From Welsh to Gaiman: Great Reads of 2018 (so far…)

This is my first year of being self-employed, being my own boss, and it’s resulted in more reading time! Here are my favourite reads of 2018 so far…

Skagboys

by Irvine Welsh

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I read a few Irvine Welsh books years ago and loved them all. In December, I finally got round to watching Trainspotting 2, having been putting it off for ages expecting it to be rubbish. It turned out to be bloody brilliant, so I put Skagboys on my Xmas list and my Mum delivered. I highly enjoyed spending so many pages of tiny type with the boys and girls of Leith.

Art Forms in Nature

by Ernst Haeckel

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I’ve had this book for ages and I often leaf through it, wondering which drawings would be best as tattoos, which ones would make great wallpaper, etc… This year, I read the introduction and other writings included in the copy. Some of it is a bit dry, but I really love going through all the beautiful images.

Starter Zone (The Revelation Chronicles, #1)

by Chris Pavesic

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I reviewed this book back when I read it in March. Chris also wrote a great guest post on Hodags!

Hatshepsut: The Pharaoh-Queen of Egypt

by in60Learning

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This was a quick and easy way to learn about a subject I was interested in but knew almost nothing about! The book is short enough to try, without the commitment of a more traditional historical text. In60Learning also has short books on numerous other figures and events. Hatshepsut (1478-1458 BC) was an important figure who helped to reunite a broken Egypt.

Have a go if Cleopatra is the only female figure of Ancient Egypt that you’re familiar with! It’s worth it for an interesting and very easy read. Take a look at my original review here.

Indigo Glow and The Tree Outside My Window

by Israfel Sivad

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Read my original review of these two poetry collections here. I also reviewed a novel by Israfel last year and you can read one of his poems here. Oh, and there’s an author interview too – great guy!

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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This was actually a re-read. I find I can go back and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words again and again, and this is probably my favourite of his books.

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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This was another re-read, as I was teaching the text to a student this year. I must admit to not really being a fan of Dickens, but I find A Christmas Carol very heart-warming and enjoyable. Of course, The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol are both far superior to the book!

Docherty

by William McIlvanney

Docherty by William McIlvanney
Docherty by William McIlvanney

I hadn’t heard of William McIlvanney, but following another emotional adventure with Renton and co, I needed more tartan noir. This was an excellent book and I found it both funny and moving. It’s set in a small pit village in Scotland at the time of the First World War and revolves around one family.

The Big Man

by William McIlvanney

The Big Man by William McIlvanney
The Big Man by William McIlvanney

I decided to read this after reading McIlvanney’s Docherty. I preferred Docherty, probably because it’s a bit of a coming-of-age story and I like that, but this was still a great book. I’m looking forward to trying his other novels.

Counterfeit World

by Daniel F. Galouye

Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye
Counterfeit World by Daniel F. Galouye

My Mum gave my other half a big stack of old Science Fiction Book Club books a few years ago, which she was lucky enough to pick up at a local auction. This is the first one I’ve got round to reading and it was great fun.

I only realised afterwards that I’ve seen a film based on the novel called The Thirteenth Floor. I can’t say I’d recommend the film, but the book was way ahead of its time. It was published in the 1960s and it really reads like it comes from that era.

The Man in the High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This instantly became one of my favourite books of all time. At least in the top three! I haven’t seen the TV series, but I have a feeling that all that I love from the book would be missing, so I don’t think I’m going to try.

A Scanner Darkly

by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

After reading The Man in the High Castle, I needed more Dick! This wasn’t quite as good but it really was still fantastic. Surreal fiction at its best. I saw the film when it came out at the cinema and I disliked it. Quite a lot. If you felt the same, don’t let it stop you from reading this great book!

It’s so easy to get behind the main character and follow him on his devastating journey. I’ve read reviews which say this book is hard to get in to, but I really was hooked from the start. It’s also an excellent portrayal of drug use, or how people get into the world of addiction and can’t escape. Who’s who in this world?

The only other novel I’ve read by Philip K. Dick is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so I’m really looking forward to trying more.

Strange Secrets

by Mike Russell

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It was great to have another dose of Mike Russell’s entertaining, yet unsettling surreal fiction this year! Highly recommended for fans of The Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick and strange things in general.

Each story is easy to read, yet a puzzle to digest. It includes mysterious wardrobes, a little boy with a troubling map, and a couple who can’t agree on the species of tree in a forest. Who’s really the puppeteer? Can the truth survive? You can read one of Mike’s stories here. Strange means strange.

Dark Alchemy

by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Mary Rosenblum and others

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This was also a re-read and you can view my original review here. It’s a perfect collection for cold nights or rainy days.

The Unity Game

by Leonora Meriel

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Check out my original review of this great book and also of Leonora’s earlier novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall. She also took part in a great interview. The Unity Game really is an enthralling book. It’s got an excellent unlikable protagonist, something I really enjoy in a novel.

