The two friends’ fragile relationship evolves as the story progresses, their differences becoming more important than their similarities as they grow older. Daniel Clowe’s style of drawing lends pretty much all of his characters an air of creepiness, which is in keeping with his characters’ appetite for the kitsch and the weird.
SHANE JONES: Lightboxes
This was a present a few Christmasses ago from my wonderful girlfriend Rachel (sorry if that made anyone vomit, but me being nice about people is kind of intrinsic to the spirit of this post!). The kind of books I like to receive as presents are ones that I have not heard of but which look interesting. I try not to dismiss books which have uninspiring covers, but I do get excited by books which have covers which are beautiful and/ or intriguing.
Lightboxes’ cover and diminutive size suit the story well. I wouldn’t describe it as being dreamlike, it is more toylike (like a story constructed by someone playing with toys on their bedroom floor – is that a description that makes any sense?). Which isn’t to say that it is childlike – it’s one of those books that has a childlike simplicity but still paints a world that is daunting and complex. It is the tale of a resistance movement set up to defy the priests who impose increasingly strict rules at the command of the mysterious February, which sounds like a plot that won’t make any sense unless you read the book – so I suppose that is what you’ll have to do.