Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Holiday Reading

Posted on: August 10, 2008

I’ve just had a short break from blogging for two very disparate reasons.

One is the addition to our previously  adults- only home of a foster child. It’s been a tiring week, but rewarding, and I’m beginning to realise what I’ve been missing out on. It’s a great thing to be able to share in a child’s imagination, and within a week I am an expert on ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ can name several of the aliens in ‘Ben Ten,’ and am now sharing my life with someone who can out talk me on the delights of Dr. Who.

The other reason was that before our lives changed forever, we took a fortnight’s holiday on the tranquil island of Menorca.

I was tempted to do some writing, but instead took the opportunity to do some holiday reading which, as a writer, always doubles up as research.

I consider myself a slow reader, which means that over a fortnight I will read three books. My wife, who has never attended a speed reading course, finds it quite natural to read one book per day. They say that it’s something to do with ‘the voice in your head.’ Mine tends to read every word at the same speed that I would read it out loud. Apparently speed readers don’t have this. I’ve tried it, but always revert to the voice, and I’m aware that sometimes it even wanders from the story- This reminds me of when… I could use that technique… is this leading to- and so on.

So, like I say, I’ll read three books. This year it was: ‘The Rachel Papers’ by Martin Amis, ‘Time’ By Stephen Baxter, and ‘Lightning’ by Dean Koontz.

I have read, I think, most of Amis’ output, but somehow  managed to avoid this, his first novel. I have to admit that  I didn’t enjoy enjoy ‘The Rachel Papers’ as much as other Amis novels, but I suspect that this may be more to do with changes in  my own tastes. You cannot deny the artistry of his writing and the honesty of his observations on relationships. ‘The Rachel Papers’ is so clearly a product of a pre HIV world, where STDs are an unfortunate and darkly amusing occupational hazard of the lothario. His descriptions are designed to leave lasting impressions, and are a lesson to writers in the employment of all the senses. Sex, in an Amis novel, seems to be described by smell more than any other sense.

As a person who has worked with people with learning disabilities for over twenty years, it was interesting to be reminded that we used to call people ‘mongols.’ I comforted myself with the fact that they didn’t know any better then, and that the word was used by a lead character that I didn’t particularly like.

If I can’t honestly recommend ‘The Rachel Papers’ (Which probably brands me as some sort of pleb) I would be happier to direct readers to two other Amis novels, ‘London Fields’ and  ‘Time’s Arrow.’ The latter is an amazing achievement where the principal character emerges from the darkness of death to relive his life backwardards.

Now when I say backwards I’m not delving back into my ‘1970’s Thesaurus of odd ways of referring to learning disability,’ (the same one that contains ‘mongol.’) The guy actually lives his life backwards, walking backwards, regurgitating food onto his fork, and using the toilet in a highly original way. But before he eventually disappears back into the maternal vagina we learn something shocking about his background.

My second holiday reading book was ‘Lightning’ by Dean Koontz. Probably not one of his better known novels, but definitely a good time travel yarn, about a woman who has a ‘Guardian Angel’ who appears at times of danger. ‘Lightning’ has all of the Koontz trade marks- mystery, mixed genre, strong sympathetic characterisation and, in the midst of the tension and horror, a strong ethic. Although the main protagonist was female, she was a writer, and as a writer I was very interested in the autobiographical details of the writing and publishing process.

Like the Amis book, I didn’t actually buy ‘Lightning.’ I imagine it’s standard practice in most hotels these days that there are tables, shelves, and sometimes libraries, where people can leave their books, once read. This year we depended upon there being some sort of book exchange at the hotel, because of the changes in weight allowance. Fortunately, especially for my wife, who normally takes fourteen books, there were two large bookcases.

At one point I found myself wondering how many other holidaymakers were doing the same, and if this is having an impact upon traditionally high seasonal sales. Then I turned over on my sun bed, thought ‘sod ’em,’ and carried on reading my second hand book.

My third book was ‘Time,’ by Stephen Baxter. Science fiction was my first love, and Baxter is rightly acclaimed as the successor to such intelligent writers as Asimov and Clarke.

‘Time’ is a great adventure story, but at the same time looks at how we will populate the universe, and what will happen if human life (or what evolves from it) is still existing when the Universe is drawing to a close. Baxter’s research is thorough, and there is a list of sources, showing that even some of the most bizarre ideas- such as the possibility of genetically enhanced squid being sent on a mission to Earth’s second moon- have a basis in  fact. And yes, that was something else the book taught me- Earth does have a second moon.

So, as you can see, my holiday reading was nothing if not varied. I always find it refreshing to have that double escape: the first to a good hotel in a warm climate, the second into the world of a well-written book. One was considerably cheaper than the other.

I returned home to find that the hits on my YouTube channel had doubled, meaning that someone out there is listening to my talking book. In the pile of bills and junk mail there were no letters from literary agents- neither were there any thick brown envelopes of returned submissions. Either they’re overwhelmed with submissions, or they’re feverishly negotiating with publishers and film companies… or maybe they’re just on holiday.

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