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Next up: I’m currently having a great time reading One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre. He’s new to me – another discovery on my quest for tartan noir. I’m also planning to delve into Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

 

 

Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary with More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Two Volumes in One.

Montague Rhodes James by Sir Gerald Kelly oil on canvas, circa 1936

M.R. James (b. 1862) is perhaps one of the most understated writers of odd ghost stories of all time. Many of his stories take place at Oxbridge and other places with a very English feel, reflecting the life of the author himself. James also catalogued medieval manuscripts (see below), for which he was well-respected during his lifetime.

I’ve collected some excellent articles and put them together here – I hope you enjoy them!

Montague Rhodes James was born in 1862 in Goodnestone Parsonage, Kent, where his father was the curate, and died in 1936. He developed a taste for old books from a precocious age and was fonder of reading dusty volumes in the library than playing with the other children. He studied at Eton and then at King’s College, Cambridge, where he became assistant in Classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam museumHe was elected a Fellow of King’s after writing his dissertation The Apocalypse of St. Peter, and after that, he lectured in divinity, eventually becoming dean of the college in 1889. He was a distinguished medievalist and wrote a large amount of reviews, translations, monographs, articles and works on bibliography, palaeography, antiquarian issues, and often edited volumes for specialized bibliographical and historical societies. He was a brilliant linguist and biblical scholar, and he was exceptionally gifted, which, along with his unusually keen memory and hard work, enabled him to write many pioneering studies. – Walk Awhile 

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James’s incredible detail finds a balance in those ambiguous ghouls to which the reader is invited to apply their own dreadful colour. Many of M.R. James’s ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge. They were subsequently published as: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghost and Others, and A Warning to the CuriousA Thin Ghost

Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss's adaptation of The Tractate Middoth
Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss’s adaptation of The Tractate Middoth

Earlier this year, I published a post about one of my favourite James stories, The Mezzotint; a classic story of a picture of a house which has within it the souls of the once living! It reminds me of the story of the girl who gets trapped in a painting, grows old and dies in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That’s always been my favourite part of the book (and wonderful film).

Spooky: an illustration for MR James's 'O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art
Spooky: an illustration for MR James’s ‘O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art

It is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features more ghosts than carols, or that the 1963 Andy Williams song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year promises “scary ghost stories”. Christmas was once the time for sharing tales of the spooks we now usually associate with Halloween. Our traditional festive celebrations owe much to the Victorians’ plundering of pagan symbolism – whether the still-fertile appearance of evergreens and holly, the bearded god Odin’s habit of climbing down chimneys, or spectres at the fireside. As the Winter Solstice approached and daylight died away, the ancients thought that the barrier between the living and the dead became slender, so supernatural tales abounded. (James) became a noted medieval scholar before returning to Eton to serve as Provost. He was a devout Anglican, and a profoundly conservative individual, much as one might expect of a man who went from parsonage to school, university then back to school. BBC Arts

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Something feels right about pushing things off kilter, beside a warm fire, for the safe thrill of having your flesh creep. James wanted his creatures to be ghastly. I think he’d have had no truck with sad, longing ghosts yet to be released to heaven. There is something implacably horrible about his monsters, with their black matted hair, teeth and nails. The recent trend for more human vampires is an interesting one, but for me it’s exciting enough that they just want to drink your blood and watch you die for the fun of it. – Mark Gatiss

Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936
Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936

Every year I’m drawn back to Montague Rhodes James – his quietly creepy prose hints so effectively at what lurks just beyond the light of the hearth. A fellow whom I have never met but whose work continues to exert a heavy influence upon me. The Guardian

Every reader of M R James’s peerlessly unpleasant ghost stories will have his or her favourite moment of that paradoxical, delighted, wriggling horror that their author sought to instil. For some, it is the scene in “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904), in which a sceptical don on a golfing holiday is stalked through his dreams by a blind, shuffling figure in white that eventually rises from the spare bed in his room and thrusts into his face “a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen”. For others, it is the episode in “The Diary of Mr Poynter” (1919), where the protagonist rests his hand absently on what he takes to be the head of his pet spaniel and finds that “what he had been touching” — not the dog, but a man-shaped figure on all fours covered with hair — “rose to meet him”. And perhaps the most intimate of these shivers comes in “Casting the Runes” (1911), in which the unlucky protagonist, woken in the night, reaches under his pillow for his watch, only for his questing hand to encounter “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”. That readers in the iPad age should still be so horrified by these tales of haunted Edwardian bibliophiles, antebellum Oxbridge dons and ghoulish local revenants would doubtless have come as a surprise to their author… His ghost stories were designed as pleasant trifles, and mostly composed at lightning speed on Christmas evenings between 1892 and 1935 for a coterie of colleagues, friends and choirboys at King’s. Their author quoted with approval the comment of the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers, who ghoulishly advertised that “I wants to make your flesh creep.” Although they share densely imagined roots in local and national history and geography, the stories did not, as James wrote in the introduction to his first collection, “make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable while walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.” The Telegraph

I hope you have a supernatural festive period, full of shrieks of laughter and terror!