Open Mike #6 – Question 10.

…and, yes, I think that the rattle must have rolled underneath the sofa. No, that’s fine, I can reach it from here…

Good. Now that the pram has been fully re-furnished with Items of Play, we can bring this popular little series to its conclusion.

Lucie enquired after my holiday reading. Well, since we were only away for five nights, I only completed the one novel – but that in itself is a rare achievement these days. Tell you what: let me list all the books which I have read (and, crucially, completed) this year.

1. Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris.

Lent to me by J, my flatmate in Hangzhou. Loved it. Hysterical. Howled my head off.

2. Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris.

Bought and consumed immediately upon completion of #1 above. Lunchtimes in the sandwich shops of Canary Wharf wouldn’t have been half so much fun without it.

3. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian – Marina Lewycka.

Nice retro-style cover art, which meant that it kept catching my eye in the tube. (In the early part of the year, it seemed as if all the nice, I-could-imagine-being-your-friend people on the tube were reading this book at the same time. You know, like Captain Corelli before the film, and that Donna Tartt book from the early 1990s.) Terrific stuff. Finished it on our not-a-honeymoon in the Maldives, and then embarked upon:

4. Johnny Come Home – Jake Arnott.

An early 1970s period piece, with references to gay London life and the commercial end of glam rock – but it was also clear that the author was fractionally too young to have had any of the experiences from himself, so everything felt a fraction too stylised and at one remove. Readable, but ultimately slight and forgettable. Also, the biographical details of the fictional glam rock star were based far too closely upon Gary Glitter (with a dash of Alvin Stardust), which betrayed a slight lack of imagination.

5. Girl With A One Track Mind – Abby Lee.

But of course! Haven’t we all! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: like reading a travel guide to an exotic, far-off destination which you know you’ll never visit. In a word: educational.

6. Nul Points – Tim Moore.

In which Tim Moore, a man with no particular prior interest in Eurovision, sets himself a mission: to track down and interview all of the artists who have scored “nul points” in the contest since Jahn Teigen brought it home for Norway in 1978. The results are a good deal more absorbing, illuminating – and sometimes profoundly disturbing – than he could have imagined, and it is interesting to see these darker undercurrents reveal themselves, subverting the originally intended light comedy, and wiping the smile off Moore’s face. You don’t have to be a Eurovision fan to enjoy this one – and as such, it stands head and shoulders above anything else which has ever been written about the contest.

7. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger.

And this was the one which I actually read on holiday in Marrakech. Not having genned up on it beforehand, I hadn’t actually realised that it was about, er, a time traveller and his wife. Whoda thought it? Some very clever plotting towards the beginning (I frequently found myself gasping with wonder at the sheer boldness and complexity of it all) eventually gives way to a more conventional – and, to be honest, rather anti-climactic – love story. Fascinating throughout, but some of the later scenes felt as if they had been written on auto-pilot, and the book could have done with more concentration and concision. It felt as if the author had rather knocked herself out in the first half, and couldn’t sustain the required momentum for an equally dazzling second half. But I’m niggling. It was good.

Seven books in one year? Actually, that’s not bad going for me these days. I know, shocking…

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